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From Carson Wentz’s trade to Ben Simmons’ fade, these were The Inquirer’s biggest and best sports stories of 2021

The Eagles got rid of their franchise QB. The Sixers' franchise point guard fizzled in the playoffs, then demanded to be traded. Plus, more COVID. This was a weird year.

The Eagles moved on from Carson Wentz in 2021, trading him to the Colts in February.
The Eagles moved on from Carson Wentz in 2021, trading him to the Colts in February.Read moreDavid Maialetti / File Photograph

Everyone does best-of lists this time of year, and nobody likes doing them more than sportswriters do. We get a chance to highlight some of the good work we did, and despite all protestations to the contrary, we actually did produce some good work. Honest.

So here it is: The Inquirer’s best sports journalism of 2021. The stories and columns are in no particular order. Hope you enjoyed them then and now, and hope you have a great 2022.

Keith Pompey broke the biggest 76ers story of the year: that Ben Simmons had told the organization’s leaders that he wouldn’t play in Philadelphia anymore.

» READ MORE: Ben Simmons’ absence, injuries, and COVID-19 have taken their toll, but the Sixers are still a flawed team

Jeff McLane’s two-part series on the Eagles revealed how they use analytics and how their tactics had caused friction within their organization.

After John Chaney’s death, Mike Jensen compiled a comprehensive oral history of Chaney’s life and tenure at Temple. Also, Jensen and former Daily News writer Mike Kern wrote about what it was like to cover Chaney.

A column on Olympic fencer and Delco native Jake Hoyle ... and another young up-and-comer in the sport.

In a true journalistic achievement, E.J. Smith found something interesting to write about JJ Arcega-Whiteside.

David Murphy on Simmons’ disappearance against the Hawks in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

Scott Lauber on the long road that Zack Wheeler traveled to become an All-Star and a Cy Young Award contender.

Jonathan Tannenwald on Carli Lloyd as she wrapped up her career.

Gina Mizell on the Sixers’ burgeoning star, Tyrese Maxey, whose work ethic fits Philly’s culture.

Marcus Hayes on the connections between the great Olympic gymnast Simone Biles and Eagles lineman Brandon Brooks.

Aaron Carter did a deep dive on the effect that Philadelphia’s rampant gun violence has had on the city’s high school athletes and their coaches.

Matt Breen on Mike Adams, who went from a South Jersey men’s league to the Phillies after training himself to throw 98 mph.

Les Bowen, Paul Domowitch, and Marc Narducci wrote farewell columns to mark the end of their careers at The Inquirer.

A column on how Nike’s direct-to-consumer campaign has been killing the small businesses that once made its sneakers cool.

Sam Carchidi tried to explain how the Flyers have gone nearly a half-century without winning a Stanley Cup.

Josh Tolentino on Eagles quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, who is tasked with developing Jalen Hurts

Mike Jensen cranked out an insightful four-part series on the future of the Big Five.

Les Bowen profiled Eagles rookie receiver DeVonta Smith and how his character was forged from his mom’s values in a tiny Louisiana town.

Sam Carchidi and Giana Han did a ton of terrific reporting for this oral history of the memorable (and unfinished) Flyers-Rangers preseason game after 9/11.

» READ MORE: Getting healthy may be Flyers’ best road to playoffs

Jeff McLane looked at Carson Wentz’s regression and the reasons for it.

Joe Juliano summed up the 2021 Penn State football season in a single game story after the Nittany Lions’ loss to Michigan last month.

Before Jay Wright was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, Mike Jensen told the story of Wright’s first coaching stop.

The Eagles traded Carson Wentz in February. Les Bowen broke it down.

Olivia Reiner profiled Flyers prospect Elliot Desnoyers after he made Canada’s World Junior team.

Matt Breen did the dirty work to find out all about the South Jersey mud that major-league pitchers are allowed to slather on baseballs.

Former Flyers defenseman Chris Therien opened up about his battle with alcoholism to Sam Carchidi.

Mike Jensen on the night that COVID-19 beat the Union.

The Fairmount Park League is a critical part of Philadelphia’s Black baseball history. It’s fading away.

Bob Brookover on Pete Rose, unchanging, for good or bad.

Ed Barkowitz found and talked to the bettor who cashed in on Phil Mickelson’s historic win at the PGA Championship.

Keith Pompey provided an inside look at the messy (and still ongoing) divorce between Simmons and the Sixers.

David Murphy had the foresight to see how the Eagles would build their offense around Jalen Hurts this season: a lot like the Baltimore Ravens built theirs around Lamar Jackson.

Marcus Hayes covered Jon Gruden when Gruden was the Eagles’ offensive coordinator. He explained why Jeffrey Lurie never hired Gruden to be the Eagles’ head coach.

Scott Lauber on the greatness of Bryce Harper, who won his second National League MVP. And Lauber along with Kate Connolly explored the Hall of Fame case for Harper after 5,000 plate appearances.

Jeff McLane on the untouchable Howie Roseman.

E.J. Smith on Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Bruce Arians, whose most memorable win, ahead of Super Bowl LV, came at ... Temple.