If you were to evaluate Carson Wentz’s 2019 season solely on the most basic of facts, it would already rank among the best by any Eagles quarterback. He set the team’s single-season records for completions (388) and passing yards (4,039). He became the first Eagles quarterback to throw at least one touchdown pass in each of the team’s 16 regular-season games. And his terrific play, especially late in the season, was the primary factor in the Eagles’ winning the NFC East. Good stuff, all around.
But everyone around here has been going full Freddie Mercury in singing Wentz’s praises lately, and it’s not just because of his statistical achievements or the Eagles’ season-closing four-game winning streak. It’s also because Wentz has played so well amid such relative adversity.
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The injuries, the inexperienced and once-anonymous teammates, the importance of those final four games – the conditions for Wentz’s performance have enhanced the quality of and appreciation for Wentz’s performance. The core question about him has gone from Is he really a franchise quarterback? to Has anyone done more with less?
The second question is a good one to ask, just to put Wentz’s season in its proper context. Which athletes, throughout the histories of the city’s four oldest pro franchises, have thrived most in the face of difficult circumstances? Who was great for an extended period despite the daunting challenges – or even outright incompetence – around him? I’m not talking about Ryan Howard’s MVP season in 2006 or Reggie Leach’s 61-goal season in 1975-76. I’m talking about an individual who was single-handedly (or close to single-handedly) responsible for his team’s excellence or was so good that he couldn’t be sullied by his team’s dreadfulness.
Here are my top 10. Yours might be different. That’s the fun part.
Primeau is on this list not because of what he did throughout the entire 2003-04 season, but because of what he did throughout the 2004 postseason. He did something, actually, that he shouldn’t have: He played through post-concussion symptoms and became a cautionary tale for it. But man, he was something else. He had 16 points in 18 games as the Flyers came within a game of reaching the Stanley Cup Final, and each of his nine goals seemed bigger than the last.
The ’63 Eagles were as bad as bad got in that era of the NFL, finishing 2-10-2 under head coach Nick Skorich. (His Monday morning news conferences were must-see TV, I’m sure.) Brown, though, had a remarkable season. He led the league in all-purpose yards, with 2,428, and scored 11 touchdowns, including one on a 100-yard kickoff return. He remains arguably the most underrated player in Eagles history.
Julius Erving had retired the year before. The Sixers had traded away Moses Malone and Brad Daugherty the year before that. This was Barkley’s first season as the team’s full-fledged centerpiece, and he was surrounded by a suspect supporting cast that was riddled with injuries. Ben Coleman, Mark McNamara, Danny Vranes, and Bob Thornton combined to start 39 games for a team that went 36-46. Chuck delivered anyway, starting 80 games, averaging nearly 12 rebounds and a career-high 28.3 points per game, and leading the NBA in field-goal percentage (.630).
Roberts had a succession of fantastic seasons in the early-to-mid 1950s, and considering that the Phillies went just 75-79 in ‘54, that season has to rank among his best. He went 23-15 and led all National League pitchers in 16 categories, including complete games (29), strikeouts (185), fielding independent pitching (3.19), WHIP (1.025), and WAR (9.0).
Called up to the NHL the day before the season began, Hextall won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender, should have won the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, and won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the postseason after carrying the Flyers to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to a superior and healthier Edmonton Oilers team. “Hextall is probably the best goaltender I’ve ever seen,” someone named Wayne Gretzky said after the series.
Look at the numbers. Remember who his teammates were and how tall he was. Barros was never that good again, but for one season, he was ahead of his time.
The Phillies have been godawful for much of their existence, and 1933 was one of their godawfulest years: a 60-92 record, 31 games out of first place. Without Klein, they’d have been worse. He won the National League Triple Crown with his .368 batting average, his 28 home runs, and his 120 RBIs, and he also led the league in hits (223), on-base percentage (.422), slugging percentage (.602), and total bases (365).
In a season marred by a players’ strike and three “replacement-player” games, the Eagles defense was not yet the dominant force it became later under Buddy Ryan. The unit was pretty average. White wasn’t, of course. He had 21 sacks in just 12 games. At that pace, had he played those additional four regular-season games (including one that had been canceled), he’d have racked up a remarkable 28 sacks.
It’s mind-blowing how good Parent was in ’73-74. He led the NHL in games (73), wins (47), save percentage (.932), and shutouts (12) – never mind his brilliance in the playoffs. But it wasn’t just that he led the Flyers to their first Stanley Cup by unfurling one of the greatest goaltending seasons of all time. It was that he did it for a team whose entire strategy for winning was predicated on intimidating opponents by fighting, committing penalties, and, in turn, playing shorthanded. The ’73-74 Flyers gave up 422 power plays, by far the most in the league. The St. Louis Blues were second with 313. The Flyers needed Parent to be spectacular, and he was.