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Phil Sheridan: Things are looking up for city's pro teams

Before our obsession with Philadelphia's 25-year championship drought leads to the total collapse of the city's economy, a halt to services, and the imposition of martial law by Mayor Nutter, here are some things to consider:

Before our obsession with Philadelphia's 25-year championship drought leads to the total collapse of the city's economy, a halt to services, and the imposition of martial law by Mayor Nutter, here are some things to consider:

Over two years in the mid-17th century, about one-fifth of the population of London was wiped out by the Bubonic plague.

By the end of the Civil War, the starving people of Richmond were paying $250 for the rare barrel of flour, more than 10 times what they paid two years before.

On a November morning in 1956, the people of Budapest awoke to Soviet tanks rolling through the streets of the Hungarian capital - the beginning of more than 30 years of Soviet occupation.

There. Feeling cheered up yet?

The point is, it could be worse. Indeed, it has been much worse. If you bear with me, I can prove it with a formula of my own devising.

First unveiled in July 2006, the Philadelphia Sports Misery Index was designed to quantify just how bad things really were. The idea is simple: By assigning a plus, a minus or an up or down trend arrow to each of the four major professional sports franchises each year, you can gauge how far the city is from that elusive title.

Two years ago, we wondered if things had been worse at any time since the 1983 Sixers rolled down Broad Street in the city's last championship parade. The Phillies had a losing record. The Sixers missed the playoffs. The Flyers were eliminated in humiliating fashion in the first round. The Eagles were in the off-season after their Terrell Owens meltdown season.

That was bad. Even then, our formula suggested, there had been worse periods.

In 1998-99, the Eagles were coming off their 3-13 season and had hired a virtually unknown guy named Andy Reid to be their head coach. The Phillies and Sixers both had losing seasons. The Flyers were flushed out of the first round two consecutive seasons.

That was about as bad as it has been around here. Not just because the teams' records were poor, but because there was little reason to believe things were getting better. That's the X factor in this formula, the sense that the teams are heading in the right direction. It is a feeling that comes more from confidence in the people running things and in the talent level of the teams as it does from the wins and losses in the standings.

Based on all of that, the present is actually - dare we say something positive in the midst of wallowing in all this negativity? - pretty good.

Relatively speaking, of course.

A year ago, it was fair to wonder if any of the four head coaches (including the baseball manager) still would be employed by now. Reid was dealing with the worst of his sons' legal issues. Charlie Manuel was under siege after the Phillies got off to yet another poor start. John Stevens' first season was the worst in Flyers history. Maurice Cheeks was graded on a curve only because the Sixers traded Allen Iverson away in the middle of their season.

Now? For the first time in ages, all four have taken their teams to the postseason. Better still, three of the four have done so in their most recent season, and the fourth, Reid, is the one with the best overall postseason resume.

Players? We have players.

The Phillies have the most talented group of star players since the 1980 championship team. Indeed, the core group of Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Cole Hamels still has the chance to accomplish even more than the Mike Schmidt/Pete Rose/Steve Carlton crew.

The Flyers went to the NHL's final four with a team that seemed to develop on fast-forward. With the sure-handed Paul Holmgren in charge of personnel decisions, there is reason to believe the right moves will be made to take another step forward next season.

The Sixers, too, progressed more quickly than expected. Now comes the off-season of Ed Stefanski and cap flexibility.

The Eagles, the city's best hope for much of this decade, are an enigma. For fans, there should be comfort in this, at least. Expectations remain high, so either a healthy Donovan McNabb will lead the team back to Super Bowl contention, or it will soon be time to turn the page on his tenure as franchise quarterback. No can promise the postseason, but we can be sure this will be an eventful season.

As the drought begins its second quarter-century, it isn't easy to swallow good news. According to our little formula, though, this is about as promising as things have looked across the board since 1980, when all four teams reached their championship round.

Also, flour is still pretty cheap.