YOU SEE IT on the faces, what this town has become. The faces of your neighbors, your children, the person pushing the shopping cart ahead of you, donned in the team gear of the appropriate, improbable season.
You see it indoors in mid-March, outdoors in late July or early October. Two people, hands on each other's shoulders, locked in a trance of joy, disbelief, incredulity, unable to express the sensation running from toe to head, as if there were such words to describe it.
That's what 2010 was, over and over and over again, in the Delaware Valley. We have morphed from the birthplace of anguish into the birthplace of unpredictability and improbability. In how many places does a team come back from three games down to win a series? In how many places does a backup quarterback become an MVP-caliber quarterback? Goalie hurt? Throw in another one. That goalie hurt? Throw in another one. That goalie hurt? Throw in the goalie from before.
Why not we?
Why not we indeed!
Wild. Woolly. Volatile. The best place on the planet to be a sports fan in 2010 was right here. And yet the overwhelming choice for 2010 Sportsperson of The Year is neither wild, woolly or really even improbable or unpredictable.
What made Roy Halladay so special in 2010, really, is that he embodied the opposite.
He did what was expected of him.
Which may have been more improbable than anything else that occurred here in 2010.
No Philadelphia athlete, arriving amid high expectations and even higher controversy, delivered the way Roy Halladay did, pitching a no-hitter in late May, answering questions of how he would perform on the big stage with another one in his first postseason start, throwing a team besieged by injuries over his broad back during the dog days of summer, fending off fatigue during a September push, winning 21 games, winning his second Cy Young Award, winning our love.
It's why he won our third annual Sportsperson of the Year Award easily, receiving 26 of a possible 36 first-place votes from a panel of sports staffers and local experts.
With 151 points, Halladay finished well ahead of Michael Vick's 90 and Peter Laviolette's 87 points. Vick received six first-place votes. The Flyers coach garnered four.
Named on every ballot, Halladay joins a young list that contains inaugural winner Brad Lidge and last year's recipient, Villanova head basketball coach Jay Wright.
And while no one in the Halladay household is likely to be pushing aside his newest Cy trophy or removing those glass-encased baseballs from the mantle to make room for this latest bit of hardware, the pitcher did say from his Florida home that it represented something special to him just the same . . .
And you and you and you.
"Here's what I never realized about Philly," Halladay said. "You always hear that they're tough fans and they boo everybody and this and that. But you really don't realize what good sports fans they are. It's not like every other city where certain people show up just to boo. There are people all over the city who are really drawn to the sports teams there. It's unlike any place I've ever been in before."
Halladay loved Toronto. To this day, Toronto still loves him. But that town, like most others, is a place of diverse interests, a melting pot of cultures from around the globe. "There are certain parts of New York where you'll hit some Yankee fans," Halladay said. "But it's not everybody.
"In Philly, it always feels as if it's everybody."
Halladay felt that each time he pitched. He felt it each time he ventured out and around town, through you and you and you. And he felt it through his family, no more so than on that Oct. 6 night when he pitched only the second no-hitter in baseball's rich postseason history.
His two sons were among the 46,411 in Citizens Bank Park that night, as was his wife Brandy. Braden Halladay is now 10, old enough to, in the pitcher's words, "understand what's going on," old enough to convey that to his 5-year-old brother Ryan as well.
"To talk to them after the game and stuff like that," said their father. "It's fun to share things like that with them. Neither of them were old enough for the first Cy Young. To be able to take them this year to the dinner and let them be part of that is definitely exciting for me. And they honestly really get a kick out of it. That's the kind of stuff we've done a lot of this winter and they really enjoy it. It's always that delicate balance to try and keep them humble through it."
Finding that ballast is everything to Halladay. It's why he often treated last year's individual milestones as if obstructions, moving them out of his way as quickly as he could. A perfect game, his 20th victory, or even the no-hitters, Halladay was reticent to disturb the delicate balance between what he had just done and what he needed to do over the 5 days that followed.
He would enjoy them after the season, he said.
"It's funny, I thought that I would, too," Halladay said. "But things have gone so quickly. And I think the way things ended last year, that's been harder to forget than to actually remember some of the good stuff. You know if we had won the World Series I think I would have definitely looked back on it differently. But having come up short, it leaves that bitter taste in your mouth. It's hard to kind of look back at accomplishments when the one thing you set out to do you didn't do."
You see that on faces, too. The anguish on all those faces after Patrick Kane's wide-angle overtime shot was discovered in the back of the net, ending the Flyers' impossible dream. The dropped jaws at Citizens Bank Park after Ryan Howard took a called strike three with bases loaded in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. The lopsided losses to Dallas that started the year off with a thud and gave no prelude to what was to follow in the months ahead.
Roy Halladay's first start as a Phillie came on April 5. He allowed one run and struck out nine in an 11-1 victory in Washington. The night before, the Eagles traded Donovan McNabb to the Redskins, beginning what we all assumed was a rebuilding phase. The day before, the Flyers edged Detroit, 4-3, to stay in the hunt for a final playoff spot despite a 1-6-1 record over their previous eight games.
Halladay won in his next start and the one after that and the one after that. With a third-string goalie and facing an Olympian, the Flyers won a shootout over the Rangers to reach the playoffs. Michael Vick was down in Virginia, working to recapture his speed via some odd-looking exercises.
None of it led to a championship in 2010, of course, but in terms of meaningful and memorable events, there was no better place to be on the planet. Every day, it seemed, something cool was happening, often unexpectedly.
Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay? And Roy Oswalt? And Cole Hamels?
Why not we?
Why not we indeed! *