Bill Lyon

is a retired Inquirer columnist

So, so long Cliff Lee. We hardly knew yee.

And come on in Roy Halladay. And show them the way.

One Cy Young leaves.

One Sigh Young arrives.

And thus do the Fightin's manage to keep themselves in the public eye and cleverly manage to do so well after the World Series and long before spring training and, don't look now, but right in the midst of another postseason push by that envious team in green.

Two pitchers of unusual skill are traded for each other, also highly unusual. It's the latest in what has been a pyrotechnic run here in Sports World. At every turn, it seems, new big names are lighting up the Philadelphia marquee. Difficult to remember a stretch like it. Controversy, the lifeblood of this city, and proudly, perversely so, boils and bubbles.

Perhaps you recall that it was only a few months ago that the Eagles acquired a convicted dog butcher, igniting an emotional firestorm. But that outpouring has quieted and receded in memory, as the Birds were sure it would, and in each game now they expand the opportunities for Michael Vick. He has responded with touchdowns, and in the process the red zone, which has long been a source of bedevilment for the Birds, is no longer quite so foreboding.

It is widely assumed that Vick the quarterback is simply a one-year rental here, his talents being showcased for other bidders for next season. As for Vick the man, there is still no way to know if he is reformed and hence redeemed, nor will there be for some time. It is to be fervently hoped that he will have come to appreciate the rare second chance that has been bestowed upon him.

Fast forwarding a few months, we arrive at The Homecoming. Allen Iverson returns to Philadelphia, and the 76ers ignite their own emotional firestorm, for this is one of the most divisive athletes in the city's history, stirring impassioned debate both pro and con.

For a decade here, he was the Fourth of July in sneakers. The Little Big Man. Absolutely fearless.

The Sixers spent a fruitless decade trying to find someone to ride shotgun for him, and after a ruinously long succession of tryouts it finally dawned on them that the problem wasn't the sidekick but the star.

The Sixers finally wearied of it all. So, eventually, did Denver. And Detroit. And then Memphis. And finally, improbably, Philadelphia. Which is The Last Chance Saloon.

The Sixers, unable to defend and sinking, brought him back out of desperation - the empty seats stretched for acres. But time has done to him what time always does to the athlete. He will give them all he has, but basically he is here as a distraction, to sell tickets and, for the occasional flashbulb moment, to try to take their minds off a dismal product and reprise the long-gone glory days. He can't make them a winner, but, for a while, he might make them semi-interesting.

Which brings us to The Blockbuster.

The Phillies pitcher-for-pitcher swap.

Cliff Lee all but walked on water in his all-too-brief stay here. But the Phillies had become enamored with Roy Halladay long before. Their advances were rebuffed last summer, but their ardor did not cool. It was understandable - the consensus opinion in baseball is that Lee is sensational all right, but Halladay is . . . well, on a scale of 1 to 10, an 11.

Fans of the Fightin's salivated at the prospect of Halladay and Lee together. It is, alas, not to be. The Phillies' defense in letting Lee go is not, as has been charged, a matter of them reverting to their cheapskate days of yore, but rather the necessity of replenishing their minor-league rosters, which have been severely depleted by trades.

"With a horse like this," GM Reuben Amaro said of Halladay, "it was worth the risk."

If there is risk, it is that Halladay has 12 seasons and 2,000 innings on him. And it means the Fightin's starting rotation looks like this: Halladay, Cole Hamels, J.A. Happ, and, as of the moment, a boxcar worth of question marks.

This franchise has produced one World Series championship and another runner-up in 14 months. They have earned the right to be wrong. Not, of course, that we wouldn't be reminding them of it.

And, finally, the Iggles. They can clinch a playoff spot with a win today. And their jackrabbit, DeSean Jackson, can, with his next bit of long-range lightning, set an all-time NFL record for most touchdowns of 50 yards or more in a season.

Jackson plays the game with an undisguised joy, which has become contagious - coach Andy Reid dropping his stoic shield and engaging in a sideline chest-bump with the little guy to celebrate another TD, and thus producing a sentence you thought you'd never, ever write involving Andy Reid:

"Gentlemen, we have liftoff."

E-mail Bill Lyon at lyon1964@comcast.net.