Ben Simmons vs. the Sixers joins T.O. vs. the Eagles on list of infamous Philly feuds | Mike Sielski
We’ve seen this before. Simmons is not the first star athlete here to challenge a franchise to see who is the hawk and who is the dove. He’s just the latest.
In an online vote last December, users of Dictionary.com selected unprecedented as 2020′s Word of the Year, and Ben Simmons and the people covering his standoff with the 76ers appear committed to having the champ repeat in 2021. If you don’t describe Simmons’ holdout – with four years and more than $146 million left on his contract, with all the plot twists this week – as unprecedented, you’re not reaching for the quick and easy cliché that went from describing 19 months and counting of societal upheaval to describing a self-centered man-child’s quest for peace of mind.
In and around Philadelphia, we know better. We’ve seen this before. Sure, no NBA player with as many years and as much money remaining on his contract had previously refused to suit up for his team. But Simmons is not the first star athlete here to challenge a franchise to see who is the hawk and who is the dove. He’s just the latest. Here are three of his most famous, or infamous … precedents … and let’s just say that it’s interesting to look back at these episodes now, years later.
From his fight in 1965 with his popular white teammate Frank Thomas to a host of controversies – his admission that he sometimes drank before games, his missing a doubleheader because he’d gone to a horse track, the racism he endured — Allen remains the greatest lightning rod in Phillies history. He finally forced the team to trade him to the St. Louis Cardinals before the 1970 season, and the perception of him as a malcontent has to this day contributed to keeping him from induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But in the light of hindsight and society’s evolution on racial issues, he’s a much more sympathetic figure now. And rightly so.
“What burned me about the fans in Philadelphia was the hypocrisy,” Allen wrote in his 1989 autobiography, Crash. “One night shortly after the Thomas fight, I came to the plate with the bases loaded in a game against the Giants. It was a Thursday twi-nighter, and there was a huge crowd, almost 40,000 people. …
» READ MORE: Dick Allen was Philadelphia’s Jackie Robinson | Opinion
“One guy kept yelling ‘darkie’ at me and getting big laughs for it. Another guy sitting in the same section kept shouting that Richie Allen should go back to South Street with ‘the rest of the monkeys.’ Back then South Street was where all the brothers hung out in Philadelphia.
“At the plate, I could feel the anger ripping through my veins. First pitch, I hit a shot off Jack Sanford that went out of the park. … When I touched home plate, I looked around and saw the crowd on their feet – 40,000 Philadelphians were giving me a standing ovation. The roar was deafening. Thirty seconds earlier I was a monkey from South Street. Now I was a hero.”
As with Allen’s first tenure with the Phillies, Lindros’ eight years with the Flyers deserve a fresh look and evaluation, given the circumstances. At the time, because the expectations around Lindros were so high and because those expectations had gone unfulfilled, the public was more likely to side with the Flyers in the conflict that developed over the 1998-99 and ‘99-2000 seasons. Lindros suffered multiple concussions and a collapsed lung over that period and criticized the Flyers’ trainers for failing to diagnose those injuries, and after a lengthy absence, he returned to the lineup before Game 6 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals, only to be freight-trained by Devils defenseman Scott Stevens in Game 7 — and to have the Flyers lose the series.
But the increased knowledge of postconcussion symptoms in general should relieve Lindros of much of the blame for the stormy conclusion of his career here. The notion that an athlete who already had sustained multiple concussions should A) rush back to the lineup for the good of his team and B) refrain from saying that he wants proper and accurate treatment smacks of the bad-old-days approach to treating head injuries in collision sports. It was easy to paint Lindros as the villain then, not so easy now.
» READ MORE: From the archives: Eric Lindros gets emotional reception from fans as No. 88 is retired
Owens signed a seven-year, $49 million contract with the Eagles in March 2004, just after they acquired him in a three-team trade. He had a reputation for being tempestuous, of course. But even after Owens was the best player on the field in Super Bowl XXXIX, catching nine passes for 122 yards on a broken ankle, no one could have foreseen the absurdity and chaos of the summer of 2005, when Owens hired agent Drew Rosenhaus and insisted that the Eagles give him a new contract. There were volatile TV interviews and appearances. There was Andy Reid, throwing Owens out of practice. There were helicopters tracking Owens from Lehigh to his Moorestown, N.J., home. And, of course, there were sit-ups in his driveway.
The Eagles never did give in to Owens. They suspended him, then released him. They won, right? Not quite. They went 2-7 without Owens that season and didn’t return to the Super Bowl for another 13 years. More, Owens had challenged the core contraction at the heart of any NFL player’s contract: Because the full monetary value of the deal was rarely guaranteed, the team could renegotiate the terms or cut the player whenever it chose, but a player who believed he deserved a raise was perceived to be selfish and in violation of his contract. As wacky as his antics were, Owens went a long way to changing that perception, demonstrating to other star athletes how they could use their leverage to their advantage.
» READ MORE: From the archives: Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens join Inquirer Live at Lunch
» READ MORE: Jason Kelce on Ben Simmons: ‘Just play better, man. This city will love you’
There are many questions surrounding the Eagles, and you should ask us yours! Beat writers EJ Smith and Josh Tolentino will answer many of them on Sunday’s live pregame show on Gameday Central. You can send questions to them here. Then stay with Gameday Central throughout the game for in-game analysis, stats, photos and more.