Chase Utley, Brian Dawkins, and Jason Kelce get Philly like Ben Simmons never will | Marcus Hayes
The Mount Rushmore of superstar Philly-style athletes understood what it takes to thrive in this city: grit, hustle, and accountability.
After he played his last game in Philadelphia in July of 2018, Chase Utley, wearing a Dodgers uniform, stepped out of the dugout and tipped his cap one last time to the patrons at Citizens Bank Park. Fans in person and watching at home wept.
“One thing I’m happy about is that I got to thank them in person,” Utley said afterward. “I hope they understand how important they are to me.”
When he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame a month later, Brian Dawkins spent part of his induction speech thanking Eagles fans for driving to Canton, Ohio for the ceremony:
“I know you don’t have money to waste, so that means you put hard-earned money that you could be saving to come out here and celebrate wit’ ya boy!” Fans in person and watching at home wept.
After he won Super Bowl LII, Jason Kelce wore a Mummer’s costume in the victory parade and, on the Art Museum steps, led the crowd in a profane song.
Nobody wept. Pretty much everyone laughed.
Little wonder, then, Kelce on Thursday so succinctly distilled the situation with Ben Simmons and the Sixers:
“What’s going on with Ben Simmons and the 76ers, all of that is because of a lack of accountability, a lack of owning up to mistakes, and a lack of correcting things.”
Simmons has refused to shoot from distance and has improved little as a free-throw shooter since he began playing in 2017. After refusing to dunk a ball in Game 7 of the Easter Conference semifinals last season, he bristled at criticisms, demanded a trade, held out of training camp, refused to practice properly, and was suspended for Wednesday’s opener at New Orleans. On Thursday, he skipped a mandated workout.
Kelce, like the rest of us, cannot believe it.
Kelce, like the rest of us, realizes that Simmons can redeem himself with humility and effort.
“If you’re fixing free throws and getting better as a player, none of this is happening,” Kelce said. “Everybody can bitch and complain about how tough this city is to play in. Just play better, man. This city will love you.”
» READ MORE: Follow the Eagles-Raiders game as it happens on GameDay Central, with in-game comments from The Inquirer’s writers, photos, and more
Utley knew that. A California kid, he once told me that he had little desire to live on Pacific Time because he relished the pressure associated playing on the East Coast: “People here give a bleep.”
Dawkins knew that. Dawkins never won a title, but no player in any sport connected more completely with Philadelphia fans than the Wolverine. Why? Because he played every game like it was his last.
Kelce knows that. Now in his 11th season, he’s been booed off the field probably more than any athlete in Philly sports history. Every time, he acknowledges the fans’ justification to boo.
Simmons whined instead.
“If you’re going to boo, stay on that side,” he snapped when he got booed in the 2019 playoffs after missing two free throws.
» READ MORE: Ben Simmons snaps back at Sixers fans booing: ‘If you’re going to boo, stay on that side’
The core difference between Utley, Dawkins, Kelce, and Simmons is simple: Utley, Dawkins, and Kelce viewed playing professional sports as a privilege.
Simmons sees it as an entitlement.
Kelce was a sixth-round draft pick out of Cincinnati, and now has started more games in the NFL than any Bearcats offensive lineman.
Utley was a first-round pick who played like he’d been plucked from the Independent League.
Dawkins was a second-round pick who started immediately, but he told me he had nightmares about being cut for the first four years of his career.
You cannot imagine any of them not showing up for training camp. Not practicing hard. Not speaking to teammates and coaches.
You cannot imagine them insulting a fan base like this -- a fan base that has paid him almost $90 million for three paltry playoff series wins.
What now? Will Simmons’ redemption ever happen? He’s going to have lots of chances.
Sixers president Daryl Morey on Thursday told radio station 97.5 The Fanatic that fans should “Buckle in,” because he won’t trade Simmons unless the Sixers receive a “difference-maker” in return. “You are going to think I’m kidding. I’m not. ... This could take four years.”
Four years of these shenanigans? Simmons received treatment on his historically balky back Thursday and was cleared by medical personnel to work out, but then left the facility. His status for Friday night’s home opener is undetermined. Morey told the station that Simmons will meet with Morey and other team brass Friday morning at the pregame shoot-around.
Kelce, Dawkins, and Utley should show up to that meeting, too.