Since the Sixers won the NBA title in 1983, Philadelphia teams have won just two of a possible 136 championships in the four major sports. That’s 1.5%.
So, while the Phillies broke a 25-year title drought in 2008, and while the city’s first Super Bowl title arrived after the 2017 season, New Philadelphia remains generally frustrated. The football team’s “new norm”: a .500 record: 22-22-1. The rudderless baseball team believes the best executives would never “uproot in the middle of a pandemic” as other clubs sail past them. The basketball team’s “bully-ball” model predictably failed, like a Model-T at the Daytona 500.
So, to borrow a grammatically tortured phrase: For who and for what should Philly fans be thankful?
As it turns out, plenty.
1. Carson Wentz
Maybe it’s outrageous to encourage appreciation for the most underperforming player in the NFL, but if you ignore, for one moment, the current standings, you’ll realize that Carson Wentz remains a precious thing: A big, smart, tough, young, athletic quarterback with a strong arm. They are the rarest thing in sports.
How many exist today? Other than Wentz, no more than 12, depending on how you feel about Baker Mayfield, Derek Carr, and Tua Tagovailoa. So, including Wentz, a lucky 13. Would you rather be the Jaguars? The Jets? The Saints, hoping Taysom Hill can be Drew Brees’ successor? Nick Foles’ Chicago Bears?
Thanksgiving involves nourishing hope as much as grateful reflection. Wentz provides hope.
Yes, his 73.3 passer rating and his 58.4 completion percentage rank worst among qualifying quarterbacks. Consider it an aberration. His 98.3 rating between 2017 and 2019 was sixth among quarterbacks with at least 31 starts, and his 64.4 completion rate was 12th.
We have seen competence from Wentz when he is fortified by protection and when outfitted with weapons. There is hope that we will see competence again.
Be thankful for that hope.
2. Joel Embiid
Ego, appetite, irreverence: “The Process” certainly has his flaws. But at 7-foot and 280 pounds, Joel Embiid projects as a 26-year-old hybrid of Shaquille O’Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon. If properly conditioned and properly coached, Embiid could be a fusion of athleticism, power, and skill never before seen in the NBA, destined for MVPs if he ever deciphers double-teams. He also speaks his mind, both to his rivals and his bosses. That’s refreshing, if not always diplomatic.
3. Bryce Harper
The grind of baseball requires daily swagger. From the epic hair on his head to his Phanatic-clad toes, Harper brings swagger every day. Production, too. He cost John Middleton $330 million of “stupid money,” but Harp made the Phillies relevant when he signed two years ago. And, like Embiid, he tells the truth, as he sees it.
4. Carter Hart
For more than two decades, since the end of the second installment of Ron Hextall, this has been the common wisdom surrounding the Flyers’ chance to win their first Stanley Cup since 1975: A franchise goaltender will be the final piece. Frankly, a franchise goaltender should always have been the first priority. Hart, 22, makes the Flyers true contenders for the first time since he was born, in 1998.
5. Joe Girardi and Doc Rivers
As players and coaches they have dealt with prima donnas, professionals, and punks, and they’ve been successful. Girardi did it in New York with Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, and Alex Rodriguez. Rivers did it in Boston and in Los Angeles with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Chris Paul, and Kawhi Leonard. The Phillies and Sixers could not be better led.
6. Brandon Graham
No one has filled the leadership void that opened when the Eagles let go safety Malcolm Jenkins, but Graham has done his best. He’s also having a career year in his 11th season, at the age of 32: seven sacks and 11 tackles for losses in 10 games.
7. Zack Wheeler
In the first season of a five-year, $118 million contract, Wheeler posted a 4-2 record with a 2.92 earned-run average in his 10 starts during the COVID-shortened season. He ranked No. 3 in wins above replacement among all major-leaguers and No. 2 among pitchers. Aaron Nola’s a front-end starter. Wheeler’s an ace.
8. The Union
From manager Jim Curtin and down through the roster, the soccer club stands as a shining example of homegrown excellence. The other Philly franchises should take note.
9. Ben Simmons
This guy would be so good if the Sixers ever got him a point guard.
Daryl Morey, who has done some flashy things as the Sixers’ newest asset manager, and who desperately needs to shave; Fletcher Cox, formerly elite defensive tackle, now getting killed against the run; Jason Kelce, still solid and still tough at center at 33; Nola; Alec Bohm, the first baseman of the future who should have been rookie of the year; Kevin Hayes, who commanded the Flyers’ dressing room in his first season; Claude Giroux, who becomes a better captain as his skills wane; centerman Sean Couturier, still the best player on the team; and Alain Vigneault, who reintroduced accountability.