Anytime anyone, be it a columnist or a podcast host or a participant in casual conversation, attempts to describe “what Philadelphia sports fans are thinking,” he or she is embarking on an endeavor that lends itself to inaccuracies and straw men and preconceptions.
If you’ve been around long enough and understand the market well enough, you can get a good sense of the general mood surrounding one, more, or all of the major pro and college teams here. But there’s always a risk in thinking a particular segment of people is representative of the whole population.
For instance, a sports-talk radio host might have determined, based on the volume of calls he has received and the anger of those callers, that there are a huge number of Sixers fans who want coach Brett Brown to be fired. Perhaps there are. But there are only so many people who listen to a sports-talk radio show, and there are only so many of those people who would consider calling a sports-talk radio show to suggest Brown should be fired, and there are only so many of those people who would actually follow through and start dialing. So the actual number of Brown-haters might not be quite as high as the host believes it to be.
Now, I chose Brown and the Sixers for a reason, because at the moment, they’re a likely example of extreme and mainstream public opinion aligning perfectly. You don’t have to be a basketball expert, a sociologist, or a mind reader to recognize the collective frustration over the Sixers’ ragged performance this season. You can listen to talk radio. Or podcasts. Or your friends and family. Or the booing fans at the Wells Fargo Center. Or, in some cases, the players themselves.
People aren’t happy with the Sixers, because the Sixers have committed a mortal sin, the mortal sin, in Philadelphia sports: They were supposed to be great, and they’re not, and often it appears that they’re not giving all they have.
When you combine the disappointment over the Sixers with the uncertainty over the Eagles and the Phillies heading into their 2020 seasons, it seems safe to say that, although the Flyers are rolling toward the playoffs, there’s a fair amount of angst in the air around here. Again, this isn’t much more than a guess, but it’s an educated one. What are the Eagles going to do at wide receiver, cornerback, and linebacker? Will Carson Wentz get hurt again, and is he getting the coaching he needs? Are the Phillies, after spending all that money, really just the fourth-best team in the stacked National League East? How will their No. 3, No. 4, and No. 5 starters fare? Who will play left field for them?
Fair questions, all. But they’ll be answered in due time, and those answers still hold open the potential and possibility, however slight depending on the team and the circumstances, for something good to materialize sometime soon.
The Sixers still have Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, and neither of them has turned 26 yet. If you’re already convinced that the players and people they are now will be the players and people they are when they are 27, 28, 29, go read some of what was said and written about LeBron James before he turned 26 — about what a lost soul he was, how he didn’t understand what it took to win an NBA championship.
The Eagles, two years removed from their first Super Bowl victory and having made the playoffs three consecutive seasons, have Wentz. The Phillies have Bryce Harper and J.T. Realmuto and Aaron Nola and a new manager and coaching staff who ought to provide the dash of professionalism and discipline that the clubhouse had been missing.
None of this means that this is a golden age of Philadelphia sports. Or that the Sixers don’t need to surround Embiid and/or Simmons with better complementary players. Or that a healthy Wentz is all the Eagles need to return to the Super Bowl. Or that the 2020 NL Cy Young Award will come down to a choice between Nick Pivetta and Vinny Velasquez. But it does mean that a modicum of perspective is in order here.
Just go back to March 2015. It feels like a generation ago. It wasn’t. It was five years ago. That’s nothing.
What a time. The Flyers were in the midst of a season in which they missed the playoffs by 12 points, then fired coach Craig Berube. The Sixers were in Sam Hinkie-tank mode. They went 18-64 in ’14-15. Their leading scorer was Tony Wroten. Furkan started nine games for them that season — Aldemir, not Korkmaz.
The Phillies were about to go 63-99, their worst record in 15 years. Ryne Sandberg was their manager until late June. Cody Asche and Darin Ruf were playing their way out of the majors, but at least the organization had high hopes for … Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco.
On this date five years ago, the Eagles were still a week away, more or less, from trading Nick Foles for Sam Bradford and signing DeMarco Murray. Oh, and for good measure: Later that month, Jay Wright and Villanova lost in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32. Again. The chokers.