The wait for normalcy to return to the world — let alone the small diversions provided by sports — has no expiration date attached, and the days drip slowly from one to the next.
But you knew all that.
Pretending that the sports part of it matters is a chore, but it was a very interesting juncture in Philadelphia sports that came to an abrupt halt last week. It is possible that the seasons of the Flyers and Sixers may never resume, or that the baseball season won’t take place this year.
Maybe that seems drastic, but, a month ago, how far-fetched would the current situation have seemed?
Don’t worry about the NFL. As we know, Roger Goodell will build a giant, biospheric dome in the Mojave Desert and hold the entire season there. It will be just players, coaches, trainers, and Booger McFarland inside. Robotic cameras, off-site officials, CGI cheerleaders, the works. The Eagles will have a great season until Carson Wentz breaks his leg tripping over a virtual down marker.
The NFL will be fine. But, yes, the other sports seasons are in jeopardy. The Centers for Disease Control put a hold on any gathering of more than 50 people for the next eight weeks. That takes us into May, with no guarantee anything will have substantially changed by then.
We’ll never know what we missed if those seasons disappear, and, in the hope of sending a karmic peace offering to the virus, here is a list of five Philadelphia sports seasons we would happily swap. Take them as a sacrifice, and good riddance.
One season after getting all the way to the Super Bowl, it all came apart for Andy Reid. In some ways, it never got put back together, either.
Enmeshed in testy contract disputes with Terrell Owens and Brian Westbrook, the Eagles were also beset by a series of injuries that eventually removed Donovan McNabb, Westbrook, Tra Thomas, Jerome McDougle, Lito Sheppard, and Correll Buckhalter, among others.
Owens held an August press conference in his driveway, shirtless and doing sit-ups, as he demanded a new contract, and he was just getting warmed up. By the end of October, he boarded the team plane after a loss to Dallas wearing a Michael Irvin throwback jersey and then got into a fight with Hugh Douglas in the trainers’ room the following week. He also said the Eagles would be in a better situation with Brett Favre instead of McNabb at quarterback. Finally, Owens was just suspended and sent back to the driveway.
From a height of 13-3 the season before, the Eagles finished 6-10, and they pulled off a feat that might never be matched. They were 6-0 vs. division opponents in 2004 and 0-6 in 2005.
A season that began with Jeremiah Trotter being ejected for fighting during warmups before the opener in Atlanta ended with backup quarterback Mike McMahon benched in favor of Koy Detmer in a New Year’s Day loss to the Redskins in Lincoln Financial Field. McMahon started the final seven games of the season but would never play another down in the NFL.
Take this season and be gone.
Work with me here. The Flyers made the Stanley Cup Finals this season, but the way that turned out, and the ensuing upheaval in the organization, made this a season best discarded as well.
The Flyers finished third in the Eastern Conference in the first year at the then-CoreStates Center, ending the regular season with 103 points. As the playoffs began, they beat the Penguins, Sabres, and Rangers in succession, each in five games, and were the favorites in the Stanley Cup Finals against the Detroit Red Wings.
That didn’t go so well.
The Flyers lost the first two games at home, then went to Joe Louis Arena and laid a 6-1 egg in Game 3. Before Game 4, coach Terry Murray said, “It’s basically a choking situation that I call it for our team right now, and that can turn around.”
This went over extremely well with the players, as you can imagine, and — guess what? — things didn’t turn around.
“It’s all about how you perceive the term or the word,” Murray said. “My interpretation of it and my tone of voice and everything that I used in talking about it is not a negative.”
Well, fine, but the Flyers were swept in the next game, losing 2-1. Their goal came with 15 seconds to play, the only goal scored in the series by Eric Lindros. Gaack!
The thud that ended the season reverberated for a while. Murray was removed as coach and that began a carousel under general manager Bob Clarke that spun through Wayne Cashman, Roger Neilson, Craig Ramsay and Bill Barber in the next five seasons.
Meanwhile, what should have been a golden age for Flyers hockey — a time that included the best of Lindros, Mark Recchi, John LeClair, Eric Desjardins, Rod Brind’Amour, Keith Primeau, and others, with Ron Hextall in goal — never was able to gain consistent traction. A half-decade or more was simply frittered away.
Take that season and choke on it.
A season before, the Sixers went to the conference semifinals against the Celtics before losing in Game 7. It wasn’t a great team, but it had very useful, buildable pieces in Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala, Lou Williams, Nikola Vucevic, and Thad Young.
Certainly, the Sixers needed help, but they didn’t need what team president Rod Thorn — a man previously fired one year after drafting Michael Jordan — decided to do for them.
In August 2012, the Sixers traded Iguodala, Vucevic, draft pick Maurice Harkless, and a future first-round pick, in a four-team deal that brought back center Andrew Bynum and shooting guard Jason Richardson.
Owner Josh Harris threw a welcoming press conference at the National Constitution Center and you would have thought Bynum was the answer to all the team’s prayers. Well, he was 24 years old, 7 feet tall, and coming off a season with the Lakers in which he averaged 19 points, 12 rebounds, and 2 blocked shots. It sure sounded promising.
Of course, Bynum never played here. He had bad knees. (Richardson, a trouper by comparison, played 52 games over three seasons.) Coach Doug Collins quit — actually informing Harris of his decision in January — and the Sixers pivoted to general manager Sam Hinkie after the 2012-13 season ended with a 34-48 record. It was a mirthless slog to that conclusion, a mind-numbing succession of Kwame Brown turnovers and Evan Turner airballs.
Hinkie came in to start The Process, and who knows how he might have finished it? We don’t know because Harris choked (Terry Murray could confirm that) and brought in Jerry Colangelo as hall monitor, and then, following an exhaustive search, his laugh-a-minute son Bryan Colangelo to oversee the end of Hinkie’s third season. That lasted about 10 minutes.
Since then, Colangelo blew himself up on Twitter, and the team, after another exhaustive search period, hired Elton Brand after one season as the general manager of a G League team that went 16-34.
To be kind, the front office is dysfunctional, with too many ants on the potato chip, and the prizes of Hinkie’s strategy, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, might not be able to play together. Other than that, everything came out fine.
Blame Andrew Bynum and get this season out of here.
Sure, it’s a cliché, but you knew it was coming, and it does deserve a spot on this list.
The greatest sin of the 1964 Phillies is not that the team had a September swoon and lost the pennant, but that it provided every sports-radio caller of the last 30 years with reference material. It is typical Philadelphia material — in the same vein as “Herb Magee should work with Ben Simmons” or “Ron Jaworski should be the Eagles’ general manager" — but it apparently will never go out of style.
Just to review, the Phils still had a 6½-game lead in the National League on Sept. 20 after a get-away win at Dodger Stadium. Regrettably, history tells us they lost the next 10 games, while the Cardinals won nine out of 10, rendering moot a pair of Phillies wins to close the regular season.
The greatest legend of the slump involves a Chico Ruiz steal of home to provide Cincinnati with a 1-0 win in the first game after the Phils got home from Los Angeles, but there was an even better steal of home in the unwinding. (For one thing, Ruiz stole home with Frank Robinson at the plate. Really? That was a heads-up play?)
Before the get-away win against the Dodgers, the Phils lost two walk-off games in succession. In the first of those games, Tommy Davis of Los Angeles scored the winning run from second base in the ninth inning on a base hit, scoring only after he was caught stealing but ruled safe when shortstop Ruben Amaro (Sr.) dropped the ball. The next day, in a game that went 16 innings, Willie Davis singled with two outs, stole second, was wild-pitched to third, and then stole home.
Now, you can have Chico Ruiz and his stinking little sixth-inning steal of home as a turning point. Give me those back-to-back walk-off losses. Win those games and the Phillies finish 94-68 and are in the World Series instead of the Cardinals (who won the damn thing, by the way).
Get rid of this season and turn off the radio.
This is what we have to thank for the 1968 Eagles season: “Oh, you know Philadelphia. They threw snowballs at Santa Claus.”
That’s right. Every national chucklehead, every moronic fan with nothing else to say, every pundit looking to besmirch this fair city was given ammunition for eternity on Dec. 15, 1968. “Oh, it’s Philadelphia. They threw snowballs at Santa Claus.”
Well, yes, they did, but let us remember the context.
The Eagles were beyond awful in 1968, but there was a payoff to being beyond awful. O.J. Simpson, the Heisman Trophy winner, was going to be the top pick of the 1969 draft, and the team unlucky enough to be bad enough to get him would be lucky indeed.
The team wasn’t trying to tank under coach Joe Kuharich — who also happened to be the de facto general manager — but it did lose the first 11 games of the 14-game season. OK, they’re hard to watch, but at least it’s for a good cause.
And then the Eagles did the darnedest thing. They went into Tiger Stadium on Thanksgiving and beat the Detroit Lions, and followed that up with a win over New Orleans to lose hold of the top pick in the draft.
The following week, when the season ended in Franklin Field against the Vikings, the organization was dumb enough to have Santa walk the track waving to fans at halftime as they stood in the remains of the previous day’s snowfall. (A remarkable fact about this depressing moment in Eagles history is that 54,530 fans came out for this nothing game in frigid mid-December.)
Buffalo took Simpson with the first pick in the ensuing draft — it was the last year of a three-year combined draft between the NFL and AFL — and the Atlanta Falcons, who won a coin flip with the Eagles for the second pick, took offensive tackle George Kunz, eventually an eight-time Pro Bowl player.
With the third pick, the Eagles selected running back Leroy Keyes, who they would eventually turn into a safety. Either way, Keyes was gone after four seasons. The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t do badly with the fourth pick. Some defensive end named Joe Greene.
What remains, however, is not the context of the event. What remains is the cascade of snowballs pelting into a substitute Santa in an ill-fitting and somewhat substandard Santa suit. Forever and forever, that is what Philadelphia does.
Take that season and shove it along with the others.