With the Flyers’ first showdown against the Pittsburgh Penguins baring down on us, it got me thinking about which Philadelphia sports’ rivals bring the most joy when they are disposed of. Being one of the larger sports markets in the country, the Philadelphia sports teams usually draw some of the more passionate performances of their opponents. That being said, for any number of reasons, there are still some teams whose suffering brings an even bigger smile to one’s face. Whether the cause of the hate is due to being in a shared division, the other team having a player that’s easy to target, or the other team may have won a crucial game that has been tough to let go, some wins just feel better than the others.
Even with all four of the Philadelphia primary sports teams going through their struggles as far as returning to the playoffs, each team in the last few years have delivered memorable wins that continue to stand out from the other wins. With that in mind, its worth noting that this list does not necessarily take into account all of the ‘classic rivalries’ that may have been dormant due to either club going through their struggles. As fun as I’m sure it was for the old 76ers teams to beat the Lakers when Julius Erving was in town, the contests have been too few and far between for it to be considered a modern rivalry. So, without further ado, we start with the 10 spot.
10. New Jersey Devils (Flyers)
Kicking things off with hockey, the Devils take the first spot in the list, probably for reasons totally different than the others. For most of the New Jersey Devils’ existence, the Flyers have been a team that has dominated the headlines and have constantly been brought up as far as Stanley Cup contenders. The team officially moved to the New Jersey area in the early 1980s and, while the Flyers were making multiple appearances in the Stanley Cup Finals, they mostly struggled to find a footing in the growing NHL. However, in 1987 the Devils decided to appoint former Providence athletic director Lou Lamoriello to the post of team president. After Lamoriello named himself general manager, they began a building process that turned the Devils into one of the most consistent franchises in sports. Since 1987, with minimal resources relatively speaking, the Devils have only managed to win three Stanley Cup titles while the Flyers have tallied zero. What’s worse is that the Devils have usually had to beat the Flyers, in heartbreaking fashion, on their way to those championships. Whether it was dispatching of Eric Lindros and the first place team in the lockout shortened season of 1994-95, or when they came back from a 3-1 series deficit in 2000 to stun Brian Boucher and those Flyers, the Devils have found a way to twist the knife against the Flyers in the most devastating of ways.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the successful Devils teams is that they, for almost 20 years now, have had something the Flyers haven’t, a world-class goalie. Martin Brodeur has manned the pipes for all three of the Devils Stanley Cup wins and has taken beating the Flyers in big games to an art form. The fact that Brodeur, 41, has managed to stay at the top of his game for the better part of the last 20 years while they Flyers have turned over every rock in search for the next goalie to put them on top is salt in the wounds when it comes to the two teams’ rivalry. With the exception of enforcer Scott Stevens, the Devils have had very few star-caliber players that have stayed on their team for too long. Yet, through shrewd personnel management and a dedication to their style of play, they have managed to stay competitive on a yearly basis.
What makes beating the Devils so great isn’t to see the anguish on theirs, and their fans faces when they do lose, but more the fact that the Flyers actually managed to take care of a team that has for so long been standing between them and multiple championships in the last few decades. So out of jealousy, the Devils take the 10th spot on teams that are most enjoyable to see lose at the hands of the Philadelphia teams, in this case the Flyers.
MOST MEMORABLE WIN IN RECENT MEMORY: GAME 3-EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINALS; FLYERS WIN 3-2 IN OVERTIME BEHIND DAN CARCILLO’S GAME-WINNER
9. Boston Celtics (76ers)
Rewind a year from today and both sides of this rivalry are singing a different tune. The latest installment of the two teams memorable playoff series was a seven-game series that, despite a discernible talent gap between the two teams, was tight until the closing seconds of the deciding game. The 76ers did their best to muck it up against the more-skilled Celtics, and had Rajon Rondo not decided game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals was a good time to learn how to shoot 3-pointers, maybe the 76ers pull off one of the great upsets in recent memory. A year later and both teams are in an entirely different situation from a franchise standpoint. Both squads, following seasons of varying success, said good-bye to their respective head coaches. Doc Rivers, decided he had no interest in being part of another rebuild, and took the vacant head coaching position for the Los Angeles Clippers. Boston plucked Butler’s Brad Stevens, widely considered the brightest young mind in basketball, from the college ranks to lead the new era of Celtics basketball. In one of the more memorable meltdowns as far as Philadelphia head coaches go, Doug Collins went from the toast of the town to public enemy number one in less than a season. He stepped down at the end of the season giving way to Spurs assistant Brett Brown.
So a little over a year removed from meeting in the playoffs, both teams appear to be destined for the 2014 lottery. Unless Boston decides to build up around Rajon Rondo, the one superstar who remains on the roster, it is likely that both the Celtics and Sixers will be heading for a multi-year rebuild through the draft.
While the Celtics and 76ers have a lengthy history as far as some of their epic meetings over the decades, it is the Boston-Philadelphia dynamic that makes coming out on top against the Celtics that much sweeter. Despite the relative proximity as far as the two cities go, the NBA is the only league where the primary Philadelphia team and primary Boston team share a division. This maximizes the exposure for not only both teams, but both fanbases. With New York serving as a universal enemy between the two cities, both Boston and Philadelphia often try to lay claim to the more blue-collar, fan-driven sports communities in the Mid-Atlantic / Northeast. Boston has enjoyed a wealth of success across the board since the beginning of the 21st century, but that does not diminish the elation accompanying a 76ers win over the Celtics. With baby-faced Brad Stevens manning the opposing sidelines now, Philadelphia fans have a new target to poke fun at when both teams return to competitiveness.
MOST MEMORABLE WIN IN RECENT MEMORY: GAME 2-EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMI-FINALS; SIXERS WIN 82-81. LAVOY ALLEN FRUSTRATES KG AS 76ERS WIN ONE IN TD GARDEN
8. Washington Redskins (Eagles)
The Redskins present an interesting dynamic as far as rivals go, as they are as tradition-rich an organization as there is in sports yet, everyone born after the early 1980s probably only knows a Redskins team that has been one of the more high-profile failures as far as franchises go. When owner Dan Snyder bought the Redskins, he inherited an organization with three Super Bowls to their name and one of the most well-respected histories in the NFL. Since then, with the exception of a few cups of coffee in the playoffs, the Redskins have found a multitude of ways to lose and look bad doing it. Whether it was the free agent splurges of the late 90s-early 2000s or the coaching carousel leading up to current boss, Mike Shanahan, the Redskins have managed to stay in the spotlight despite struggling for success.
Even with all of their letdowns over the years, at the start of every season, the Redskins are the Super Bowl favorites every year…according to their fans. The average Redskins fan is as delusional, uninformed, and obnoxious in their opinion as any in sports. Rarely with any tangible evidence as to why their team will succeed, when posed with an argument from an Eagles fans, most discussions end with the fan bringing up the fact that the Eagles have not won any Super Bowls. While clearly the concept of elementary math has not escaped the Burgundy-and-Gold faithful, there is perhaps no group of fans more difficult to talk to, regardless of how their team is doing. When they’re winning, they’ve already won the Super Bowl and its all a matter of letting the games play out. When they’re losing, they’ve already won three Super Bowls and clearly the NFL hates them.
During the 2010 season, after already losing to the Redskins and losing Michael Vick in the process of it, the Eagles visited the Redskins on Monday Night Football to face Donovan McNabb and a reeling Redskins team coming off a bye. After hearing Donovan McNabb lead a postgame victory huddle in Philadelphia talking about how the Eagles had made a mistake trading him, the Monday night showdown held an extra incentive. What followed was possibly the most stress-free, enjoyable prime-time game in Eagles history. From their first play, where DeSean Jackson torched DeAngelo Hall for a 91-yard touchdown, the Eagles rolled past the Redskins for 60 minutes and stunned the FedExField fans to the tune of a 59-28 win. From there, the Redskins Donovan McNabb experiment went by the wayside, and the Redskins spent another two seasons meddling in irrelevancy.
As far as the current state of both teams, one could argue that the Eagles and Redskins are more similar than one would think. With the Redskins paying dearly to draft Robert Griffin III in 2012 and the Eagles hiring Chip Kelly entering the 2013 season, both teams have the flashy new names in the NFC East. Even with these high-profile names associated with each organization, there are still the struggles that come along with it. Following Griffin’s injury, the Redskins went through their offseason navigating a veritable public relations minefield when it came to discussing the nature of the budding star’s recovery. With Kelly, the Eagles spent the entire offseason answering questions about whether the new head coach’s methodology would even translate to the NFL level after dominating the college ranks. It seemed fitting that the two teams were slated to meet on Monday Night Football in week 1, when Robert Griffin III officially made his comeback. As an Eagles fan, after nearly gagging after the pre-game ceremonies, seeing the Redskins sputter and struggle on both sides of the ball was particularly sweet. Both teams have gone on to show that the week 1 performances did not necessarily indicate the level of play of their respective teams. That being said, to spoil the re-coronation of Robert Griffin III, who embarrassed the Eagles in both of his first two games against them in 2012, was as enjoyable a win as I can remember.
I want Robert Griffin III to return to full health and have a lengthy career. He is a tremendous talent and an intense competitor. If Chip Kelly is able to emerge from the team’s early obstacles, the potential offensive explosions between the Eagles and Redskins could end up being a must-see game every year. With the incentive of possibly staking claim to the premiere offense in the NFC East and the fact that the Eagles were able to crash the Redskins party in Landover, I’ll give them the nod for 8th favorite team to beat.
MOST MEMORABLE WIN IN RECENT MEMORY: WEEK 1-EAGLES BEAT REDSKINS 33-27 AS CHIP KELLY’S DEBUT SPOILS GRIFFIN III’S RETURN
7. Los Angeles Dodgers (Phillies)
Similar to the Lakers, the Dodgers are a rival that for the most part, is most-hated among fans of the 1970s-1980s Phillies teams. They are not in the same division as the Phillies and, with the emergence of interleague play in the 1990s, their regular season meetings have become less frequent. Prior to the mid-2000s, everything I ever knew about a Phillies rivarly with the Dodgers revolved around their meetings during the last Golden Age of Phillies baseball.
Fast-forward to this era of Phillies baseball and the Dodgers hold an entirely new meaning for Philadelphia fans. It was the Dodgers that the Phils had to beat to convince us all it was finally safe to believe in a team that had what it takes to win a championship. When the 2008 Phillies defeated the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, hallmarked by a comeback win capped off by a Matt Stairs two-run home run off Jonathan Broxton, the team went from a team who was taking one extra step toward a World Series, to the prohibitive favorite of the remaining teams. The collective frustration displayed by a star-studded Dodgers roster as the Phillies dispatched of them in five games was must-see television. Cole Hamels won two starts against his home-state team and the Phillies used late game comebacks in games 1 & 4 en route to the National League pennant. Stairs’ home run remains one of the ‘flashbulb memories’ in Philadelphia sports as the little-used pinch hitter became a city folk hero.
It was the following year when the Dodgers went from hurdle on the way to a championship, to the current Phillies core’s personal whipping boy. In almost identical fashion, save for Hamels not performing the way he did the previous year, the Phillies won their second consecutive pennant against the cross-country rivals. The Phillies came back against Broxton in game 4 for the second straight season and clinched a World Series berth while their opponents struggled for answers.
While the Dodgers aren’t a team that the Phillies play too much, they’ve been the unfortunate foe of two of the more enjoyable playoff series wins during their run of success in the 2000s and have a history of one of the franchise’s heated opponents.
MOST MEMORABLE WIN IN RECENT MEMORY: GAME 4-2008 NLCS-STAIRS’ 2-RUN BLAST CAPS PHILLIES COMEBACK TO SEIZE SERIES
6. New York Mets (Phillies)
Prior to their sustained run of success, the Mets would be substantially higher on this list. For the Phillies, the Mets served as the big brother they just could not beat no matter how close they came. In the early part of the 2000s, the Mets were the marquee team in the NL East, with a talented roster and inflated payroll that the Phillies would later have. Following the 2006 season, the Mets were on the heals of a devastating NLCS loss at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. They were returning the same loaded roster the following season, entering the year as the favorites to repeat as division champions. Unfazed by the media adoration with their rivals to the north, Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins identified the Phillies as, “the team to beat” in the division for the 2007 season. The bold Rollins looked as if he was going to eat his words for the better part of the arduous season. However, with less than 20 games remaining in the regular season, one of the incredible shifts of fortune occurred, signifying a changing of the guard in the division and a realization of a guarantee.
Even after winning the final eight matchups against the Mets in the regular season, the Phillies found themselves seven games back in the division with only 17 games remaining. The Mets went on to lose 12 of the 17 games and the Phillies claimed the division on the final game of the season. Rollins won the MVP and, even though the Phillies were bounced in the first round of the playoffs, the framework had been established for a memorable rivalry.
While the following year’s division race was not quite as dramatic, the month of September had a similar air of uncertainty up until the final days. The Mets responded to Rollins 2007 proclamation, claiming themselves to be the premiere roster in the entire National League. Even though they managed to hold down the top spot in the division during the final month of the season, the Phillies once again proved to be the superior team, clinching the NL East crown while the Mets played their final game at Shay Stadium knowing they would miss the playoffs for the second straight year.
Since then, while the teams are currently trending in opposite directions, the Phillies have consistently gotten the better of the Mets during their run of dominance in the division. Rollins’ 2007 proclamation ultimately proved to be the driving force to the team’s championship run and the Mets proved themselves to be the villain the team needed to achieve their potential.
MOST MEMORABLE WIN IN RECENT MEMORY: AUGUST 30, 2007-PHILLIES COMPLETE 4-GAME SWEEP OF METS IN WALK-OFF WIN AGAINST BILLY WAGNER
5. New York Rangers (Flyers)
Depending on how you feel about hockey, you might not agree with the Rangers being up here. Regardless, the Rangers and Flyers, starting in the mid 1990s, have arguably been the most consistent rival of any Philadelphia team in terms of competitiveness. Much like the Flyers organization, the Rangers have rarely suffered any sort of noticeable dip in relevance in the league. For the better part of the 2000s, both teams have spent the majority of their seasons making the playoffs despite not being able to capture a Stanley Cup title. With the frequency of division matchups and serving as the two major metropolitan hockey markets in the mid-atlantic region, the Rangers and Flyers have constantly been jockeying for the upper hand in the division while trying to recapture Stanley Cup success.
What makes the Rangers this high on the list for me is the fact that, in the last five seasons, these two teams played the most highly contested individual game, as long as they possibly could, with the highest of stakes that I can remember any Philadelphia team playing in the last decade. Entering the final game of the 2009-2010 season, the Rangers visited the Flyers with a playoff spot on the line. The only way either combatant could continue their season was a win against their opponent in that matchup. The Flyers, under head coach Peter Laviolette, had rebounded from an early season struggle to give themselves a chance at the playoffs. Meanwhile, in their first full season under polarizing head coach John Tortorella, the Rangers found themselves in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons. The two contrasting styles proved to be equals to the very end, as each squad only managed one goal in regulation. After neither team scored during overtime, a mandatory shootout would decide which team would make the playoffs. After 82 rigorous regular season games, a breakaway contest would determine whose season would continue, and on the surface it looked as if the Flyers were in serious trouble.
While Flyers netminder Brian Boucher had performed admirably in the Flyers march toward the playoffs, the Rangers had a decided advantage in the goalie department. All-world goalie Henrik Lundqvist had already made 46 saves in regulation, almost single-handedly keeping his team in the contest. With the ‘team’ element taken out of the equation during the shootout, one had to give the nod to the Rangers. Danny Briere drew first blood in the shootout, deking Lundqvist just enough to slide the puck by him and give the Flyers the early lead. After P.A. Parenteau beat Boucher on the Rangers second attempt of the shootout, a young, albeit unknown talent named Claude Giroux moved in on Lundqvist and beat the world-class goalie through the five hole. Boucher stopped the Rangers final attempt and, in what many see as one of the best regular season games involving a Philadelphia team, the Flyers clinched a playoff berth and started their epic run toward the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals.
The Rangers have gotten the better of the Orange-and-Black for the most part over the past few seasons, however their natural contention toward each other has continued to provide for widely entertaining matchups. That being said, as an equal fan of all four Philadelphia teams, that Flyers win in 2010 was possibly the most enjoyable regular season game I can remember.
MOST MEMORABLE WIN IN RECENT MEMORY: APRIL 11, 2010-FLYERS CLINCH PLAYOFF BERTH IN SHOOTOUT WIN
4. Washington Nationals (Phillies)
Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the Phillies might be serving to the Nationals the same role that the Mets played for them years ago, but the tension between these two franchises over the last few seasons has been elevated to say the least. After years of serving as the NL East doormat after moving from Montreal, the Nationals started their rise to legitimacy in the 2010 offseason when they signed Phillies outfielder Jayson Werth to a 7-year/$126 million contract. Despite Werth proving to be a vital cog in the Phillies rise to dominance during their World Series run, the deal was looked at as an overpayment by performance standards. However, the separation of Werth and the Phillies was far from amicable, as the outfielder made it his goal to prevent his former team from winning another World Series while he was in the league.
While the Phillies enjoyed the back-end of their dominant run, the Nationals patiently waited as their collection of high draft picks developed through the minor leagues and filled out an improving roster. Super-prospects Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper highlighted back-to-back number one overall selections and the Nationals continued building a juggernaut. A year after the Phillies’ fifth consecutive NL East title, Nationals manager Davey Johnson made headlines when he put his neck on the line, saying the team’s owners could fire him if they did not win the division.
With the Phillies unaware of the disastrous campaign ahead of them, the aging manager’s words served as comic relief from the perennial cellar-dwellar. Little did Phillie fans know that Johnson’s confidence was warranted. The upstart Nationals blitzed the National League in 2012, posting the best record with 98 wins and seizing the Phillies division crown while its former winner wilted under the size of its own roster.
As far as head-to-head matchups, there were several memorable showdowns between the two clubs. Perhaps the most memorable was an early-season matchup in Washington with Cole Hamels on the mound. In what was being dubbed by the Nationals as the ‘Take Back the Park’ series, Washington won the first two games of the series. Game three would mark a matchup of the Phillies homegrown hero Hamels against Nationals’ messiah Bryce Harper. The confident teenager had stormed his way to the major leagues and had already served as a spark plug for the emerging contender. In Harper’s first at bat of the game, Hamels decided to send a message to the young star, plunking him on the back with a fastball. After making his way to third base, Harper gave his team an early lead when he stole home on a pick-off play to first base. Hamels and the Phillies would go on to win the game, but the Phillies starter’s post-game admission of guilt paired with Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo’s identifying of Hamels as ‘fake tough’ set the rivalry wheels in motion. The Nationals would go on to be the darlings of the 2012 season and, even after a devastating first round playoff loss to the Cardinals, the prohibitive favorite for the 2013 World Series.
Davey Johnson one-upped his 2012 pre-season challenge when he called 2013 a ‘World Series or Bust’ year and national media pundits anointed Washington the preseason favorites to win the whole thing. Despite returning even more talent than the previous season, the Nationals struggled to regain their 2012 form and, even though the Phillies were unable to regain the top spot in the division, they more than did their part in keeping the Nationals from fighting their way all the way back to the playoffs. In both of their final series against the Nationals, the Phillies delivered devastating blows as far as the standings went in tension-filled one-run contests.
Much like the rivalry everyone imagined the Phillies and Mets would have for years, it is possible that little will come to fruition between the Nationals and Phillies. It is tough to imagine that the talented Nationals roster won’t be able to make the necessary adjustments to return to the playoffs, and the crumbling Phillies lineup has significant work to do to return to its spot at the top of the division. Regardless, some of the older members of the Phillies roster still seem to have a noticeable edge when they play the Nationals, and their young, confident team serves as an opponent that’s extremely easy to root against. With the fact that Werth is coming off an MVP-caliber season, if the Phillies are able to remain competitive and make the roster changes to do so, these two teams could continue to play extremely heated contests.
MOST MEMORABLE WIN IN RECENT MEMORY: SEPTEMBER 2, 2013-ROLLINS, CHOOCH TURN BACK THE CLOCK BACKING UP HAMELS’ DOMINANT START IN 3-2 WIN
3. Dallas Cowboys (Eagles)
One of my earliest memories as a sports fan was the last time that the Cowboys won the Super Bowl. The glitzy roster laced with future Hall of Famers appeared to be the perfect organization and put on the earth solely to make Eagles fans miserable. While the Philadelphia faithful pined for just one taste of Super Bowl glory, the Cowboys were busy wrapping up their fifth in franchise history and third in four years. ‘America’s Team’ was the most popular team to be a fan of and it seemed as if following them would almost guarantee worry-free years of coasting to multiple Super Bowls over the following years.
Almost 20 years later and the year-in, year-out Super Bowl favorite has yet to recapture the holy grail. As eccentric owner Jerry Jones continues to age, he recycles head coaches like it’s a hobby and continues to try to put together one more winner. While the past few seasons have seen transition in Philadelphia, the Eagles for the most part have been the model of consistency while the Cowboys became a model of impatience. Under Andy Reid, the Eagles went 11-8 against the Cowboys, with several wins coming in either dramatic, or laughable fashion. Whether it was Lito Sheppard’s game-sealing 102-yard pick-6 in Terrell Owens’ first game against the Eagles as a Cowboy, or the 44-6 beatdown in the season finale to complete the Eagles improbable run to the playoffs, the Cowboys have made a habit of being the opponent during some of the Eagles finer moments during the Andy Reid era.
An added bonus of the Philadelphia-Dallas rivalry is the proximity with ‘fans’. Despite the team being geographically closer to division rivals in the Redskins and Giants, their respective fanbases generally do not hold substantial footing in the City of Brotherly Love. However, much like other locations around the country, Cowboys ‘fans’ somehow pop up in decent numbers in Philadelphia. As a result of their success in the ’90s, Dallas became the ‘it-team’ to follow if one wanted to blend right in with a fanbase. For those who haven’t abandoned their fandom of the floundering Cowboys, the remaining fans in opposing markets remain one of the more obnoxious demographics of any fan around the country. The ‘Not-from-Dallas Cowboys fan’ is stuck in the mid-1990s, and almost refuses to acknowledge the current state of the organization. They puff their chest out during game week with predictions of grandeur, only to cower behind their Super Bowls (that some are mentally incapable of remembering) when they come up short. When one enters a conversation or debate with the Cowboys, it is almost expected that no sort of intelligent conclusion will be made between the two parties, and to avoid even starting it usually can save you from a lot of frustration.
Mostly because they have not been able to be the sort of yearly contender that the Eagles were over the better part of the last two decades, the Cowboys have served more as a comical victim than a worthy adversary. Dallas has capitalized on the struggles of the last few seasons, but their inability to put together a legitimate contender has made it almost bearable.
MOST MEMORABLE WIN IN RECENT MEMORY: DECEMBER 28, 2008-CHRISTMAS CONTINUES AS EAGLES CLINCH PLAYOFFS ON HEELS OF 44-6 ROUT OF VISITING COWBOYS
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (Flyers)
Even if you’re not a huge hockey fan, any passionate Philadelphia fan would struggle not to put the Penguins in their top three of teams most enjoyable to beat. The Penguins-Flyers rivalry has everything one can ask for and has consistently made ripples on a national scale, despite the fact that it is in the least popular of the four major sports. Between the proximity between the two teams, the star power constantly littering both organizations, the contrasting external opinion of both organizations, and the fact that both teams have been some of the more successful franchises in the NHL, the Flyers-Penguins rivalry has provided more animosity than any other in the city as far as between-team hatred. The Penguins have gotten the better as far as critical success, collecting three Stanley Cups since the Flyers won their last one, however the competitiveness of each team has remained fairly consistent since the early-to-mid-1990s.
Perhaps what ignites the tension between both sides of this rivalry is the understood narrative of each organization. The modern opinion of the Flyers, since their acquisition of Eric Lindros in one of the biggest trades in NHL history, is a franchise unable to begin from within run by an owner who is chasing the rabbit for one more Stanley Cup. They have come close on multiple occasions, but through misfortune and miscalculation, they have been unable to cash in and win a Stanley Cup. On the other hand, the Penguins have seemed to be touched by an angel as far as maintaining success. After winning back-to-back Stanley Cups with Mario Lemieux leading the way, the Penguins established themselves as one of the more dominant teams as the turn of the century approached. However, health complications stunted some of the brilliance of Lemieux, and even though Jaromir Jagr emerged as one of the game’s stars, the Penguins went throughout the rest of the 1990s without any more championships. At the turn of the century, both teams looked poised to represent the conference in the Stanley Cup, they would meet in the 2000-2001 playoffs in the 2nd round. The surprise 7th seeded Penguins won the first two games in Philadelphia, and looked poised to send the top-seeded Flyers to an early exit. After the Flyers won game 3 in Pittsburgh, the two sides played to one of the great playoff games in Philadelphia history.
After playing to a draw in regulation, the two sides skated through a staggering five overtimes before an eventual winner would be decided. After over an hour and a half of overtime passed, Keith Primeau broke a 1-1 tie with a wrist shot over Ron Tugnutt’s shoulder and evened the series. The Flyers would win the next two games and move on to the Eastern Conference Finals. While the Flyers remained successful in the early 2000s, the Penguins as an organization fell on hard times. In 2003, they drafted goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury with the 1st overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft. The following year, they secured the 2nd overall pick, and selected Russian Evgeni Malkin. However, they were teetering on the brink of bankruptcy for the second time in a decade, and with the pending 2004-2005 lockout, the organization looked as if they could be in danger of folding.
In what was widely looked at as a controversial decision, the NHL decided to have a closed-door lottery coming out of the lockout to secure the #1 overall pick. Sidney Crosby, a prospect widely considered as the best to enter the league since Wayne Gretzky, was the eventual prize to the winner. The Penguins were awarded with the pick and, for the 2nd time in three years, would have the first pick in the draft. Paired with the selection of Malkin, who was drafted after Alex Ovechkin, the Penguins were injected with elite talent in a three-year stretch while other organizations struggled out of the lockout. While some of Crosby’s early contests against Derian Hatcher and the Flyers were entertaining, the Penguins proved to be the juggernaut the NHL had allowed them to become, winning the 2009 Stanley Cup after beating the Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Crosby has become the definitive face of the league, and has made a personal habit of making the Flyers miserable.
In 2011-2012 however, things looked as if they might take a shift. After several highly competitive regular season matchups, the 5th seeded Flyers would face the 4th seeded Penguins in the opening round of the playoffs. In addition to having MVP Evgeni Malkin coming off a career year, Crosby had finished off a season without any health issues, and looked poised to take the Penguins on another Stanley Cup run. The following series was one of the few times where a young, untested Philadelphia team made a roster full of battle-tested stars with championship rings look like they did not belong on the ice. Led by the fiery Claude Giroux, the Flyers steamrolled the Penguins on a nightly basis, and made the normally-poised Pens’ roster, notably Crosby, appear as if they had never faced animosity. Capped by a dramatic game 6 win where Claude Giroux leveled Crosby and scored a goal on his first shift, the Flyers shocked the world in 6 games and looked as if they had the chops to go toe-to-toe with what many think to be the best roster in the NHL.
It will be interesting to see if the Flyers can regain their footing while Crosby and Malkin are still in their prime. When they have beaten the Penguins, they look as if they are one of the few clubs that has a psychological edge on their star-studded cross-state foes. With Crosby as polarizing an individual as one could draw up in any sport, the Penguins are the team that is not only satisfying to beat, but more easy to hate.
MOST MEMORABLE WIN IN RECENT MEMORY: APRIL 22, 2012-GIROUX LEADS FLYERS PAST CROSBY AND PENGUINS TO WIN FIRST ROUND SERIES
1. New York Giants (Eagles)
Rounding out the list is the team that has provided the most memorable moments, both good and bad, in the Eagles most recent run of success: the New York Giants. For the better part of the 21st century, the Giants and Eagles have reigned supreme in the NFC East, achieving different levels of success. The Eagles were the constant. Under Andy Reid, the Eagles dominated the division in the regular season, winning the first five division titles of the 2000s and eight of the first eleven. However, no matter how much regular season success they achieved, Andy Reid was unable to lead them to their elusive first Super Bowl. On the other hand, the Giants, while remaining mostly competitive throughout the decade, were the enigma. After giving way to the Eagles at the turn of the century, the Giants organization needed a spark. They decided to move up to secure the top overall pick in the 2004 draft and select Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning. Sporting as strong a pedigree as one could ask for, Manning was immediately thrust into the highest pressure situation in the NFL. After developing at a steady rate over his first few seasons, Manning, after he and the Giants backed their way into the 2007 playoffs, achieved legend status when he outdueled Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots in the 2007 Super Bowl, winning game MVP. Often looked at as ‘Peyton’s Awkward Younger Brother’, Eli immediately rewarded the Giants’ aggression to select him, and looked to have the Giants on the cusp of an era of dominance.
The Giants and Eagles remained the class of the division following New York’s Super Bowl win. However the 2009 offseason brought change to the dynamic. Donovan McNabb was traded to the Washington Redskins and, after a game 1 injury to Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick became the starting quarterback for the Eagles. Vick was the story of the league in the 2010 season, putting up MVP numbers and making Andy Reid look like a genius for harnessing his skills in terms of a quarterback. In mid-December, with both teams sitting at 9-4, the Eagles travelled to the Meadowlands in a showdown that would give the winner the inside track on the division win. After a Manning touchdown pass to Kevin Boss in the 4th quarter gave the Giants a 31-10 lead, it looked as if the Michael Vick experiment had run its course and the more established Giants would come out on top in the division.
In one of the great comebacks in Philadelphia history, the Eagles used the remaining time in the quarter, a little over eight minutes, to scratch and claw their way back in the game. Between a quick-strike offense, a recovered onsides kick, and rare masterful clock management by Andy Reid, the Eagles managed to score three touchdowns in under 7 minutes to tie the game at 31. After two Manning incompletions and a sack forced the Giants into a punting situation, it looked as if the Eagles had forced the most improbable of overtimes. With 14 seconds remaining following a Giants timeout, New York punter Matt Dodge inexplicably decided to punt the ball to a waiting DeSean Jackson.
Jackson muffed the punt, possibly to his advantage, and was fortunately able to recover the ball without diving for it. After taking a few steps toward the middle of the field DeSean, as if he was shot out of a gun, exploded through the Giants special teams coverage toward the endzone. Eluding defenders, the electric Jackson navigated his way into the clear and slowed to a trot. In what seemed like it was partially strategic, but also even a ‘salt in the wounds’ move, Jackson straddled the goal line until the final seconds ticked off the clock, before finally breaking the plane and sealing the miracle comeback.
The 38-31 win, dubbed ‘The Miracle at the New Meadowlands’, all but sealed the team’s division title and its spot in Philadelphia sports lore. The Giants almost immediately regained bragging rights, winning the 2011 Super Bowl in almost identical fashion to their 2007 title.
The Giants and Eagles are perfect rivals. Both teams have knowledgable fanbases who have been stung by the opposition enough times to hold some level of respect for one another. The Giants, more so than the other division opponents, are the one team on the Eagles schedule that every year, no matter the expectations, are an opponent to take pride in one’s performance against. Between the Eagles miracle wins against the Giants, and the Giants miracle runs to the Super Bowl, each fanbase has prime fodder for arguments against each other, and the animosity even dips into the opposing locker rooms. Beating the Giants at least once a year makes even the most unbearable seasons somewhat acceptable, and every loss at their hands stings like no other game. For that reason, the Giants are the clear favorite for team that is most enjoyable to beat as a Philadelphia sports fan.
MOST MEMORABLE WIN IN RECENT MEMORY: DECEMBER 19, 2010-MIRACLE AT THE NEW MEADOWLANDS