I look back now and remember the first time I started cheering for a Philadelphia sports franchise. It was during the 1975 Stanley Cup playoffs and that team was the Flyers. I know this is supposed to be a football article but bear with me, we’ll get there.
I was a six year-old boy and I was at my Uncle Landris’s house for dinner with my family. After dinner some of the men gathered around the television to watch the Toronto Maple Leafs-Philadelphia Flyers playoff match-up. I really had no idea about professional sports before this moment. I threw the ball around with my dad in the summer and played road hockey with my friends in the winter; that was sports to me.
It was game 4 of the quarterfinal playoff match-up and Philadelphia was up 3 games to none, and again I had no idea of this. As the game progressed I really loved the Flyers and the way they played the game. Pretty soon I found myself passionately rooting for them. This might not seem weird to you, but what you don’t know is that I grew up in a small town just outside of Toronto, I was in enemy territory.
When Andre Dupont scored in overtime to seal the victory for the Flyers, much to my dad’s disappointment, I jumped up and down with excitement, really rubbing it in on those Leaf fans. My Uncle Landris was of Greek decent and a very tough man. He was the type of guy that even when he smiled it seemed like a frown. As I jubilantly celebrated, he shook his head, mumbled something in Greek and walked out of the room. My loyalty to the Flyers was born.
Over the next few years I fell in love with the franchise. Bernie Parent, Bobby Clarke, and Reggie Leach, were just some of my favorites. But with hockey there was a problem, I had no way to emulate my hero’s. I think I was the only Canadian that didn’t know how to skate at the time, and I needed some way to express myself. That’s when Julius Erving entered my life.
From the first game I watched with Dr J as a Sixer, I was instantly a fan. We also had one thing in common, the finger roll. When I saw him do it, I had to try it. I practiced and practiced until it became my trade mark move in public school, and eventually it led our team to a championship. It also led the Sixers to a championship years later, when I was a freshman in high school. That team is still argued as one of best assembled ever. To go along with Erving, the Sixers had Moses Malone, Bobby Jones, Andrew Toney, and Moe Cheeks, as starters. God I loved watching that team play the Lakers and Celtics, I still debate to this day, that the 80′s were the greatest decade of basketball for the NBA.
In the late 70′s it became apparent that I was a full-fledged Philly sports supporter; much to the disgruntlement of friends and family. Along with the 76ers and Flyers, I was now a Phillies and Eagles fan.
My love for the Phillies quickly paid off in the 1980 season with the first World Series in franchise history. I think my head hit the basement ceiling when Tug McGraw struck out the final batter, I was overcome with joy as I rolled around on the floor with my hands in the air screaming “Yes! Yes!”. With Steve Carlton, Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, and Gary Maddox , I had a lot of great players to impersonate when I hit the baseball field. My favorite was actually “The Bull”, Greg Luzinski. He is the role model for overachievers everywhere, and I loved watching him waddle around the outfield.
The early 80′s were great years in Philly sports. In 1980 Philadelphia was called a city of champions because the Eagles, Phillies, and Flyers, sports franchises made it to the finals of their respective leagues, with the 76ers losing in the semi-finals to the Boston Celtics. Those were the glory days when championships seemed to be around every corner.
The 1980 Eagles were my first really big let down. They were heavily favored in Superbowl XV and after I had just celebrated a Phillies World Series Crown, I might have been a bit over-confident about the outcome, I guess. When the final seconds ran off the clock and the Eagles were on the wrong end of a 27-10 outcome, my love for Eagles were born out of tears. Please remember, I was only 12 at the time–I never cry anymore.
After the 1983 76ers, Philly sports had a remarkable run of 25 years without a championship. There were some great seasons by some great teams over those years, but eventually all of those teams left me with heartbreak.
1983 Phillies – They were nicknamed the “wheeze kids” because of the major veteran presence on the roster.. They beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship, but lost to the Baltimore Orioles four games to one in the World Series.
1985 and 1987 Flyers- Great teams that had the bad luck of playing the Wayne Gretzky-led Edmonton Oilers. I really thought they were going to pull it out in ’87, but the disappointment continued.
1993 Phillies- This was probably the hardest lost to take and the reason I watch all important games, regardless of the sport, alone. They lost to the Toronto Blue Jays in six games off a game winning walk-off by Joe Carter. I got the gears a lot that night at a friends party. I never, ever want to go through that again. Alone or in Philadelphia is the only way to go.
1997 Flyers- Led by Eric Lindros the Flyers made the finals but lost four straight to the Detroit Red Wings. I still say if they would have won that series it would have been the start of a great championship run.
2001 76ers- The underdog Sixers were led by M.V.P. Allen Iverson and surprisingly won the first game of the final against the Los Angeles Lakers. The first game of that series might have been one of the greatest moments as a Philadelphia sports fan. They lost the next four straight but it was a great season for an overachieving team.
2004 Eagles- Was this the year? Everyone thought so but Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb’s lack of clock management cost the Eagles a chance to beat Tom Brady and Patriots.
After going through all those seasons and the incredible amount of heartbreak, it finally ended for me in the fall of 2008 with the Phillies winning the World Series. I still have the picture of Brad Lidge striking out the final batter as my home page for all my electronics. This is how I expressed myself on Facebook moments after.
Is celebrating!!! 25 years, 8201 days, 100 seasons and 8750ish games, THE, Philadelphia Phillies are World Champs!!!!
It was a great feeling and one that was worth waiting 25 years for. For a while afterwards, the yelling at the TV during games stopped. The anger subsided and there wasn’t quite as much letdown after a big loss.
I began to question myself during the 2009 World Series loss to the much-hated New York Yankees, as my only words to myself were, “we’ll get them next time”. Who was this? In 2010 when the Flyers lost in the final I just brushed it off as them just being there was good enough for me. Something’s was wrong with that. I was starting to think that I might have lost my edge, and maybe I was just losing interest as a sports fan. Me, after all I’ve been through? For all the embarrassment I have endured; Broken TV’s, holes in walls, and the odd bar disagreement for the love of these sport franchises, and now it was just “Owe shucks boys, we’ll get ‘em next time”? Something had to change, and it did. Enter the 2013 Philadelphia Eagles.
I am hanging on every second of every game this team plays and my intolerable self is back with it. I love the underdog story, this team has surprised me and brought back the passion that I was yearning for. The coaching and leadership has endured several bumps on the road during the season and has a chance to capture a playoff spot in the coming weeks, quite the accomplishment for a team that is in re-building mode with a new coach. And the football, boy oh boy, is that exciting.
So come Sunday night, especially if the Cowboys fall to the Redskins, I will be huddle in my man cave, alone with only the TV and the few necessities I need to watch another important game.
This is one game in a string of them that I can now trace back 40 years. I’m sure all fans have their own story and memories which is the greatest thing about being a fan. I have never quit being a Philadelphia supporter, but I haven’t had this passion or need since the 2008 season. Hopefully, the Eagles will have the same final results as that Phillies team.