by Clark Groome
I’ve often wondered why the success or lack thereof of our professional sports teams means so much more to Philadelphians than to people elsewhere.
Every city that has a team in one of the four major sports wants its team to win, but Philadelphia seems somehow different. Maybe our devotion to the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies and Sixers has something to do with how Philadelphia has viewed itself for most of the last 100 years.
For those of us who are older than the Flyers, who were here when the Warriors left town, who can remember when the Eagles won their first NFL championship in 1948, who were heartbroken by the Athletics’ departure for Kansas City in 1954, and who can remember the Phillies of 1950 and 1964, winning sports teams have been an antidote to the widely-held local inferiority complex.
For most of the last century our city couldn’t have an attractive skyline because tradition dictated that no building could be taller than Billy Penn’s hat atop City Hall.
For most of that time people went home after work. They didn’t stay in town to eat because there were only a couple of restaurants – Old Original Bookbinder’s and Helen Sigel Wilson’s were about it – worth the time or the money.
Our art museum, while a wonderful landmark, was viewed as a second-tier museum. Our theater scene consisted mostly of pre-Broadway tryouts or post-Broadway tours. The only truly great artistic institution was The Philadelphia Orchestra.
Growing up in this town you were always aware you were in the shadow of New York, only 90 miles up the road.
Philadelphia sports teams had a checkered history. The A’s were the baseball team most people paid attention to. They won World Series in 1910, 1911, 1913, 1929 and 1930. The 1929 team is widely felt to be the best baseball team ever with its only real competition for that title coming from the 1927 Yankees.
Like other franchises before and since, the A’s sold off key players and their performance sank precipitously, ultimately doing so poorly at the box office that they were sold and moved to Kansas City.
The Syracuse Nationals came to Philadelphia as the 76ers in 1963, replacing the Warriors who had left town the season before.
And then along came the Flyers. Hockey’s expansion in 1967 brought the team that quickly won the city’s heart as well as Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.
Perhaps it was the Flyers, perhaps it was the Phillies’ acquisition of Pete Rose in 1979 and their first World Series championship a year later, but something began to change in Philadelphia.
Our teams did well. So did the rest of the city. The skyline embargo was lifted when One Liberty Place opened in the late 1980s. The local theater community became one of the country’s most vibrant and diverse. The Art Museum was a stop on a couple of touring exhibits, thrusting it into the forefront of American museums.
Restaurants began growing like mushrooms. Philadelphia went from a backwater food town to a destination city.
So what does that have to do with our sports teams? Our passion is driven by loyalty, civic pride and a desire to win to be sure. It is also driven by a defensiveness, a need to say, “See. Philly’s just as good, or better, than your town.”
This introspection is the result of all the press surrounding the Phillies’ lack of activity before the non-waiver trade deadline last week. Articles and reports (especially former Phillie Doug Glanville’s op-ed in last Saturday’s New York Times) make it clear that Philadelphia, at least to those elsewhere, is a big deal.
Since 1948 when the Eagles won their first NFL championship, our four major teams have played in 25 championship series, winning nine.
Since the turn of the century each of our teams has appeared in their league’s championship round at least once, with the Phillies getting there twice.
True, they have won but one championship this century but the Eagles, Flyers and Phillies have almost always been in the running. The Sixers? Well, they’re rebuilding – again.
Sure it’s tough to lose. The current Phillies are hard to take. We want to root for a winner.
For all that, there’s absolutely no reason for Philadelphia sports fans to feel insecure. We have four committed franchises that inevitably will have some bad years to go with the good.