Monday, November 03, 2008

A 33-year History of a Philadelphia Sports Fan

By Eric Redner
The Phanatic Magazine

On October 29 we all got to experience a feeling that many of us have never felt, and many have not felt for a long time: pure, unadulterated happiness thanks to a championship.

I happened to be at a local establishment, and by that I mean a bar (shout out to Sweeney’s on Philmont Ave.), with several of my good friends, and several dozen others who became my friends throughout the night.

When Brad Lidge threw strike three, the place, like the rest of the area, erupted in an orgy of cheers, beers and tears (of which I emitted a few). My phone was blowing up and, outside, people were blowing things up (alcohol and explosives make for a great combination). We spent the night celebrating as if it were Fourth of July, New Year’s and everyone’s birthday all at once. And then, I, like many others, spent the next day recovering.

On Friday, we got to witness the first parade in this city in 25 years. Many of my friends got to make it down. I, unfortunately, had to work and was told that anyone who was scheduled that day and called out would be fired. So I enjoyed watching the players, along with Pat Burrell’s bulldog, and the fans make their way down Broad Street to the eventual celebration at the stadium.

It was odd feeling the way I have for the past couple of days. It’s almost like this weight has been lifted off the chest of this city and the fans of its four teams. For the past week or so, it truly has been “Always Sunny in Philadelphia”.

With that being said, I want to share with you my history as a Philadelphia sports fan.

1974 – The year I was born. Now I can’t say that I can remember anything from this time. One story, though, that my mother has told me has to do with her baby shower when she was pregnant with me. The shower was held at my grandparents house and while my mom and her friends held the party on the ground floor, my father and several of his friends along with my grandfather were in the basement watching Game Six of the Stanley Cup Finals. My mom told me that by the third period of the game, the party had moved to the basement to watch the Flyers win the Cup in their seventh year in the NHL. So, technically, I was witness to a champion before I was born.

1975 – When I was roughly six months old, the Flyers won their second straight Cup. The only story I heard about that was there were several people where we were living watching the game, and I was told that I slept right through most of it, but woke up shortly before the end of the game and was raising bloody hell when everyone in the area started celebrating. Could this be the reason I like hockey so much?

1980 – All four teams competed for a title that year, but all I can remember is the Philadelphia Phillies. I was allowed to stay up that night to watch the game with my parents and their friends. What I do remember is the jubilation in our apartment and throughout the complex as everyone spent the night drinking, shooting off fireworks and having a good time. I wish I would have been a bit older to appreciate it more.

1983 – Before I go on I have to admit that I am not much of a basketball fan. Although, out of the four sports I played when I was younger (baseball, hockey, basketball and soccer), the only time I won a championship was when I played basketball. This turned out to be the last year the city experienced joy as the Sixers defeated the Lakers. I know me and my parents went to a lot of basketball games when I was younger and I liked the team, but I can’t say that I remember much of the night they won. I’m sure I was excited, but I just can’t recall any details. I do, though, remember later in the year being crushed when the Phillies lost to the Orioles in the World Series. At the time, I was in love with baseball and, since I pitched in Little League, my idol was Steve Carlton since we were both leftys.

1985 – The Flyers lost to the hated Oilers this season, but I didn’t pay much attention to this. Earlier in the year I had battled a life-threatening injury that kept my out of school for over a month and I had spent months afterwards recovering and catching up on school to make sure I didn’t get left behind a year. I’m sure if the Flyers had won the Cup I would have been happy, but I had more important things going on at the time to pay attention to anything else.

1987 – This was a big year for me. I was finishing up elementary school and looking forward to junior high school. It’s that time in a young boy’s life where you start to grow up and realize there is more to the world than the little society that is your family and friends. That being said, when the Flyers reached the Finals that year I was ecstatic. I didn’t know a single person that did not follow that team as they fought their way to the Finals to play the Oilers. All looked bleak after a Game 4 loss that saw the team down 3-1 heading back to Edmonton, but Rick Tocchet scored early in the third and the team held on to bring the series back to Philly. In Game 6, Edmonton took a quick lead, but the Flyers battled back and third period goals from Brian Propp and J.J. Daigneault forced a Game 7. In the final game, Murray Craven gave the Flyers an early lead, but Mark Messier tied it later in the first, Jari Kurri scored in the second period and Glenn Anderson sealed it with a little over two minutes to play. I cried. I threw my TV on the ground. I screamed and yelled and no one could console me. It was one of the most upsetting moments of my life at the time. Little did I realize that there would be greater things in life to be upset about, but at the time, a little boy’s dream had died.

1993 – A year out of high school and currently in college, I was a busy man at this time, but not busy enough to follow the story of one of the grittiest teams to ever grace sports, those ’93 Phightin Phils. This was an ugly team with Lenny Dykstra and his cheek full of chaw and John Kruk and his overall ugliness. But it also had its pretty boy in Darren Daulton, who my mom and several girls I knew absolutely loved. This team embodied what it was to be a Philadelphian. Hard-working, a little surly, but dedicated to their cause. I’m not going to recount to you every moment of the season, except for the two that I’m sure we all remember. First, Mitch Williams’ perfect ninth inning in Game 6 capped on his high fastball that struck out Bill Pecota to send the Phils to the World Series for the first time in 10 years. I was at my friend Jack’s house for that moment, along with his family (which included his gorgeous sister who I was infatuated with), and several friends. When that third strike came, it was one of the greatest celebrations that I ever witnessed. Then came the World Series and again the moment revolved around Williams, but this time he served up a home run ball to Joe Carter and the drought continued. While I was upset at the time, it had still been only 10 years since a championship and we had seen two title runs by the Flyers. Surely I wouldn’t have to wait much longer.

1997 – This was the year when the drought was starting to hit home. The Eagles seemed to always be just a bit away from a real playoff run, the Phillies were in the middle of a 13-year run without a playoff appearance and the Sixers, well, can’t really say I cared about them either way. But the Flyers, well, that was the team that had my heart. By this time in my life hockey was my passion. I played roller hockey on an almost daily basis, watched hockey whenever it was on, and, when it wasn’t on, I played hockey on Playstation. With that being said, the 1996-97 hockey season was exciting. The Flyers had been a force through the season and it appeared that the Eric Lindros trade might finally pay off. The team ripped through the playoffs with five game victories over the Penguins, Sabres and Rangers, who thankfully took care of the hated Devils in the previous round. However, I was still worried once it was known that we would face the Red Wings. Being in Philadelphia for 22-plus years at this point had turned me into a pessimist and since most experts were picking Philadelphia to win, I was very skeptical. Turns out I was right. This was a depressing loss cause everything seemed to be going the Flyers’ way and it just felt like their year. What made it worse, was my best friend at the time was a Detroit fan. He didn’t rub it in, but I remember him saying to me, “Those Philly teams will always disappoint you when it matters most.”

2001 – I know the Sixers went to the Finals against the hated Lakers this year, but I could have cared less. I am just not a fan of basketball. What I do remember from this series is watching the first game at the house of a friend of my girlfriend. The parents of this girl were very much the Philadelphia sports fans. They were pumped for this game and after the win there were bold proclamations of a sweep of the Lakers. However, most of us know what happened in the next four games, I can’t really say that I did because I didn’t really care.

2005 – Just a month after celebrating the New Year, the Philadelphia area was celebrating the Eagels’ first Super Bowl appearance since 1980. To get to the big game, the Eagles had to battle the Falcons in frigid conditions with a sub-zero wind chill on gameday and a brutal snowstorm the night before. Look, I haven’t been a big football fan since the late 1990’s and while I was excited that the Eagles were there, for me it was just an excuse to have a good time. I had to work until 5 pm on the day of the Super Bowl and after work I went to the bar and met several friends there. I remember watching the game, I remember Paul McCartney during the halftime show, I remember Donovan McNabb throwing up, and I remember it being a close game. But aside from that, I can’t really tell you anything about the game. What it did do to me was increase my belief that I would never live to see a Philly championship.

2008 – See above.

This is by no means a complete account of my history as a Philadelphia sports fan, just the championship games.

There have been many magical moments in my 33 years of watching Philadelphia sports. The Buddy Ryan-led Eagles were fantastic to watch. Charles Barkley’s antics while in the city were both fun and frustrating to hear about. Defending the honor of the city for commentators and other fans calling us the worst city in sports.

The last thing I would like to share with you, though, is one of my proudest moments of attending sports. Late in the 1992-93 season I was called by a friend early in the morning. He told me his girlfriend was sick and asked me if I would like to see the Flyers play the Penguins. It was another disappointing season for Philadelphia as the team was about to miss the playoffs for a fourth straight year. The Flyers won the game, which was nice, but at the end of the game the crowd gave Pittsburgh superstar Mario Lemieux a standing ovation. Lemieux had just finished radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s lymphoma earlier in the day and had missed the past two months due to the treatment. His first game back was against the Flyers and the fans, who are generally considered the worst in sports (mostly from writers and other fans who have never been to this city), stood in applause to recognize a testimony to what human beings can do when they set their minds to it.

Thank you Phillies, thank you from the bottom of my heart for bringing this happiness to not only me, but to all my friends and family and everyone else in this area who have been starved for so long for what you brought to us.

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