It’s hard to believe that five years have passed since one of the most remarkable years in Philadelphia sports history. Many of us may have not fully realized what was happening at the time. In hindsight, I personally viewed that year as a stepping stone to a prosperous era of Philadelphia sports all the way around. How naïve I was. I was old enough (16) to appreciate what was happening right before me. But five years later as I write this, the Phillies are approaching the end of an era while there is uncertainty, some may say optimism, surrounding the other three major teams.
Early on in that year, the 76ers were taking their first major strides since the Allen Iverson trade of 2006 and marching their way into the playoffs. Andre Iguodala was looking like a potential franchise player and Andre Miller was a phenomenal veteran presence at point guard. The Flyers had rebounded from an abysmal 2006-07 campaign. A flurry of moves in 2007 brought in Danny Briere and Kimmo Timmonen among others. This combined with the rising stars of Mike Richards and Jeff Carter took the Flyers all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals vs. Pittsburgh, completing a remarkable turnaround. The Flyers were set for years to come and eventually peaked when they represented the East the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. Each night during April and May of 2008, there was a Philadelphia playoff game to watch. One night it was the Flyers, the next it was the Sixers. Little did I know that was just the beginning.
For the Eagles, 2008 was about putting a disappointing 8-8 record in 2007 behind them and rebounding behind a fully healthy Donovan McNabb (2006 ACL tear) and a hungry group of veterans that had another run or two left in them. The season started out with a bang; thrashing St. Louis, losing shootout for the ages in Dallas, and beating Pittsburgh in a defensive struggle at home. Jim Johnson’s defense was clicking in what was sadly his last year as coordinator. McNabb was indeed all the way back and the Eagles cruised to a 5-3 start. In November, the Eagles began to struggle badly as they tied the lowly Bengals before getting annihilated by the Ravens on November 23. In that Ravens game in Baltimore, Donovan McNabb was benched by Andy Reid at halftime and it appeared to be the end of an era as we knew it. However, Reid went back to McNabb on Thanksgiving night vs. Arizona after Kevin Kolb played even worse that second half. McNabb responded big time. He put together three phenomenal games in a row before a 10-3 disaster loss in Washington that dropped the Eagles to 8-6-1 and should have ended their playoff hopes. Thanks to Oakland and Houston for winning their earlier games in Week 17, the Eagles made it to the 4:15 kickoff vs. Dallas still alive. The season finale essentially became a playoff game as the winner would take the last NFC Wild Card spot and the loser was finished. The Eagles ran Dallas right out of town in epic fashion, 44-6. They rode that wave of momentum all the way to the NFC title game.
After all these comebacks during the season, the Eagles trailed 24-6 to Arizona at halftime in the title game. After McNabb put together a brilliant second half, giving the Eagles a 25-24 lead in the 4th, the Eagles seemed like a team of destiny. With the veterans nearing the end of their careers and McNabb playing nearly lights out, the Eagles time seemed to be now. However, the defense couldn’t hold off Kurt Warner on one last drive, and Philly had their heart broken in the NFC Championship Game yet again. Despite the disappointing finish yet again, it was an incredible run and I’m sure many Eagles fans would rather be in that situation than the one they faced in 2012.
That brings me to the Phillies, who despite the success of the other Philadelphia teams, owned 2008. That year will forever belong to them. In 2007, they broke Atlanta’s streak of fifteen straight division titles on the last day of the season. With a core consisting of back-to-back league MVP’s in Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins, along with Chase Utley, Carlos Ruiz, Cole Hamels, and Brad Lidge, the Phillies were on the rise and a team to be reckoned with for years to come. The Phillies had a strong regular season in 2008 after struggling in April, and clinched the east during the last week of the season. When the playoffs began, it was clear this Phillies team was different than the previous year’s squad that got swept by Colorado. They handedly beat Milwaukee in the Division Series. Then, thanks to great pitching, a timely “moonshot” home run (Matt Stairs at Dodger Stadium) and a comeback for the ages in Game 4, the Phillies beat the Dodgers to claim the National League Pennant and advance to the World Series.
The city of Philadelphia had not won a championship since 1983. Not one of the four teams. When the Phillies beat the Dodgers and advanced to face the suddenly formidable Tampa Bay Rays in the Fall Classic, there was little doubt that it was the Phillies’ time. They beat the Rays in five games and the city went absolutely berserk. Chase Utley summed it up best in his 5-word speech during the parade (YouTube it, I’m keeping this blog PG).
Philadelphia finally had its champion. The Phillies were primed for success in the years to come too. They won the pennant again in 2009 but fell to the Yankees in the World Series. They dominated in the regular season in 2010 and 2011 before falling short in the playoffs each time. However, there was no sight more beautiful from 2007-2011 than seeing the white towels come out each September at Citizens Bank Park. That’s when you knew it was playoff time in Philadelphia and the Phillies were gearing up for another championship run.
Now it is five years later. Watching this Phillies core age and struggle is a sad sight to see. They are a mediocre team right now and there is a strong possibility that the Chase Utley era will end within the week. The 76ers and Flyers both missed playoffs in the 2012-13 season. The Flyers are set up for possibly a strong rebound year, while the Sixers are in full rebuilding mode. The Eagles are the talk of the town with new head coach Chip Kelly looking to take the NFL by storm. With this optimism comes uncertainty, as many college coaches with no NFL experience have flamed out at the pro level. Kelly also does not know who his quarterback will be and many are not even convinced that any of his options are the answer. The Eagles could surprise a lot of people and make a playoff run this year, or it could be another dismal season like 2012, one Eagles fans are not accustomed to.
Clearly, and unfortunately, times have changed. 2008 will go down as one of the best years in Philadelphia sports history. At the time, we may have recognized what was happening with our teams but could not fully appreciate the legacy of that year. In 2013, maybe sooner than many of us anticipated, we can. So much has changed in five years and fans are now able to look back and appreciate what each Philadelphia team accomplished that year, especially the Phillies. It may be a few years before any Philadelphia team reaches the level they were at five years ago, let alone all of them at the same time. While we are left with hope, yet uncertainty, we can truly look back at the year that Philadelphia teams gave their fans in 2008, one that will be cherished by generations to come.