If you asked a Philadelphia sports fan to describe their life as a fan since 2013, chances are positive thoughts aren’t the first things you’ll hear. One might talk about the gradual, year-by-year demise of the Phillies from 2008 world (expletive) champions to baseball’s worst team in 2015. They might also speak of the initial excitement and rise of Chip Kelly’s Eagles, going 19-9 through the first 28 games, only to watch them crash and fall twice as hard. Then they might talk about the tanks for the memories of the 76ers, and the Flyers being a borderline playoff team at best, now not a playoff team at all.
However, after all this, the conversation might end with a phrase that was birthed by the former General Manager of the 76ers, Sam Hinkie: “Trust The Process.”
After all the negativity and misery and disappointment, we hear the words “Trust The Process.” Why? Well, human nature would suggest that people, while going through difficult and trying times, carry on in hope that better days await. The mentality and way of thinking runs through each one of us as people, whether it pertains to sports or anything else, and we are experiencing this in the very moment.
As Philadelphia sports sits in an unprecedented spot in its history, this method of human thinking has proven itself to be true among us as fans. Never before have we not only been told by one of our teams to sit back, be patient, and put up with years of losing, but bits and pieces of that same mentality has made its way over to the other teams in this town as well. Even Eagles’ coach Doug Pederson has said in an actual press conference to “Trust the Process.” So why do we actually sit back and put up with it? Why do we accept this, and better yet why do we truly believe better days are ahead?
As you read this, think for a second what made you a Philadelphia sports fan. It may be a moment, it may be a period of time, it may be a specific athlete. You may have been a child, you may have been a teenager, you may have been an adult. Maybe your mother or father brought you up in their footsteps rooting for our teams, or maybe you gravitated towards our teams on your own.
At our very core, we follow sports and cheer for our teams because of moments of joy they bring us. As humans, we are drawn to things that bring us happiness, enjoyment, and sense of optimism. Whether sports are your “escape” from other burdens or simply a true passion, or both, it is the pursuit of happiness and joy that draws us in. Show me an Eagles fan who hasn’t had that “little kid” feeling after a Brian Westbrook go-ahead touchdown run, a Brian Dawkins suplex, or Donovan McNabb-to-Terrell Owens touchdown bomb, and I will show you a liar. Maybe Michael Vick’s thrilling 2010 season gave you an extra emotional boost as you carried on through your weeks, believing that if he can come back from his trials better than ever, you can accomplish anything you set your mind to as well. Maybe you hugged your loved ones tighter than ever in your living room when the Eagles finally got over the hump in January 2005 and into Super Bowl 39. Maybe you and a friend embraced like you hadn’t seen each other in decades following Roy Halladay’s 2010 playoff no-hitter.
Any one of us can point out these moments, and can relate to a feeling of happiness and positivity. We crave that as humans, it’s in our DNA. It just so happens that as a fan of the Eagles, Phillies, 76ers, or Flyers, that we find this feeling of joy through our teams.
Philadelphia has seen one major sports championship since 1983, so our craving of this feeling is as high as anyone’s. We are willing to “trust the process” of dealing with some losing to bring us an eventual ultimate high.
Adding to our craving is the fact that in the last 7 months, we’ve gotten glimpses of what can be, of what our lives can be like when these “processes” are complete. Carson Wentz stepped in as the second overall pick of the 2016 NFL Draft, took the field on a sunny September afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, and in 4 passes already found Jordan Matthews in the corner of the end zone. At that moment, 66,000 fans in attendance and millions watching at home felt one of these “highs” – like DAMN, can you imagine this for the next 10-15 years? Then he did it again against the Bears on Monday Night Football. After that, he was somehow even better against the Steelers in an unimaginable 34-3 rout, and the Eagles were 3-0.
Fast forward to January. After 2 years, 2014 top pick Joel Embiid was on the court for the 76ers. Not only was he healthy, but he was already proving to be a transcendent talent. A 7-foot-3 player who can also run and also shoot the three-pointer? You gotta be kidding, right? And better yet, the Sixers started to win, and win regularly. The Wells Fargo Center had the most electricity on a nightly basis since Allen Iverson was hoisting the MVP trophy in 2001. Embiid’s larger-than-life personality was on full display and thousands of fans each night kept feeling more of these “highs.”
Obviously, the Eagles fell back to Earth as Wentz was a rookie quarterback with a terrible supporting cast, and Embiid suffered another setback with a knee injury that the Sixers didn’t care to rush him back from. But I guarantee as you read those last two paragraphs, you began to feel joy again in reflecting on those glimpses of what can be. Those moments of joy, of happiness, of feeling like a little kid again that we have experienced in the recent past, continue to propel us forward.
Now, take a second and place yourself in the moment I am about to describe. A few years from now, it is a cold, January night in the conference championship game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles lead Dallas (or insert any other team) 28-24 with three minutes to go, as fans collectively hold their breaths with prior playoff disappointments at the forefront of their minds. Carson Wentz then scrambles away from pressure to rifle a pass to Alshon Jeffery or Jordan Matthews in the end zone to seal a thrilling win as white towels wave all throughout the Linc. Or maybe its a 44-6 style blowout win and a three-hour party full of jubilation. The Eagles and their fans are back in the Super Bowl and feeling the third time will be the charm. At that moment, a 7-9 season a few years ago will have been worth every second.
Maybe it’s May 2020, the 76ers and Celtics are battling in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Joel Embiid blocks Isaiah Thomas en route to the basket, picks up the ball, throws it down the court to a dashing Ben Simmons, who slams home a thunderous dunk to put the Sixers up 15 with 3 minutes to go. The Wells Fargo Center, painted in a sea of blue and white, explodes with thunderous cheers. The Celtics call timeout, Joel Embiid runs up to hug Ben wearing an ear-to-ear smile, as chants of “TRUST THE PROCESS” reverberate through the walls of the arena.
Just imagine the joy, the child-like feeling of happiness at its purest that we all would be feeling. It may never happen, but the possibility of these moments coming to fruition are enough to keep us coming back through the good times and bad. Many Eagles fans might break down in tears of joy in the closing moments of a Super Bowl as Carson Wentz prepares for two final kneel-downs before the confetti falls.
It is moments like these that we are “trusting” will eventually come. We are trusting them because of the feeling they give us as not only fans, but as humans. We await being able to hug our loved ones who we’ve endured countless losses and disappointments with. And we currently justify our trust based on the glimpses that we’ve seen in the last 7 months.
Should we? Better yet, what choice do we really have? We crave the feeling of joy that winning brings, and in order to get there, many fans are willing to embrace what we are going through now. Will it all be worth it?
We gotta trust.