So, during my nightly stroll about the Interweb, I came upon what seemed to be an interesting article from Rick Reilly: Which franchise rules your city? I know the answer. I was both intrigued by the idea of the article, and mildly taken by the raw confidence displayed by Mr. Reilly (Editor’s note: Yeah, that second part kind of weirded me out). Should you not be a Reilly fan, I’ll save you the trouble of reading the entire article and post his section on Philadelphia below.
PHILADELPHIA Used to be Eagles, now it’s Phillies. This is partly because of the Phils’ young stars and partly because the Iggles owner has handed it to them. Jeffrey Lurie is a Boston guy who’s made $800 million so far on his Eagles purchase but not many friends. You always get the feeling that his jet bound for his beloved Beantown is double-parked.
Okay, where to begin? First of all, this is absurd. This is very much an Eagles town. Think for just a second about the game and the environment on Sunday: how many people do you know who didn’t watch the game? People who I know aren’t into sports at all watch the Eagles. I can have a conversation with just about any guy on the street about players on the Birds, but change that to the Phillies, and the conversation probably ends. That, and think about how many of those ridiculously tacky pink Eagles jerseys you see on a Sunday. It’s a strange phenomenon, especially because the Phillies really deserve our attention right now – they’re in the midst of a playoff push! Yet, the attention has shifted in Philly to the Eagles. On Monday over at The Sports Complex, James Beale was pondering why exactly this was the case, and seems to be every year.
But let’s get back to E$PN O’Reilly. He makes two points here supporting his claim: The Phillies have a lot of young stars, and Jeffrey Lurie is a Boston guy who’s made a bunch of money off of the Eagles but doesn’t really love us. Hmmmm. Let’s take a look at these more closely.
Oh, how we love our young stars. Nevermind that Ryan Howard was getting booed earlier in the year. Or the Frontrunning Rollins debacle. Yes, this team has some great young starts, namely Chase Utley, Howard and Cole Hamels. Burrell isn’t young, Rollins had one starstruck year, and though I love Shane Victorino, he alone isn’t selling any tickets. Hell, the best player this year for the team has been Brad Lidge, who has salvaged his career here after almost going batty at the expense of Albert Pujols’ bat. There are no guarantees that Howard and Hamels will even remain with the team in the future. Don’t get me wrong – I love these guys. But if I was going to claim that the Phillies were the franchise that ruled Philadelphia, I’d go a different route.
How about the tragic nature of the Phillies that keeps fans coming back year after year? Their almost innate ability to get soooo close to the playoffs or World Series and somehow lose it in the end. The fact that, despite being the franchise in professional sports with the most losses ever, we still come back to them, from one painful season to the next. The Phillies, and the culture of being a Phillies fan, has seemed to be passed down from generation to generation in a different way than the other teams. And not in some hokey, “lovable losers” bullshit excuse for fandom. We don’t glean some strange and backward sense of pride from the fact that the Phillies always break our hearts. It pisses us off. Sure, we take pride in being loyal, but we wish the experience was a whole lot less excruciating. This is a baseball town, and we do love our Phillies. Just not quite as much as we love our Eagles.
Is Jeffrey Lurie really the devil? Um, no. Do I care that he’s a Boston guy at heart? Not really. If that’s where he came from, I should hope he would retain some friggin’ loyalty – I respect that. As for him not making many friends, um…Why do I care? (Editor’s note: Ohmigosh, did you hear that Rick Reilly is calling Jeffrey Lurie unpopular? Scaaaaandulous!) Fact is, the man has paid for a winner more seasons since he took over in 1994 than not. We’ve seen players like Brian Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Jeremiah Trotter, Hugh Douglas, Duce Staley, and Jon Runyan come into town during his years. He put Andy Reid in charge, who has been the most successful coach in Eagles history. He pushed for the Link. All things considered, he’s been a pretty good owner. He just needs to get the big one, and his place in Philadelphia lure will be secure. (Editor’s note: My god, did he just avoid the potential play on words between lure and Lurie? Ladies and gentlemen, maybe The Pundit is finally growing up.)
No, there is a different reason why Philly is an Eagles’ town. Part of it is that football has become America’s game, and none of the other sports can really come close to making that claim. Football as a game is very similar to Philadelphia fans: it is passionate, intense, emotional, rough, gritty and demanding. Football is almost meant to be watched while drinking and getting rowdy. Not that Phillies games haven’t become frat parties of their own, because they certainly have. But that only seems to happen when the Phillies are doing well; an Eagles game is always a guaranteed tailgating fest, and a place to be very afraid if you’re wearing the wrong jersey. People can get together and watch the games on Sundays, the Birds becoming a part of every fans weekly routine; the Phillies play almost every night, and the season is long and takes a different level of engagement. Plus, football is naturally a more exciting game – it will always have an advantage over baseball in the “casual fan” demographic. Finally (and this one is my sleeper but a heavy hitter), the Eagles have better rivalries, and Philly fans loooooove hating other teams. What one rivalry do the Phillies have that consistently mirrors the intensity and hatred that the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys all regularly evoke? Perhaps the Mets in the past couple of years, but not traditionally.
I appreciate what you are trying to do Mr. Reilly, and I can’t hate on you for it. It’s an interesting conversation piece, and in that regard, well played. That being said, it would be a better article if you were actually correct. I’m sure other cities will make their arguments as well. Stick to the whole “human side of sports” bit, it suits you better.