IT ISN’T THE ONLY THING, BUT IT’S CLOSE (40%)
Okay, even here in Philly, the bottom line does matter. A lot. “It always starts with winning,” says Charles Barkley, who knows that no image endures like a march down Broad Street. In a sense, we’re hard-wired for hard luck, as a city that lost its status as America’s political center and a manufacturing hub. The struggles of our teams echo our own to regain some respect, even if it’s just on a playing field. Since the 1960s, we’ve seen only five championships: the ’74 and ’75 Flyers, the ’83 Sixers, and the ’80 and ’08 Phillies. The ’80 Phils deserve special consideration for winning the first title in the team’s 97-year history. By that same logic, the ’08 Phils earn the most adoration, for snapping the city’s 25-year title drought.
As for those that didn’t quite make it to the mountaintop, two still qualify as truly cherished squads. The 2001 Sixers took the city on a year-long magic ride, right up until the goliath that was the Lakers proved to be too mighty. And of all the teams that fell just short, the 1993 Phillies will always hold a lofty status for enduring post-season death threats and still loving us back.
AND THE WINNER IS …
So what’s the most beloved team in history? Barkley has never shied away from an honest assessment, and his analysis of the Philadelphia sports landscape is typically blunt. “The Eagles are kings,” he says. “The Flyers are second. The Phillies and Sixers are dictated by how well the teams are doing.”
Sir Charles may be right in terms of season-to-season popularity, but according to my calculations, the 2008 Phillies earn the title of our most beloved team of all time. Along with ending the historic championship drought, that team had it all: the folk-hero manager, a responsive front office, an identifiable group of players, and almost too many intangibles to count—from the World Series rain-delay game to the last post-season narrated by the legendary Harry Kalas. The Cup-winning Flyers of the ’70s are runners-up. For proof that winning is only part of the equation, the ’93 Phillies and ’01 Sixers earn third and fourth place, with the Gang Green Eagles in a tie with the ’80 Phillies rounding out the top five.
As a lifelong fan, I’m sure there’s only one thing that will come of all this—a few fans who agree with me, and plenty more who’ll call me a know-nothing bum. In Philadelphia, sports love is neither patient nor kind.