11 Philadelphia Sports Predictions for 2013
4. Flyers fans prove once again that they’re lemmings.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, must be a Flyers fan. I say this partly as a journalist, but also as someone who’s been forged of orange and black since the 1987 Stanley Cup run (and who owns an autographed Ron Hextall jersey). As tough as Philadelphia can be with its teams, Flyers devotees are an anomaly—loyal to a fault. Goalies come and go, coaches are fired too soon, general managers aren’t fired soon enough, the tickets are the seventh most expensive in the National Hockey League, and only the Eagles have eclipsed the Flyers’ championship drought—yet through all this, the fans still come out in droves. Even my jersey is a depressing symbol—the last net-minder who showed superstar potential had his best season some 25 years ago. Flyers fandom is a Sisyphean existence—we buy into the promise of greatness each winter, only to be knocked back down the mountain and out of the playoffs in the spring. Our reward for such devotion? A lockout that has led to the league’s second suspended season in less than a decade.
Let’s face it—hockey is really the fifth biggest sport in the country, behind football, baseball, basketball and NASCAR. Yet the NHL and its players seem to think they’re getting NFL ratings and can absorb another lost year. This labor battle isn’t a David-vs.-Goliath slugfest between the owners and the athletes—it’s mega-millionaires vs. plain old millionaires, with their lawyers playing a game of chicken. Fans should be outraged. In some markets, where hockey ranks lower than drag racing and pro wrestling, they’ll lose attendance. In this town, owner Ed Snider knows he can survive a lockout because he’ll still sell tickets. When the league does resume play, angry puckheads are calling for a protest—stay home for one game and send a message that the fans deserve better. It’s a great idea—for once, hockey would be the lead on SportsCenter, and the lasting image would be teams skating in empty arenas. Sending that message is well worth absorbing the price of one ticket. But if there’s any hockey in 2013, you can be sure the Flyers faithful will be in their seats for every game.
5. Ed Rendell stops leering into the camera like he’s undressing us with his eyes on Eagles PostGame Live.
Wishful thinking, part one.
6. The Union fails—again—to save Chester.
Though I’m not a soccer hater, writing this ensures me an inbox full of angry emails from the Sons of Ben. But consider the return on investment for the $85 million in public funding that helped build the Union’s stadium in Chester. In three seasons, the team has kept its winning percentage well below .500, and was swept out of the playoffs in its only appearance. Meanwhile, Chester is still … well, Chester. The transformative power of Major League Soccer has yet to turn the crime-and-poverty-stricken city into something more than Camden West. Politicians and Union leaders promised a greater cultural impact in bringing a pro sport to the city. Instead, Chester’s motto should be “Come for the Gambling and Soccer—Then Get the Hell Out.” No reason to think the team’s relevance—in the community, if not in the standings—will change anytime soon.
7. The Birds make a serious playoff run.
I know this sounds like crazy talk, considering the bulldozing that’s bound to happen when this season is over. Consider, however, what will be left when the dust settles. A healthy offensive line with Jason Kelce, Todd Herremans, and Jason Peters, the one-man wrecking crew who will improve both the running and passing games. Nick Foles, who might actually be the guy we were told we had in Kevin Kolb. One of the league’s most elusive running backs in LeSean McCoy (and, hopefully, a new coaching staff that will turn him loose). Goodbye wide nine, and with the right moves in free agency and the draft, hello to a much-improved defense (because really, could it be any worse?). The Giants are beatable, and the division is there for the taking. Let’s just hope they bring in a coach who’s ready to make some ballsy moves and put the NFC East in a choke hold (see Gruden, Jon, above).