Being a sports fan, and having been born and raised near Philadelphia, I am no stranger to heartache. Perennial underdogs, Philly teams know how to engender hope in their base, and then dash it against the hard rocks of reality.
One of my earliest baseball memories is of the 1964 Phillies who, in September, were virtual shoe-ins to win the National League Pennant. They had been in first place since the beginning of the season. Nothing could stop them. Oh, but wait — we’re talking PHILADELPHIA Phillies, circa 1964!
I was just starting 7th grade when the collapse happened. Barry Goldwater was running for President against Lyndon Johnson, and what happened to Goldwater was nothing compared to what happened to the Phillies. Johnny Callison, Richie Allen (later Dick Allen), Tony Taylor, Jim Bunning (later a crazed right-wing zealot), Chris Short (brother of one of the teachers at our Junior High School) and so many others — they’d been in first place since day one. (Did I say that already?) How could they lose?
I remember the Philadelphia Inquirer on the kitchen table, every morning through September. Slowly the headlines evolved, as concern turned to worry and then unbelieving fear. It goes down in history as one of the epic fails in baseball. But for Philly fans, just another day, really.
The Eagles have been much the same. Remember the 1981 Superbowl versus the Raiders? I do. My one regret is not watching it with my father. Instead, my sister and I went to a party with a bunch of work friends. A sad night. That often happens when Philly fans get together to party.
Of course, there are the occasional bright spots. There have been Stanley Cups, Superbowls, World Series wins and NBA Championships. That’s what keeps hope alive.
And (of course) there is also superstition — plenty of that. If you haven’t seen “Silver Linings Playbook,” you haven’t yet got a handle on what it is to be a Philly sports fan. Watch this clip – it pretty well sums it up:
Is it resilience or delusion — that feeling I have at the start of every season? Did it help, that I wore that T-shirt when the Eagles beat the Giants? (And should I wash it or not?)
I’m ashamed to say that these questions actually take up a bit of space in my head. Not a LOT, mind you — at least not until game day.