Charles Dickens once wrote:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
That present period sounds a lot like the current Philly sports period. The past twelve months have seen some of the highest highs Philadelphia teams have seen in decades, and some of the most soul crushing endings in the history of those franchises.
imagine enjoying a sport in philadelphia— Michael Levin (@Michael_Levin) November 26, 2015
We have been here before and we will be here again, but it is impressive that in such a short period of time every team in every major professional sport in Philadelphia has found a way to put their fans on the verge of joy only to deliver a swift and powerful gut punch that makes you question the point of sports.
If there was any remaining doubt that soccer can make it in America, behold the 2022 MLS Cup. The Union tied it up with minutes to go, and then took the lead in stoppage time of extra time only to cough up the lead minutes later and then embarrassingly get shutout in the shoot out. Another instant classic game that another Philly team found themselves on the wrong end of. Welcome to the club.
Next up were the Phillies, who clawed their way out of a losing record at the end of May to a playoff berth in October. They ripped through the NL playoffs, losing just twice on their way to the World Series and defeating the defending champions in the process. In the World Series they won Game 1 then lost in six to the universally reviled Astros, hitting a pathetic .163 in the series.
Then came February. For 19 games the Eagles were the best team in the NFL. Then a grass surface grown to resemble an ice rink, a coach who was mentally checked out, and a penalty call that infuriated a nation contributed to seal one of the biggest collapses in Super Bowl history.
Even the worst team in the city, the Flyers, got in on the action of pissing off their fans. After their third straight season missing the playoffs, the only time other than the stretch from 1990 to 1994 that the team failed to make the playoffs in consecutive seasons in their entire history, the Flyers announced a much needed remodeling. Instead they just painted on a new layer of the same old paint and tried to gaslight their fans that it was different before the paint was dry.
And then there was the Sixers last night. One of the worst choke jobs this city has ever seen in a year full of emotional body blows. Career defining pathetic performances by a pair of MVPs while an opposing star who struggled all series had a career defining game. A fan favorite committing a completely inexplicable penalty while sitting on the bench, their three stars combined to shoot 32%. Worst of all, it felt preordained.
In this past year we have had everything before us and nothing before us at once; a season of light and a season of darkness at the same time. That duality almost defines sports. How great is the best regular season in decades, or ever, if the playoffs end in failure? How great are incredible individual seasons when the team fails? We shouldn’t dismiss those accomplishments but excruciating endings do and should diminish them. A book isn’t judged by its cover nor by its ending, but they are a part of its contents. Playoff failures—and in every season in every sport all but one team must fail—are amplified by the regular season. A team that lumbers to a playoff appearance and then goes out meekly draws little emotional response and is rarely worthy of the adulation or scorn that comes with passion.
If there is any solace in these falls off of the path just before the summit, it is that in order to demonstrate that you bleed you must be cut.