While Philadelphia might not have the glitz and glamour of American cities like Los Angeles and New York, it does have one thing that can’t go unnoticed: extremely passionate fan base. Whether fans are rooting for the Flyers, 76ers, Eagles or Phillies, the teams never lack support.
Still, any true Philly fan knows that this support comes intense criticism. Due to COVID restrictions, fans have been unable to attend games for most of the 2020 season. However, fans are still extremely invested in sports — with high expectations. Unfortunately, all four major teams in Philadelphia have fallen short of those hopes. Are Philly sports cursed this year, or were the expectations just too high?
One Philly team that fell short is the 76ers. After losing to a Kawhi Leonard buzzer beater in a wild game seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, there was incredible hope for the 2019-20 season. Playoff experience aside, the 76ers made a series of offseason moves to improve the team — all of which ended up backfiring in a big way.
Jimmy Butler, who the 76ers acquired in a trade during the 2019 season, left in free agency to join the Miami Heat, and led them to the 2020 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s not clear if the 76ers offered Butler an official contract offer, but regardless, it seems as though Butler didn’t want to come back. He questioned the leadership during his time in Philly when appearing on former 76er JJ Reddick’s podcast.
“It was so different. On any given day, me as a person, as a player, I didn’t know who the f— was in charge. I think that was the biggest thing. I didn’t know what the f— to expect whenever I’d go into the gym, whenever I’m going to the game. … I think I was lost as the next motherf—er. “ said Butler.
Speaking of who is in charge, GM Elton Brands’ decision to bring back 76ers head coach Brett Brown was just one of Brand’s many questionable decisions during the offseason. Bringing back Brown this season made little sense. While it was reported that both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid advocated for the coach to come back, players making decisions about coaching personnel is a slippery slope. Regardless, the team regressed. They went from a three seed and an Eastern Conference Finals appearance in 2018-19 to a six seed and a first-round exit, courtesy of a sweep by the Boston Celtics. It wasn’t until after this disaster season ended that Brown was finally fired.
Now, it’s on Elton Brand to find the right coach to lead this team. This past offseason, Brand signed Al Horford to a massive four-year contract extension, worth up to $109 million dollars. It’s a vast understatement to say that the signing has yet to work out so far, as Horford has struggled to be effective, especially when sharing the court with Embiid. And let’s not mention signing Tobias Harris for five years and $180 million. 76ers fans now have to wait and see what Brand does this offseason. Who will be the new coach? Will Brand make any trades to better complement the roster?
The Philly team that saw the most success this season was the Flyers. In his first season as Head Coach, Alain Vigneault led the Flyers to a 41-20 record in the regular season and the number one seed heading into the NHL Bubble. While the team showed resilience in the playoffs, falling behind 3-1 in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the New York Islanders before forcing a game seven, the Flyers ultimately couldn’t pull off a victory.
Another team with high expectations coming into the season was the Phillies. In the offseason, the Phillies brought in former Yankees skipper Joe Giradi. The Phillies also signed starting pitcher Zach Wheeler and former Yankees shortstop Didi Gregorius. The Phillies were expected to be playoff contenders.
And yet, in the shortened 60 game season, the Phillies went 28-32, missing the playoffs after a horrendous 3-7 stretch in their final 10 games. GM Matt Klentak put together a team led by a bullpen that has 14 blown saves in a season of only 60 games! It’s been two years since the Phillies made a franchise-defining move by signing Bryce Harper to a $330 million contract, and they have yet to make the playoffs. This upcoming offseason will once again be critical to improve the team; fans will only get more restless as the futility continues. Hopefully, Matt Klentak will not be the one making the decisions.
To make matters worse, the Eagles are continuing their struggles from last season, starting with a score of 0-2-1 during the “easy” part of their schedule, with star QB Carson Wentz faltering. The Eagles still have a chance to escape the Philly curse this season, but early indications show that it will be a long climb as the level of competition ramps up significantly. Multiple injuries, highly questionable coaching decisions and a flawed roster form dark clouds on the horizon.
Cursed? We can’t know for sure, but maybe the prohibition on attending games in person is a blessing in disguise.