After nearly two years away, the Broad Street Line is back.
We’re aboard the train heading from Fern Rock all the way to Pattison – I mean AT&T Station. Wow, a lot changed in two years.
The two year hiatus came because of a move across the country that kept me void of most things Philly sports and looking for a quick hit of all things Philly. You never realize how good a nice Wiz Wit and Yuengling on a summer night at the ballpark are until you leave. Of course, I stayed connected with the game in every possible way, but it is nice to be back near the City of Brotherly Love and Tasing.
The Philadelphia sports landscape has certainly changed a lot over the last two years. Here are the top 10 storylines I missed over the last two years.
10 – Spectrum Torn Down
Remember when Ed Snider announced that the Spectrum would close? The plan was to demolish The House That Snider Built for a new, lavish “Philly Live” entertainment area next to the sports complex. Well, it took a while to knock it down after the Flyers and Sixers played one last game in their old haunts, the Phantoms were banished to upstate New York, Springsteen returned for a few last shows, Pearly Jam played the “final show”, and Snider hosted a “goodbye party” for the venerable building, but it is finally gone. Still no Philly Live though!
9 – Philadelphia Union
Philadelphia, I mean Chester, finally has a Major League Soccer team. After years of grassroots efforts from the Sons of Ben, MLS finally awarded a soccer team to Philly. The team won their first game at newly built PPL Park in front of a sold out crowd, and they hope to capitalize on the tailwinds of a good showing by the US team in the World Cup.
8 – Big Five Makes a Splash
A lot has happened in the Big Five over the last two years. Villanova made a run to the Final Four, Temple finished a run of three consecutive Atlantic 10 championships and Saint Joseph’s has retired Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse, played a year at The Palestra, and returned to the renamed Michael J. Hagen ’85 Arena. After two awful seasons on City Avenue, the future also looks bright on Hawk Hill where Phil Martelli has a plethora of young talent.
7 – Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay
The Phillies hadn’t had a true No. 1 ace since Curt Schilling was dealt to Arizona for Omar Daal, Travis Lee, Nelson Figueroa and Vicente Padilla in 2000. I know what Cole Hamels did in the 2008 playoffs, but in terms of a consistent stopper at the top of the rotation, the Phillies were lost for the better part of the decade. They gave up a package of low-ceiling prospects to get Cliff Lee and his manageable salary in a blockbuster trade (or maybe theft). Lee helped propel the Phillies back to the World Series and even won Game 1 in Yankee Stadium.
In the offseason, after sending elite prospects to Toronto for Roy Halladay, fans fanaticized about a dream rotation led by Halladay, Lee and Hamels. But, in a very unpopular move, in an effort to replenish the farm system, Ruben Amaro Jr. sent Lee packing to Seattle for a decent group of minor league prospects. Halladay went on to throw a perfect game and a playoff no-hitter, but the Phils fell to the Giants in the NLCS. But, for Ruben Amaro, the drama continued as the Phillies, or should I say “Mystery Team” brought Lee back to Philly on a 5-year deal this offseason. The Four Aces (or Dubee Brothers) have led the Phillies to the best record in baseball so far in 2011.
6 – Allen Iverson returns
The Answer came home. After a tenure in Philadelphia that included a trip to the 2001 NBA Finals and an MVP award, Iverson was traded to the Denver Nuggets during the 2006-2007 season. Iverson, in his declining years bounced to Detroit and Memphis before abruptly retiring after playing three games with the Grizzlies last season.
In an effort to boost interest in ticket sales, the 76ers signed Iverson to return to the team that drafted him No. 1 in the 1996 draft. In 25 games with the Sixers, Iverson averaged 13.9 points. He left the team in the middle of the season to deal with personal issues that were reported as ranging from a sick child to gambling problems. This return didn’t work so well.
5 – Flyers go to 2010 Stanley Cup Finals
It came down to one shot – on a shootout. The fate of the 2010 season was on the shoulders of 22-year-old winger Claude Giroux. If he scores, and the Flyers can stymie the Rangers last shot, the Flyers advance to the playoffs. After he lit the lamp, and Brian Boucher stood tall, the Flyers had completed what most believed to be the best they could do in 2010 – advance to the playoffs.
After a first-round upset of the Devils, the Flyers were playing with house money and against the Boston Bruins. After falling down three games to zero, the Flyers rallied to become the third NHL team to win a seven game series after dropping the first three. In an improbable match up, the seventh-seeded Flyers hosted the eighth-seeded Canadians and beat Montreal to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Although they didn’t hoist the Cup and parade down Broad Street, the Flyers gave fans a magical ride from Giroux scoring in the shootout on the season’s final day to an Eastern Conference championship.
4 – Eagles Shake up Roster
For much of the last decade, the names McNabb, Westbrook and Dawkins have been synonymous with Philadelphia Eagles football. Yet, in Andy Reid fashion, each player has been let go over the past two years to usher in a youth movement at the Linc. First, Dawkins signed as a free agent in Denver. The heart and soul of the Eagles defense, Dawkins is certainly a future Hall of Famer.
Next, the Eagles signed ex-con Michael Vick to be the Eagles’ version of the Wildcat quarterback. Despite a lot of attention from PETA and Eagles fans alike, Vick’s first year in green was low key on the field. Then, after a disappointing end to the season, losing two straight games in Big D, the Eagles released Brian Westbrook and traded Donovan McNabb to Washington in an Easter Sunday blockbuster.
3 – Phillies Win 2009 NL Pennant
Only once in a while does a team come around that is truly great. The Phillies over the last few years have been great. After winning the World Series in 2008, the Phillies won the National League for the second straight year in 2009. They took two games from the eventual champion Yankees, but the ability to win the National League two straight years is a remarkable feat. On the backs of midseason acquisitions Cliff Lee and Pedro Martinez, the Phillies dominated their opponents down the stretch to head back to the Fall Classic.
2 – Harry Kalas Dies
“We lost our voice.” Those memorable words from Phillies President David Montgomery summed up the feelings of a region on April 13, 2009. After collapsing in the booth prior to a Phillies – Nationals game in Washington DC, Harry Kalas died. He left behind a legacy never before known in Philadelphia. He was remembered as a kind, gentle, giving and selfless man that loved the Phillies. Kalas was also known as a party guy who knew how to have a good time. Behind the microphone, he brought Phillies baseball into our homes for decades with grace and excitement.
In his last home game in Philadelphia, he threw out the first pitch, received his 2008 World Series ring and watched a thrilling come-from-behind victory over the Atlanta Braves. In his final game, in Colorado, he got to deliver one more “Outta Here!” after Matt Stairs hit a game winning home run. He will forever be known as the Voice of the Phillies. He is and will always be deeply missed by Phillies fans.
1 – Phillies win 2008 World Series
“The 0-2 pitch… Swing and a miss! Struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball! Brad Lidge does it again and stays perfect for the 2008 season – 48 for 48!” – Harry Kalas
It had been 28 years since the Phillies were baseball’s best and 25 years since any Philadelphia professional sports team had been crowned champions. On Oct. 29, 2008, two days after the game started, Brad Lidge struck out Eric Hinske on a devastating slider to clinch the Phillies second world championship. Lidge fell to his knees, was hugged by Carols Ruiz, got barreled over by Ryan Howard and jumped on by the rest of the Phillies. Harry Kalas called it euphoria. He was right.
Two days later, the Philadelphia sports fans got to have an experience that had eluded them for a quarter century – a parade down Broad Street. Led by Pat Burrell and capped off by Chase Utley’s infamous World ——- Champions proclamation, the best season in Phillies history ended appropriately at Citizens Bank Park after millions of people lined Broad Street to catch a glimpse of their heroes.