By JARED BYRD
As I watched the Phrustrating Phils get swept by the New York Mets on their home turf, (which is a story all by itself), I thought to myself about the countless number of times Philadelphia sports fans have been let down over the years. This recent slide, (37-48 since June 1 and losers of 15 of the last 20 games), which will probably fall short of a playoff berth, reminded me of how long it had been since a Philadelphia team had actually won the ultimate prize - in any sport!
The last time one of the four major sports teams celebrated a title was in 1983 when the 76ers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA championship. Villanova won the college basketball championship in 1985. But other than the Wings (Philadelphia's lacrosse team) and the Phantoms (a minor league hockey team), no other Philly team has won a title since.
Of the four major professional franchises, the Flyers probably have the best chance of winning a championship. They greatly improved their chances with a blockbuster offseason by re-signing winger John LeClair, and signing free-agent center Jeremy Roenick and defenseman Eric Weinrich. Jiri Dopita, considered the best hockey player who wasn't in the NHL, has signed with the Flyers. And the Flyers unloaded disgruntled center Eric Lindros (and his parents) on the Rangers for three young prospects: wingers Pavel Brendl and Jan Hlavac, and defenseman Kim Johnsson. The question remains: can the defense and goaltending be solid enough to send them on their way to the Stanley Cup Finals?
The 76ers also appear to have an excellent chance of winning a championship, but thanks to the salary cap the team couldn't really pursue any free agents this offseason. However, they were able to trade forward Tyrone Hill (who played awful in the NBA Finals) to Cleveland for Cedric Henderson, Matt Harpring and Robert "Tractor" Traylor. Time will tell if this move will have any positive impact on the club. Head coach Larry Brown, who's legendary for moving from franchise to franchise (Pacers, Spurs, Clippers, Nets, Nuggets, etc.), was re-signed this offseason and won't be going anywhere for several years.
The Eagles probably have the third best chance to win a championship, getting to the second round of the playoffs last year and eventually losing to the NFC champion New York Giants. They rebounded from a 5-11 regular season in 1999 to finish 11-5 last year and had five Pro Bowlers on their roster. They had an active off-season, but they still need to improve their wide receiving corps if they want to move up to the next level. Free-agent pickups James Thrash and Freddie Mitchell were nearly invisible in the preseason, which lasted only three games because of the Veterans Stadium turf. The Eagles are scheduled to open a new stadium in 2003, but don't be surprised if it doesn't get finished in time.
Finally, the Phillies are probably the least likely franchise to win, not only because they don't spend money, but the rare times they do, they often make unwise decisions (i.e. signing Mike Jackson last year). Nobody, not even new manager Larry Bowa, has saved this sinking ship, which is seeing its fan base shrink more and more each day. An XFL franchise could have probably outdrawn this team. Those seats are empty for a reason - 14 out of the last 15 seasons have resulted in finishes below .500, and they may be headed that way again if things don't change soon. For years, a power hitter has been needed in the middle of the lineup. (A regular player who can actually bat .300 would be helpful as well - that's not a misprint, there are NO regulars in the Phils' lineup who are batting .300). The only hope this team has is for the current ownership to sell the team.
Right now, the chances of a Philadelphia team winning a championship are better than they have been in several years, but don't hold your breath waiting for one.