About the Steve O Zone

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The O Zone...

The Not So Fab 5... Version 2

Today the team (sans one, TH is on vacation) ponders something that is never far from any Philly sports fan mind...

Why hasn't a professional sports team from Philadelphia (the 4 major sports only) won a title in 25 years, nearly 100 consecutive seasons whereas as otherwise moribund and inept franchises like the Florida Marlins, for example, have won not one but... two World Series in just the past 11 years?

Tough question. There are different reasons for each of the 4 teams. To name a few of the many would be financial, the ineptness of management, dilution of talent, and league parity. Let's give a modicum of the benefit of the doubt to bad luck. Just the way the ball bounces, the cookie crumbles. But, I guess, the main reason would be we just weren't good enough. We didn't have the horses. Philadelphians don't like to admit that but unfortunately sometimes it's true. There were a lot of close calls, a lot of would'ves and should'ves and could'ves, but sadly no champions. I am not a big believer in jinxes or curses but it sure does feel like that sometimes, doesn't it? I am also not one to look back on hindsight. Well, if Fregosi doesn't let the Wild Thing pitch to Joe Carter, if the Sixers play any team except the Kobe and Shaq Lakers, if Donovan doesn't throw-up....if, if, if. The plain and simple fact here is we didn't, they did and the rest is history.

It all comes down to two words in my mind: bad juju.

What that means is that a proverbial confluence (big writer word for "bunch
o' variables") of factors thwarted our teams' efforts. Somebody in Philly sometime in the last 25 years or so must have really pissed off God the Father, Vishnu, the Force, Allah, Yahweh, Watubi, L. Ron Hubbard...you name it.

From bad GMs at critical times to thin draft classes or outright lousy
draft picks -- EVEN WHEN WE WERE SUCKY ENOUGH THE YEAR BEFORE TO WARRANT A HIGH PICK (Shawn Bradley or Michael Haddix, anyone?); from star athletes who die in car accidents to coveted hockey players who get concussed into oblivion; from getting hot BUT NOT HOT ENOUGH TO STEAL A SERIES (OR A SUPER BOWL) at the right time to having something as bizarre as a fog right out of a Stephen King novella blow in when your football team was poised to to make a deep playoff run and maybe go all the way.

Across the 4 sports, at various times when we were really good, there was a dynasty that knew how to win even when they didn't bring their A game -- or something damn close to it -- standing in our way...e.g. Patriots in 2004, Edmonton Oilers in '85 and '87 (plus Red Wings in late 90s), Lakers in 2001, Blue Jays in early 90s. During these runs we had significant enough talent -- especially at key skill positions -- to get to first runner-up status, but at least every one of the teams listed above in this paragraph just plain had more.

We never "lucked out" and faced a stiff in a title series or game either: I look at weird years like 2000 in the NFL, when a Trent Dilfer-led Ravens team won with killer defense over a weak NFC opponent or the Mighty Ducks a couple years ago.

The Marlins example Steve cited, the NY Giants last year -- and maybe the Cardinals of 2006 -- are anomalies who support the "super hot at the right time" theory, in that they beat teams who were probably more talented and better than them on paper. The fact that we have not even achieved such anomaly status ONCE so far is double bad juju.

First off, I’ve got to ask: How weird is this? Droughts in sports can be unbearable, but they’re not that unusual.

Here's a list I got from Wikipedia:

Cleveland has waited longer than any other city with three major sports franchises to win a title. The last time a Cleveland professional sports team won a championship was in 1964 when the Cleveland Browns won the NFL Championship (pre-Super Bowl era). The Cleveland Indians last won the World Series in 1948 (the second-longest drought in MLB, after the Cubs) and the Cleveland Cavaliers have also never won an NBA championship. The city even had a short-lived NHL hockey team called The Barons, which never won a championship either. In 2004, ESPN named Cleveland the most tortured sports city in America.

Seattle has not won a major sports championship in any sport other than basketball and hockey. The Seattle Metropolitans won the Stanley Cup in 1917 (the first American team to do so), the Seattle SuperSonics (NBA) won a title in 1979, and the Seattle Storm (WNBA) won in 2003. Neither the Seahawks nor the Mariners have ever won a championship (the Mariners have never even been in the World Series}. Seattle nearly won a championship when the Seahawks represented the city in Super Bowl XL in 2006, but fell by a score of 21-10 to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Those who believe in the Buffalo Curse[2] cite as examples the four consecutive Super Bowl losses by the Buffalo Bills from 1990-1993 (and their failure to even reach the conference playoffs in subsequent years), as well as the failure of the Buffalo Sabres to ever win the Stanley Cup. Hearts were broken once again in 2006, when the Sabres lost to the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Even though the Sabres made it back to the conference finals the next year, they lost again, this time to the division rival Ottawa Senators. It is notable that the Buffalo Bills won the AFL championship in 1964 and 1965.

San Diego's two professional sports teams, the San Diego Padres and the San Diego Chargers, have never won a World Series or Super Bowl, which are believed to stem from the San Diego Sports Curse. The Padres have the most World Series appearances (two) of the eight teams without a World Series championship. The Chargers won the 1963 AFL championship and have only appeared in one Super Bowl (Super Bowl XXIX, which they lost to the San Francisco 49ers, 49-26).

Houston has a similar drought of championship titles. The city's baseball team, the Houston Astros, has appeared to date in only one World Series (in 2005, which they lost). Their football team (the Houston Texans) has never won a title; however, it should be noted that they have only been in the NFL since 2002. Its basketball team, the Houston Rockets, have won two championships, in 1994 and 1995, but have not won since then. In the WNBA the Houston Comets won four championships in 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000, becoming the first and still the only dynasty of the WNBA.

The Philadelphia story is unique only in that the drought extends to all four major sports. I’d like to be able to come up with a “magic-bullet” explanation, but I don’t really know enough to analyze it that deeply. That said, there are some factors that can probably be eliminated. One is fan support. Sure, some players complain about the toughness of Philly fans, but others thrive on their passion. And I can’t imagine that the burden of expectations is any greater than it is in New York, where they’ve had their share of championship seasons over the past fifty years. (And it’s not that we haven’t come close, with all four teams at least making it to the championship rounds in their leagues.)

Another reason that could be discarded is domination by sports dynasties, the way American League teams used to be routinely left in the dust by the Yankees of the 50s & 60s. Or like the Celtics once ruled the NBA.

You could argue that our drought has not as much been on the field as in the executive suites. All four teams went through a stretch of inept (Katz, Clarke) or cheapskate (Braman, the Gang of Eight) management that couldn’t or wouldn’t do what was needed to build winning teams.

As I said, I really don’t know enough to venture any kind of definitive explanation. Maybe a Bill James-type could study the stats and do the math to figure out the probability of all four teams going cold for the same 25-year stretch. We might discover the odds aren’t all that long. Or vice-versa.

Boy, why not just ask the secret to life or why Pauly Shore, Rosie O’Donnell and Arsenio Hall had what resembled a career? I’d have better luck answering those incomprehensible queries…

It is of course every Philadelphia sports fan (at least we view it this way) God-given right to bitch and complain and each time another season comes to a close sans championship, we exercise that right to its fullest.

I don’t know but I seem to have a problem with the fact that a man of 42 has enjoyed and relished four (4) world championships whereas a boy from in oh I don’t know… Boston (!)…has enjoyed and relished, hell I lost count… 7, 8, 9 titles in during his short tenure on this Earth.

Of course the above is not really fair but since when does fair have anything to do with sports?

Was it fair that Donovan McNabb (ahem) re-gifted in the Super Bowl?

Was it fair that Tim Duncan opted to stay in college for one more year rather that come out and thus be the #1 pick of your Philadelphia Seventy-Sixers? Yeah I know we got AI instead but, c’mon… we’re talking Tim Duncan here.

Was it fair that Jim Fregosi pulled out his American League textbook and brought in Mitchy Poo instead of staying with the hot hand?

Was it fair that Eric Lindros likes to skate with his head down?

Was it fair that we as fans are subjected to a litany of owners and ownership groups who are either penny-wise, pound-foolish or both… or neither??!! Hell I don’t even know what I’m saying!

I once had a friend of mine (Kevin Campbell) espouse a theory that says secretly Philly fans do not want to win a title. His rationale was that if we ever do win another one, we will have nothing left to complain about. It does make you go hhmmmmm… thanks Arsenio.

I realize, as my esteemed colleague Isaac points out, that there are in fact other cities and towns and suffer from the same sports malaise as Philly fans do, but… we of course are the only major metropolis that can boast the quadruple draught, with all four of major teams all equally mired in either mediocrity, bridesmaid or somewhere in between.

I honestly don’t know if I will see another title in my lifetime. That may sound fatalistic but in this town fatalism is not ever far from realism.

Til next time.


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