To be a Philadelphia fan is often to court heartache. The latest in a lengthy line of torment is seeing a promising Super Bowl run potentially torn apart along with Carson Wentz’s ACL.
But if you think Philly has the market cornered on sports-based angina, remember Atlanta.
The Phillies’ 2008 World Series championship remains the apex of the last quarter century in Philly sports. But there is a part of every fan that saw the Charlie Manuel-era Phils who believe a championship or two remained uncaptured. The fabled four-ace season of 2011 stands out as a missed opportunity, even more so than the defeat to the Yankees in the 2009 Fall Classic.
Atlanta sees that five-year run and raises you 14 straight division titles with only one championship to show for it. During that span in which the Braves sported arguably the best rotation ever assembled — Hall of Famers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz — Atlanta earned just one championship parade. Also, you could argue that is the least-heralded championship in MLB history since it came in the 1995 season that followed the work stoppage that alienated large pockets of fans. Adding insult to injury, the Braves were vanquished twice in the World Series by the Yankees team that became the dynasty Atlanta should have had.
While the 76ers trusted in a process and, at the very least, assembled a collection of very talented young players, the Hawks went all-in with former Brett Brown colleague Mike Budenholzer. The Hawks were instant contenders in an Eastern Conference that featured an in-his-prime LeBron James. Good call, Hawks. As a reward, Atlanta fans currently get to watch the worst team in the NBA.
That brings us to football. You don’t need to be an ornithologist to see the parallels between the Falcons and Eagles. Both cities fell head over heels in love with defensive-minded coaches that were big on bravado and short on playoff results in the late-80s and early-90s. The only thing that separates Buddy Ryan and Jerry Glanville is that Glanville had MC Hammer as a sideline companion and Ryan had Rich Kotite. (As a child, I don’t recall much difference between Hammer and Richie the K in the charisma department.)
How about generational athletes at the quarterback position? Philly had Randall Cunningham. Atlanta had Michael Vick. (As did Philly eventually.) And both cities came to realize that the NFL values convention over improvisation at its most important position.
Both cities have suffered through a pair of Super Bowl defeats. But even a Philly fan has to tip their cap to Atlanta in this department. The Eagles lost a pair of also-ran Super Bowls. The Falcons, on the other hand, have had two memorable meltdowns. One by an individual, the other a collective undoing.
The Falcons were blown out by John Elway and the Broncos in Super Bowl XXXIII but that game is arguably best remembered by what happened the night before the contest. Pro Bowl safety Eugene Robinson, that year’s recipient of the Bart Starr Award for outstanding character and leadership, was arrested the night before the game for soliciting a prostitute. It’s almost unfathomable to think how Philadelphia, a city that continues to litigate whether the quarterback puked in the huddle 13 years ago, would have reacted to a Robinson-type story with the Eagles in the Super Bowl.
Then, there was last season’s Super Bowl meltdown against the Patriots that saw a 28-3 third-quarter lead evaporate under the intense pressure of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. At least the Eagles did their fans the favor of losing to that duo in a conventional fashion.
So take comfort, Eagles fans. When that feeling of dread starts to churn through your stomach Saturday around 4:30 p.m., know there is someone just like you in Atlanta that is expecting the worst too.