September 6, 2007

The Heart of a Philadelphia Sports Fanatic

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Is one major championship really too much to ask? If you’re from Philadelphia, like me, it’s not even a question anymore — it’s practically a mantra to live by. What’s more, if you’re from Philly and you go to this school (or any New York school, I guess) you rehash the pain, season after season, as New York sports teams viciously squelch any hope for glory that Philadelphia teams entertain.
After arriving in New York in 2005, I endured the embarrassment of the Buffalo Sabres effectively demoralizing the Flyers in the playoffs in the Spring of 2006. Just picture, one lone Flyers’ fan being bullied in the common room of my freshman dorm by big, nasty Sabres and Rangers fans. That same summer, the Mets ran away with the N.L. East as the Phillies valiantly fought for the wild card but never made it to the postseason. I tried to ignore all the Mets and Yankees fans enjoying October baseball while I resigned myself to watching Everybody Loves Raymond at 7:30 every night. The Eagles did bounce the Giants out of the playoffs to take the NFC East, but they lost their chance to dance at the big show when they suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the New Orleans Saints. The last two years have been tragic, I know, but what we lack in success, we more than make up for in sheer, unadulterated devotion.
First of all, we’re cursed. If you’ve ever played or watched a sport, especially hockey, you understand the importance of superstition. Well, the old legend goes something like this: There is a large statue of William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia, on top of City Hall. Bound by an unwritten gentleman’s agreement, no building was ever built taller than this statue. That is, until 1987, when the city erected One Liberty Place, an enormous skyscraper about three blocks away which over-shadowed City Hall by nearly 400 feet. Obviously, old Billy Penn wasn’t thrilled, and since 1987 no Philadelphia major league sports team has ever won a championship.
In the 20 years prior to this travesty, Philly had actually been celebrating (and gloating) about winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in ’74 and ’75, the 1980 World Series and the 1983 National League pennant, the 1983 NBA championship, and the Eagles appearance in Super Bowl XV. Needless to say, since then we’ve come tantalizingly close to a championship a few precious times, but we’ve been disappointed and unfulfilled for the last 27 years. Just to drive the point home, that means that no undergraduate at this school has ever been alive for a Philadelphia championship.
It’s a tough life we lead, but Philly fans have never lost hope. As each season rolls around the city gets re-energized for baseball, football, hockey, and even basketball. Everywhere you go, people are wearing hats, T-shirts, jerseys and whatever it is, they just want to show their pride. Even William Penn’s likeness is adorned in Philly gear if a team happens to make to a championship game or series.
Sure, it’s not all ball caps and McNabb jerseys, still the losses and disappointments do pile up. I know many people who shout and scream at their TV’s with fury, when a team is performing poorly. just as many refuse to talk after particularly disappointing defeats. My dad had a buddy that he used to have over to watch the Eagles who would actually cry when they lost a big game. Even more impressive, my grandfather is 76 years old and has been going to Philadelphia Phillies games (and Philadelphia Athletics games, back in the day) since as long as he can remember. He’s only seen the Phils make it to three World Series (and only seen them win one) and, of course, this summer, he was watching TV when they reached their 10,000th loss. And you know, not only did the 10,000 mile mark not phase him, it made him even prouder that the Phightin’ Phillies have been around long enough to reach that milestone. And let me tell you, he’s not alone. For a team to reach 10,000 losses it takes more than dedication and determination — it takes the perseverance of fans that will never lose faith.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that the fans are not merely fans. Dedication may not be strong enough to describe Philly’s willingness to stand behind it’s professional teams. Philadelphians invest their hearts, their souls, their appearances, and even their interior home décor in the hopes that our city will yet again shine in the spotlight of a championship.
Despite my best intentions, I can’t help but fear that I may have carried the curse to Cornell. Since I’ve been a student at this school, I’ve watched our major sports teams suffer uncanny sports travesties much like I’m used to seeing back home. In 2006, the hockey team struggled to make the Frozen Four only to narrowly miss an appearance by losing to Wisconsin in a heartbreaking contest. Just last spring, the men’s lacrosse team watched its undefeated season and dreams of victory ground into the astro-turf when Duke scored the winning goal with four seconds left to play.
As a veteran of the “There’s always next year …” mentality, I can’t help but wonder if I’ll ever see a victory parade, be it here at Cornell (do we even have victory parades here?) or at home in Philly. Regardless, like many of my feverish comrades back in southeastern Penn., I will cling to the optimistic dream of someday being a part of a championship.