Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
Sam Hinkie is a fraud. Chip Kelly thinks he’s still in college. Dave Hakstol should still be in college. The Phillies.
These are the loudest and most prevalent(?) gripes about Philly sports today. Many writers echo these sentiments (locally and nationally). The old-timers feel that way. But shouldn’t a town that has felt the joy of victory so infrequently in its history be more willing to accept a different way of doing things as long as the goal is to win championships? David Murphy has a theory:
Maybe the people who complain about Hinkie and Kelly and Dave Hakstol are all the same people, and, if they are, maybe they are indicative of some sort of reactionary ethos that lies deep in the identity of this town, one that opposes anything that is not done the way it is “supposed” to be done, the way it has always been done, the way our fathers and their fathers watched it be done, back when programs cost a nickel, and Concrete Charlie wreaked havoc all over Franklin Field.
And, if they are, maybe the volume and violence of their reaction to the recent upheaval is indicative of the influence that the protectors of the ethos once held, because theirs is the reaction of a power structure that is no longer. And if all of this is true – if the hate of Hinkie and the doubt of Kelly originate with an ideology so strong it once served as a fundamental aspect of selfhood in the city of Philadelphia – then maybe it long served to influence the decision-making of the city’s sports teams, pushing local ownership groups toward the familiar, the comfortable, the traditional in their hiring, prioritizing guys who said “wooder” and “sawff pressle” over guys with newfangled ideas who didn’t really care what the locals thought.
Murphy’s right. For a city born out of dissent and revolution, Philadelphians are a proud, traditional people. In fact, “Phila,” the Greek word for love, might not be what describes us best after all. Maybe it’s “storge,” meant to show “mere acceptance or putting up with situations, as in ‘loving’ the tyrant.” Storgedelphia sounds awful though.
The Phillies’ last three managers have been hires from the quasi-inside. The Eagles stuck with Andy Reid for 408 years. The Sixers’ GM history is a list of former coaches and Billy King. And the Flyers finally hired not only someone from outside the Flyers, but also outside the NHL. In dire sports times like these, risk should be greeted with enthusiasm (or at the very least, acceptance), but the capital “w” Writers and first-time, long-timers prefer things to be the way they’ve always been. The way that brought two Stanley Cups to the Flyers (last in 1975), three championships to the Sixers (last in 1983), two World Series wins to the Phillies (’80 and ’08), and exactly zero Super Bowl victories to the Eagles.
But, to many, people who embrace the risks are Kool-Aid drinkers or apologists or don’t know enough about the sport, as if you have to have an encyclopedic knowledge of the dead-ball era to want to win. The Flyers have been stagnant, the Sixers have been goal-less, the Eagles hit a wall, and the Phillies have been tumbling down a steep hill, hitting every bump along the way. But instead of really looking at the Sixers’ post-Iverson era or the Eagles’ lack of Super Bowl wins, it’s just: Different is bad. Nerds don’t belong in sports. It’s all a Ponzi scheme. Chip is just going back to college anyway. They’re all frauds*.
But the thing is, it’s easy to know what you’re getting. It’s relaxing to know you’ll get at least 10 wins and make it to the second round of the playoffs. It’s less stressful to know you’ll finish right around .500 and maybe luck into winning a playoff round. But it’s also less fun. And as much as sports here are “business,” they are not serious business. They’re supposed to be fun. And if you can’t have fun because things aren’t the way things were — or even worse, if that makes you angry — then you’re doing sports wrong.
*I challenge every sports writer out there to go a full year without calling someone a fraud. It’s the most overused and hyperbolic word in Philly sports media.