I was asked recently to pick my favorite Philadelphia pro sports team of all time. It’s a tough question and impossible to pick just one because of the differences in the four sports. How can you compare the ’93 Phils with the ’01 Sixers? So I decided to pick one team in each sport. This is very subjective, of course, and I’d be interested in seeing your favorites. There is one characteristic that is found in all of my choices — each team overachieved and had very few stars.
If I had to pick one team only this would probably be my choice. Think about it — a team that had only one player who averaged more than 12 points, which started George Lynch, Matt Geiger, Theo Ratliff and Eric Snow, and won 56 games and the Atlantic Division title. It then went on to win three playoff series (two in seven games) and then in the most exciting Sixers game I’ve ever seen, stunned the clearly superior Lakers in LA in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. In Game 2, they led at halftime but the battered and undermanned Sixers simply ran out of gas and ended up losing four straight.
Their gallantry was only one reason this was my favorite team. The other reason, of course, was the great Allen Iverson. AI averaged 31 points per game and literally carried the team on his scrawny frame. There has never been an NBA player who was more valuable to his team than he was that year. As great as his performance was in Game 1 vs. the Lakers, he was even better in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals vs. the Bucks when he refused to rest despite the Sixers being behind by 26 points at the start of the fourth quarter. AI scored 28 points in the fourth, almost bringing the Sixers all the way back! I had never seen anything like it and I still haven’t yet!
You may be thinking: What about the 1983 team that won the championship by sweeping the Lakers. Well, they did win it all but they should have won it all! They had five NBA all-stars: Doctor J, Moses Malone, Andrew Toney, Mo Cheeks and Bobby Jones. Together these five averaged 87 points per game. Amazing, yes, but they were no underachievers!
Who didn’t love this wacky bunch of colorful grunt overachievers? The fact that they ran away with the regular-season crown, beat the blue-blood Atlanta Braves to take the NL pennant, and played great in a heartbreaking World Series loss to the Blue Jays was amazing. This motley crew was led by Dutch Daulton, John Kruk, Lenny Dykstra, Pete Incaviglia, Mitch Williams et al. It had only one real all-star, Curt Schilling, and had no business winning the pennant. It did so because they had a boatload of intangibles. They were fearless, had a swashbuckling confidence, a tremendous camaraderie and they never ever quit! They made us cheer. They made us laugh. And in the end, in a domed stadium in Canada, they made us cry because this courageous band of underachievers fell just short.
What about the 1980 and 2008 world championship teams, you say? They were great and brought us to the promised land but they were both replete with power hitters and aces: Schmidt, Luzinski, Carlton, Howard, Utley and Hamels. Their victories were exciting but not ones that amazed us.
The Dick Vermeil-led Birds were the epitome of overachievers who won because they were the ultimate team players. They won the NFC championship and made it to the Super Bowl despite having only one real star, Wilbert Montgomery, and just three Pro Bowlers (Wilbert, Ron Jaworski and defensive tackle Charles Johnson). They won because Vermeil made them believe they could. It was as simple as that and it was fun to watch. We were stunned as they roared out to an 11-1 start and defeated the hated Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game. Wow, it doesn’t get any better than that! Well, it actually does — we could win a Super Bowl someday but until we do this will remain my favorite Eagle team. 2004? Uh-uh. It had four stars — Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens, Brian Dawkins and Brian Westbrook and eight All-Pros (Jeremiah Trotter, David Akers, Lito Sheppard and Michael Lewis). They were loaded and when healthy they went 13-1. They were simply too talented to be my favorite. Besides I can never forget watching them literally stroll up to the line despite being two scores down with less than 4 minutes to go in the Super Bowl.
This was a no-brainer. They won it all, bringing us our first Stanley Cup and they were a colorful bunch of brawlers who could intimidate everyone and became known as the Broad Street Bullies. What a great crew — Bernie Parent, Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, Gary Dornhoefer, Barry Ashbee, Bob “The Hound” Kelly, Rick MacLeish, Ed Van Impe, the Watson brothers et al. And, of course, the leader of the “bullies,” Dave Schultz. They were talented, truly fearless and they loved playing the game. Can another Flyers team surpass them? I doubt it.
Each of these teams surprised us with their success and that’s what made them so much fun to watch. There is a commercial currently showing on TV for the Buick Verano that talks about how unexpected pleasures are the best. For example, when a bar band’s guitarist is out sick and they get Peter Frampton to sub for him. Well, these four teams brought us unexpected pleasure by their successes. Are you listening, 2012 Eagles? It would be a truly unexpected pleasure for all of us to be in New Orleans in February!
Email Ed Rendell at firstname.lastname@example.org.