John Smallwood: Phillies set great example for city's other teams

OK, SO who is going to be next?

I know you've been a little distracted, but have you noticed the Eagles?

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Charlie Manuel waves to crowd during on-field celebration.

They've won two straight and are suddenly right back in the mix in a balanced National Football Conference.

Who is so scary in the NFL?

Why can't the Birds win the Super Bowl?

And what about the Flyers?

They've been lights out in the last three games since that slow start.

They could bring home the Stanley Cup.

The Sixers?

Sure, they lost their season opener last night, but you've got to like what they've done by adding Elton Brand to a developing roster.

Why can't it just be a matter of time before the Sixers bring home an NBA championship?

Go on Philadelphia, dream, and be greedy because anything is possible now.

The Phillies proved that last night in Citizens Bank Park when they beat the Tampa Bay Rays, 4-3, and won the 104th World Series.

It wasn't quite 10 p.m. when "The Curse" ended.

When Brad Lidge got Tampa Bay Rays pinch-hitter Eric Hinske waving helplessly at that nasty slider, the Phillies not only became World Series champions but they opened the door to an endless possibility of encores for the Philadelphia franchises.

As Ryan Howard ran around the field waving that huge 2008 championship banner while a sold-out, frenzied crowd of Philadelphia fans sang in unison, "We are the Champions," a quarter-century of frustration, 100 combined seasons of heartache were washed into the Delaware River.

This morning, the whole area and everyone across the country and the world who cheer for Philadelphia teams wake up a changed fan base.

They can dream of championships without the splinter stabbing in the back corner of the mind that something is always going to go wrong. The Phillies shoved away that negative cloud that has hovered so heavily over this city for so long.

With a 4-3 victory in Game 5 and a 4-1 series victory over the game Rays, the Phillies proved that Philadelphia could indeed be home again to a major professional sports champion.

"I think when we come back when we're all old and retired," World Series MVP Cole Hamels said, when asked what the magnitude of what they did for this city will really sink in. "When we come back and they still stand up and give us standing ovations just like they do for the guys from the 1980 World Series.

"We've got to witness that. Knowing that and seeing the excitement in the city from the first game, through all of the sellouts and, of course, the playoffs. The excitement has been huge. The fans really stepped up. They could taste it as much as we could. They added to our confidence to get this done."

This is so much more than just a single championship.

That 0-for-streak had gnawed at the soul of the city. The championship draught had become as synonymous with the city as a cheesesteak.

Much of the negative perception the rest of the country has about Philadelphia fans was rooted in the penned-up frustration of not being able to experience the unbridled celebration that went on at Citizen Bank Park.

How do you properly explain the gut-wrenching pain from watching lesser sports regions like Phoenix, Indianapolis, Miami, and yes, Tampa Bay, claim titles while Philadelphia pressed its face hungrily against the window. Of all the cities in America, only Cleveland had even a remote understanding of what Philadelphia went through as season after season passed without a championship. Sorry Cleveland, but that badge is yours alone to bear now.

"The celebration starts now," shortstop Jimmy Rollins screamed from the giant-screen television to the fans who did not want to leave the Bank. "The celebration starts now.

"We're going to have a parade down Broad Street."

A championship parade down Broad Street has become almost a mystical event in Philadelphia lore. There have been so few, and the last was so long ago that it is literally only a foggy memory.

Ipods, cell phones, Nintendos, DVDs, BlackBerries are just a few of the staples of modern-day life that did not exist when the 1983 Sixers won the last championship before last night.

Now, at noon tomorrow, a lost generation of Philadelphia fans, the ones who weren't born in 1983 but now are husbands, wives, fathers and mothers finally will experience what was so cruelly denied them during their youth - a championship parade down Broad Street.

But it doesn't have to stop there. Philadelphia can be Boston, New York, Los Angeles or any other city that is in the regular rotation of championship moments.

It's not just wishful thinking anymore.

The Phillies turned dream into reality by winning the 104th World Series.

For Philadelphia, championships are no longer things that only happen somewhere else.

The fact is the Phillies won the World Series, and once you've won one, you know you can win more. *

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smallwj@phillynews.com.

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