So how did you take it all in, this night that should have left everyone in these parts star-struck and full of honest-to-goodness hope? Were you streaming the 76ers game on your mobile device from tip-off until kickoff? Were you marveling over that Sixers-Pistons box score while your television blared the sound of Jon Gruden’s waxing about the toughness of all things North Dakotan? Could you pull your eyes and mind away from Ben Simmons’ triple-double and Joel Embiid’s deadeye shooting to see Carson Wentz’s 64-yard arrow to Mack Hollins and his quasi-Randall-Cunningham touchdown pass to Corey Clement and his magic-act scramble for 17 yards in the fourth quarter?
Look, I know we’re supposed to be cynical and skeptical and wary of being too optimistic around here. Ronde Barber, Joe Carter, Chico Ruiz — been there, seen that, read about it. Acknowledge it, understand it, get it. But indulge me for a while before we all sink back into our usual pose around here: cringing, our hands shielding our heads as we wait for the anvil to fall from the sky. Sports is supposed to be fun, and despite all evidence and popular Philadelphia opinion to the contrary, we’re allowed to have fun from time to time. And if you couldn’t have fun Monday night, and if you couldn’t recognize the history and the measures required to make such a night possible, I’m not sure how you should be spending your free time. Collecting paper clips, I suppose.
Consider the juxtaposition: At Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, some 600 miles northwest of Lincoln Financial Field, the Sixers beat the Pistons, 97-86, for their first victory of the season. Those facts were significant, but the beauty in them was this: Simmons had 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists, controlling the game’s pace and play. And Embiid had 30 points and nine rebounds, shooting 11-for-15 from the field in just 28 minutes, shrugging off his awful night against the Celtics on Friday, reminding everyone of the talent and promise he possesses.
Then, after the Eagles committed four penalties over their first three offensive plays and appeared completely discombobulated, Wentz threw four touchdown passes and rushed for 64 yards in a 34-24 win over the Redskins, a victory that improved the Eagles to 6-1, kept them unbeaten in the NFC East, and left them as the prohibitive favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
It was a hell of a night, and it’s worth remembering how these teams got here. The Sixers didn’t produce much buzz or all that many victories when their best players were Andre Iguodala and Andre Miller, and they would have remained in that rut for years more if Sam Hinkie hadn’t come along, swept his arm across the tabletop to send the china and silverware crashing to the floor, and insisted that the franchise start fresh. Those were hard seasons that followed—19 wins, 18 wins, 10 wins—and Hinkie’s strategy brought on the wrath of the NBA establishment and, in effect, cost him his job as the Sixers’ general manager. But you’d have to be blind not to see that the seeds he planted are beginning to grow. They will need time to flower fully. It will take this season at a minimum. But the potential for greatness is obvious.
That potential is obvious in Wentz, too, and he gives the Eagles the opportunity to achieve it themselves—immediately. They have made a quick and stark turnaround, from a middling 7-9 team last season to a contender whose quarterback, at the moment, is the brightest young star in the NFL. Make no mistake: Wentz had to be this good to validate the Eagles’ decision to pursue him in the 2016 draft, to make those two trades to jump up to the No. 2 pick. Instead of hoarding draft picks and taking their chances, they bet big that Wentz would be a transformative player, and so far, he has been that and more: a marvelous quarterback, a wholesome representative in the community, the consummate face of a franchise.
There will be those who suggest that this happiness is all premature, that Wentz hasn’t won anything yet, that Embiid and Simmons have track records of getting injured and staying injured, that the anvil will plummet from the sky before long, as it always does. That dourness misses the point. We take sports so seriously around here sometimes–too often, I’d argue, as if we’re not happy unless we’re unhappy, or anticipating we will be. The joy of sports, the true joy of sports, is in the ride. It’s in the feeling that something wonderful is building and growing and on the way. In that way, in every way, Monday night was what sports is supposed to be. Wentz, Embiid, Simmons: This was a glimpse of what everyone here has been waiting for. Enjoy it, Philadelphia. It’s OK. Enjoy it.
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