Like most of you, I tuned in for the first night of the NFL draft on Thursday live from Dallas, or to be accurate, live from Arlington, Texas. The first thought that struck me was what a mistake the NFL made by deciding not to do a second year in Philadelphia and moving it to “Jerry World.” Despite a huge crowd, the atmosphere was 1/10th as electric as it was here last year. Instead of taking place in front of the world-famous stunningly beautiful Art Museum, the event seemed like it was taking place in a sterile airplane hangar. Though the Dallas fans tried to emulate Philly by booing commissioner Roger Goodell, the sound was so tepid that it was reminiscent of the murmur of an old air-conditioning unit. Goodell seemed almost ecstatic at the comparative quiet that greeted his arrival, compared to what happened here. Last year’s draft certainly boosted Philadelphia’s civic pride and earned overwhelming plaudits from the national media. I can’t help but think it also contributed to the incredible momentum the city has gained of late, as evidenced by the many national publications that have recently named Philadelphia the best city to visit for its food, arts and culture, and other tourist attractions.
If you believe in karma — or for that matter, magic — it could be argued that the feel-good fairy dust left behind by the successful 2017 draft lingered over our city and ushered in what has been arguably the greatest sports year in our town’s history. Atop that list was, undeniably, the Eagles delivering that elusive first Super Bowl title. The fact that they did it with a backup turned MVP quarterback in Nick Foles guiding an offense orchestrated by a riverfront gambler in coach Doug Pederson made the victory sweet. But it was the way the game played out with the traditional Philly underdogs gaining a measure of revenge against the despised New England Patriots in what was likely the most breathtaking start-to-finish title game in NFL history, that made it even sweeter. Then all of our dreams were further realized with an awesome championship parade that went up Broad Street and then across the Parkway, culminating with the team raising the Lombardi Trophy before hundreds of thousands of adoring fans. The fact that the speeches were made on our world-famous Rocky Steps (including Jason Kelce’s one for the ages) made it all seem too good to be true.
Little did we know that two months later, we’d be experiencing another parade celebrating Villanova’s march to the NCAA basketball championship. It was the Wildcats’ second title in three years, but this team absolutely dominated the entire tournament winning each game by a wide margin – arguably the best performance since Bill Walton’s UCLA team.
Before all of this, back in the fall, local college football fans enjoyed their teams’gridiron success throughout the 2017 campaign. Penn State had the most electric player in the country in Saquon Barkley, who led the Nittany Lions to a Fiesta Bowl victory, the Nits first major bowl triumph since the 2005 season. And Temple continued to establish a consistency never seen before in the program’s history as they reached a third straight bowl game winning the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl, a game that likely will be remembered if only for that name. To complete our football dominance, the city’s other professional football team, the embattled Soul, won their third Arena Bowl. The sight of the team’s two famous owners, Ron Jaworski and Dick Vermeil, celebrating a championship together, 37 years after coming so close to guiding the Eagles to one, put smiles on the faces of Philly sports fans throughout the city.
This spring the good news kept on coming as the Flyers surged back into the playoffs for the first time in recent years, and although they lost in the first round to the Penguins, they are certainly a team on the rise with some exciting new young stars. Even the floundering Phillies have seemed to turn things around and there’s new excitement down at the Bank with the emergence of young stars Rhys Hoskins, Scott Kingery and Aaron Nola.
But best of all, believe it or not, if you “trusted the process” you’ve come to find that it truly worked. It’s not an understatement to say that the Sixers are now the most exciting team in the NBA led by Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, arguably two of the 10 best players in the NBA, and a cadre of terrific outside shooters in JJ Redick, Ersan Ilyasova, Marco Belinelli and Robert Covington. When the season started, no one would have believed that by April both fans and experts across the country would be picking the Sixers to represent the Eastern Conference in the NBA Finals. Imagine for one second what it would be like if they actually did win it all and this city hosted its third parade in five months. No city has ever done that before, and if it comes to pass the only reasonable explanation is that the magic of the 2017 NFL draft really did put a spell over us that we all hope will never end.
Writer’s note: My colleague, Joe Tolstoy (a distant relative of Leo Tolstoy) came up with the idea for this column and contributed much of the florid prose.