Philadelphia: From Negadelphia to City of Champions?

PARADE06-H
Villanova fan Frank Corti of Trenton brought his 2 sons Nicholas Corti, 6 (on shoulders), and Roman Corti, 8 (not in photo), and Roman’s friend Logan Lopez (bottom left) to the parade.

Three national championships in three years. There’s talk of more parades on the way. Maybe, just maybe, it’s time for Philadelphia to ponder what once was unimaginable: Are we becoming a City of Champions?

The Villanova Wildcats drew thousands of fans to City Hall on Thursday after winning their second NCAA national basketball title since 2016. Just two months ago, the Eagles were rolling down Broad Street with the Lombardi Trophy.

The 76ers are in the playoffs – and Sir Charles Barkley says they’ll go all the way. The Flyers are probably playoff bound, too. The Phillies might be contenders if their new analytics-and-coconut-oil strategy doesn’t backfire.

So, who are we? Can we still call ourselves underdogs when we keep … winning?

“You can’t have your cake and eat it, too,” Fishtown’s Trina Sawicki philosophized in between sips from her koozie-covered can of Miller Lite as she waited outside City Hall to welcome the double-decker buses transporting the triumphant Wildcats east along Market Street.

Could be an identity crisis in the making. But, as far as problems go, this is a good one. Like having too much money. Or too many people swiping right on your Tinder photo.

In a pre-parade interview Wednesday, Mayor Kenney deployed the sports version of Bill Clinton’s triangulation, saying he preferred to maintain Philly’s scrappy, long-shot status while at the same time continuing to enjoy sports success.

Which, of course, is impossible.

“I still like the underdog attitude,” Kenney said. “I think we perform better when people expect us to fail.”

Right now, Philadelphia sports fans find themselves in the sweet spot, a precious transition between perennial losers and despised (by others) dynasty during which we still have doubters, someone to yell at when we win, à la Jason Kelce in Mummers gear after God knows how many beers.

Even that phase might be wonderfully short-lived. During the NCAA national championship game between Villanova and Michigan, CBS’s Jim Nantz called Philadelphia “a city of champions,” a phrase that was immediately echoed on Twitter by none other than legendary Eagles commentator Merrill Reese.

Pittsburgh would like to formally object.

“With all due respect to my friend Mayor Jim Kenney, Pittsburgh has been called the City of Champions for almost 40 years,” the Iron City’s Mayor William Peduto told the Inquirer and Daily News when informed of Philadelphia’s encroachment on its moniker.

Then, he twisted the knife.

“For perspective,” Peduto added, “that’s almost as long as it’s been since the Flyers won a Stanley Cup.”

Reached for comment, Kenney responded: “Mayor Peduto is a good friend, and a witty one. We’d love to have him visit Philadelphia soon, maybe for one of the Sixers’ or (hopefully) Flyers’ upcoming playoff games.”

Regardless, maybe Philadelphians should accept the fact that we are winners now and cast aside the worn Rocky clichés. The “City of Champions” has a nice ring to it. The “City of Underdogs that Regularly Win Championships” probably won’t catch on.

“That mentality will go away once you start winning 'ships. You can’t have it both ways,” said Nova-clad Brandon Welch of Olney while at the parade. “The Red Sox used to have that mentality. The Patriots used to suck. And then, boom.”

Philly’s “boom” is right now. Welch’s advice is to own it.

“Why not?” he asked. “If you keep winning, you can’t be underdogs anymore.”

It all happened so fast, though. We went from worrying about whether the Eagles would make the playoffs to worrying about whether there’s enough lubricant to keep crazed fans off utility poles from Broad Street to Lancaster Avenue. Adult entertainment company Pornhub even offered to share its stash leading up to the Super Bowl.

Now, the question is: When’s the next parade?

Ike Richman, a former vice president at Comcast Spectacor, said the Eagles and Wildcats could be setting off a chain reaction, boosting interest in other Philly sports teams while challenging them to raise the level of their game.

“It’s contagious,” said Richman, who helped coordinate the Eagles parade. “You’re rooting for the Sixers and Flyers and you can’t wait for the Phillies. It’s a great time to be in Philadelphia.”

And, yes, we all know that Villanova’s campus is in the burbs. But coach Jay Wright’s team is more blue-collar Philly than Main Line genteel. They’re a tough group of guys who play their hearts out. Dive for every ball. Battle to the end. Effete? Nah.

All this winning is also shining a bright light on Philadelphia and burnishing its reputation as a city on the rise, not just the red-headed stepchild of New York and Washington. We’re drawing big league events like Made in America, Pope Francis, the Democratic National Convention, and the NFL draft, and attracting the interest of major companies like Amazon and Apple.

Despite entrenched poverty and struggling schools, property values are rising, the skyline is soaring and the city is shaping the national conversation on criminal justice reform, immigration and tackling the opioid crisis.

“It’s all part of the rising tide of the city,” said Larry Needle, executive director of PHL Sports, a division of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Every championship, every big event, every win we have contributes to the positive narrative about the city.”

Not to jinx anything, but Needle said the city could be “on the cusp of a glorious era in Philadelphia sports.”

“I think we can taste it,” he said. “I think we can see it on the horizon.”

Trina Sawicki was decked out in Phillies gear for Thursday’s home opener as she and her sister, Lisa, waited for the Villanova parade to arrive at Dilworth Park. They’re ready to ditch the cynicism that earned the city its “Negadelphia” label.

“A lot of people embrace the underdog status,” Trina said. “But I think deep down, we’d like to be a … ”

“Don’t say it … ” Lisa interjected.

“A Boston,” Sawicki continued. “I think we’d love to be that city.”

Eddie Mendez of Northern Liberties put it more bluntly as he stood by the Villanova parade guardrail, an Eagles championship wool hat on his head.

“We ain’t no underdogs,” Mendez smirked, pointing to the thousands of fans converging on Center City. “You can see it right now.”

Staff writer Joe Juliano contributed to this article.