Times tough in Philadelphia for fans of Eagles, 76ers, Phillies, Flyers

PHILADELPHIA -- Let's go to Ryan in Mayfair.

"I'm fired up, man," the caller told Mike Missanelli on 97.5 The Fanatic last week, less than 24 hours after Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie fired Chip Kelly. "The wicked witch is dead, Mike. This is the greatest thing to happen in Philadelphia."

The Eagles cratered under an autocratic head coach who was supposed to revolutionize professional football with his innovation and smoothies. They missed the playoffs for a second consecutive season. Yet some people were happy.

You're up next, Matt in Pottstown.

"I just felt like a despair and a hopelessness, and I'd never felt that as an Eagles fan," he said.

Fans of the 76ers have felt that for quite some time.

And Mike on a cell.

"I'm totally on board with Chip having to go ... but I'm not happy at all, Mike," the caller told Missanelli. "All four of our sports teams suck. It's ridiculous a little statistical maniac ruined my football team. ... I'm in sports purgatory. It's terrible."

Mike on a cell nailed it: Philadelphia has become a professional sports wasteland.

The Phillies had the worst record in baseball in 2015. The 76ers have the worst record in the NBA. The Flyers are sixth in their division and treading water around the .500 mark. And the Eagles, the city's crown jewel, have a vacancy at head coach, a starting quarterback with an expiring contract and a leadership structure that thought Kelly was the messiah and now must start anew.

"The Eagles are a total letdown, because that was supposed to be what buoyed the whole city," Missanelli said. "It's been all Eagles. There was no need to focus on the other teams. There still isn't any need to focus on the other teams, unless the Flyers can save something. It's really a long, bleak winter and even into the spring, when you're talking about a Phillies team that's such an unknown. They're so far away, as is everybody else.

"So, Philly fans are beat down."

Like 1972 all over again -- without Lefty

The Philadelphia futility standard is 1972. That was the worst year in the city's rich sporting history.

In the spring of '72, the Flyers had a chance to make the playoffs despite a losing record but lost it with four seconds left in the regular-season finale against the Buffalo Sabres on a goal by former Flyer Gerry Meehan.

The '72 Phillies had the third-worst record in baseball at 59-97, with the lone bright spot being pitcher Steve Carlton, who won 27 games, had a 1.97 ERA and won the National League Cy Young Award.

The '72 Eagles were offensively inept, finishing the season 2-11-1, with their two wins coming by one point apiece against the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Oilers.

The 76ers started the 1972-73 season with just three wins before the calendar turned and finished with the worst record -- 9-73 (.110 winning percentage) -- the NBA had ever seen, an ignominious achievement that stood for 39 years until the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats went 7-59 (.106) in a lockout-shortened season.

"As bad as the Phillies were, every fourth day, Carlton took the ball, and they'd win," said veteran Philadelphia journalist Ray Didinger, a Philly native who grew up going to Connie Mack Stadium in the 1950s. "That was the one thing you kind of had. There was Carlton. Other than that, it was as bleak as bleak can be."

"This year is close," Didinger continued. "This is close, because this has something the others didn't: watching the decay and dismantling of a team that people loved. That's what makes this one a little sadder."

That team people loved was the Phillies. In 2008, the Phillies won the city its first championship since the 76ers won the NBA Finals in 1983. After the championship parade arrived at Citizens Bank Park, second-baseman Chase Utley grabbed a microphone and proclaimed the Phils "world f---ing champions." In that moment, he became a Philadelphia sports immortal.

But on the heels of a fifth consecutive division title in 2011 -- and a 257-game home sellout streak that ended a year later -- the aging team went into a sharp decline. The Phillies, however, didn't go into rebuilding mode until landing in the NL East cellar in 2014. Since then, they have traded Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels and Utley -- foundation pieces of the team's dominant run -- mainly for prospects. Ruben Amaro Jr., who took over as general manager shortly after the Phillies' World Series triumph, was let go in September and replaced by Matt Klentak, who at 35 became the youngest GM in franchise history.

"The sad thing about this year," Didinger said of 2015, "was watching the Phillies break up the remnants of a team that won a world championship. ... When you see Rollins go and you see Utley go and Cliff Lee's not coming back, you watch that team that gave the city its last great moment, and that brought a certain measure of sadness to this. That's a whole different emotional factor that plays into this year that sort of tugs at your heart more than just losing. This wasn't losing games. This was losing part of your past."

The 76ers are in the third year of a tanking project that produced consecutive 0-18 starts in 2014 and 2015 but has netted a wealth of high draft picks, including as many as four first-rounders in 2016. With their fourth victory of this season coming Monday night, the Sixers have managed only 41 wins since the start of the 2013-14 campaign.

With attendance near the bottom of the league and a roster of players better equipped for the D-League, the team in December hired Hall of Fame executive Jerry Colangelo as its new chairman of basketball operations. Colangelo, who rebuilt USA Basketball, is supposedly collaborating with general manager Sam Hinkie, although speculation in NBA circles is that eventually Colangelo will conclude that Hinkie is unfit for the job and hire his son, Bryan Colangelo, the former president and general manager of the Toronto Raptors, to run the 76ers.

There has also been speculation that co-managing owner Josh Harris could convince the ownership group to sell the team.

Asked his thoughts on the state of the 76ers, the elder Colangelo said after being hired: "What I see here is there's a lot of work that needs to be done."

A few hours later, Colangelo sat courtside with Harris as the 76ers lost 119-68 to a San Antonio team that rested Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili and was without an ill Kawhi Leonard. It was the largest margin of victory in Spurs history.

Afterward, San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich, who is good friends with 76ers coach and former Spurs assistant Brett Brown, called it "not a fair battle."

"It's just a matter of persevering, in [Brown's] case, just keep persevering until the worm turns, and I have no doubt he'll do that," Popovich said. "There's no other choice but persevering and do your best to get it done. There's no crying or pitying or begging or anything."

Unless you're a Philly fan.

'A unique and incredibly passionate fan base'

The day after deciding to fire Kelly with one week left in the regular season, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie rattled off several characteristics he will look for in his next head coach. He said he wants a "smart, strategic thinker." He wants someone who will look out for the short-term, the mid-term and the long-term interests of the franchise. He wants someone who "interacts well and communicates clearly with everybody he works with and comes in touch with."

And then there was this:

Lurie said he wants someone who "understands the passion of our fans and what it's like to coach the Philadelphia Eagles. It's a unique and incredibly passionate fan base that just wants to win, and you've got to incorporate that in your life and in your heart, and you've got to be willing to do that."

Philadelphia sports fans get a bad rap nationally, but they are passionate, knowledgeable, loyal and invested. You could fill Lincoln Financial Field with the people on the Eagles' season-ticket waiting list.

That's why the Eagles' collapse this season -- with only two wins during a seven-game stretch before Sunday's victory over the Giants in a meaningless finale -- was particularly painful. For the past 17 years, former Philadelphia mayor and Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell has been the voice of the fans on Comcast SportsNet's "Eagles Postgame Live" show, and the situation was so bad following the Eagles' 45-17 loss to Tampa Bay on Nov. 22 that Rendell opened the show with a white plastic bag over his head. He couldn't find a paper bag anywhere.

"The problem with all this is we're not Phoenix. Phoenix is a wonderful city, but if their sports teams are doing well, that's OK, and if they're doing badly, it's no big deal. This is a town like New York, like Boston, like Chicago. We live and die by our sports teams." Ed Rendell

"It wasn't just the score that bothered me and made me put a bag over my head," said Rendell, a longtime Eagles season-ticket holder who turned 72 on Tuesday. "It seemed like there was a total lack of effort. And I know the players and the coaches said nobody quit, but people weren't tackling hard. No more than a handful played with any sort of energy at all. It looked like nobody was trying. It was awful."

"The problem with all this is we're not Phoenix," Rendell continued. "Phoenix is a wonderful city, but if their sports teams are doing well, that's OK, and if they're doing badly, it's no big deal. This is a town like New York, like Boston, like Chicago. We live and die by our sports teams."

This is the team the city cares about the most. After the Eagles gave up 90 points in a five-day span to Tampa Bay -- when Lincoln Financial Field was mostly empty by the end of the third quarter -- and Detroit, on Thanksgiving, something unusual happened. Fans were apathetic.

"This is an Eagles city," longtime Eagles radio play-by-play announcer Merrill Reese said. "The Eagles were the hope to take [the fans] out of this thing. We love all the teams in this city, but if you ask most people a year or two ago which is the next Philadelphia team to be a champion and really hold the banner high and go far, 98 percent would've said the Eagles."

"You tend to forget the really bleak years, but this stretch right here has been very bad," Reese said. "There's no sugarcoating it. It's been awful."

Rendell has witnessed many a bad Eagles season. The 1975 season wasn't much better than 1972. The head coach, Mike McCormack, at one point during the season told the media that the Eagles had a lot of "dogs" on the team. During a subsequent Monday Night Football game, Philadelphia trailed the Los Angeles Rams 35-3 in the third quarter.

"All of a sudden, there was this chant," said Rendell, who was at the game. "I was in my seat, and I couldn't hear it at first. The fans were chanting, 'Alpo, Alpo, Alpo.' And mysteriously, two inflatable dog bones appeared, and for the rest of the game these bones were passed along like beach balls. It was hysterical."

And it was sad. But so it goes in Philadelphia, where the refrain, again, is: Maybe next year.

"This is the year of our discontent," Rendell said. "All I can say in closing is, 'Alpo, Alpo.'"