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The Philadelphia Flyers and What It Means to Hope

I have been a Philadelphia Sports Fan since 1980. That's 30 years, if you're counting. Of course it was easy then. The Eagles went to the Super Bowl. The Phillies won the World Series. The Flyers wound up in the Stanley Cup Finals. It wasn't until 1983 that I became aware of what was going on though. It was in 1983 that I first got to step into Veteran's Stadium as a 9 year old boy. It was in 1983 that I got to watch Michael Jack Schmidt, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton and Joe Morgan in person. It was also in 1983 that I felt the pain for the first time. My Philadelphia Phillies, my heroes, went to the World Series and lost to the Baltimore Orioles. It was the first time that I felt the sting of being let down by a hero. Dammit, the good guys are supposed to win.

Anyone who has followed Philadelphia Sports since, knows that the sting has been felt many, many times since. There was the 1984 Flyers loss in the Stanley Cup Finals. The 1986 Flyers loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals after battling back from 3-1 down. Then there was 1993 and The Macho Row who teased Philadlephians by going to the World Series with a "wonderful, whacky bunch of throwbacks." How about the uber-talented 1997 Philadelphia Flyers that were swept by Detroit? And the 2001 Sixers... and who could forget the non-chalant Eagles with 2
minutes left in the Super Bowl? And on and on it goes.

I remember in 2007 being unphased by the fact that the Phillies were in the playoffs for the first time since '93. I remember being mildly disappointed again when they were swept out by the Colorado Rockies.
And then came 2008. Everything changed that year. After years of dealing with the curse, of being caught in between the what happened in the past and the what could have been if only, the Phillies, the losingest franchise in professional sports history broke through. The Phillies WON. They won the World freakin' series. It was unreal. And to this day, watching Brad Lidge strike out Eric Hinske will reduce me to tears every time. That's because after years of being stung and hurt and let down, Philadelphia finally knew what it felt like to be #1 again. How sweet it was.

The Flyers were down 3-0 only a week ago. And as usually happens, the conditioned fans bailed on them. You see it's easier to bail on the team then it is to be teased by a team that comes back only to lose again in the most crucial moment. It's called self-preservation.
In the past week, the Flyers battled back to even the series in what seemed to be a surreal turn of events. So as they entered last night's Game 7 against Boston, part of me, the part that still hurts from the sweep in Detroit in 1997, decided to try not to get too invested. The other part of me, the part deadened for years from defeat after defeat and loss after loss, the part that was made whole and resurrected after the Phillies won in 2008, believed. I didn't even tell anyone, for fear that I'd hear the "I told you so"s later.

You see there is a certain dichotomy to being a Philadelphia fan. Hope does spring eternal in the City of Brotherly Love. But so does disappointment. You get excited when a team succeeds, but you try not to get too excited, because you know in your heart the ride will not last. You WILL be let down. Sure, we'll make it to the Finals of whatever sport being played, but we WILL lose. It's just how it works. Or at least it's just how it WORKED. Until 2008. And even though doubt runs through our veins like motor oil through an engine, we really do WANT to believe. It's just that our training tell us not to. The voice in the back of our heads says "Don't do it. Don't watch. Don't believe. It's only going to wind up like '83, or '86, or '93 or '97 or '01 or '04."

Last night the Philadelphia Flyers took another step toward exorcising the demons of a rabid sports city. Maybe, just maybe, it is ok to hope. And to believe. And to dream about parades down Broad Street. The Phillies broke through. But the Flyers, spitting in the face of a history that said they should shrivel and die, showed us once again, that there is no more powerful drug than hope. EVEN in Philadelphia.

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