It’s certainly not a badge of honor, but no city suffers with its sports teams quite like this one. Every loss – and sometimes even with some wins – affects the collective mood of the populace unlike any other place on Earth.
With that in mind, I will argue that no city has endured more heartache in a 12-month span than Philadelphia has over the past 365 days.
You could make the point that Philadelphia teams have enjoyed more success over that span than virtually any city in North America, which is fair. But our teams took the city to the precipice of glory no fewer than five times, only to fail in dramatic fashion.
Let’s take a walk down tragedy lane.
November 2-3, 2022 – Houston gives Phillies a problem
Citizens Bank Park was electric for Game 3 of the World Series. The Phillies had just hit five home runs in a 7-0 win to take a two games to one lead, with Games 4 and 5 both at home. Start greasing the poles on Broad Street, right? Not quite. The next night, Cristian Javier and three Astros relievers combine to pitch the second no-hitter in World Series history. A night later, they managed just six hits in a 3-2 Game 5 loss, punctuated by one of the biggest near-misses ever.
— Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports) November 4, 2022
November 5, 2022 – Union choke away MLS Cup Final
As we awaited an eventual Game 6 loss in the World Series to the Astros, the Union took the pitch in search of the team’s first-ever MLS Cup. This game played out like a movie. Unfortunately it was an absolute tragedy for Union fans.
Jack Elliott played the hero for the Union not once, but twice: scoring in the 85th minute to tie the match at two goals apiece, then again in the dying moments of extra time to give the U a 3-2 lead.
But there was still time left. Enough time for LAFC hired gun Gareth Bale to do this:
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) November 7, 2022
The match went to penalties, and that was all she wrote. LAFC won 3-0, and took the MLS Cup.
The Sixers’ bugaboo over the past several years has been the conference semifinal. We all remember Kawhi Leonard’s quadruple-doink. Ben Simmons not doing things expected of every NBA player. Last spring the Sixers held a 3-2 series lead over their chief rival, the Boston Celtics, with Game 6 to come at home. It was the perfect opportunity to exercise the demons of playoffs past.
Midway through a tight fourth quarter, Tyrese Maxey made two free throws to give the Sixers an 83-81 lead. After that, the Sixers missed nine straight shots. They scored one point from that point, until a meaningless Jaden Springer jumper in the final seconds. 95-86 Celtics.
But they still had Game 7. Sure, it was in Boston, but the Sixers had won Games 1 and 5 in Boston earlier in the series.
The two teams came out of the locker rooms after halftime. At least that’s the story. We know the Celtics did, because they out-scored the Sixers 33-to-10 in the third quarter. The fourth quarter was played, as far as we know. 112-88 was the final.
February 2, 2023 – Eagles blow 10-point halftime lead, lose Super Bowl to Chiefs
This one probably hurt most of all. The Eagles held a 24-14 lead at halftime of Super Bowl LVII. The defense had held the high-powered Chiefs offense to seven points in the first half. All they needed to do was tread water for the second half, get a stop or two on defense, and the team would have its second title in six seasons.
They did not get that stop. Kansas City had four drives after halftime: touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, and then a field goal with eight seconds left to win the game 38-35. The Chiefs were helped by a huge 65-yard punt return on a terrible Arryn Siposs punt, and a holding call on James Bradberry on third down with less than two minutes remaining to allow them to run the clock down to nearly nothing as they positioned for the game-winning kick. It was a questionable call, but Bradberry admitted to it after the game.
James Bradberry: “It was a holding. I tugged his jersey. I was hoping they would let it slide."
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) February 13, 2023
October 23-24, 2023 – Phillies surrender NLCS with two home losses to Diamondbacks
The most recent collapse was the most improbable. The Phillies were absolutely rolling through the postseason, dispatching the Marlins and Braves and winning the first two games against Arizona with ease. It seemed a fait accompli that a return trip to the World Series was coming. After dropping Games 3 & 4 in Arizona, the boys gutted out a Game 5 win, giving them two chances to close out the NLCS, both at home, where they were undefeated in this postseason.
But the offense, which had averaged nearly eight runs a game in its first eight playoff games, went silent. They managed just six hits in a 5-1 Game 6 loss, and only five in the finale, a 4-2 loss. The top of the order – Kyle Schwarber, Trea Turner, and Bryce Harper – combined for one hit in 20 at bats over the final two losses.
There are some positives to pull from these season-ending disasters. The Phillies and Eagles look as though they are built to make deep postseason runs for the foreseeable future. The Sixers look less like a sure thing, but with reigning MVP Joel Embiid leading the way, and Tyrese Maxey continuing his meteoric ascent, anything can happen. The Union could replicate its magical run through last year’s postseason – they currently lead their Round One best-of-3 1-0 over New England – but as a 4-seed, it would be an uphill climb.
The last 12 months has not been all bad. But we could all do without these heart-stomping finishes. To get so close, so many times, in this short a time span is nearly too much to take.
But the quest is why we watch. The possibility of the payoff, the glory, the parade. The chance that one of these times, things will break our way. We don’t quit on our teams, and we have the utmost faith that they don’t give up on us.
We’re just looking for a break.