At the risk of sounding like a guy delighting in the notion of his new pet goldfish living forever, allow me to say:
Folks, things are going well from a sports perspective in our fair city.
Let me count the ways.
On Monday night, the Phillies clinched their first postseason appearance since 2011. The Phightin’ Phils! Rob Thompson’s boys! It got dicey towards the end there, sure, but they made it. And who knows? Maybe with a lineup as stacked as the Phils,’ and a rotation as capable as the Wheeler-Nola-Suarez trio is on any given night, they could make a run at this thing. Thirteen wins doesn’t feel like that many.
October 4, 2022
Now, let’s get to our 4-0 Eagles. The Birds! C’mon. Jalen Hurts is a bonafide MVP candidate, and he deserves not only the key to the city but also my heart and my Astoria, N.Y., apartment. Thus far this season, he’s matched his overflowing supply of moxy charisma with improved pocket-presence, poise and accuracy. He’s been a joy to watch, buoyed by key additions like A.J. Brown, James Bradberry, Kyzir White, and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Meanwhile, the team’s mainstays are performing up to their potential. All of this has combined to make our Birds looking like real contenders through the season’s first quarter.
"Rain, sleet, or snow, the Eagles train to go." - @JalenHurts #FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/6ufbMA6Ija— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) October 4, 2022
As for our Sixers, we’re a few weeks out from the beginning of the regular season. The team will enter the season viewed by many as title contenders due to their top-level talent and potential for improvement due to what ought to be a far deeper team than the one we last saw lose in the second round of the playoffs. In the end, the season will come down ultimately to the health and performance in the season’s most crucial moments by Joel Embiid and James Harden, but as of now, both players are fully healthy and enjoyed drama and interruption-free offseasons. So the arrow for the Sixers is pointing up, as well.
So with things so copacetic for these three squads (and let’s be honest, who knows how long this harmony will last) I figured now would be a good time to scan each of their rosters to pluck some three-way analogs and see what I can come up with.
As I’m sure your comments will indicate, these won’t be perfect 1:1:1 clones, but I’ll do my best.
Joel Embiid = Jalen Hurts = Bryce Harper
I’ll be the first to acknowledge — especially around these parts — that what Embiid holds over Hurts and Harper in this comparison is the long, winding path he’s traveled with Philadelphia fans since he was drafted. Injuries, tragedy, tanking, arrows from local and national media alike — you really can’t equal the emotional experience fans have gone through with Embiid.
But for the purposes of this exercise, this was the closest I could get. Embiid, Hurts and Harper are all the heads of the snake on their respective teams. They’re the fulcrums; as they go, so go their teams. They also all possess an ineffable charisma the city has latched onto since their arrival. They’re all MVP-caliber talents (Harper the only one to possess the trophy just yet) with much yet to prove in the postseason. The weight of the city’s expectations for their respective sport lies heavily on their shoulders, as each player is the unquestioned leader and face of their franchise.
Tyrese Maxey = Devonta Smith = Bryson Stott
Here, we have the teams’ young guns — 21, 23 and 24, respectively. All three guys have excited their fanbases and become invaluable pieces to winning teams in short order. All three guys get hyped up in big moments, yet stay calm when pressure mounts. Maxey just took a tremendous leap last season and has many predicting an All-Star campaign this year, Smith set the Eagles’ rookie receiving record last year and seems to have only improved his skill and poise, and Stott — while his traditional numbers may not jump off the back of a trading card — showed enough for the Phillies to release Didi Gregorius midyear to give the more-energetic, higher-ceiling, better-defending Stott the full-time role at shortstop, and he rewarded the Phils by being up to the task. Take Monday night, for example, when the Phillies sorely needed insurance runs to protect their lead as they vied to clinch their spot in the postseason. It was Stott who sent a pitch into the bleachers to double the Phils’ lead in the late innings. Maxey, Smith and Stott are each youthful components on largely veteran teams that help balance winning now with winning later.
P.J. Tucker = A.J. Brown = Kyle Schwarber
After last season, the Sixers, Eagles and Phillies had (at least) one thing in common: they could use some toughness. At the end of each of their seasons, the teams petered out due to a talent deficit, yes, but also due to a clear lack of will at key positions. The Sixers’ fearless leader, Embiid, was impaired with a broken face and torn thumb and their second star, Harden, was both hampered by a strained hamstring and seemingly completely uninterested in fighting his way through said injury in the team’s playoff series versus Miami. So the Heat punked the Sixers in Games 5 and 6, ousting them in unceremonious fashion. The Eagles overachieved in year one with Hurts as a full time starter and head coach Nick Sirianni at the helm, yet in the Wild Card Round against Tampa Bay in the playoffs, when the Bucs shut down the run game, the Eagles’ receivers were unable to gain enough separation to help a too-green Hurts enough to keep up a fight. And the Phillies once again crumbled to dust in September after a heartening bulk of the regular season. The Sixers needed a dog who wouldn’t stand for elongated portions of listlessness and apathy, the Eagles needed a star receiver who fights for every yard in tight coverage, and the Phillies needed a slugging corner outfielder who lives and breathes winning. Enter P.J. Tucker, A.J. Brown and Kyle Schwarber.
Furkan Korkmaz = Derek Barnett = Rhys Hoskins
This is my “amazingly, he’s still on the team” category. Korkmaz, of course, requested a trade in 2018. It was hilarious. He’s a sort of fine player, but not really the type of guy that gets to request a trade, typically. The Sixers, of course, did not trade him, and of course instead signed him to a new contract at $5 million a year. He went on to shoot 28 percent from three in year one. He says he couldn’t feel his fingers all year. Good stuff all around. Anyway, he’s still here. As for Derek Barnett, he will always hold a special place in my heart for recovering Tom Brady’s fumble in the waning moments of the Super Bowl. So thank you, Derek. Also, DB is out for the season now with a torn ACL, so we wish him well. But my lord, it sure seems like he was a disappointment of a draft pick. Every time he shows up on the screen it’s because he’s trying to decapitate someone and the offense is moving forward 15 yards. But the Eagles signed him to a one-year contract last offseason and I was flabbergasted. As for Rhys, I’ve always been a fan, truly. Lots of walks, solid amount of homers, seems like a good guy, can’t field at all. But my god, he’s been around for a while now, right? He was a part of some truly gross Phillies teams. Remember when the Phillies signed Carlos Santana and played Rhys (too immobile to even play first base) in left field? Good times. Anyway, few people were happier to finally make the playoffs than Rhys, and that was awesome. Very happy he got that moment in Philly.
Danuel House Jr. = C.J. Gardner-Johnson = Brandon Marsh
All three of House, Gardner-Johnson and Marsh were brought to Philadelphia to add a missing piece to teams in need of defensive improvement. The Sixers badly needed a bench wing who can guard multiple positions while knocking down threes given the wing scorers on other Eastern Conference contenders like Milwaukee, Boston, Miami and Brooklyn. The Eagles were in need of a playmaker at safety, as Anthony Harris didn’t impress in training camp or preseason, and there was no obvious incumbent starter opposite Marcus Epps — a player the team was optimistic for yet unsure of. And the Phillies struggled with the centerfield position throughout the season’s first half, knowing only that players like Odubel Herrera and Matt Vierling were not good enough defenders to lock down the position, especially given the team’s other average gloves. So the hometown teams went out and got the aforementioned trio to hopefully sure up their defenses. The jury is out for House as he’s yet to suit up, but the returns on CJGJ and Marsh are excellent thus far. And not for nothing, but all three players have extremely fun personalities that make them all the more enjoyable to root for and cover.