“Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”
That quote, delivered by convict Andy Dufresne, comes from the classic movie The Shawshank Redemption. And it’s a sentiment many sports fans can identify with, especially Philadelphia area sports fans – it’s always about hope, about next year. Of course, that hope is rarely rewarded and is usually replaced by frustration. But then it’s time to hope again.
There was plenty of hope for the Phillies when they acquired blue chip players like catcher J.T. Realmuto, shortstop Jean Segura, and the bluest chip of all, outfielder Bryce Harper. Adding those pieces to some of the Phillies’ established players like Aaron Nola and Rhys Hoskins made the Phillies one of the favorites to win National League East.
Then that galaxy of stars got off to a great start and led the division by a comfortable margin. And fans – and probably Phillies coaches and players – figured the playoffs were a cinch and after that, well, who knows?
Well, what we know now is plenty. And the Phillies season that ended up with so much promise and, yes, so much hope ended with them firing their manager.
But now there is hope again since the Phillies replaced Gabe Kapler with Joe Girardi, a veteran manager who has won a World Series championship before. And now the eternal optimists hope that his firm hand will make the Phillies’ talented roster play to its potential and not collapse at the end of the season like they have the last two years.
At least the pain of that disastrous finish to the 2019 season was salved somewhat because we had the Philadelphia Eagles laced up and ready to go. And there was a lot more hope about the Eagles than there was the Phillies. After all, they won the Super Bowl just two seasons ago and they acquired former Pro Bowl players like defensive tackle Malik Jackson, wide receiver DeSean Jackson and running back Jordan Howard, as well as promising rookies like tackle Andre Dillard, running back Miles Sanders and wide receiver J.J. Arcega-Whiteside.
And, of course, the biggest reason there was so much hope about the Eagles – quarterback Carson Wentz was back and for the first time in his career he didn’t miss any off-season or training camp time because of injuries.
Well, if you bothered to stay up to watch all of the Eagles’ depressing loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night – which came just one week after the Eagles’ depressing loss to the Minnesota Vikings – you know how that has worked out.
The Eagles have a losing record (3-4) as they near the halfway mark of the season and nothing about this team makes you believe they can turn it around like they did last season, when they squeezed into the playoffs because another team (Minnesota) lost on the final week of the year. Injuries have certainly played a part in the Eagles’ startling decline, but even their healthy players haven’t done much.
As for the quarterback, Wentz is not the reason the Eagles are losing, but he’s struggled at times, too.
There’s plenty of blame to go around, but the onus falls on the man in charge, coach Doug Pederson. One telling thing about the Eagles’ so-so this season has been the way they fall behind, and by a lot, early in games. Eventually, they wake up and play pretty well, but you can’t come back from double-digit deficits against good teams every week, and the Eagles aren’t going to be playing the Redskins and Jets every week. So, either Pederson’s game-planning and strategy is flawed or he’s doing a poor job motivating his players. Either way, the buck stops with him.
It’s too early to write off the Eagles and they have rallied from losing records before to make the playoffs. But it isn’t looking good, especially when you see all the good NFC teams that are also jockeying for playoff spots – right now, there are six teams ahead of the Eagles for the two wild-card spots.
And that’s why the hope has now shifted to the 76ers, who got their 2019-2020 season off to a great start with a convincing victory over their biggest rivals, the Boston Celtics. The Sixers didn’t look great in that game and they will struggle at times, especially early in the season, as they adjust to some new players.
But there’s no question they have emerged as the best team in the Eastern Conference, or, at the least, they’re even with the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the best record in the league last season. It remains to be seen if Joel Embiid stops launching all of those three-point shots and plays closer to the basket, where he belongs. It remains to be seen if Ben Simmons really has developed a decent outside shot like he showed in some off-season workouts. And it remains to be seen how the Sixers develop their chemistry as the season unfolds.
Nobody knows how that will work out. Nobody knows if the Sixers, unlike the Phillies and Eagles, will live up to their potential. But there is always hope.