City's next champs? Could be the Eagles

Posted: May 04, 2009

It was just two years ago. Duty required your humble narrator to break out a legal pad, sharpen a couple pencils, and do some serious figuring.

Along with some awesome doodles of cubes and the lightning-bolt-S logo of the band Kiss, the result of this busy work was a rather discouraging conclusion: The state of Philadelphia sports in 2006, measured in terms of chances for a championship, was about as bad as it had been in a decade.

Two years later, of course, the championship drought has been reduced from 25 years to six months. The Phillies' 2008 World Series title changed the temperature and altered the underlying question. It is no longer a matter of who will deliver us from this awful, self-perpetuating cycle of misery, but of who has the best chance to win the next one.

A rainy afternoon with no baseball, in the wake of the Flyers' and Sixers' playoff debacles and on the final day of an Eagles camp, seemed like a good time to doodle some more and come up with a ranking from least to most likely.

It should be no surprise that the Sixers remain comfortably in fourth place.

Their Game 6 embarrassment against Orlando was bad. The aftermath, in which players sniped at coach Tony DiLeo and then blew off a mandatory team meeting, was worse. It exposed an organizational rot that had been invisible until then. It was like not noticing all those termites until you're standing in the pile of debris that used to be your house.

Instead of thinking the Sixers would be OK by adding Elton Brand to the team that showed life against the Magic, we now know major changes are necessary. They will have to start with the coach, and that's kind of a shame. DiLeo is a decent guy placed in an almost unworkable situation as interim coach after Maurice Cheeks' firing. But that doesn't mean, given what transpired here, he should continue as the head coach.

These players sound as if they want a coach who will be tougher on them. It will be a lot of fun to watch them chafe when they actually have one.

Along with hiring a new coach, general manager Ed Stefanski has to clear out a chunk of the roster. There's no way Sam Dalembert or Andre Miller or Theo Ratliff should be anywhere near this team, not after Game 6. If it will be tough to find replacements at center and point guard, well, that's the gig Stefanski wanted.

The Flyers have dropped a notch since last spring, when they went to the conference finals and looked like a young team on the brink. After treading water in the regular season and losing in the first round of the playoffs, they clearly are stuck behind Pittsburgh, Washington, and possibly Boston in the East. By definition, that makes winning a Stanley Cup kind of unlikely without some change.

GM Paul Holmgren is going to have to consider moving one of his very good forwards - Danny Briere? Jeff Carter? - for salary-cap space and for some other supporting pieces. The team still needs work on defense, which will be impossible without some cap flexibility. Overall, the Flyers are most likely to win their next Cup when young Claude Giroux reaches his prime. That might not take long.

That leaves the Phillies and the Eagles, which is where this debate really gets interesting.

For most of the last decade, the Eagles seemed poised to be the breakthrough team, and that was just fine with football-mad Philadelphia. Getting close five times in eight years proved both encouraging and aggravating to the green-painted faithful. A fatigue sets in with repeat disappointment, and Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb bear the brunt of that.

Meanwhile, the Phillies developed rather quickly into a contender and struck first. Their 2008 team was about where the Eagles were back in 2002 or '03, when they probably should have capitalized on one of those home NFC championship games and won a Super Bowl.

So who's more likely to win the next title, this same core group of Phillies or the late-McNabb-era Eagles?

After their trip to the NFC title game and their very aggressive off-season, the Eagles get the nod here. There are two very distinct reasons for making that case: It is very hard to repeat, as the Phillies are beginning to realize. And the Eagles have a combination of capable players and a sense of urgency that just might get them, at long last, over the hump.

It's easy to be optimistic about a football team in May, but that's the ranking for now. If the Phillies are rolling down Broad Street again this fall, well, there are worse ways to be proven wrong.

Contact columnist Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844 or

Read his recent work at

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