Fans pick 2008 World Series as top Philadelphia sports moment

(Michele Tranquilli)
Posted: May 06, 2010

ONE THING THAT quickly became clear to Ryan Howard when he came to Philadelphia was how starved the city was for a championship. It had been decades. Philadelphia had not won a championship since Julius Erving led the Sixers to one in 1983 and it had been 3 years before that since the Phillies had won the only one in their dismal history. The Flyers had gone even longer since their back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1973-74 and 1974-75. The Eagles? The 1960 NFL title was their last.

So Howard knew that the Philadelphia fans had been long suffering. But what he could not have envisioned was the joy that erupted in the city when the Phillies beat Tampa Bay on a cold October evening to claim the 2008 World Series. Whenever Howard has looked back since that glorious event, he has been struck by what he said is "the expressions that come over the faces of people."

"What I remember is the gratitude they showed," said Howard, the slugging first baseman who just signed a 5-year, $125 million contract extension. "The city had not had a championship in so long and that we were able to give it to them in baseball just filled everyone with overwhelming happiness."

Fans questioned in the survey that the Daily News conducted with the Sport Industry Research Center at Temple University chose the 2008 World Series as "the greatest moment in Philadelphia sports history." By collecting 71 percent of the vote, it topped the Phillies' 1980 World Series (45 percent) and the Flyers' back-to-back Stanley Cups (42). Respondents were able to choose three from a list of 12.

Howard said he will remember "the whole ride" that year, from the beginning of spring training until the parade down Broad Street.

"To be able to share that with family and friends, and the fans that came out to support us was amazing," Howard said. "To just know that you were a part of something like that, that you brought such joy to people you had never even met before, was a special feeling."

How will it endure in the imagination of the fans?

Howard chuckled. "Well," he said, "they carried that 1980 World Series around with them for close to 30 years. So I think they'll carry the 2008 World Series around until we win another one."

Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said he had underestimated how hungry the fans were for a championship. "But I knew they were demanding," he said. "It was not until I began to hear it - especially when we began drawing more people - that I began to understand how important it was to them."

Manuel has appreciation for the place the 2008 World Series occupies in Philadelphia sports lore. "I sure do," he said. "When I looked up into the stands at the end of the World Series, and then later at the parade, you could see the love and passion come out. It was definitely about our town."

But when asked how long the memory of that Fall Classic would live on, Manuel said it is possible that instead of just that 1 year the core players will be remembered for even larger achievements. "What we have to do is to keep winning," Manuel said. "We are in a window now of between 2 and 4 years. If we keep the pieces together and play the way I know we can, we can go back to the World Series and win a couple of them."

Team president David Montgomery said he hopes there will be other championships to build memories upon. And he added that he hopes it happens before another 25 years pass.

"I hope for the sake of all four of our pro franchises that it is not so long," Montgomery said. "I hope that we each are able to reach the pinnacle soon enough that, as 1980 slid behind the 2008 team, there will be more recent memories as the years pass."

Montgomery said the long dry spell between championships heightened the appreciation for the 2008 World Series victory. "It was a long gap between the 1983 Sixers and 2008 Phillies," Montgomery said. "The fans had gotten to the point where they said: 'Other cities are winning [in whatever sport], what about us?' "

Fans contacted for follow-up comments on their selections agreed that the gap between championships caused the fans to embrace the 2008 Phillies. Scott Jackson, of Broomall, said "there was such a buildup between championships that the team that finally won was going to be loved for the next few decades." Jackson added that the victory "created a whole new generation of Philadelphia fans."

Gerald Grundy, of Lansdale, echoed that. "The Phillies are the team now," he said. "Over 30 years since the Flyers won those Cups is a lonngggg time. People who are 40 would have been 5. Hard for them to recall the excitement."

Rosemary L'Erario, of Eastampton, N.J., said "there are few fans around that still remember the 1980 World Series and the back-to-back Stanley Cups." About how long the 2008 World Series will stand as the ultimate moment in local sports history, L'Erario said it will "depend [on] if the Phillies fulfill their dynasty hopes."

Glenn Huntley, of Springfield, said the popularity of the 2008 Phillies boils down to "what-have-you-done-for- me-lately thinking." He added, "If you asked this question after the Eagles win a Super Bowl, it will be surely that event. This city just wants a winner."

Rick Leonetti Sr., of Richboro, said the 1980 World Series will "always be tops in my book." But he said he thoroughly enjoyed watching his 20-something sons celebrate the 2008 championship. He added that 2008 was so special "because of this younger group of fans, who became so passionate for the team."

"Twenty-eight years from now my boys will be hoping their children get to experience what they had back in 2008, because that was their first World Series championship," Leonetti said. "Hopefully, we can sprinkle in a few more between now and then."

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