Ranking the best seasons in Philly sports history

Posted: September 20, 2011

THE PHILLIES ARE phenomenal. This 2011 bunch will set a franchise record for victories. Might finish 45 games over .500. Clinched a playoff spot shortly after Labor Day. And did it all with key players ill or injured for significant amounts of time.

You think it's the best regular season for any Philadelphia pro team in the last 50 years? Well, think again, cotton candy-breath. Charlie's Angels (that's payback for humiliating bullpen rookies with Hello Kitty backpacks and pink boas) rank second on one man's list.

1. 1966-67 Sixers

As sweet as this summer has been, it doesn't outdazzle the 1966-67 76ers, the team that started 45-4 and finished 68-13, making NBA history.

Alex Hannum was the coach. Maybe it was Hannum who convinced Wilt Chamberlain to concentrate on defense and assists. Or maybe Chamberlain got weary of those headlines, "Wilt Scores 50, Sixers Lose."

Chamberlain averaged only 24.1 that year, shooting 68 percent, mostly on finger-rolls, like a guy sprinkling a fistful of croutons into a soup kettle. He led the league in rebounding (24 a game) and ranked third in assists (7.8).

He had Luke Jackson in one corner and the underappreciated Chet Walker in the other. He had Hall of Famer Hal Greer at one guard, and the ebullient Wali Jones at the other. Billy Cunningham was the sixth man and the bench included Larry Costello and Bill Melchionni.

It was Jones who pinned the nickname "Cy" on Melchionni. Short for Cyclops because the pale Villanova grad had such a great eye.

2. 2011 Phillies

This is the best season in Phillies' history, which is praising with faint damns. Great pitching will cover a multitude of sins, even a multitude of jolting injuries. But it still ranks behind that Sixers' team that was voted the best team in NBA history.

3. 1974-75 Flyers

This team was determined to prove that first Stanley Cup was no fluke. That '75 bunch finished 51-18-11 in a revamped league, unbeaten in the final 14 games.

Bernie Parent won his second straight Vezina Trophy, pitching 12 shutouts. The reticent Reggie Leach teamed with Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber, scoring 45 goals.

4. 1982-83 Sixers

And not just because Moses Malone predicted fo-fo-fo when asked for a playoff fo'cast. Remember, this is all about the regular season.

The Sixers went 65-17 during the season with Malone grunting inside, grabbing 15 rebounds a game and the MVP hardware when it was over. "Moses just goes to the rack," he explained, which constituted a monologue for Malone.

Julius Erving got his first NBA championship ring and Bobby Jones was voted sixth man of the year and Mo Cheeks dunked to end the championship series in LA. (Sorry, couldn't leave that out.)

5. 2004 Eagles

They went 13-3 that year after a bold offseason that saw them sign defensive end Jevon Kearse and All-Pro wide receiver Terrell Owens.

Kearse stabilized the defense and Owens caught 14 touchdown passes before fracturing his fibula late in the season against Dallas.

That was the year Brian Westbrook led all running backs with 73 catches and 703 yards. And, oh yeah, Jeremiah Trotter made the Pro Bowl even though he didn't start until the second half of the season.

6. 1973-74 Flyers

I wouldn't give choosing the next three spots to a leopard. Let's go with the 1973-74 Flyers because the Broad Street Bullies made NHL history, first expansion team to win the Cup, first Philly team to inspire a chaotic parade.

Parent was back from his nightmare detour to the WHA Blazers, where the ice melted on opening night. The Flyers were bigger, bolder, more belligerent, which meant Bernie faced an avalanche of power-play shots. Turned enough of them away to win the Vezina Trophy.

Fred Shero watched "filums" constantly, installed a system he'd borrowed from the Russians, wrote blackboard messages he swiped from the sages.

7. 1976 Phillies

The 1976 squad and the '77 outfit won an identical 101 games, using different styles.

That '76 bunch stampeded out of the starting gate and opened a 10-game lead at the All-Star break. On Aug. 24, after Steve Carlton ran his record to 16-4, they were 15 1/2 games in front. Over the next 3 weeks the Pirates (yep, the Pirates) slashed that lead to three games.

They wound up winning by nine with Mike Schmidt leading the league with 38 homers, Carlton winning 20 and Tug McGraw appearing in 58 games.

8. 1977 Phillies

The '77 team staggered at the start. And then Paul Owens traded for Bake McBride, who hit .339 with 11 homers and 41 RBI the rest of the way. Carlton won 23, Larry Christenson won 19, Greg Luzinski led the team with 39 homers and 130 RBI.

9. 1980 Eagles

They did more with less than any team in the past half-century. Dick Vermeil ran brutal training camps, weeding out the whiners from the winners. They were your quintessential blue-collar team in a blue-collar town.

They won 12 games with a sixth-round running back named Wilbert Montgomery. Ron Jaworski was the league's MVP. Claude Humphrey, 36 years old, led the team with 14 sacks. They won it with stingy defense, allowing the fewest points in the league (222).

10. Four-way tie

Let's stir the debate pot by lumping four teams in the final slot: the '79 Flyers who went 35 games without a loss to set a record for North American pro sports teams; that luckless 1964 Phillies team that did everything right for 150 games before Gene Mauch ran out of healthy arms and patience; the 1960 Eagles (stretching the 50-year limit) that came from behind six times that 10-2 season; and the 1983 Phillies, the Wheeze Kids, creaking their way to a pennant.

Let the debate begin. Gentlemen, start your tonsils.

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