A 78-year-old man who has failed to win a championship 52 consecutive times needed only a few well-chosen words to soften the blow of another lost season. Philly sports fans are tough, but not unreasonable.
Ed Snider, chairman of the Flyers and Sixers, could have repeated the same hollow cliches we’ve heard so many times from our other owners, but he took the playoff sweep of his hockey team in an entirely different direction. He called the season “a major disappointment” and vowed that there will never — NEVER! — be another goaltending carousel. He said what we were saying, with the same snarl.
In Philadelphia sports history, no man has failed as often as Snider. The last time his Flyers won a Stanley Cup was 1975, when our clothes were tie-dyed and our faces were mutton-chopped. Add the 36 empty seasons since then to the 16 fruitless ones he has presided over with the Sixers, and you have a record of futility that will never be matched.
Yet there is no outcry for the cranky old man to be banished to the nearest retirement community. In fact, Snider was winning praise last week for his accessibility in a time of despair and for his angry reaction to the sweep. There was a lesson in this, a lesson our other owners would do well to learn.
For years, many of us have assumed that the two Flyers titles in ’74 and ’75 gave Snider a lifetime pass, but now it’s clear that there is much more to his story. Snider won a tolerance from us for failure because we knew he was taking the losses just as hard as we were.
A perfect contrast to Snider is Eagles owner Jeff Lurie, who is never accessible in times of trouble and loves to crow about successes that exist only in his imagination. Remember when Lurie called his franchise “the gold standard” even though he had never won a Super Bowl? Can you ever imagine Snider doing something that tone-deaf in his own city?
Snider knows how to react to adversity because he knows his customers. When a bad call costs the Flyers a big game, the first voice we hear is that of the chairman himself. When the coach does something stupid, Snider doesn’t lapse into silly platitudes. He calls the strategy “unusual” and then invites the coach into his soundproof office.
His advancing age and the current state of his teams suggest that Ed Snider will probably never again experience the thrill of a championship parade in Philadelphia. But he has won something almost as good, in his own engaging and feisty way. He has won our understanding.
What a great time to be a fan
When Tiger Woods limped off after nine holes last week at the Players Championship, he was grimacing with pain. I was smiling.
In the sports world these days, justice is being served. Woods spent years blowing off reporters and screaming at fans. Now, fresh off an epic scandal, he’s shooting 42 on the front nine and hobbling out of a tournament.
The greatest slugger of his generation, Barry Bonds, was also the biggest jerk to fans. He did what he wanted, when he wanted. Now he’s awaiting sentencing for lying to a grand jury about taking steroids. In prison, Bonds won’t have to worry about autograph-seekers.
Kobe Bryant slinked off the court after being swept by Dallas, the smug look on his face temporarily removed. Phil Jackson, the poster boy for arrogance in sports, had to fend off the criticism of Magic Johnson and Jerry West after he lost control of his team in the final minutes. Perfect.
And then there’s the biggest bully of all, the NFL. That league has been so consumed by greed for so long that it was inevitable it would eventually devour itself.
What you are about to read is simply not done in sports media. No one questions a team’s medical staff. Why? Because the human body is a puzzle to most of us, and because in our society the decisions of medical people are rarely challenged.
Well, if any team ever deserved extra scrutiny, it is the Phillies.
When did Chase Utley hurt his knee? Why was it originally called “general soreness”? Why did the medical people say Brad Lidge would be out three to six weeks, when he told us it would be longer? Was Roy Oswalt injured when he left the team to care for his family in Mississippi, or did he hurt his back there?
Oswalt and Joe Blanton represent two-fifths of one of the greatest rotations in MLB history, and they are both playing despite physical issues. Oswalt has lost three to five miles per hour on his fastball, likely due to recent back problems. Is there another logical answer?
Blanton is pitching with an “impingement” in his right elbow. He can’t throw hard, and his most recent loss ended after 74 pitches. His pitching arm hurts. So why is he still taking his regular turn in May?
If you’re wondering the answers to those questions, good luck. They don’t think you deserve an explanation.
– Angelo Cataldi is host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.
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