As Chase Utley arrives in town for three days of standing ovations, it’s a good time to create the short list of Philadelphia’s Truly Beloveds.
I’m honoring legends whose brilliance and bearing made them the permanent idol of the crowds. The elite whose mere presence transforms grown men into overwhelmed fan boys. The heroes so familiar that no one ever has to use their last names.
Chase sure makes the Truly Beloved Club as its Phillies representative. There hasn’t been a more popular player in red pinstripes since – who, Richie Ashburn? Other members of the 2008 champs – Jimmy Rollins, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard – had their loyalists, but the hustling, gritty second baseman was the epitome of what fans loved about that team.
Heck, “It’s Always Sunny . . ,” the most Philly show ever, devoted an entire love-letter episode to Utley. Poor Mac’s adulation in that 2011 laugher didn’t seem silly, as much as it seemed what each of us might write to Chase given the chance.
Brian Dawkins probably tops the list of Truly Beloveds, as you can discern from the thousands of residents still wearing his No. 20 jersey around town. Like Utley, “Dawk” played his sport in the tenacious, fearless way that struck a chord with Philadelphia fans. Like Utley, he spent 13 seasons in our town and never acted the fool, on or off the field.
Dawkins’ Hall of Fame enshrinement next month will attract a sea of midnight green to Canton, Ohio. We’ll celebrate his greatest moments – the hit on Alge Crumpler in the ’04 NFC title game, the overtime interception of Brett Favre. And we’ll spit on the ground at the mention of Joe Banner pushing our superman out of town in 2009.
However, let me put a few rules on my Truly Beloveds list. A hero has to pass the test of time, so let’s anticipate Carson Wentz and Joel Embiid headlining this story a decade from now – but not yet. I will always honor the departed, but I’ll focus here on the living, with apologies to Harry and Whitey. And I’m installing a high bar of excellence. Hey, I love you Chooch, but . . .
Speaking of Harry and Whitey, we cherish our great broadcasters. I was at a charity event with Merrill Reese last week, and hundreds of fans treated him like the Pope – even kissing his sparkling Super Bowl ring. Players come and go, but Merrill is the septuagenarian rock star who always draws the longest autograph line.
Think of all the superstars we’ve watched over the decades. Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton. Charles Barkley and Allen Iverson. Donovan McNabb and Randall Cunningham. Bobby Clarke and Eric Lindros. Each created a legacy here and inspired thousands of kids to grow up imitating their moves.
But all of them have critics – fairly or not. The only two former greats who’ve never been booed and still can have the personality and gravitas to fill a room with worshipful admirers are Julius Erving and Bernie Parent. Doc and Bernie.
That’s my pantheon of Truly Beloveds – Utley, Dawkins, Merrill, Doc, and Bernie. If I wanted to count on five more fingers, I’d add Dick Vermeil, Jay Wright, Charlie Manuel, Larry Anderson and Ray Didinger. With the Phillie Phanatic as court jester.
It’s a short list, for sure. Feel free to disagree. Just don’t tell me I’m disrespecting Rocky Balboa.