An Open Letter to Philly's Newest Stars

Here’s an open letter to Carson Wentz, Ben Simmons, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Maikel Franco.
Why do Philadelphia sports fans love this guy:

And this guy:

And this guy:

But have issues with this guy:

And this guy:

And this guy:

Last week Chase Utley took the field at Citizen’s Bank Park as a member of the visiting team. Often times, players facing this situation don’t really know how the fans are going to react. After all, this is the fan base that: insert oft sited and eye roll inducing reference to throwing snowballs at Santa Claus. Utley’s return however, was filled with standing ovations, curtain calls, and admiration. The Phillies even played Utley’s signature “Kashmir” walk up music when he came to the plate. This is because Utley falls into a unique category. He’s part of what I would call the Mt. Rushmore of untouchable athletes in modern Philly sports. Here they are ladies and gentlemen, bad mouth any of these dudes at a corner bar in Philly and you’re likely to be scrapping in a back alley before long:

Phillies: Chase Utley
Sixers: Allen Iverson
Flyers: Rod Brind’Amour
Eagles: Brian Dawkins

Were they the best players on their teams?  Aside from Iverson, no, probably not, but they brought something to field, court or rink that spoke to the people of Philadelphia. Something that is deep in the soul of the Philly sports fan, that means more than gaudy numbers, big contracts, or all-star games. Let’s call it the Tri State Trifecta, and it goes beyond being good, that’s a given. If you’re an athlete in Philly, if you exhibit these three characteristics, you may make it to the Rushmore of beloved players here, and never have to pay for a beer, cheesesteak, or Stephen Starr dinner ever again. 

1. Hustle

Ok this one sounds a bit obvious. It’s like saying try really hard, or show an effort, but I’m not talking about when the game is on line. I’m not talking about when there’s a chance to make a play. To make it in this pantheon you have to give a max effort every single play. When it’s in the dog days of August, you’re down by six runs to the Cardinals in the bottom of the 9th, and 25 games out of first place, you better run out that pop up. Chase Utley does. The reason Jimmy Rollins and Bobby Abreu aren’t on this list is because they didn’t, or more specifically there were times when they didn’t. Both of those guys were regular all-stars, and in Abreu’s case, for a long time the only thing worth watching in a Phillies uniform, but max effort was missing. For Abreu this was particularly evident when a dive was needed on a fly ball. For JRoll, legging out grounders or pop flies got him benched on multiple occasions. That kind of behavior just doesn’t play in Philly.

As a bonus, get hurt hustling. Aaron Rowan’s catch in centerfield 10 YEARS AGO that broke his nose and kept the Phillies in the game vs the Mets is an all-time play that Phils fans still talk about. Contrast that Ricky Watters’s now infamous “For who? For what?” quote when explaining why he was shying away from catching balls across the middle, and you see what I’m getting at.

2. Don’t smile after you mess up!

This isn’t limited to smiling after you mess up, but Donovan McNabb knows what I’m talking about, or maybe he doesn’t. McNabb should be the most beloved Eagle of all time. What franchise doesn’t hold it’s all time best QB in the highest regard?  Ask around Philadelphia, and you may be surprised how many people say Randall Cunningham is their favorite Eagle QB. Why?  Donovan was great, and he’s provided me with some highlights I’ll never forget. I’ll be showing my grandkids clips of 4th and 26, and the 14 second scramble against Dallas, but Donovan laughed off interceptions. Donovan laughed off incomplete 3rd down passes that killed worms at receivers’ feet. Donovan laughed off fumbles. Now this may be an amazing quality in a pro athlete, the ability to shrug off mistakes, move on to the next play, but this does not endear you to this particular fan base. Donovan playing an “air-banjo” while walking into a playoff game with the Cowboys and getting rocked, does not endear you to this fan base. We want you harder on yourself than we are on you, and it has to be sincere. No hallow ownership will do, ask Andy Reid how well his “It’s on me, I gotta do a better job” played here in Philly compared to Kansas City. 

There’s nothing funny about losing to a fan base that has never won a Super Bowl. Brian Dawkins is on the list because he somehow empathized with Eagle fans. Our pain was his pain. That’s something that is so evident when you listen to his interviews, even to this day when he talks with local sports radio, it always comes back to how he wanted to win a championship for the people of Philadelphia, and you believe it because there’s passion and sincerity behind it.

3. Be who Philadelphia wants you to be.

This one is the toughest, and certainly the least fair, because you have only partial control over it. You can be hard on yourself, and you can hustle every minute you’re out there, but if you just aren’t who we want you to be, then you’re lost. Look at Andre Iguodala. Here’s a guy who was the MVP of the NBA Finals two years ago with the Golden State Warriors. He’s an elite defender who is often matched up with the opponent’s best player, and in the case of the finals, that means LeBron James. In Philly we wanted so badly for him to be a prolific scorer, the heir to Iverson, a center piece to build an organization around. That just wasn’t him and it wasn’t his fault. Here’s a good solid player, but we wanted him to be round peg, and he’s just so square.

The number one thing Philadelphia wants out of its stars is to be an example. There’s no greater compliment for an athlete in my opinion that telling your kid, “Watch that guy, that’s how you play the game.”  That’s why I still get misty eyed when thinking about those four guys. Did Brind’Amour hold the puck too long?  Did Utley not disclose injuries?  Did Iverson dog it at practice?  Did Dawkins…..um… I got nothing. Yes, but when those guys played, dads all over the Delaware Valley told their boys to pay attention.

So there it is. They are pretty tough expectations. You’ll hear Philly get ribbed quite a bit that its favorite athlete is a fictional character, but Paulie’s quote pretty much sums up how Philly wants to feel about its players.

“I know sometimes I act stupid and I say stupid things, but you kept me around and other people would have said "drop that bum". You give me respect. You know it's kinda hard for me to say these kinda things, cuz it ain't my way, but if I could just unzip myself and step out and be someone else, I'd wanna be you. You're all heart, Rock.”

We aren’t perfect. We are going to give you a hard time in the press and talk radio, but give us respect as a fan base, because under this really tough exterior, we want you to be great, we want you to succeed more than anything, and sometimes we can see the greatness in you that you can’t. Contrary to some popular belief, the City of Brotherly Love does really want to love its own. We’ve just been stood up on prom night too many times not to be careful.