Philadelphia's Pro Sports Resurrection

With the Phillies' 2008 World Series championship and the Eagles on a hiring spree, the city's teams are in a renaissance

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Reuters


It has been a banner week for the Philadelphia Eagles. After signing several of the NFL's top free agents, the defending NFC East champs have assembled a roster that has sportswriters drooling and even prompted one of the team's own players to compare it to the Miami Heat (an assertion that was met with skepticism and amusement). The Eagles have assembled a staggering amount of talent. And they've done it through a slew of free agent coups, building a winner the same way as their neighbors, the Philadelphia Phillies, have done. In the process, the two teams have resurrected professional sports in the City of Brotherly Love.

Eagles' general manager Howie Roseman has spent the past two weeks making the executives in other NFL front offices look like fourth-graders. Last weekend, he signed the top free agent on the market, All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha (that's NAHM-dee AH-sem-wah) to a five-year deal after virtually every major media outlet in the country had claimed Asomugha was bound for the New York Jets. This week, they got top defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins and signed two recent All-Pros, running back Ronnie Brown and quarterback Vince Young , as backups. And those were just the desserts after the 2009 acquisition of Michael Vick by Roseman's predecessor, Tom Heckert, and head coach Andy Reid when no other team dared to take Vick after his release from prison. All the fleet-footed QB has done is finish second in last year's Most Valuable Player voting, lead Philly to an NFC East title, and inspire many of the above free agents to come to the Eagles.

Perhaps the Eagles' front-office brass was inspired by the sublime 24 months put in by Phillies' GM Ruben Amaro. In addition to making a number of veteran acquisitions (Roy Oswalt) and midseason trades for young talent (Hunter Pence), Amaro pulled off a triple switch that landed him two of baseball's best pitchers in less than a year. First, he traded four fungible minor leaguers to the Cleveland Indians forace lefty Cliff Lee in July 2009, then flipped Lee in the offseason in a three-team trade for Roy Halladay, arguably the best pitcher in the game. Then he swooped in the following offseason to submarine a bidding war between the New York Yankees and Texas Rangers and sign Lee as a free agent, effectively having his cake (or should it be Kake?) and eating it too.

While the Eagles have not yet won a Super Bowl to match the Phillies' 2008 World Series title, both franchises have amassed juggernauts composed mostly of acquisitions rather than homegrown talents. Both made their biggest free-agent signing at the expense of a New York franchise, leading to literary hand-wringing by the Big Apple's media cognoscenti. And both teams have rabid Philadelphia fan bases that are among the most passionate (or, if you live outside of Philly, nastiest) and devoted in sports.

The city is certainly overdue for some athletic success. Between 1983 and 2008, none of the city's Big Four teams (Phillies, Eagles, the NBA's 76ers, and the NHL's Flyers) won a title, a stretch of futility that put Philadelphia in bona fide Cleveland territory. The city suffered throughJoe Carter,Dikembe Mutombo vs. Shaq, and Eric Lindros's perpetual failure to live up to expectations. Now the Phillies are baseball's best team, the Eagles are early Super Bowl favorites, and the Flyers have made at least the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs in three of the last four seasons.

Just 266 miles to the northeast, Boston sports experienced a similar renaissance in the 2000s thanks to a similar bumper crop of free agent signings, from Manny Ramirez and Pedro Martinez for the Red Sox to Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen for the Celtics. And after going championship-less for 15 years, the city completed the Holy Grail (a title in each of the four major sports) between 2005 and 2011. Philly may not be close to matching Boston's feat, but by emulating their acquisition-happy methods, their franchises are well on their way to shaking the city from its sports doldrums.

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Jake Simpson is a New York-based writer.

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