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September 28, 2015

Here’s hoping Francis has same effect on Philly sports as John Paul II did

A myriad of pilgrims from around the world descended upon the Ben Franklin Parkway Sunday afternoon for the pope’s blessing.

Representatives from Philadelphia’s four beleaguered professional teams had to be wise enough to take a page from former Eagles general manager Jim Murray’s pope playbook, right?

When Pope John Paul II, the last pontiff to visit Philadelphia, was in town to celebrate Mass on Logan’s Circle in 1979, Murray carried his then-newborn John Paul, named after the Holy Father, through the endless sea of humanity.

How could each team have benefitted from a papal encounter? The disappointing four need more than a blessing. Some discourse from Pope Francis was in order. 

By a great stroke of luck (or was it a miracle?), Murray slipped through a gap, ala Wilbert Montgomery, and wiggled his way to the front of a barricade as the pope was passing. The beloved pope laid his hands on and blessed J.P. Murray. 

The following season the woebegone Eagles finally played in the Super Bowl.

Perhaps members of the Phillies -- their GM at the team, Paul Owens, was dubbed “The Pope” -- Flyers and Sixers front offices were on hand for a blessing as well.

The Phillies talented but mercurial team couldn’t get over the hump and failed to make the playoffs in 1979 after winning three consecutive division titles. But the following year the franchise won its first World Series after failing to do so for 97 years.

The Sixers owed us one at the time and almost paid us back in 1980 before losing in the NBA Finals.

The Flyers were ousted by their bitter rivals, the New York Rangers, in 1979. The following year, they were a game away -- or perhaps an offside call (paging Leon Stickle) away -- from reclaiming the Stanley Cup.

Now that was progress. Four finals in one year!

The word on the street was that the pope gave the local four some pop and the proof is right there in the history books.

If there was ever a time for a spiritual uplift for the Philadelphia sports teams, it’s now. The Eagles, favorites to go deep in the NFL playoffs, started the season a shocking 0-2 before picking up their first victory on Sunday. 

The Phillies are a week away from finishing with the worst record in major league baseball. The Sixers are riding a wave of off-the-charts bad. Since taking over the Sixers, Brett Brown’s coaching record is an abominable and near incomprehensible 37-127

The Flyers, who have been rudderless since Chris Pronger retired, are in a mediocre phase -- too bad to make the playoffs, too good to have a real chance of winning something as special as the Connor McDavid lottery.

This is arguably the nadir of Philadelphia sports. Not one of the Philly four (sorry Eagles fans) appears close to making the playoffs. Do we need a miracle? Hello, pope!

How could each team have benefitted from a papal encounter? The disappointing four need more than a blessing. Some discourse from Pope Francis was in order. Rumor has it that the benevolent leader of the Roman Catholic Church was kind enough to donate his time and it reportedly went down like this…

The pope waxed for hours to Sixers general manager Sam Hinkie about how to run the moribund organization. Pope Francis explained that tanking is a sin. It’s not in the Ten Commandments but it’s in there somewhere, if you read between the lines. Also Pope Francis suggested that it never hurts to draft a savvy, cerebral versatile guard, ala Manu Ginobli, who happens to be a fellow Argentine. Also, the only process to truly trust is the one devised by the man upstairs.

The story of Job is ideal for Flyers owner Ed Snider and his minions, who have had itchy trigger fingers. The humble pope detailed how patient Job was and that Snider should take notes. Pope Francis pointed out that the Flyers prematurely dealt such talents as James van Riemsdyk, Patrick Sharp and Justin Williams. Each of those matured into NHL stars and two of the three sport Stanley Cup rings and what do the Flyers have to show for such hasty deals?

Snider was quick to note that he no longer has time since he’s an octogenarian. “Let me check on that and I’ll get back with you,” the pope responded.

The Vatican’s number one citizen proposed that the Flyers turn the other cheek more often for more power play opportunities.

Francis quoted Galatians 6:3 to Chip Kelly via an Eagles staffer: “If a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.” 

It’s no secret that Kelly has an inflated view of himself. He is entirely accountable for the current state of the Eagles since he has taken over player personnel. He has jettisoned an immense amount of talent and perhaps Kelly has made a number of egregious mistakes. As a result, the losses during this potentially lost season could be of a Biblical scale. If there is indeed a plague of locusts at Lincoln Financial Field, Kelly will be fine. If this is the start of an unmitigated disaster, college programs will still line up for the innovator’s services. He would become the new Steve Spurrier and the Eagles could be reborn again.

Hebrews 2:10 emanated from Pope Francis’ lips to the Phillies brass. “For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.”

In order to bask in glory one must live through pain, which is what the franchise and its fans have endured not just over the last four forgettable seasons but throughout much of the Phillies’ long, often painful history.

But there is finally some hope thanks to some trades of veterans. The Phillies may reap courtesy of the Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins deals. Will it feed a city starving for another championship? Check back in 2017 or perhaps 2018.

Our collective question is why has Philadelphia suffered through such lengthy droughts, which are akin to walking in a desert for 40 days and 40 nights? Why is there so much suffering here when so many other cities celebrate on a seemingly regular basis? How can debaucherous San Francisco enjoy so much success with a section like the Tenderloin? How could Miami win so many championships when it has a moral quotient somewhere between Sodom and Gomorrah and wherever Russell Brand resides?

The pope’s response was that this is all ridiculous. 

“How can I, a man who took a vow of poverty give advice to athletes, who have more money than they can count? Also please Russell Wilson, and well, most elite athletes, stop name-checking God every time you win. It’s funny since no one ever says ‘it’s God’s will,’ when they lose. ‘God, just wasn’t looking out for us,” is an actuality, which has yet to be uttered.

“God is not a Packer fan or part of Red Sox Nation or Yankee Universe. Also, when did every player who gets a hit, start kissing his fingers and pointing to the sky? Can’t players just make like Dave Concepcion used to and just bless themselves before they bat?"

Also, for all of you that take this too seriously, like most sports fans, this is just a pipe dream, er "pope dream.”