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July 12, 2021

John McMullen: Jalen Hurts, Ben Simmons and what we've learned about Philly sports fans in recent weeks

Opinion Sports
Hurts-Simmons_071221_usat USA Today Sports/File

Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts and Sixers guard Ben Simmons.

Philadelphia fans got hit with a bit of a one-two punch last week, first being chastised by Danny Green for bailing on a player in the death throes of a historically poor playoff performance and then being told that the new starting quarterback for the city's biggest passion was among the most trolled in the NFL.

Both Ben Simmons and Jalen Hurts tell a tale when it comes to the modern fan in the City of Brotherly Love.

Green, the 34-year-old, 12-year veteran who played his first year with the Sixers in 2020-21 after a decade-plus in lower-stress environments like Cleveland, San Antonio, Toronto, and Los Angeles, came across as tone-deaf, a microcosm of the Johnny-come-lately, contemporary athlete who really has no idea how much the Sixers' faithful had gone through leading up to the Simmons debacle in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Atlanta Hawks.

“I think that’s something that needs to change in this city,” Green said on the “Takeoff with John Clark” podcast. “I love our fans, but when things aren’t going well, they can’t turn on you. That’s the one thing I would disagree with or dislike.”

To the very end, a very large bloc of the Philly faithful was so loyal to Simmons and the thought that he is an elite player — despite the painfully obvious deficiencies that had Jimmy Butler running a 4.3 en route to South Beach — that they actually went on the attack against anyone who disagreed.

Embarrassing premature victory laps were taken after Simmons developed into an “All-Star” and "Twitter Armageddon" was laughably unleashed, all the while ignoring the theme of how easy Simmons was to deal with when the good teams arrived in the playoffs.

The support was both awe-inspiring and bordering on quixotic.

And it was also understandable with the context.

The so-called "Process." The years of mediocrity before that fueling a confederacy of dunces who convinced themselves losing was actually winning. Bryan Colangelo's biggest embarrassments, which boiled down to over-sized collars and "Burnergate" before you could even get to the personnel mistakes, the anger of the shooting Gods taking down two No. 1 overall picks in Markelle Fultz and Simmons, all the way up to the [hopefully] feigned ignorance of understanding a star player can't exist with the yips when it comes to actually shooting the basketball — forgot about making it — in what is always called a make-or-miss league.

The average Sixers fan ran more interference for Simmons than perhaps any player in the history of a city a Hall of Fame third baseman one described like this: "Philadelphia is the only city where you can experience the thrill of victory and the agony of reading about it the next day."

On a more personal level, here's how Mike Schmidt, arguably the greatest third baseman of all-time for the younger reading audience, described playing in a cauldron of passion: "You're trying your damnedest, you strike out and they boo you. I act like it doesn't bother me, like I don't hear anything the fans say, but the truth is I hear every word of it and it kills me."

Current Philadelphia fans are far more loyal than that, so much so that a 4-year shooting inefficiency and passing up an easy dunk with the season on the line had to be the tipping point for Simmons.

Everywhere else the punchlines came far easier.

Simmons’ play was not a straw breaking the camel's back. It was an atomic bomb landing squarely on the poor even-toed ungulate.

But it was only the enabling locals feeling the anguish of losing with the easiest path imaginable laid out by injury and attrition around the NBA.

Even Simmons himself quickly turned the page with a $17.5 million Southern California mansion and fetching BBC presenter Maya Jama.

Now, turn to the Eagles where much of the fan base has embraced Hurts with no real empirical evidence pointing to anything other than mediocrity as the ceiling for the player and a 2022 run at Deshaun Watson or a top-10 pick.

Chris Simms and Dan Orlovsky became enemies of the state, the former for insisting a second-round pick with four career starts and a 52 percent completion percentage in an era where 65% is a passing grade is not among the top 40 QBs in the world and the latter, once a local favorite for defending Carson Wentz at all costs, turning into Benedict Arnold for defending Carson Wentz at all costs.

Yet it surprised me when The Action Network named Hurts the sixth-most trolled NFL player on Instagram.

The report analyzed negative social media posts mentioning top players over the past 12 months, revealing the number of abusive posts and which stars are the biggest victims. The Action Network revealed that Hurts received 34,380 negative posts from May 2020 through May 2021.

Then the real conclusion to make from the data hit me. Philadelphia has built up an unproven player so much that the zealots from outside the city are taking shots at Hurts. 

Consider that the top five on the list were Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, Aaron Donald, Drew Brees, and perhaps even more weirdly than Hurts, Josh Norman. The modern Philadelphia fan has elevated Hurts so quickly he's attracted as many haters as legends and superstars. 

If there is some good news with that, it is that you don't need to worry about Hurts getting rabbit ears like Simmons or to a lesser extent, Wentz.

Hurts just ignores it.

“I try to stay away from the rat poison," the now-QB1 explained last season.

Whether it’s blind empowerment or unfair judgments, it’s best to avoid any of the white noise.

“You gotta ask [Alabama] Coach [Nick] Saban,” Hurts explained. “He knows about the rat poison, too. It’s all external factors. I’ve talked about that a little bit, external factors. It does no good for us and what we’re trying to do as a team.”

As for 2021 Philadelphia? Call it the only city, where you can experience the thrill of victory [on rare occasions] and the agony of blowing it out of proportion.

Some links provided in this content are sponsored by Pickswise, a PhillyVoice.com Sports Betting Partner, independently created by PhillyVoice. 21+ Please gamble responsibly.


John McMullen is a contributor to PhillyVoice.com, and covers the Eagles and the NFL for Sports Illustrated and JAKIB Media. He’s also the co-host of “Birds 365,” a daily streaming show covering the Eagles and the NFL and the host of “Extending the Play” on AM1490 in South Jersey. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com.

Follow John on Twitter: @JFMcMullen

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