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April 18, 2017

The NFL Draft is as close to prime time as Philly sports fans are gonna get

The NFL Draft is just over one week away, and get ready for a massive mind meld by the NFL and city officials that Philadelphia is the center of the nation’s sporting universe.

Get ready for beauty shots of the city, the Schuylkill (the river, not the expressway), and various landmarks around the city as the gospel is spread that, “You are looking live” at the hottest sports spot in the nation.

Yeah right.

Here are the facts:

At this point in the calendar year 2017 there are not many places on the nation’s sporting landscape with a worse view than that of a Philadelphia sports fan. And there certainly are not many major cities with a murkier sports scene than Philadelphia.

The draft?

Yep, it’s pretty cool, but if you are trying to sell this is some sort of badge of honor to the local sports fan, forget it. The NFL Draft, like any draft, is just a side show for its respective league to pump up interest for the future.

Mind you, it’s a pretty cool side show and there will be plenty of entertainment to go along with the carnival barking as player after player is selected, but it is not a sporting event.

The horrible fact of the matter is that neither the Philadelphia Flyers nor the Philadelphia 76ers are in the playoffs and the Phillies present zero threat to get to the postseason this October.

Many cities from sea to shining sea – and that includes the Great White North of Canada – are once again invited to a party called the playoffs.

But once again the city of Philadelphia is not.

It is at once wonderful and painful to watch the Stanley Cup and NBA playoffs get started without an entry from Philadelphia. The wonderful part is how the games are cranked up more than just a few levels. What you considered a 100 percent effort in the regular season might get you a seat on the bench for the playoffs.

The wonderful parts are the storylines being created from series to series; the discussions on which teams will cause the biggest challenges for the favorites, and which players will step up to the pressure of the playoffs.

After all, the playoffs are where reputations are both made and buried; the playoffs are where you can truly tell if a player can handle the pressure.

This does not necessarily mean a team or a player has to win it all to prove his worth. It simply means a player or team cannot wilt away from the spotlight. Win or lose, there has to be a display of passion, and a display of worthiness.

It is fairly common and certainly understandable to hear the lament of the Philadelphia sports fan that championships are few and far between. For real, it is painful that there has been only one championship since 1983, and that Phillies parade from 2008 is already almost a decade old.

But what is even worse is to not even get a seat at the post-season party; to not even be good enough to win a round or two, and at least prove you can run with the big dogs.

For so many years the Flyers would get into the playoffs, win a round or two, or even three, and then fail to win their third Cup. It seemed painful – but it is nothing like numb, empty feeling of not even getting to the playoffs.

The Sixers?

At least they basically laid out a blueprint of being brutal for half a decade with the hope of winning it all – but at this point winning it all isn’t even the biggest challenge.

The biggest challenge is just winning one single round. Just winning one single round – a measure of success that has not been accomplished by a Philadelphia sports team since the Sixers and Flyers went into the second round in 2012. For those counting, that is a combined 20 pro seasons without a team advancing in the playoffs.

The latest part of that streak includes the Eagles, Phillies, Sixers and Flyers failing to make it in their most recent seasons.

In the meantime, you cannot take your eyes of the glory of the NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs. The venue changes night after night, from New York to Pittsburgh, from Cleveland to Chicago, from Boston to Calgary.

And there is no Philadelphia.

So, the NFL Draft with its made-for-TV prancing to the stage will have to provide the focal point for a bit of time, but there is no hiding from the fact that the real job of being a sports fan is taking place in a lot of other places.

Ultimately, most of those fans will only get to feel the sting of losing in the playoffs, but the sting is a whole lot better than not being there at all.