Steve Gonzales of the Houston Chronicle captured a photo this year that encapsulated everything great about sports. In Pearland, Texas (about 20 minutes outside of Houston) a couple watches their beloved Astros, decked out in team gear, beers at the ready… despite the carnage surrounding them thanks to Hurricane Harvey. Their home is a shell of what it once was. The insides are gutted. But there are two people. Both wanting for some form of normalcy, if only for a few hours, watching a baseball game.
It is an image that many across the country have used as some sort of metaphor for 2017. This certainly has been a down year for many Americans for a variety of reasons. But as always, there is the one constant that brings more people together than any other medium Earth has to offer: Sports.
So it is in that spirit that I give you the moments that defined Philadelphia sports in 2017. Much like the year that was, these moments put us on a rollercoaster of emotions. We laughed, we cried, we celebrated, we screamed, and although another calendar year has passed without a professional sports championship for our beloved city, nobody can say that it wasn’t an eventful 12 months.
#5. Philly Shows Out for the NFL Draft
Zero Arrests. This was the statistic that was shouted from the top of the proverbial mountain by every Philadelphia spokesperson, police representative, and politician that had a platform. Beyond that truly impressive result, the residents of Philadelphia and the surrounding area handled the pressure of hosting the very first outdoor NFL Draft extremely well. With the stage set and the nation’s eyes on the city of Brotherly Love, Eagles fans shone brightest during draft picks made by (you guessed it) the hometown Birds. Other highlights included an endless array of E-A-G-L-E-S chants and, my personal favorite, Drew Pearson introducing the Dallas Cowboys 2nd round pick (video below). It is a perfect combination of Cowboy-pomposity mixed with the signature drown-out booing of Eagles fans that makes for a hilarious scene. Well done, Philly.
#4. Joel Embiid Demolishes the Lakers
Entries like these on a list this prestigious are hard to swallow. In recapping the year that was for up-and-coming Philly sports superstars, I tried my very best to pinpoint a performance that stuck out above the rest. While Carson Wentz, Ben Simmons, and Rhys Hoskins have all had ridiculous stand-out showings in 2017, nothing sticks out quite like the stat line that Joel Embiid put together on the night of November 15th.
46 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 7 blocks.
There are only a handful of times in NBA history where you’ll see anything like it on paper. Watching Embiid play that night felt surreal. It was a reminder of what the 23 year old out of Cameroon is capable of when healthy. He is the key to the Sixers future.
#3. Dawn Staley, National Champion
The South Carolina Gamecocks winning the 2017 Women’s NCAA Basketball Championship would be nowhere near this list if not for the head coach. Raised on the streets of North Philly, Staley has never been shy about her devotion to her hometown. After the game clock struck zero on April 2nd, South Carolina had dismantled Mississippi State 67-55 and Staley headed for the locker room a national champion. In between celebratory hugs, she pulled out her phone and showed off the message relayed on her wallpaper: I’m from North Philly. The sentiment is enough to induce chills, specifically coming from someone that spent her days ballin’ on the corner of 25th and Diamond. Dawn Staley spent 2017 making all of Philadelphia proud.
#2. Jake Elliott Kicks His Way Into Philadelphia Lore
A game-winning field goal against a division rival might be reason enough for a kicker to make this year-end list, but probably not. To do it as a 22-year old from 61 yards away as time expires? That’s a surefire way to eek your way toward the top of any list.
When starting kicker Caleb Sturgis went down with a hip injury after the season opener, all eyes were on the rookie kicker out of Memphis University and how he would hold up after being tossed into the limelight. The kid has barely blinked. Though at times he has looked shaky from anywhere within 35 yards, Elliott is a magician beyond 40 yards. His uncanny ability to nail long field goals peaked on September 24th, in only his 2nd NFL game.
With virtually no time left on the clock and the score tied 24-24, Elliott lined up for a seemingly impossible attempt… and the rest is history. The kick set an NFL rookie record for longest made, a Philadelphia Eagles team record for longest made, and got the Birds rolling on what would become a 9 game winning streak.
There are a thousand reaction videos revolving around “the kick” on YouTube (if you haven’t already, please check them out), but none come close to the video of Elliott’s parents watching from the stands at Lincoln Financial Field. Pure joy.
#1. Chris Long Stands By Malcolm Jenkins
No subplot in sports grabbed headlines like anthem protests did in 2017. Though the message was often times disorganized, it was through little fault of the football players themselves. Media outlets and talking heads were quick to label the protests as disrespectful to the flag and military members. Black players who decided to sit or kneel during the national anthem saw an opportunity to use their platform and advocate against the systemic mistreatment of blacks which has been magnified in today’s technology-driven age.
Regardless of where you stand on the issue, there’s no questioning the power one gesture can have on an entire nation. As the Eagles got ready to take on the Buffalo Bills for a preseason game on August 17th, there was an undefinable tension filling the air. Five days prior, a man rammed his vehicle into a crowd of people peacefully protesting white supremacists in Charlottesville, VA, killing one woman. The incident ignited a firestorm nationwide and while debate raged on, there was still football to be played.
Eagles Safety Malcolm Jenkins stood on the sideline as the national anthem rang out, fist raised in protest as he had been doing for about a year now when someone came over and simply rested their hand on Jenkins’ shoulder. It was Eagles defensive end Chris Long, a white teammate and a native of Charlottesville. The moment of solidarity was captured perfectly by multiple cameras and went viral immediately. Long spoke about his decision after the game:
“I thought it was important that athletes with my skin color stood up with others protesting for racial equality.”
In a year filled with so much hate, anger, and animosity, it took one black man and one white man to show the nation that there is some, if only a little, hope. May it be a reminder to us all heading into 2018.
Delco bred, living in Denver. Member of the US Army. Cody Ross still haunts my dreams. Twitter: @JosephPVicente