It's tough being a Philadelphia sports fan right now. Sure, there are individual players to get excited about, such as Joel Embiid, who looks like he has a great future ahead of him if he can stay healthy, and Carson Wentz, who doesn't look as certain as Embiid, but showed poise and promise at the helm of the Eagles this season. The Phillies have exciting young talent at all levels of their system, and the Flyers have the Ghost, Shayne Gostisbeherere.
But in terms of real success -- playoff runs and championships -- these are lean times. The Phillies are looking at a sixth straight season out of the playoffs, the Eagles had their third in a row, and the Sixers are going to find themselves once again closer to the top draft pick than to a playoff spot.
The Flyers are the exception. They were in the playoffs last year, though they were quickly and easily dismissed in the first round by the Capitols. They are once again hovering just over .500 this year and are, as usual, on the cusp of the playoff cutoff. It's hard, though, even if they get in, seeing them making a deep run in the playoffs.
Which means we'll have to wait another year for a possible championship -- or a lot longer than that. And what makes that so difficult is that it's already been a long time. The last championship we've seen around here was the Phillies 2008 World Series win. It's now been 16 seasons since the Sixers were in a championship game (when they lost in 2001), and 12 seasons since the Eagles' 2005 Super Bowl loss. The Flyers have been to the championship most recently, but even that was 7 seasons ago when they lost to the Blackhawks in 2011.
In other words, it's been a while since there was reason for jubilation for a Philly sports fan.
But how bad is this stretch compared to others? Are we in the worst of times, or does it just seem that way because the present is always more powerful than that past?
I decided to take a look at this question in a very simple way - looking at the yearly combined winning percentages of the four Philadelphia major-sports teams to see if it's ever been this bad. As it turns out, it has -- in fact, much worse. And, looking at it through the years shows we may be on an upswing.
Below is a chart of the Phillies, Eagles, Sixers, and Flyers winning percentages by year (technically, points percentage for the Flyers). The Phillies and Eagles play their games in the same calendar year, so that's easy to lump together. But given NBA and NHL seasons, the Sixers and Flyers cross years. I chose to lump the Sixers and Flyers based on the year their season started. So, for instance, the 2015-16 Sixers and Flyers seasons are with the 2015 Phillies and Eagles seasons.
This choice makes sense to my baseball-centric view of sports. To me, a new sports year starts right now -- in March when Phillies spring training begins. So, the baseball season flows into the football season which then overlaps with and then becomes the basketball and hockey seasons. Others may disagree with this choice, but as it is, it doesn't change much about the chart below.
The last column sums the winning percentages. This is a quick and easy way to assess the overall quality of the four teams that year, but it's not perfect. The range of winning percentages in each sport differs. In an ideal world, I would calculate the normal distribution for each sport by year and see how far each Philadelphia team deviates within that distribution. But, the overall sport's distribution for each year isn't readily available. (Plus, doing a rough estimate didn't change the outcome of this chart much either.)
So, enough with the introductory material. Here's how the Philadelphia seasons have played out since 1967 when we became a four-major-sport town:
So are we in the worst of times? No, but it's close. Highlighted in yellow in the right-hand column are the city's three worst years. Starting with the worst, we have 1972, then 2015, then 1969. In contrast, highlighted in green are the best years for Philly sports fans. The best was 1980 (long live 1980!), followed closely by 1979, and then 2002.
That 1972 year was a total clunker. Besides yours truly being born that year, there was nothing good going on in the Philadelphia area. The Phillies had their worst win percentage from any of the years we were a four sport city. Sure, it was Mike Schmidt's rookie year and Steve Carlton won an incredible 27 games, but the team as a whole was terrible. The Eagles, led by all-time-forgettable Jon Reaves at quarterback, won just 2 games, each by a single point. The Sixers won more games than the Eagles, but only by 7 (not good when they played 68 more games than the Eagles!). The Flyers were the only decent team, actually making it to the semi-finals. But that was little consolation for an overall terrible year of Philadelphia sports.
This year in Philadelphia sports is not nearly as bad. In fact, it ranks as only the 10th worst in the four-sport era here in Philadelphia (and that can change based on the rest of the basketball and hockey season). Last year, though, was terrible -- the second worst in our four-sport history. The Phillies (hopefully) bottomed out in their development cycle, the Sixers were almost as bad as 1972, the Eagles had their last Chip Kelly year, and the Flyers, well, once again they were mediocre.
The consolation here is that maybe 2016 is the start of the same upswing that we saw after the terrible 1972 year. If you look at the chart above, from 1972 there was a steady rise for the overall win percentage, culminating in 1980 with the best year for the city. Maybe we're going to see that again now. The Phillies have a stocked minor league system with potential stars on the cusp of breaking out in the majors. The Eagles have a potential top-flight quarterback. The Sixers have a possible franchise player surrounded by other top talent. And the Flyers have young talent as well. It's all potential now, but if it coalesces together, we could see a repeat of the 1970s into the early 1980s for Philadelphia. And maybe even a few championships.
So yes, it's been bad recently. But, this year hasn't been the worst ever, and there's good reason to hope we're on an upswing into the future. After all, it's the start of spring training -- when hope is the best word around.