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First Prize: One week in Philadelphia. Second Prize: Two weeks.

"You Gotta Be Kidding!"
by Mickey Charles CEO, sportsnetwork.com

HUNTINGDON VALLEY, Pa (Sports Network) -- Too many weeks have passed since the literary efforts and commentary of yours truly have graced these pages. And for those of you who are thinking it has not been long enough, I would guess that you are also contemplating a vote for Pat Buchanan or George W. Bush. I can live with that. But, travels have taken me abroad where The Sports Network has opened offices in the UK and launched major international sites for basketball, cricket and soccer or, as they call it, football. Go have a look - cricnet.com, givemefootball.com and basketballuk.com.

In the interim, my adopted town of Philadelphia is on a mission to further self-destruct their sports image despite the recent convoluted ranking given by The Sporting News of #8 among the best sports cities in the nation. I can only believe that the survey was conducted among people not at all familiar with any aspect of sports. The factors used for this determination included fan support, facilities, championships won, ticket availability and prices and quality of teams. You gotta be kidding me!

The fans in Philadelphia make the legions of Attila the Hun look like the disciples of Hare Krishna. Facilities here are up for grabs with new ones needed and on the drawing board right now although the First Union Center, home of the Sixers and Flyers, is as good as any I have seen. Actually, Vet Stadium is not exactly a slum area but change of stadiums, rebuilt with regularity, is common place in every major sports venue. Championships? The last one in the NBA was 17 years ago, World Series 20 years and Stanley Cup 25. Football was 40 years ago. What the heck do they mean by ticket availability, shoot the season ticket holders or just build more seats?!?! Does a higher price in a given locale make them a lesser sports town? If the Yankees have to charge more to bring home more winners do they go farther down in the rankings (New York-Long Island-New Jersey was #2)? Funny that St. Louis should be ranked #1. Hometown call there? The Sporting News has lived there for 114 years. Hmmmmm?

Dick Vermeil Vermeil, a former Eagles coach, returned to the NFL and won last year's Super Bowl with St. Louis.
No NBA team in St. Louis, Rams won the Super Bowl but will not repeat (you read it here!), their stadiums and arenas are first class (but does that make for a great sports town?), the Cardinals have Mark McGwire and will win their Division, the Blues are solid but not great and I cannot believe, for an instant, that their fans are more knowledgeable than those in New York, Philadelphia, L.A., Chicago, Detroit, Baltimore, Boston or Atlanta.

What makes a great sports town? The teams and fans. I don't care if they play on sandlots, schoolyard concrete or frozen over lakes.

The fans in the City of Brotherly Love are as zealous and loyal as those anywhere else and likely more intense and energetic than most. Chameleon like? Absolutely. But they come out, rain, sleet, snow or shine. The Phillies are a blight this year and, still, 15,000 or so show up to torture themselves. I thought my Golden Retriever was loyal.

The Eagles' results for the past three seasons would not earn them a place in the Pop Warner League but the rabid will be out there, hoping against hope for an 8-8 season. With nary an empty seat in the house. See someone wearing a shirt displaying the name of the opposition and over the railing he goes, from the 700 section. Now, that is fanatical fan worship. You gotta give 'em that.

Allen Iverson Iverson's inability to be disciplined might force club to deal him.
Meanwhile, the Sixers are trying to rid themselves of Allen Iverson by knocking him at every opportunity. That is certain to drive his market value through the roof. Uh-huh! The little guy will get his points and make the All Star team again but he is having trouble leading his team to the locker room, no less any championship. Someone has to teach Iverson about anagrams and the fact that team is also mate?the other guys with the same uniforms. Maybe he feels like another derivation, so much meat these days but whose fault is that? And, at his value on the market, that's a lot per pound so why knock it? My guess is that Iverson will be about as enthusiastic over this season as he is about someone scratching one of his cars. As for the relationship with Larry Brown, just think Gore and Bush and you have it.

The Flyers find themselves with a restricted free agent in Eric Lindros and an agent-father whose relationship with the team and, in particular, Bobby Clarke reminds one of a mongoose and python meeting casually on the way to the local watering hole. It is interesting to note that Philadelphia teams do not involve themselves too often with lesser caliber players when it comes to dissention. Go right for the top and your high scoring center, the captain who opted to step down.

Curt Schilling Schlling took his 105 career wins to west coast to play for a winner. (Jeff Gross/AllSport)
Then there is Curt Schilling and, to some degree, Andy Ashby. The former is a star that desperately wanted to be with a winner before the final pitch was thrown and he sat on the porch or strode the golf course waiting for a call from the Hall of the Fame. Ashby had enormous potential but it was not to be realized in Philadelphia. Now Schilling is in Arizona pitching like Nolan Ryan and loving it. Ashby takes the mound in Atlanta and knows that the likelihood of doing that in the Big Show is very much in his future.

The "exit" sign in Philadelphia beckons all as if it held the riches of the universe and the championship rings that every athlete covets. The stars of the sport are not feted as they are in other cities and, when the attempt to do so is made, it falls far short of expectations.

The future is all that fans in Philadelphia have had to look forward to for the past few decades and their eyesight is dimming. The blur is not clearing up. It is getting worse. There is no relief in sight. The last time anyone looked there were no warnings of imminent doom or the plague descending upon the city. Evacuation orders for specified players, or others, had not been issued. What is it? Beats the heck out of me.

So, is Philadelphia the #8 sports town in America? Might be. Could be worse. Could be better if there were some winners. Everyone loves a winner and we love to root for underdogs. That is the nature of our sports mentality. Somewhere in the middle lie Philadelphia and its fans?not a winning team in sight and not really underdogs since they make noises like winners but do not deliver on promises. Limbo.

Will it change any time soon? You gotta be kidding me! We're heading for the second prize.