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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Remembering the 1980 Phillies

I’d love to be able to offer some great analysis of the Philadelphia Phillies versus the Tampa Bay Rays on the eve of the 2008 World Series. But the most I can say about the Rays is that they have some solid starting pitching and have some very good offensive weapons. But, let’s face it, they’re in the World Series. If I’d never even heard of them, I could have come up with that.

Instead, like a lot of people, I’ve been spending some of the time since the Phillies last game remembering 1980. Of course, people who could not care less know by now that’s the last time the Phillies won the World Series. For me, though, it was the last time my Phillies were even in the Series. I was just eight years old at the time, and young enough to think loyalty was part of professional sports. So when Lonnie Smith was traded away to the St. Louis Cardinals a year or so later - honestly, I don’t even remember the details - my heart went with him. In 1993, I had been back as a Phillies fan for a while, but I’ll admit I wasn’t a die-hard again just yet.

I don’t know if I truly remember some of the plays that live on in the memories of every Phillies fan fortunate enough to have actually seen their team become world champs, or if highlight reels are the source of those images. The Mike Schmidt home run in Montreal that put us into the playoffs, the extra-inning games against Houston in the NLCS, the foul ball Pete Rose snatched out of the air after it bounced out of Bob Boone’s glove, and Tug McGraw flinging his arms in the air as he hopped on the tips of his toes waiting to be swarmed by teammates after striking out Willie Wilson to win it all.

The chills I get merely thinking about them tell me they’re more than highlights. But what there is no doubt I remember is the feeling of being a kid growing up in the Philadelphia area at the time. A championship drought was the last thing on anybody’s mind. Every team in the city went to the title game or series within what seemed like a few years of each other. In fact, in 1980 the Sixers went to the NBA Finals, and even the Eagles made the 1980 Super Bowl.

I was too young to remember banging pots and pans outside of our house near Township/City Line when the Flyers won, but I know it happened. I remember being allowed to watch the Sixers in ’80, ’82, and the infamous last-title-year of 1983, on a black and white in the room I shared with my brother as long as I stayed in bed.

But there was nothing like the 1980 Series. “Aren’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” was turned into the Phillies theme song, or at least it seemed that way. McGraw seemed destined to give himself, or everybody pulling for the Phillies, or both, a heart attack. We were the comeback kids. We had Hall of Famers like Rose, Schmidt, and Steve Carlton, alongside guys like Larry Bowa and Greg Luzinsky who just seemed like regular guys who had “made it.”

It seemed like everybody you knew was a Phillies fan. For our family, it was the last time we would all be together, rooting for the same team. It was just fun. Maybe I was just too young, but it wasn’t about talk radio, or 50 analysts reviewing every pitch, or ESPN highlights.

It was Philadelphia winning another championship, and that in itself was nothing all that unusual. In fact, to an 8-year-old that lived and died with the Eagles, Phillies, and Sixers, going to the Championship was just sort of a normal part of the season.

Or at least it seemed that way.

So, as I wait to watch another Phillies game in the World Series, I’ll be living and dying with every pitch. I’ll be hoping to be witnessing the waning days of the words “championship drought” in Philadelphia. But I’ll also be remembering the “glory” years of my Philadelphia fandom, and maybe even the best times of childhood.

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