DIBIASE: ‘PhillyPhobia’ is rampant in city’s biggest stars

Justin Dibiase

Thousands of tourists every year drive into Philadelphia to get a feel for its history and entertainment value. Yet somehow, as hoards of people travel into the city, the sports stars of the City of Brotherly Love are simultaneously being driven out. Some franchises have differences with their star players at times, but such conflicts have become all too familiar in Philadelphia. This kind of “PhillyPhobia” (as I like to call it) has been steadily growing since the early 20th century. The departures of Philadelphia sports heroes have not just been blamed on money. The fans, ownership and management of the professional sports teams have collectively driven away more great athletes than any limo driver ever has.

The Philadelphia Eagles’ management and fans have had a considerable amount of influence on their stars’ disdain for the city. The great Randall Cunningham was coached by defensive guru Buddy Ryan, yet was never given the playbook necessary to fully show his potential. Later on in his career, Cunningham and Head Coach Ray Rhodes did not see eye-to-eye on most things in the clubhouse. This led Cunningham to retire prematurely to get away from Philadelphia, only to later return to play a few seasons in Minnesota.

The Phillies have had their share of castaways as well. All-star caliber players Scott Rolen and Curt Schilling requested to be and were traded to contending teams after they decided that the Phillies management was not committed to winning. The Phillies cannot readily convince superstar free agents to come to Philly. Most of the team’s current talent comes from its farm system or trades.

The 76ers have ridden two of the best players of all time out of town simply for a lack of a supporting cast. The round mound of rebound, Charles Barkley, played eight seasons in Philadelphia before he became fed up with the city. Arguably the best little man in the history of the NBA, Allen Iverson, left the franchise during his 11th season. In those 11 years, “The Answer” played with only one other All-Star, Dikembe “Cookie Monster” Mutombo. The Chris Webber experiment went terribly wrong and recently ended in a buyout of his large contract. For years, the Sixers have relied on A.I. to bring in ticket revenue. They are finally getting stung for the years of fielding poor teams around Iverson. Now that he is gone, attendance for Sixers games is at a low point.

Eric Lindros was one of the best centers in the NHL during his time with the Flyers, but he did not survive the harsh Philadelphia media and the Flyers’ hard-nosed general manager Bobby Clarke.

Donovan McNabb is the latest case of broken trust between a player and the city. There is no reason why McNabb’s starting job should be in question when he returns to 100 percent, but for some odd reason, some media outlets and fans called in on sports talk radio clamoring for Notre Dame’s Brady Quinn or Philly’s former backup Jeff Garcia as the Eagles’ starting quarterback next season. For the thin-skinned McNabb and his mother, these qualms needed immediate attention.

There are countless other players who have not been able to reach the expectations of the relentless city. Philadelphia is the only place where a 5-hole hitter can hit 30 home runs and drive in 100 RBIs and still be booed relentlessly. Billy Wagner, one of the best closers in baseball, did not like the fans in Philadelphia because of their constant negativity. For years, football and baseball players were scared for their health when playing in Veterans Stadium. They were not afraid of the fans but rather the unforgiving, concrete-like playing surface of the Vet.

To be brutally honest, there is nothing that Philadelphia can do about incompetent, frugal owners and managers who drive superstars out of this city. However, the players who just can’t stomach the atmosphere that the public provides in Philadelphia for sports usually have one thing in common: a soft side. The only thing Philadelphia asks from its athletes is their best effort and best attitude off the field. McNabb had his feathers ruffled because the Delaware Valley suddenly took a liking to his understudy, Garcia. McNabb should have kept his mouth shut and continued rehab to try to win back the hearts which he once held around the city. If one looks at the athletes who have played their entire careers in Philadelphia, they all have one thing in common: thick skin. Guys like “Concrete” Charlie Bednarik, Bobby Clarke and Steve Carlton all display the tough-guy mentality, and their careers have thrived in Philadelphia. The city will forever be a haven for hard-nosed players and just a stop on a road trip for everyone else.


Justin DiBiase is a sophomore civil engineering major from Franklinville, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]