PONTIFICATING FROM THE SUNSHINE STATE – APRIL 30
By Leo Haggerty

38TH ANNIVERSARY OF MY 29TH BIRTHDAY

First of all, and I will start EVERY article with this paragraph, sports pales in comparison with what is occurring with the Coronavirus. Hopefully, the columns that I, and the rest of our correspondents, provide you is a momentary escape from the trials and tribulations that Americans, and the rest of the world’s population, are experiencing. The COVID-19 is not a video game that you can press reset and get a new life. This is real and dangerous so, above all, be prudent and stay safe.

Yes, folks, it’s April 30th.  Today, I am celebrating the 38th anniversary of my 29th birthday.

As I have continuously preach to you, my loyal readers constantly, do the math.  If you have competent addition skills, you’ll have figured out that I hit 67 years on this planet Thursday.

So, the goal of my daily column will be to take you through a quick synopsis of what has transpired in my life since 1953.  I will limit it to strictly from a sports standpoint or this will become a novel.

I was born in the city of Palmerton in the state of Pennsylvania because there was no hospital in the borough of Mauch Chunk where my parents, Leo and Nancy, lived.  Not a thriving metropolis, for sure.

Why is this event even important from a sports standpoint, you ask.  A very good question and I have a very good answer.

Mauch Chuck was renamed in 1954 to Jim Thorpe after the elite multi-sport athlete.  His remains were brought from Tulsa in Oklahoma to the town that would bear the name of the Native American Olympic champion’s final resting place.

You have to figure that someone from a place named after, arguably, the greatest all-around athlete in the history of competitive sports would have an interest in games as well as players.  Folks, you nailed that one.

I spent the first seven years of my life in what is referred to as the “Switzerland of America” because of it’s location nestled in the Pocono Mountain of Upstate Eastern Pennsylvania.  A great place to live as a kid but, as an adult, job opportunities were extremely limited.

In December of 1959, we moved to Levittown in New Jersey which is a bedroom annex of Philadelphia.  Dad took a job as a linotype operator with the Bucks County Courier-Times that was located just over the Burlington-Bristol in, of all places, Levittown in Pennsylvania.  Small world, right.

Being that all my immediate family were Philly sports fans, naturally I followed suit.  As you all know,  on a plethora of occasions, I have told anyone that would listen that “when you cut me, I bleed cheesesteak” and make no apologies for that.  In fact, I still pull for the teams of my roots when they are not playing any of the Tampa Bay professional sports organizations.

Believe me, there we times when cheering for a team from The City of Brotherly Love was downright frustrating.  My earliest memory of success was when I was seven and had only been in Jersey for a little over a year.

The Eagles defeated the Green Bay Packers 17-13 at Franklin Field to secure their 3rd National Football League championship and their first since back-to-back triumphs in 1948 and 1949.  The Warriors did bring home the hardware in the 1955-56 season by besting the Fort Wayne (yes, you’re reading that correctly) Pistons four games to one.  Sadly, I was way too young to have any memory of that accomplishment.

Fast forward seven years and the 76ers who, led by Wilt Chamberlain, won the Larry O’Brien trophy for the 1966-67 campaign.  Ironically, that continent beat the San Francisco Warriors, who had exited from Philadelphia for the West Coast in 1962, 4 games to 2.

To this day, I believe that 76ers team was the BEST ever in NBA history.  Sorry Michael and Magic and Larry and Steph.  They had everything.

Four Hall of Famers with Hal Greer at one guard and Chet “The Jet” Walker at small forward along with “The Big Dipper” in the middle plus Billy Cunningham as the sixth man.  Hey, guard Wali Jones and power forward Luke Jackson weren’t chopped liver either.  In my mind, no team better.  Hands down and I wish there was video of that great team to back up my assertations.

Moving on, seven years later in 1973-74, it was the Flyers turn.  The fledgling NHL franchise beat the favored Boston Bruins 4-2 to become the first team other than an “Original Six” franchise to win the Stanley Cup.  They repeated the feat the following year by defeating the Buffalo Sabres by an identical 4-2 count.

I remember the first one well because I was a junior at Drexel University in Philadelphia.  Classes were cancelled on the day of the Victory Parade and I was right in the middle of Broad Street for that one.  Missed the follow up because I was now in Wisconsin at Northland College in Ashland for my senior year after Drexel dropped football.  Trust me, I was there in spirit.

Moving forward another seven years to 1980, and do you see a pattern forming, the Phillies win their first Commissioner’s Trophy in franchise history. The Phils got by the Kansas City Royals 4 games to 2.  I was now living in South Carolina but that didn’t dampen my enthusiasm.

The  Sixers would again win the NBA championship in 1982-83 with Julius Erving and Moses Malone leading the way with a sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals.  Then, it would be a gap of 25 years before the Phigtins won in 2008 World Series.  Ironically, they beat my now home town Tampa Bay Rays winning four of the five contests.

Finally, after a drought of 57 years, the Birds brought their first Lombardi Trophy back to the Delaware Valley.  The Eagles beat the dreaded New England Patriots 41-33 for their first Super Bowl triumph.

I watched the game with a little over 600 of my closest Eagles friends at the Tampadelphia Eagles hangout at the Crown Plaza hotel ballroom.  When Tom Brady’s Hail Mary pass into the Eagles end zone was knocked to the ground, the curse was over.

I witnessed grown men shedding tears of joy.  I heard stories of newspapers with the headline of SUPER BOWL CHAMPS or PHILLY REALLY SPECIAL being placed in front of gravestones at cemeteries.

That’s how much completing the “Championship Cycle” of capturing all four major professional league trophies meant to life long Philly fans.  The journey was finished and the prize was captured.

To be honest, I feel a sense of relief myself.  You ask why?  That’s because, and I want you to remember this, you can take the boy out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the boy.  Philly bread till Philly dead is pretty much my mantra as well as a multitude of friends and relatives.

There you have it.  My 67 years of being a fan of Philadelphia sports teams.  Look for my column soon to talk about my 30-plus years of sports in the Tampa Bay area.  I think you’ll enjoy that article just as much as this