These days, the fiercest rivalry in the city of Philadelphia doesn’t involve teams from New York or the city’s Big Five.
Instead, it is an unspoken but painfully obvious competition between the Phillies and the Eagles, who are battling it out for the No. 1 spot in the hearts and minds of Philadelphia’s fans.
This was not even a valid debate until recently. The city had long bled Eagles green and the other teams were relegated to second banana and needed a deep playoff run to get anywhere near the attention the Eagles received on a year-round basis.
But the Phillies were finally successful in breaking the city’s 25-year championship drought last season, endearing themselves to a generation of fans and creating a crisis situation for the Eagles, no longer secure on their perch at the top of the city’s sports landscape.
Jeffrey Lurie, Joe Banner, and company had to be irritated to no end when the upstart Phillies broke through last year after their “gold standard” football franchise has been on the doorstep of a title for a decade but has yet to seal the deal.
You can be sure they hated the idea of their stadium being used for the Phillies parade but were merely afraid of a horrible PR backlash if they didn’t allow it.
Both parties will deny any rivalry and will tell you that they want all teams in the city to succeed. But you shouldn’t believe that for a minute.
Professional sports wouldn’t exist if they didn’t create big money for the parties involved. Not only do you vie for supremacy against teams in your own league, but you are also in direct competition with the other franchises in your market to carve out the biggest piece of the revenue pie as possible.
With the Phillies now selling out nearly every game, it stands to reason that at least some of their new cash influx has come at the expense of the Eagles.
The teams are also perceived very differently in the media, with the Eagles seen as cold and calculating, doing anything they can to try and get as far under the salary cap as possible.
The decision to let Brian Dawkins leave via free agency this offseason did not help matters. And Joe Banner, regarded as some sort of Dick Cheney-like caricature, is derided for being out of touch with the fans.
Many fans think the Eagles should be more like the Phillies, whose management team is considered wise in baseball matters and receptive to the fans. They also seem to keep the right players, bring in ones that fit well, and don’t break the bank in the process.
This was not the consensus a few years ago, but winning has gone a long way toward creating the image.
Based on this, it should really come as no surprise that the Eagles are making personnel decisions in reaction to what the Phillies do.
After the Phils traded for Cy Young winner Cliff Lee and he paid immediate dividends, the Eagles shifted the focus back onto themselves by signing Michael Vick.
Even though the Vick signing seemingly went completely against the image the Eagles have long tried to create, it ensured increased local and national attention and will make them look brilliant if it pans out.
The Eagles realize their window of opportunity has become much smaller. They are employing desperate measures in an attempt to prove they are the city’s top sports franchise.
The Phillies and Eagles are both very successful and healthy, and they can continue to coexist in this fashion for a long time. But they can never be equal in the eyes of the fans. One will always be held in higher esteem than the other at a given time.
At this moment, the Phillies have to be considered the leaders in the clubhouse. But the Eagles are no doubt keenly aware that winning will cure any and all issues.
It may very well take a Super Bowl parade down Broad Street to put them firmly back on top.