PHOENIX – Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt remembers the halcyon days of Philadelphia sports in the early 1980s when, during a span of consecutive seasons, the city's four professional sports teams all played for championships.
The Flyers lost to the Islanders in the Stanley Cup Final. The 76ers fell to the Lakers in the NBA Finals. The Eagles were blown out by the Raiders in the Super Bowl. Only the Phillies — Schmidt and those fabulous Phillies — were successful, beating the Kansas City Royals in six games to win the World Series.
Schmidt called 1980 a “year that I'll never forget,” not only for that championship but for the start of his long friendship with Royals third baseman George Brett, one that endures to this day but will be put to the test on Sunday.
Schmidt is pulling for the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Brett, quite naturally, is all-in on the Chiefs.
“He and I made a bet,” Schmidt said. “Just $20, but the bragging rights are worth millions.”
There really is no loser in Philadelphia or Kansas City these days.
The Phillies are coming off another World Series appearance, and another defeat, this time to the Astros, while the Eagles are trying to avoid a similar fate Sunday night. The Sixers are soaring in the Eastern Conference with Joel Embiid and James Harden, Villanova is coming off a Final Four appearance and the Union played for the Major League Soccer title.
Even Temple beat Houston a few weeks ago in men's basketball, the third win over a No. 1 team in program history.
“I live in Atlanta," said hoops Hall of Famer Julius Erving, who was a big part of the Sixers' early 1980s success, “so when I turn the radio on, all I hear about is Atlanta sports. So it’s so nice to come back to Philadelphia and know that buzz is here.
“The town is crazy,” Dr. J added. “Everybody’s feeling themselves."
They're feeling warm and fuzzy in Kansas City, too.
The city straddling the Kansas-Missouri state line long ago shed its old cow-town image, turning into a hipster paradise on the plains.
And the dizzying amount of sports on tap in Kansas City, coupled with the success of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs over the years, have only heightened the sense of civic pride that people are feeling these days.
“I think the fanbase is unbelievable,” Chiefs wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster said. "I want to be in a place where I can play ball, show my personality and just win man, so yeah. This has been it.”
The Chiefs are playing in their third Super Bowl in four years and trying to bring home a second Lombardi Trophy in that span.
And just across the parking lot, within the past decade, the long-suffering Royals won two American League pennants and a World Series — though they are now in the midst of a massive rebuilding effort.
Not that they've become irrelevant. They're in the planning stages to replace the aging jewel of Kauffman Stadium with a new downtown stadium, which promises to be the centerpiece of a ballpark village and entertainment complex.
There's another stadium under construction, too, for the Kansas City Current of the National Women’s Soccer League — the team lost the NWSL title game to the Portland Thorns in late October. Mahomes owns a stake in that club, along with pieces of the Royals and MLS club Sporting Kansas City.
Next month, the NCAA Tournament is bringing a regional final to T-Mobile Center, and there's a chance Kansas will be there trying to defend its men's basketball national championship. Then in April, the NFL brings its draft circus to town with a sprawling setup centered on the historic Union Station downtown.
“How can it be better?” asked Kathy Nelson, the chief executive of the Kansas City Sports Commission, who grew up with Brett and the Royals and now is helping to organize the draft and other events in the city.
“I remember celebrating championships,” she said, “but I don't remember a time when we were this stacked.”
Most cities have a golden era in sports. Some more than one. And they can sometimes last decades, such as the one in Boston, where over a nearly two-decade span its four pro teams won a combined 12 championships: six Lombardi Trophies for the Patriots, four World Series crowns for the Red Sox, and titles each for the Bruins and Celtics.
Philadelphia and Kansas City are basking in the glow of one right now.
Gelston reported from Philadelphia.
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