PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — What seems like 48 months later, 2020 is finally coming to an end. Sports, like everything else, saw life disrupted by a global pandemic that continues to cause suffering every day. For Philadelphia fans, there was heartbreak, bubbles, pain, and uncertainty.
Here are the top Philly sports stories from 2020, a year everyone is eager to put in the past.
1. ‘Superman’s Not Supposed To Die’
On Jan. 26, a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California, sent shockwaves throughout the sports world. Kobe Bryant, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, was killed in a tragic helicopter crash en route to Mamba Sports Academy, where he was set to coach Gianna’s basketball game. A Philadelphia native, Kobe’s relationship with his hometown went from high school hero to traitor to beloved. He was booed during the 2002 All-Star Game in Philadelphia, just one year after his Los Angeles Lakers beat the 76ers in the 2001 Finals. But as the years went on, Kobe’s relationship with Philly softened so much so that his final game here was met with an ovation as if he once dominated with the Sixers.
In May, Kobe was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. In July, Kobe was awarded the Emmy Governors Award. Kobe was one of the few whose last name was never needed. He inspired a generation of basketball fans to yell “Kobe” every time they tossed balled up paper into the trash during high school math class. He dominated at Lower Merion High School, leading the Aces to a Pennsylvania State Championship in 1996. He was Lower Merion’s “heartbeat,” and his high school coach Gregg Downer’s “hero.”
Before Jeremy Treatman became Kobe’s assistant coach at Lower Merion, he wrote in the Inquirer on Dec. 7, 1992, about the Aces. He wrote, “Remember this name: Kobe Bryant.” Everyone does.
Some stories are bigger than sports, and this was one. Less than a year after being diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer, Oskar Lindblom not only beat Ewing’s sarcoma but played hockey in 2020, in the playoffs, nonetheless. On Sept. 3, in Toronto’s bubble, Lindblom returned to the lineup with the Flyers on the brink of elimination in Game 6 against the Islanders. The Flyers won but lost the series in seven games.
Still, in Philly sports, 2020 was a year of tiny victories before the ultimate win on July 2, when Lindblom completed his cancer treatments. The hockey world came together to support Lindblom during his battle. Biscuit Tees, a Cherry Hill-based company co-owned by Kim Parent and Jodi Smith, produced #OskarStrong T-shirts that not only became a fan favorite in supporting Lindblom but also were worn by other NHL teams. The proceeds also were donated to Hockey Fights Cancer. Through it all, Lindblom was rewarded with a three-year contract extension and has a bright future ahead wearing the orange and black, and he remains cancer-free.
3. Black Lives Matter
The police killing of George Floyd in May sparked an overdue nationwide reckoning about racism in America, and it elevated the Black Lives Matter movement, founded in 2013 after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the killing of Trayvon Martin, into the everyday national conversation. Athletes in Philadelphia and around the country used their platforms to bring awareness to racial inequality in the U.S.
The 76ers and Eagles have been most active in using their platforms to elevate the conversation, from demonstrating in peaceful protests to penning columns on The Players’ Tribute.
Tobias Harris penned “Y’all Hear Us, But You Ain’t Listening” in The Players’ Tribute as well as starting a petition calling for Montgomery County Commissioner Joe Gale’s resignation after “disgusting” about the Black Lives Matter movement in June. Harris also joined teammate Matisse Thybulle in a peaceful protest in Philly. Ben Simmons called President Donald Trump’s response to the protests “cowardly,” launched the Philly Pledge to help with the city’s COVID-19 Relief Fund, and simply said, “enough is enough.”
We are ALL accountable & we shouldn’t have to revisit tragedies like George Floyd or Ahmaud Arbery time & time again. Enough is enough.
— Ben Simmons (@BenSimmons25) May 30, 2020
Carson Wentz said he “can’t even fathom what the Black community has to endure on a daily basis,” and that “institutional racism in this country breaks my heart and needs to stop.” These are just a few examples of the widespread calls for racial justice among Philly athletes and in the sports world in 2020.
4. ‘I’ve Had The Time Of My Life’
The date was Jan. 5., and the Eagles were hosting the Seattle Seahawks in the NFL playoffs. In the first quarter, Jadeveon Clowney, then with Seattle, knocked Carson Wentz out of the game with a helmet-to-helmet hit. The Birds were forced to turn to a quarterback who had played 16 years in the NFL without ever playing in a postseason game, who had retired June 2019, who was lured out of a broadcasting job after Nate Sudfeld fractured his wrist in the preseason. Josh McCown, then 40, had a night he’ll never forget.
A tearful Josh McCown pic.twitter.com/MMl9lNBnAW
— Dan Koob (@DanKoob) January 6, 2020
McCown, playing on his 11th team, became the oldest player in NFL history to make his postseason debut and the fifth-oldest player in the league that season. The Eagles’ magic with backup QBs ran out in a 17-9 loss to the Seahawks, but McCown’s story was one to remember from 2020. McCown completed 18 of 24 passes for 174 yards and no touchdowns while picking up 23 yards on five carries, all the while tearing his hamstring in the second quarter. His postgame remarks were a reminder of what makes sports so special.
5. Brown Out, Doc In
The Brett Brown era in Philadelphia came to an end in 2020. Brown was fired on Aug. 24 after the Sixers were swept out of the Orlando bubble in the first round by the Celtics. Brown lasted seven seasons, “The Process,” three general managers, two 50-win seasons, and three consecutive playoff exits. With Brown out, the Sixers hired Doc Rivers just days after the Clippers let him go in October. Rivers joins the Sixers with a lengthy résumé, including 16 playoff appearances and an NBA title as Boston’s coach in 2008.
2020 didn’t just bring change to the Sixers’ coaching staff, it also brought a new president. The Sixers hired Daryl Morey as president of basketball operations. The former Rockets executive got right to work, acquiring Seth Curry, trading Al Horford for Danny Green, and signing Dwight Howard to back up Joel Embiid. And just to think “The Process” began with Sam Hinkie, who worked under Morey in Houston.
6. Flyers’ playoff run
In a year that required brave faces for most, the Flyers are coming out of 2020 nearly unscathed. In fact, 2020 was a pretty good year for the Flyers. Before the pandemic struck in March, the Flyers were one of the NHL’s hottest teams, seeing their nine-game winning streak end in their final pre-COVID game — a 2-0 loss to the Eastern Conference’s top team, Boston Bruins. When hockey returned in the Toronto bubble, the Flyers were a four-seed entering round-robin play as the fourth seed in the East only to earn the top seed by going 3-0 with wins over the Bruins, Capitals, and the eventual Stanley Cup champions Lightning.
The Flyers beat Montreal in seven games in the first round, their first series win since 2012, and erased a 3-1 series deficit to lose in seven to the Islanders in the second round. The Stanley Cup drought lives on, but there is plenty of reasons to be optimistic. Alain Vigneault had the team exceeding expectations in his first season as coach, Carter Hart proved legit, and Ivan Provorov solidified himself as a top-pair defenseman. If Philly sports had a winner in 2020, first it was Lindblom but second, it was most the Flyers.
7. A More Perfect Union
Often forgotten in the Philadelphia sports landscape, the Union also had a year to remember. The Union finished 14-4-5 with 47 points to secure their first Supporters’ Shield in club history. The Union laid an egg in their first-ever playoff game but still leave 2020 with their best season yet, the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in Andre Blake and the MLS Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year in Jim Curtin.
8. Wentz benched
From the moment Howie Roseman selected Jalen Hurts in the second round of April’s NFL draft, the clock began ticking until a quarterback controversy would begin brewing in Philadelphia. Turned out, it came a lot faster than many expected. The Eagles stumbled out of the gate this season, only to keep free falling. Carson Wentz looked broken from Week 1 until his eventual benching in the third quarter of Week 13’s 30-16 loss to the Packers. Then Wentz was officially benched for Hurts in Week 14 only to see the rookie snap the Birds’ four-game losing streak in a 24-21 win over the Saints, the NFL’s top-ranked defense.
9. Couturier wins Selke
Sean Couturier became just the third Flyers forward to win the Frank J. Selke Trophy, by definition awarded to the NHL’s top defensive forward but mostly gifted to the league’s top two-way forward.
10. The Phillies played baseball
They featured one of the worst bullpens in major league history. J.T. Realmuto is currently a free agent. Zack Wheeler ripped a fingernail while putting on his own pants. This was objectively a terrible year for the Phillies. They fit right in. But there was one bright spot Alec Bohm’s arrival. The Phils go into 2021 with a new president of baseball operations in Dave Dombrowski. There’s always next year.