Are expectations the enemy of the sports fan? When you cross that line between hoping something good is going to happen and expecting it to happen are you just setting yourself up for greater disappointment? I’ve always said here that the best part about being a sports fan is having a horse in the race. I don’t need to win everything, but at least give me important games to watch, give me some hope that things could end with a championship. There’s been no shortage of hope in Philadelphia lately, and I think many fans have stopped wishing for the best and are now expecting results.
On the day after the Eagles beat the Giants in that miraculous comeback I heard someone call a sports talk show and claim that Philadelphia was going to win 3 of the next 4 sports championships. Eagles, Flyers and then Phillies. Line them up, simple as that. Tell the other cities and teams the bad news. These races were over. Now granted this was only one guy, and he was somewhat brushed off by the hosts, but I know he wasn’t alone in his thinking. This guy wasn’t reveling in the fact that Philly had 3 out of 4 contenders, he was saying he expected the titles to pile up. That’s setting the bar awfully high.
And yet, I think I know how he feels. Putting the Eagles aside, that was a small window of delusion at that point in the season, you could make the argument that the Flyers and the Phillies have better than good chances to be championship factors. The Phillies strengths exist solely on paper right now, and since Spring Training hasn’t even started, it is probably best to shelf talk of them at this point, but the knowledge of what they’ve done recently and what people expect in 2011 is there. It’s impossible to ignore.
The Flyers on the other hand I’ve been watching over the last month or two with a mixed sense of confidence and disbelief. There is nothing extraordinary about this Flyers team. In fact, as the year started, you could feel an Eagles-esque sense of déjà vu. Solid forwards, but no superstar. No proven goalie. The Flyers would be a playoff team, but not a Cup favorite. Maybe they could get hot at the right time like last season, but if fans were being honest they were probably no better than the 3rd choice to win the East. That sums up maybe 2/3 of the last 30 seasons of Flyers hockey. And, if there is a fan base in this town that is trained to hope for the best, but not expect anything, it is certainly Flyers fans.
I feel myself weakening, though. This Flyers team isn’t like all the others. They started well and haven’t looked back. They’ve been a fixture atop the Eastern Conference (and NHL) standings. Winning 7 of 10 isn’t a nice mid-season hot streak, it’s been what they’ve done pretty much all year. It’s not beating up on the bad teams and losing all the big games. They’ve beaten everyone. They still lack a 50-goal scoring superstar, but their depth across three lines wears other teams out. There are still some minor questions with the defense and no real proven goalie, but as the NHL All-Star break approaches, the Flyers are certainly one of the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
So, that is my conundrum. The facts are the facts. The Flyers, as they are assembled right now, should at worst make the Eastern Conference Finals. In hockey, the sport that breeds playoff upsets, that is pretty lofty territory. My usual stance on the Flyers at this point would be sitting back, waiting for the playoffs to start, and making an assessment then about how the team is playing. But, you can’t ignore this team. They win, and win, and keep winning, and I’m left fighting this internal battle with my expectations. History says keep them in check, but what I see on the ice tells a different story.