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Mar 21 2017

Philadelphia: The Background On A True Sports Town

Five Pro Teams And Centuries Of History Give Philly Ultimate Home Field Advantage

Philadelphia is one of the few cities with a professional franchise in six major league sports. Most of the pro teams play within a few miles of Center City at Lincoln Financial Field (Eagles football); Citizens Bank Park (Phillies baseball); Wells Fargo Center (76ers basketball, Flyers hockey and, beginning in December 2018, a to-be-named lacrosse team); and, a few miles south of the city line, Talen Energy Stadium (Union soccer). Despite not having the constant success all Philadelphians would like, most of the city’s sports franchises are steady contenders for their respective championships. Plus, Philly spirit can’t be beat.

The Pros:

The Philadelphia Eagles took to the football field for the first time in 1946. The Birds enjoyed early success in the franchise’s history, winning three championships in 1948, 1949 and 1960. In 1980 the Eagles defeated their rival Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship before falling to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV.

The Birds’ last trip to football’s promised land was in 2005, when the Eagles, led by longtime quarterback Donovan McNabb and coach Andy Reid, fell in Super Bowl XXXIX to the Tom Brady- and Bill Belichick-led New England Patriots. Reid and McNabb—despite not winning a championship—found plenty of success as a pairing in Philadelphia. The team appeared in four consecutive NFC title games from 2001-04 and reached the penultimate playoff game again in 2008-09 before falling to the Arizona Cardinals.

In recent seasons, the Eagles have gone through many changes, having brought longtime college coach Chip Kelly to town to try his hand at the pros. After early success, Kelly’s offense and personnel moves came under fire, leading to his demise. The team is now coached by Doug Pederson, who played for the team in 1999 and was on Reid’s coaching staff in Philadelphia from 2009-12 before joining Reid in Kansas City when Reid was let go by the Eagles.

In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Eagles moved up in the draft to select quarterback Carson Wentz with the No. 2 pick. In 2017, the franchise has the No. 1 pick—and home field advantage as Philadelphia serves as host to the draft for the first time in 56 years.

The Eagles have played in six locations since their inception. Baker Bowl, Franklin Field, JFK Stadium, Shibe Park and Veterans Stadium were previous homes of the Eagles. Since 2003, their LEED-certified stadium is Lincoln Financial Field, affectionately known as The Linc.

Arena Football:
In 2004, the region welcomed its first arena football team, the Philadelphia Soul. Established by a group led by rocker Jon Bon Jovi, the Soul played from 2004-2008, was inactive in 2009 and 2010 and returned in 2011 under the leadership of former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworkski. The Soul has appeared four times in the ArenaBowl, winning the title match in 2008 and 2016. The team plays home games at the Wells Fargo Center.

One of the greatest rivalries in college football has called Philadelphia its home for the majority of its history. The fiercely competitive Army-Navy game has been played in Philadelphia for 86 of its 117 years. As a neutral site conveniently located between the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York and the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, Philadelphia was an easy choice for the Army-Navy game, which the city now enjoys as its unofficial bowl game.

In 2003, the game was played for the first time at Lincoln Financial Field, which has now hosted 10 Army-Navy games since. The Linc has been a sour venue for Army, having hosted 10 Navy victories.
The 2017 game will return to Lincoln Financial Field in December after a one-year hiatus.

The Pros:

The city’s first professional basketball team was the Philadelphia Warriors, who won the NBA’s first-ever championship in the 1946-47 season. The team won a second championship in 1956. In 1962, Philadelphia’s star center Wilt Chamberlain set an NBA record by scoring 100 points in a single game.

The team moved to San Francisco following the 1961-62 season, where, in 1971, they became known as the Golden State Warriors.

Not wanting Philadelphia to be without a professional basketball franchise, Irv Kosloff and Ike Richman joined forces to the buy the Syracuse Nationals. In 1963, they moved the team down to Philadelphia and re-named it the Philadelphia 76ers.

By 1967, the 76ers held the league’s best record and won the NBA championship. Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer and Billy Cunningham starred. Cunningham would return to coach the 76ers and lead them to the NBA championship in 1983 with a 4-0 sweep over the Los Angeles Lakers thanks to the help of Maurice Cheeks, Julius Erving and Moses Malone.

In between the titles, the 76ers went through ups and downs. The 1999 trip to the playoffs, spark-plugged by Allen Iverson and team owner Pat Croce, was the first post-season action since 1991 when Charles Barkley led the team to the Eastern Conference Finals. In 2001, the Sixers ignited that famous Philadelphia spirit by winning the NBA Eastern Conference before losing to the Lakers in the NBA Finals. In 2003, the Sixers made the playoffs for the fifth year in a row.

Since the early 2000s success, the Sixers have found recent years to be treacherous. Led by former general manager Sam Hinkie, the Sixers became a case study in “tanking,” a term used for teams that find it better in the long run to lose games and rebuild by getting worse and adding to the roster through the NBA Draft. A stockpile of first round picks—Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid—has set up the Sixers for a fortuitous future.

The “Big 5”:
In addition to a rich professional basketball history, Philadelphia is home to what is affectionately and informally known as the “Big 5.” Born in 1955, the “Big 5” is a battle for basketball bragging rights between five local universities: Villanova, Penn, Temple, St. Joe’s and LaSalle.

The “Big 5” has produced NCAA Champions Final Four men’s teams in Villanova and Penn. The Villanova Wildcats brought the NCAA title home when they pulled off the biggest upset in tournament history, knocking off Georgetown in 1985.

Villanova’s men’s team, led by coach Jay Wright, then won its second championship in 2016 in a historic finish against the University of North Carolina. With the score tied in the final seconds, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins beat the final buzzer with an unforgettable three-point shot.

The Wildcats have become a national power under Wright in recent years and have dominated Big 5 play, winning 16 straight over their city counterparts. The 2016-17 senior class became the first class of Big 5 players to go 16-0 in the Big 5.

Great players and coaches have come from Big 5 schools, including Wright, John Chaney, Tom Gola, Lionel Simmons, Kyle Lowry, Aaron McKie, Eddie Jones, Paul Arizin, David “Corky” Calhoun, Steve Bilsky, Dr. Jack Ramsay, John Baum, Guy Rodgers and more.

At the start of the 1979-80 season, the athletic directors of the five schools expanded the group to include the women’s basketball programs. Helping to first put women’s basketball on the map in Philadelphia were the “Mighty Macs” from Immaculata College. The Macs ruled women’s basketball in the early 1970s by winning three consecutive championships from 1972-1974.

Final Four:
Women’s basketball holds a special place in Philadelphia’s history. In 2000, Philadelphia was the first northeastern city to host the NCAA Women’s Final Four tournament.

The Philadelphia Athletics, one of the country’s oldest pro teams, was founded in 1860. The A’s won the 1913 World Series in Shibe Park, later re-named Connie Mack Stadium, after the team’s longtime manager. The team left town in 1954 and moved to Kansas, where it became the Kansas City Athletics, and then to Oakland in 1968.

The Philadelphia Phillies, the oldest, continuous, one-name, one-city franchise in all of professional sports, was founded in 1883 and played in several parks, including Baker Bowl.

When the Phillies went in search of a new home, Philadelphia stepped up to the plate. In 1971, the Phils moved to Veterans Stadium in South Philadelphia. They called the Vet home for 33 seasons, hosted two All-Star games and three World Series. The Phillies won the Fall Classic at Veterans Stadium in 1980.

In 1993, the team, led by Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk and Curt Schilling, upset the mighty Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship series before falling to the Toronto Blue Jays in six games.

In 2004, the Phillies moved into Citizens Bank Park and found quick success. With a young core of homegrown talent like MVPs Ryan Howard (2006) and Jimmy Rollins (2007), along with Pat Burrell, Chase Utley and more, the Phillies made five consecutive post-season appearances starting in 2007.

In 2008, led in part by the names above, the Phillies defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers in the National League Championship series before downing the Tampa Bay Rays in five games to win the city’s first major professional championship in 25 years. The final out call of closer Brad Lidge’s breaking ball, which was swung and missed by Eric Hinske, would be one of the last of Hall of Fame broadcaster Harry Kalas’ career. Kalas, the team’s voice for nearly 40 years, died the following April after collapsing in the press box in Nationals Park in Washington, DC.

The Phillies haven’t made the playoffs since 2011 and are in the process of rebuilding.

Ed Snider, then the vice president of the Eagles and always regarded as a good businessman, brought professional hockey to the city of Philadelphia in the 1960s.

On May 19, 1974, the Philadelphia Flyers became the first expansion team—they joined the National Hockey League in 1967—to win the Stanley Cup and then won it again the following year. The Flyers also advanced to the Finals in 1987 and 1997, when they were defeated by the Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings, respectively. The Flyers play at the Wells Fargo Center, the same location as the Sixers.

Despite plenty of regular season and post-season success since the 70s, the Flyers haven’t won another Stanley Cup, much to the dismay of a rabid fan base. They made the postseason in 17 consecutive seasons from 1973-89 and again were dominant in the late 90s and early 2000s, all without another Cup to show.

The team’s most recent chance at a championship came in 2010, when the Flyers made a historic comeback from down 3-0 in a series against Boston before storming back to win four straight in the second round matchup. The Flyers took that momentum all the way to the Stanley Cup finals and were defeated 4-2 by Chicago, falling on home ice in overtime in Game 6.

Snider, a major figure in Philadelphia in more than just sports, passed away after a long cancer battle in April of 2016. The Flyers dedicated their 2016 playoff run to Snider, but lost in the first round to the Washington Capitals.

Led by general manager Ron Hextall (a former star goal tender for the club) and coach Dave Hakstol, the Flyers are trying to get back to their winning ways of the past.

Major League Soccer (MLS) added the Philadelphia Union as its 16th team on February 28, 2008, after a long drive for expansion in the Philadelphia/South Jersey regions. Credit for showing MLS that the region had an established fan base went to a local supporters group called the “Sons of Ben.”

The Union, which calls Chester, Pennsylvania (a suburb south of Philadelphia) home, plays at Talen Energy Stadium, formerly known as PPL Park. The club has appeared in the postseason in two of its first seven seasons and just kicked off its eighth year of action.

Philadelphia city planner William Penn (the gent atop City Hall) is considered Philly’s original rower. In the 17th century, Penn rowed the Schuylkill River in order to determine its navigability. In the ensuing two centuries, rowing grew from practicality to a recreational pastime as popular as football is today. Philadelphia was the sport’s unquestioned capital.

In 1821, the creation of the Fairmount Dam, now behind the Philadelphia Museum of Art, turned the river into a placid surface ideal for the sport. In the mid-19th century, the city approved the construction of Boathouse Row, still in use today by amateur and collegiate crew clubs. In 1874, the Schuylkill Navy, the country’s oldest body overseeing an amateur sport, held what is now known as the Head of the Schuylkill Regatta, an October tradition that continues to this day.

Other notable annual regattas include the Stotesbury Cup, Philadelphia Scholastic Rowing Championship and the Dad Vail (or Schuylkill Navy Regatta).

Philadelphia’s most renowned oarsmen are John B. “Jack” Kelly, Sr. and John B. “Kell” Kelly, Jr. (the father and brother of Grace Kelly). The senior Kelly won three Olympic gold medals; junior earned a bronze. A sculpture of the elder Kelly rowing resides near the grandstands on the west bank of the Schuylkill along Kelly Drive.

The University of Pennsylvania’s historic Franklin Field, which hosted the Army-Navy game 18 times between 1899 and 1935, is the site of one of the nation’s oldest, largest and most storied track meet, the Penn Relays. A late April tradition, the Penn Relays began in 1895. Today, the three-day event attracts top-notch track stars for intense competition among high school, college, professional and senior runners, along with classic collegiate activity.

In 2017, professional box lacrosse promised a December 2018 return to Philly’s Wells Fargo Center. The National Lacrosse League will once again take to the Flyers’ turfed-over ice, rekindling a tradition borne at the Spectrum (1986-96) and the Center (1997-2014) with the Wings. Fans will name the team through a popular vote: The top three contenders are Fire, Founders and Wings.

In addition to the professional and collegiate sports scene, Philadelphia has plenty to offer the recreational athlete. Runners, joggers, walkers, bicyclists, rollerbladers and even rock climbers enjoy an eight-mile loop of track and greenery on the banks of the Schuylkill River and in some of the 8,700 acres of Fairmount Park, one of the world’s largest urban park systems.


  • March 11, 2017
    Philadelphia Union home opener
    Coach Jim Curtin and all-stars Andre Blake and Keegan Rosenberry kick off the season. Talen Energy Stadium, Chester,
  • March 11-12, 2017
    Ivy League Men’s and Women’s Basketball Tournaments
    The cathedral of college basketball hosts the first-ever tourney among the Ivies. Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania,
  • April 7, 2017
    Phillies Home Opene
    r – A sign of spring itself, the Phils and the Phantatic take their home field with high hopes for Odubel Herrera and Maikel Franco. Citizens Bank Park,
  • April 27-29, 2017
    82nd NFL Draft
    – What began in Philly in 1936 returns after a 56-year hiatus with an outdoor festival and much fanfare. Benjamin Franklin Parkway,
  • April 27-29, 2017
    Penn Relays – The world’s oldest, largest and arguably best track meet brings thousands of athletes to a historic field for an epic weekend that’s 123 years in the making. Franklin Field, University of Pennsylvania,
  • May 7, 2017
    Broad Street Run –
    The country’s largest 10-mile road race—with nearly 40,000 participants—is a straight, north-to-south shot along Broad Street. T.S. Park to the Navy Yard,
  • May 12-13, 2017
    Dad Vail Regatta
    Another biggest, this collegiate crew competition began in 1934 and honors acclaimed University of Wisconsin coach Harry Emerson “Dad” Vail. Schuylkill River,
  • June 3-4, 2017
    Penn Mutual Collegiate Rugby Championship
    The soccer field transforms into a proving ground for the country’s top men’s and women’s teams. Talen Energy Stadium, Chester,
  • TBD September 2017
    Eagles Home Opener
    The Birds fly again, this time, with a first-round draft pick and now veteran coach Doug Pederson. Lincoln Financial Field,
  • TBD October 2017
    Army-Navy Cup
    This will be the sixth time the military schools’ soccer teams take to the Philadelphia Union’s field. Talen Energy Stadium, Chester,
  • October 28-29, 2017
    Head of the Schuylkill Regatta
    This massive celebration of crew includes newbie, professional, amateur and longtime rowers alike—10,000 of them. Schuylkill River,
  • November 17-19, 2017
    Philadelphia Marathon
    More than just a 26.2-miler, this fast, flat street race is the culmination of a weekend that includes a half marathon, 8K and kids’ fun run. Throughout Philadelphia,
  • TBD November 2017
    76ers Home Opener
    Will this be the year GM Sam Hinkie’s long-term plan pans out? Sixers fans sure hope so. Wells Fargo Center,
  • TBD November 2017
    Flyers Home Opener
    Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux and Shayne Gostisbehere lead these international marvels back to South Philly. Wells Fargo Center,
  • December 9, 2017
    Army-Navy Game
    – Fresh off their first Army-Navy victory in 14 years, Army’s Black Knights return to the site where Navy’s Midshipmen got lucky the last 10 times the rivals clashed there. Lincoln Financial Field,

VISIT PHILADELPHIA® is our name and our mission. As the region’s official tourism marketing agency, we build Greater Philadelphia’s image, drive visitation and boost the economy.

On Greater Philadelphia’s official visitor website and blog, and, visitors can explore things to do, upcoming events, themed itineraries and hotel packages. Compelling photography and videos, interactive maps and detailed visitor information make the sites effective trip-planning tools. Along with Visit Philly social media channels, the online platforms communicate directly with consumers. Travelers can also call and stop into the Independence Visitor Center for additional information and tickets.

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Tagged: Events, Family, Outdoors

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