If there is a fanbase known for its fierce distaste for opposing players, it is Philadelphia.
Whether it’s the Flyers, 76ers, Phillies, or Eagles fans a Philadelphia home crowd is one of the best at rising up and hitting an opponent with waves of boos, double middle fingers, or themselves through a falling penalty box plexiglass pane.
Philadelphia is also a town that appreciates quality opposition. One great example is when Mario Lemieux made his famous return from beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Here’s that scene.
Lemieux coming back was a special occasion. As time rolls on and the players from both sides of any rivalry get further away, the dust begins to settle. Without the accelerated heartbeats and sweat from the battle you can look back upon a fellow combatant with respect. This will highlight a few of Philly’s pesky opponents. Men who are worthy of recognition for helping make the battles, both wins and losses so great and so bitter.
Let’s embrace the hurt and maybe even some healing.
Scott Stevens- The Destroyer of Hopes and Dreams
Of the four players I’m choosing for this list, the respect I’ve gained for Scott Stevens has the most personal and emotional connection. Growing up as a hockey player and Flyers fan, it took a long time to find the balance of hate and respect with the longtime captain of the New Jersey Devils. Why he’s hated is no secret.
On the TSN top 10 hits of Stevens’ career, Flyers appear twice. In fact, both hits occurred in the same series. It was the 2000 Eastern Conference Finals and Stevens made ice shattering contact twice. In Game 3, Stevens caught Daymond Langkow, a talented center, trying to cut through the middle in the defensive zone beats the first defender, only to be crushed and belted to the ice by Stevens. A woozy Langkow, bleeding from the face skated towards the penalty box instead of the bench and had to be assisted off the ice by trainers and would miss time during the series.
It was Game 7 though that contains the most famous hit of Stevens career and the worst many Flyers fans had to watch on the ice. Eric Lindros picks off a loose puck in the neutral zone. He winds up, circling to gain speed. He looses to puck at the blue line, the whistle blows, and a shoulder connects. The patented Stevens move of catching a player with his head down as he steps around his defensive partner. With Stevens’s strength and the momentum of Lindros, the results were catastrophic. He would never again play for the Flyers, and a now deflated team would lose the series.
While he’ll always be a villain Stevens physical play, knowledge of on-ice positioning, and rising to the occasion to make game impacting statements was a huge influence on myself and I’m sure many other young defensemen in the tri-state area. The willingness to risk his own body to deliver checks which would further risk retribution from an opponent was an early lesson in on-ice leadership as well how a defender can impact the game far beyond the scoresheet. He was actually a fairly consistent presence on the score sheet as well, amassing 908 points during his career. He won a Conn Symth trophy in 2000 and was a three-time Stanley Cup champion. The first-ballot Hall of Fame player still causes unpleasant memories but was a player who was undeniably one who garnered respect.
Reggie Miller- The Master of Daggers
I’ll debate anyone that 3 pointer is more deflating than any thundering dunk. Until Ray Allen, nobody hit more of them than Reggie Miller.
More commonly known as a Knicks killer and Spike Lee’s close personal enemy, Miller also had his battles over the years with the 76ers. Game 1 of the 2000 Eastern Conference Semi-Finals stands out as Miller and Jalen Rose both dropped 40 point performances against the Sixers. Again and again in the game and throughout his career Miller’s high arcing unorthodox shot would rise up and fall through the net. One of only 9 players in the NBA and WNBA to shoot 50% from the floor, 40% from 3 and 90% from the free-throw line in a season Miller was lethal when he was on, which was most games.
Lead by Miller, the Pacers would take series from the 76ers. They would lose in the Finals to the Lakers, but Miller’s teams year after year would be around in the playoffs and stealing regular season wins from the Sixers. He had a remarkable swagger, a defiant stare, a never ending barrage of three-pointers, and being maddeningly automatic from the charity stripe made Miller a beautiful nightmare to watch.
What pushes Miller into the category of respect opponents is the old adage “The enemy of my enemy is my friend”. Miller’s exploits against the Knicks, including the seemingly impossible 8 points in 9 seconds to seal a come from behind playoff victory still gives New Yorkers fits. Their dismay brings me arguably too much satisfaction and thanks for a good part of that goes to Reggie Miller. The rest goes to Knicks management.
Sometimes a guy just has your number. On many occasions Jake “The Snake” Plummer would dial up the Eagles and laugh.
For whatever reason the Cardinals, who moved to Arizona in 1988, were NFC East rivals to the Eagles until 2001. During their time as a division rival they were never great, but Jake Plummer would manage some impressive performances against the hometown guys in midnight green.
By the time the Cardinals moved to the much more appropriate NFC West, Plummer had authored 5 4th quarter comebacks against the Eagles. For a Bird’s fan, this was worse than Plummer’s wrestling namesake siking his snake on Macho Man.
Plummer would also torment the Eagles in another NFL stop. He was under center for the Denver Broncos when they thrashed the Eagles by 28 points in 2005 utilizing those memorable weapons like…Tatum Bell and Todd Devoe!?
In total, Plummer lead 23 game-winning drives in the 4th quarter or overtime. 21% of those came against the Eagles. He wasn’t a great quarterback, and hardly ever played on great teams, but Plummer could really ruin a Sunday afternoon. Apart from that, his gunslinging scrambling style provided for some great entertainment. The swashbuckling QB earns our respect.
Chipper Jones- The Killer With Consistency
Larry Wayne Jones Jr, better known as “Chipper” is one of the best baseball players of my lifetime and I couldn’t have resented him more.
From 1995 until 2012 he destroyed the Phillies at every possible turn. He hit 20 or more home runs for 14 straight seasons to start his career. He had 8 All-Star appearances, was a two time Silver Slugger, an MVP, and won a World Series. He was one of the best switch hitters of all time, with a final stat line of .303/.401/.529, OPS — .930, Hits — 2,726, HRs — 468, RBIs — 1,623 which is insane. His slash line of .303/.401/.529 is better than such all-time greats like Willie Mayes, Hank Aaron, Honus Wagner, and Frank Robinson.
The worst part of it all? HE SPENT 19 YEARS IN THE DIVISON. Let’s put it in perspective. Over 245 games against the Phillies he slashed .331/.441/.596 with an OPS of 1.036. He also had 49 home runs and 152 RBIs during that time as well. He cracked 280 hits, drew 169 walks, and had 166 runs. Even though he named his first son Shea, Jone’s numbers against the Phillies are better than his ones against the Mets. Hell at the Vet alone he hit .350 and smacked 13 home runs.
Even in his final season, Jones would find a way to give the Phillies fits. Of all the things he hadn’t done, Jones had not hit a walk-off homer against the team. In his final season he hit two off of the Phillies and Jonathan Papelbon.
Jones was so good with the bat it didn’t matter that he wasn’t the best fielder at 3rd base. For comparison, Scott Rolen was a perennial Gold Glove candidate but never could achieve the same accolades because Jones would hit .300 in his sleep, and he had more consistent power. As a loyal Phillies fan who was of the age to love Rolen even though he didn’t like us I was crushed that the Braves superstar was so well considered.
It was during his swan song season though that some perspective set in. I got to watch, from afar, almost the entire career of a Hall of Fame player. Of a top 10 player at the position of all time. It was a pleasure and honor to boo him from home and from the stands at the Vet and Citizens Bank Park.
And god damn if Chipper wasn’t an awesome sounding nickname.
Who do you hate and respect equally? Which one of Philly’s frequent agitators would you like to death stare while sharing a firm handshake with? Jump in the comments and share or let us know on the YJ Twitter or direct with me on my handle as well.