2016 year in Philly Sports
USA Today Sports Images/Instagram/Billy Penn Illustration

16 biggest Philly sports stories of 2016

From Villanova’s title to Joel Embiid’s debut to the Soul winning the Arena Bowl, see what made our list.

2016 year in Philly Sports
USA Today Sports Images/Instagram/Billy Penn Illustration
danlevy_0328s

For a city with one major championship in the last 30-plus years, 2016 was about as good as it gets for Philly sports. Two Philly teams won titles this year and while, no, none of the big five professional teams brought home a trophy, a Big 5 college team did. And a professional football team, too.

2016 signified a changing of the guard as well. The Phillies formally started their rebuild, the Sixers rebooted theirs, or at least The Process of theirs, the Eagles decided the future was now and the Flyers started their 50th season with a host of youngsters on the ice and their patriarch, sadly, lifted into the rafters.

This is a list of the biggest Philly sports moments in 2016, and I’ll tell you right now, we cheated. Our original list had 29 memorable moments from this year, some that had no chance to make the cut and others that we still feel should be on the final list of 16.

Before we get to our ranked list of memorable moments, it’s important to remember those in Philly sports who were lost this year, including Flyers owner Ed Snider (more on him in a bit), legendary Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, former Flyers coach Bill Dineen and Sixers assistant coach Sean Rooks. Surely there were more, and including any in these ranking could not do their loss justice.

Eagles defensive back Ron Brooks (33), strong safety Malcolm Jenkins (27) and defensive end Steven Means (51) raised their fists during a 2016 game.

Ron Brooks (33), Malcolm Jenkins (27) and Steven Means (51).

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Alas, back to the ups-and-downs of the 2016 calendar year, which was so stacked with memorable moments these didn’t make our cut: Malcolm Jenkins raised his fist, then met with Congress; Chase Utley returned to Philly with the Dodgers; the NFL Draft was announced for PhillyJosh Huff left town with weed and a gun; and Eric Lindros finally got into the Hockey Hall of Fame, inviting his brother onto the stage.

With apologies to those, and several more, here is our list of the 16* most memorable moments in Philly sports in 2016.

16b*. The Soul won the Arena Bowl

SoulRally_5644
Dan Levy/Billy Penn

Fine, the list is 17 and that’s because when we made the initial list everyone seemed to question why in the world the Soul would be on it when most people in Philly don’t even remember the Soul exist. In most years, yes, but the Soul did win a title and they got a nice little rally at City Hall as well, officially honored by the mayor.

There aren’t a lot of championships to go around in Philly, so we thought it prudent to celebrate those we got this year.

 

16. The Union made the MLS playoffs

The Philadelphia Union had an up-and-down season, starting out gangbusters before finishing the year without a win in their last seven regular season matches. Still, they made the playoffs, bowing out in the knockout round to Toronto FC. The Union finished the season with three individual awards, including the Goalkeeper of the Year, awarded to Andre Blake.

 

15.  ‘Stay classy, Philly’

To be completely honest, when we made our rejected holiday cards I put on the Union card they were the only team to make the playoffs in 2016 because I totally forgot the Flyers were even there. And yet, who could forget this moment:

The Flyers lost in the first round of the playoffs 4-2 to the Washington Capitals in a series the Caps led 3-0. The Flyers gave out glowing wristbands before Game 3 to honor the passing of Ed Snider, and during the 6-1 loss, hundreds of bands were thrown around the arena, ending up on the ice. Arena announcer Lou Nolan told the Philly fans to ‘stay classy,’ a directive the team even made shirts out of for Game 6, which the Flyers lost.

 

14. Temple won the AAC, then Matt Rhule left

Temple football won 10 games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history. The Owls’ 10th victory, at Navy, sealed the AAC title for the Cherry and White, earning them a birth in the Military Bowl in the same stadium the won their conference crown. Head coach Matt Rhule, undoubtedly the most successful coach in Temple history, then bolted for Baylor.

 

13. Doug Pederson was hired by the Eagles

Doug Pederson

Doug Pederson

Eagles/Twitter

Chip Kelly was fired by the Eagles on Dec. 30, 2015 with one week to go in the regular season. Three weeks later, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie introduced a familiar face to replace Kelly in former Eagles quarterback and Andy Reid disciple Doug Pederson. The initial announcement was met with apathy in Philly, but somehow, the year has been an absolute roller coaster ride ever since.

 

12. The Flyers had the longest win streak in two decades

NHL: Edmonton Oilers at Philadelphia Flyers
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

In the midst of their 50th season, the Flyers put together a 10-game win streak that was the longest since the 1985-86 season, back when Ronald Reagan was president and a gallon of gas was $1.09. This year’s team won 10 straight on the back of Steve Mason in net and one of the best scoring punches in the NHL. And still, through all that, the Flyers are in fifth place in the dastardly-tough Metro division as the calendar turns toward 2017.

 

11. Lane Johnson was suspended 10 games for PEDs

Lane Johnson was suspended for 10 games this season for his second violation of the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. Johnson claimed he was innocent, stating that an over-the-counter supplement contained peptides that triggered a false positive. The Eagles waited for more than a month for the NFL to work through B-sample testing and the official appeals process, all while Johnson continued to play with the team, fighting against the league and, at times, feuding with his own players’ association reps as well. Johnson was officially suspended on Oct. 11, 2016, missing 10 games before returning in the December victory over the Giants.

The Eagles head into the final week 4-1 with Johnson and 2-8 without him.

 

10. Nelson Agholor’s entire year

Nelson Agholor’s entire season is a memorable moment of 2016. Agholor was accused of raping a stripper at Cheerleaders in June, a crime he was never charged for after reports indicated the accusation stemmed from money Agholor refused to pay for services rendered at the club. On the field, Agholor was saddled by the ‘yips’ all season, seemingly unable to catch simple passes to the point where Doug Pederson had no option but to bench the former first-round pick, leading to speculation he might get cut or traded. Neither happened, and Agholor has found himself back on the field, due to the utter lack of depth at the position, trying to find a balance between this:

And this:

Of all the 2016 storylines, Agholor’s may be the one people have spent way too much time talking about. Or, in some ways, not enough.

 

9. Phillies bid farewell to Chooch and The Big Piece

Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard are both gone. Are the 2017 Phillies better without them?

Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Rebuilding is hard, especially when that means parting ways with players that have spent their entire careers in Philly. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins were the first to go last year, but this year the Phillies parted ways with Carlos Ruiz and Ryan Howard. Chooch was traded to the Dodgers in late August, while the Phils hung on to Howard through the entire 2016 campaign, giving him a wonderful send-off (and $10 million to leave) as the last member of the 2008 World Series squad to say goodbye.

 

8. Allen Iverson’s HOF speech

There are moments we never forget, and in Philly, we’ve had some pretty awesome speeches make that list. From Mike Schmidt’s retirement speech to Chase Utley’s World Fuckin’ Champions moment, nothing was quite as famous as Allen Iverson’s ‘Practice’ rant. And yet, his heartfelt, personal, endearing Hall of Fame speech came close.

We opted not to put Eric Lindros’ speech on the list despite the touching moment with his brother, Brett, but something about Iverson’s speech not only captured the attention of the city, but the entire NBA community. Iverson defined a generation, both in Philly sports and in the league he helped rebound from the end of the Jordan era. Much like his career, Iverson’s HOF speech was something to witness.

 

7. Flyers opened their 50th season with a tribute to Mr. Snider

Ed Snider meant so much to Philadelphia sports. He still does, and the Flyers were his great love. Mr. Snider did everything he could as team owner and chairman of Comcast-Spectacor to make the Flyers the class organization in the NHL up until his passing on April 11. The Flyers began their 50th season, their first without Mr. Snider, in mid October and the team raised a banner to the rafters in his honor, so he could look over the team long after he was gone. It was an emotional tribute to the only owner the team had ever known.

 

6. Sam Hinkie quit & the Sixers hired Bryan Colangelo to replace him

NBA: Cleveland Cavaliers at Philadelphia 76ers
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

To the equity partners of Philadelphia 76ers, L.P.: 

I hope this letter finds you well. I have been serving the Sixers at your pleasure for the past 34 months. Atul Gawande, a Surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, remains (from afar) one of my favorite reads. He laughs that reading scientific studies has long been a guilty pleasure. Reading investor letters has long been one of mine.

 

What I hope to accomplish here is to give you insight into what has transpired behind the scenes in ways you might not have otherwise heard about. Many of you attended our most recent board meeting in New York, where many of these topics were addressed. But for all twelve of you, I hope that this provides a deeper look into what you have at your organization. Accordingly, you should anticipate some mild cheerleading (of others) sprinkled with a healthy dose of self-flagellation about things I’ve done wrong.

That’s how the 13-page resignation letter from Sixers GM Sam Hinkie began. Dated April 6, 2016, Hinkie quit The Process after he realized the ownership group, led by Joshua Harris, was hiring over him, as adviser Jerry Colangelo had reportedly opted to bring in his son, Bryan, to help Hinkie run the team.

Hinkie was always too smart for the room, and surely was too smart for the Sixers owners, who allowed him to tear down the entire franchise in order to rebuild it properly, only to marginalize his authority before the rebuilding process was even close to done.

April 6, 2016 is one of the most memorable days in Philadelphia sports history and the days and weeks that followed — including the hackneyed “From Process to Progress” tagline the Sixers brass tried feeding fans, is something books will be written about. Probably by Hinkie.

Alas, Colangelo was put in charge of the team in the days after Hinkie’s resignation, and the team has shown a lot of progress, buoyed by two of the five moments still to come.

 

5. Sam Bradford was traded!

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

When Doug Pederson was hired, the Eagles said Sam Bradford was their quarterback. When the Eagles traded up in the first round of the NFL Draft, twice, they said Sam Bradford was their quarterback. When pre-season camp opened, Sam Bradford was their quarterback.

Sam Bradford was the Eagles quarterback, until he wasn’t. On Sept. 3, 2016, eight days before the season opener, Bradford was traded to the Minnesota Vikings for a first-round pick and another mid-rounder, one of the greatest trades in Eagles history and a deal that came out of absolute nowhere.

Carson Wentz was suddenly announced as the season starter, despite the team saying he might not play the entire season as he backed up Bradford and Chase Daniel. The deal gave back the first rounder the Eagles lost in acquiring the rights to take Wentz (more on that in a second) and changed the course of the franchise in an instant. No matter what happened in 2016 on the field, that move was a clear sign that the future was starting right then. Right now.

 

4. Ben Simmons was drafted No. 1 overall by the Sixers

Five weeks after Sam Hinkie resigned, the Sixers found themselves in a position Hinkie tanked three seasons to achieve: the first pick in the NBA Draft. The Sixers won the draft lottery on May 17, 2016, then, after some speculation the team might go with Duke swingman Brandon Ingram, selected LSU point forward Ben Simmons first overall on June 23, 2016. The Process, as Hinkie billed the Sixers tank-to-rebuild model, finally worked. Progress could officially begin.

 

3. Eagles traded up to No. 2, took Carson Wentz

April was an insane month in Philly sports, and the second-most memorable moment in that month had to be when the Eagles traded up to the second pick in the NFL Draft with the intention of taking a franchise quarterback. Remember, the Eagles were slated to draft 13th in the first round, but moved up to eighth in a deal for that 13th pick, along with linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell to the Dolphins, two Chip Kelly acquisitions.

Howie Roseman then flipped the eighth pick, a third and fourth rounder in 2016 and the 2017 first rounder to the Browns for the second overall pick, hoping the Rams would take Jared Goff first so the Birds could draft Wentz second.

The plan worked, and the Eagles got their franchise quarterback with the second pick, regaining a first rounder several months later in the Bradford deal. “It’s hard to be great if you don’t take some risks,” Roseman said at the time of the trade. It was a risk, and despite the disappointing result this season, it looks like the risk will provide eventual rewards.

 

2. Villanova won the NCAA Tournament

Philly has been starved for championships. The Phillies title in 2008 was the first since the early 1980s, so when Villanova made the NCAA Final Four, the entire city got behind the Wildcats. Before getting to the national title game, Jay Wright’s crew had to face red-hot Oklahoma in the national semifinal, annihilating the Sooners 95-51, the most lopsided NCAA Final Four win ever. North Carolina beat up on Syracuse to meet the Wildcats in the title game, leading to one of the best contests in the history of the tournament.

Kris Jenkins burying the three-pointer at the buzzer is truly the greatest single individual moment of the year in Philly sports, and without question one of the top five moments of the year in sports across the entire country. (Fun fact: that was my first day at Billy Penn. You’re welcome, Philly.)

 

1. Joel Embiid’s first game

It was a preseason game in a college gym in Amherst, Massachusetts, but October 4, 2016 was the first day Joel Embiid suited up and played in a game, albeit an exhibition, for the Sixers.

Embiid’s rookie year has been a breath of fresh air for Philly sports, proving he is every bit as good as the hype made him out to be. Maybe even better. After years of waiting for The Process to get going, it’s here. And it’s spectacular.