2023 in review: The highs and lows from another year of Philadelphia sports

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2023 is coming to a close and what a year it has been in the world of Philadelphia sports. A Super Bowl appearance, another deep Phillies playoff run, the end of an era for the Sixers, and a resurgent start for the Flyers. Oh, and how could we get the Philadelphia Union, who battled through a gauntlet of games this season and still found a way to make their fans proud.

As is usually the case in Philadelphia, it’s been a rollercoaster ride from start to finish. It’s only fitting that we buckle up one more time and relive the highs and lows from another year of sport in the City.

Philadelphia Eagles

A lot can change in 12 months, but the only real difference for the Philadelphia Eagles is that of expectation.

The Eagles kickstarted 2023 by dominating in the NFL playoffs and making a statement against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game. This earned them their second Super Bowl appearance since 2017.

The Super Bowl itself will be a game Eagles fans will look back on with a missed opportunity. For roughly 3 quarters, it looked as though Philadelphia would be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy again, only for the Kansas City Chiefs to make Philly’s defense pay, snatching the victory from their grasp.

Many fans expected a slight regression going into 2023. A tougher schedule and some tight salary cap constraints would likely confine the Eagles to a season far less explosive than what we saw in 2022…or so we thought.

Howie Roseman was able to snag both Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith in the first round of the NFL Draft, retain both top corners in Darius Slay and James Bradberry, and sign Jalen Hurts to a monster $255M extension. Not bad for an offseason’s work.

Philadelphia Eagles Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith
Newly drafted Philadelphia Eagles’ Nolan Smith, right, and Jalen Carter speak during a news conference at the NFL football team’s training facility, Friday, April 28, 2023, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Eagles entered week 1 with a team arguably just as strong, if not stronger than the one that made the Super Bowl just one season ago, and it was obvious from the jump that this team would once again be a perennial NFC championship contender.

Philly stormed out of the gates with wins over the Patriots, Vikings, and Bucs, despite not really looking 100%. Early teething problems were visible, but not prominent enough to halt their progress.

Fast forward through the dreaded ‘gauntlet’ that saw them face off against some of the NFL’s best, and the Eagles sit at 10-4. On one hand, wins over teams like the Dolphins, Cowboys, Chiefs, and Bills, should cement Philadelphia as a playoff threat when the season comes to a close. On the other, three consecutive defeats in disappointing fashion have raised question marks about the trajectory of this team.

Whatever the case may be, the Eagles are a 10-win team. They should have the inside track to becoming the first repeat-winner of the NFC East since 2003-2004, and have all the talent in the world to not only make a deep playoff run but finish what they started last year.

Philadelphia Phillies

Saying 2023 was good for the Philadelphia Phillies is a bit of a tough sentiment and there’s no shame in admitting it. Sure, making it to the NLCS is another great feat but it ended by falling short to the Arizona Diamondbacks. While it might be a disappointing season to some, there were plenty of moments to remember that showed this Phillies team has some fight they’re going to carry over into 2024.

But let’s not start on a low note. Let’s think about some of the best moments that inspired the locker room rizz (as the kids say) and the momentum that fired up the fan base and the team itself. In a Phillies season full of outstanding and electric moments, it’s easy to forget about the pure emotion of Michael Lorenzen’s August 10th five-strikeout, four-walk performance. And it was a quick turnaround for Lorenzen. He was acquired at the August 1st trade deadline to bolster the starting rotation and Lorenzen’s 124-pitch performance was a worthwhile addition. 

And who could forget the magic that was the standing ovation heard round the league for shortstop Trea Turner’s midseason turnaround? From Opening Day through August 4th, Turner hit just .236 and his strikeout percentage was 23.8%. Boy did fans boo when he kept underproducing but something clicked. August 4th saw fans rise to support their struggling player. He finished the season hitting .266 with 26 home runs and 76 RBIs. 

Philadelphia Phillies vs diamondbacks
The Philadelphia Phillies pose for a picture after Game 4 of a baseball NL Division Series against the Atlanta Braves Thursday, Oct. 12, 2023, in Philadelphia. The Phillies won 3-1 to win the series. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The bats of Nick Castellanos, Bryce Harper, and Kyle Schwarber combined for 97 total home runs. Breakout star Brandon Marsh added 12 homers of his own. Philly’s rotation of Zack Wheeler, Aaron Nola, Ranger Suárez, Taijuan Walker, and whoever was fifth came in clutch for most of the season. Nola and Suárez entered their postseason games with an ERA below 1.00 and four massive wins between them. 

And as the Phillies start the postseason, we venture into territory that starts to be a bit unpleasant. Let’s start with the good. They eliminated the National League favorite when they beat the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS, clearing their path to a second straight pennant. Philadelphia had the best odds heading into the NLCS after the Los Angeles Dodgers were ousted. They bashed their way to a series lead in the NLCS and had a 5-2 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 4 but that’s when the train came off the rails.

The Phillies still have a great roster with impact and All-Star-level players throughout the lineup, but it was difficult after dropping Games 5, 6, and 7. That was the end of the line for the 2023 season but the Phillies weren’t done making some moves to hopefully not have that happen again. 

A deal in the offseason was made to take the two-week-old free agent Nola off the table. The landmark contract with the Phillies, a seven-year, $172 million agreement, represented at least a sigh of relief that maybe, just maybe, they can make another deep run in 2024.

Regina Ham

Philadelphia Flyers

If there is one team in sports that went from the outhouse to the penthouse, it is the Philadelphia Flyers.

Look at where they were a year ago. On December 21st, 2022, the Flyers were 11-15-7, already enduring a 10-game losing streak.

Then, Philadelphia shipped Kevin Hayes and Ivan Provorov before waiving Tony DeAngelo. Chuck Fletcher and Dave Scott are out of the picture for Daniel Briere, Keith Jones, and Dan Hilferty. Suddenly, by subtraction, they’ve added wins.

Philadelphia Flyers' Travis Konecny
Philadelphia Flyers right wing Travis Konecny (11) celebrates after his goal against the Arizona Coyotes with Flyers defenseman Nick Seeler (24) and center Scott Laughton (21) during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

It’s been a marvelous transformation over the calendar year. This team has two strong goaltenders, a defense exclusively consisting of dogs, and forwards who find their way before Cutter Gauthier and Matvei Michkov arrive. Suddenly, it’s not fun to play in Philadelphia, but it is fun to watch the Flyers live.

In one year, hockey returned to Broad Street with jam. Dare I say, as of December 21st, 2023, the Flyers stand as the pride of Philadelphia. Now, that’s quite the year in review.

Eric Reese

Philadelphia 76ers

What a year it’s been for the Philadelphia 76ers. Joel Embiid finally won the MVP Award that had alluded him his entire career up to that point. It was a monumental individual achievement, but the team wasn’t so lucky in the postseason.

After another early playoff exit, it became clear that something had to change. The Era of James Harden was coming to a disappointing end, and the Sixers had to do something, anything to turn the page.

That started with the dismissal of Head Coach Doc Rivers. He was replaced by former Raptors Head Coach, Nick Nurse, and then all fell silent.

Philadelphia Nurse
Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse calls out from the bench in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans in New Orleans, Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

The rumor mill spun its way through the offseason, but it felt like as much as James Harden wanted out, and the Sixers wanted out, a move was unlikely.

The team was handcuffed…until they weren’t.

James Harden was traded to the Clippers of all teams and the 76ers could start their new era. Who would they sign to replace Harden? Could Maxey step up to the plate?

As of writing this article, the Philadelphia 76ers are 3rd place in the Eastern Conference having just beaten the Timberwolves. A 19-8 record has been very much shaped by a Tyrese Maxey breakout. The young guard has filled the shoes of Harden, becoming a primary facilitator for Joel Embiid, as well as putting up an average of over 25 points per game.

The future looks to be bright for Philadelphia. The dark clouds cast by James Harden and Ben Simmons have moved on, and while there are still questions to be asked long-term, the problems of old are just that. Maxey is becoming the glue keeping this core together, and an improved bench unit appears to be strong enough to make a difference when it counts.

Here they come…

Philadelphia Union

2023 was always going to be a big year for the Union. Only a few months removed from MLS Cup heartbreak and Supporters Shield jubilation, Jim Curtin had the tricky task of rallying his troops and trying to run it back despite a schedule now flummoxed with CCL and Leagues Cup fixtures.

Trying to keep the team healthy and the spirits high was tough. There are 34 MLS games in a season. The Union ended up playing in 51 games. That’s a huge spike and one that certainly took its toll. The Union had some great spells and some confusingly dry ones. Early exits in the Leagues Cup and CCL gave Curtin a chance to focus on the league, but even that came with its own set of problems.

Philadelphia Union
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

By the time the playoffs came around, the Union was hurting. They were able to sneak past the Revs, but Cincinnati proved too much to handle in the next round and sent the Union home prematurely.

With that said, teething problems were always going to be there. The team was asked to play 1.5 seasons worth of Football in the same span as one normal regular season. While an emphasis on developing homegrown talent remains, there were some instances where the team needed players to bridge that gap while the youngsters grow and the starters rest.

That’s likely where the Union will place its focus this offseason. They have already signed young LB Isiah LeFlore and while we can’t expect Mr. Tanner to start throwing money around, a few more smart and subtle signings could mean the world of difference when all is said and done this time next year.

This Union team is among the best in MLS and has the talent to go all the way and hoist an MLS cup. Now that they know what a grueling slate of games looks like and what adjustments need to be made, we can expect another leap in 2024.