Top Philadelphia Sports Stories of 2020: Flickers of Hope in a Year Rife With Disappointment

Posted By Katie Kohler on December 30, 2020 - Last Updated on January 6, 2021

Maybe online sportsbooks should have set an over/under on the number of times we would say “unprecedented” in 2020.  

The coronavirus pandemic was the story of 2020. It quickly shut down the world, including all sports.

In a year full of unprecedented occurrences, the top stories of 2020 in Philadelphia sports have a similar theme to that of previous years — disappointment, front-office changes and calls for a backup quarterback to replace Carson Wentz.

Sports stop

COVID-19 shut down sports across the world and in Philadelphia. The almost-always-at-capacity Wells Fargo Center has been without fans since March. No screams of “SHOOT” when the Flyers are on the powerplay. No fans singing “Here Come the Sixers” after a win

On March 11, the NBA indefinitely suspended the season. The Philadelphia Sixers were 39-26, which included a 29-2 at-home record. 

The Philadelphia Flyers (41-21-7) were surging before play stopped, winning nine out of their last 10

On March 12, The NCAA announced that all 2020 winter and spring championships were canceled due to concern over the coronavirus. The Villanova Wildcats were 24-7 (13-5, first in the Big East) and +2500 to win the National Championship. 

Bubbles popped for Sixers and Flyers

The NHL and the NBA returned nearly five months later in their respective bubbles.

Upon the NHL’s restart, bettors liked the Flyers’ chances of winning the Eastern Conference and making a Stanley Cup appearance. After their romp through the round robin, the Flyers were the favorite to win the Eastern Conference at Pennsylvania online sportsbooks. To start round two of the playoffs, the Flyers had the second-best odds (+250) to win the Eastern Conference and were +600 to win the Stanley Cup. 

On August 21, a FanDuel rep said the Flyers were the sportsbook’s biggest liability in the Stanley Cup market. After beating the Montreal Canadiens in six games in the opening round of the playoffs, the Flyers were eliminated by the New York Islanders in seven games. The Flyers’ top-five forwards only produced six goals in the series. 

Prior to the NBA’s restart, the 76ers were among the most-wagered to win their first championship since 1983.

However, Ben Simmons‘ season-ending knee injury changed the 76ers’ championship odds from +2000 to +5000. A lackluster 4-4 record in the seeding games and Joel Embiid‘s two exits due to injury didn’t help either. The Sixers entered the playoffs as a No. 6 seed and were swept by the Boston Celtics.

Flyers find their goalie

The Flyers have been searching for a steady force between the pipes since Ron Hextall. I would start naming names, but I have a word count to keep, and honestly, hasn’t this year been rough enough without talking about Ken Wregget and Ilya Bryzgalov?

Carter Hart, 22, looks to be the answer to one of the biggest question marks in Philadelphia sports. He finished the 2019-20 regular season with a record of 24-13-3/2.42 GAA/.914 SV%. In the playoffs, he posted a better goals-against-average (2.23), a better save percentage (.926%) and had two shutouts.

Before the start of round-robin play, PA sportsbook apps didn’t even list him as a choice for the Conn Smythe. After a stellar first round (4-1, 1.51 GAA, .949 SV%) against the Canadiens (and his childhood hero Carey Price), sportsbooks had him at +800, second to Nate MacKinnon (+625) to win the prize.

Wentz’s woes

Carson Wentz played in his first playoff game in 2020. (Yes, that was this year.) He played two series before a questionable helmet-to-helmet hit knocked him out and the Eagles went on to lose 17-9 against the Seattle Seahawks. 

Things didn’t get much better for the Eagles’ $138 million franchise quarterback

The Birds ignored their other needs and selected Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second round of the NFL draft in April. Before Week One, two starting offensive linemen (Brandon Brooks and Andre Dillard) suffered season-ending injuries. 

Online sportsbooks put the Eagles over/under win total at 9.5, and Wentz was +2500 to win the NFL MVP. But things got worse for Wentz when the 2020 campaign began. The Eagles stumbled to a 3-8-1 record as Wentz was sacked a league-high 50 times and threw 15 interceptions. Wentz, to whom the Birds awarded a contract extension in 2019, was benched during the Week 13 game against Green Bay in favor of Hurts.

In his first two starts, Hurts provided a spark the offense lacked. However, he played more like a rookie (two interceptions, two fumbles) in a 37-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that eliminated the Eagles from playoff contention.

Wentz’s regression, the drafting of Hurts, the Eagles’ aging offensive line and an impending salary cap hell have put head coach Doug Pederson and general manager Howie Roseman on the hot seat in Philadelphia.

Sixers shakeup at the top

The Sixers could have blamed their lethargic play in the bubble and quick playoff exit on COVID-19 disruptions and injuries. But they made major changes instead of standing pat.

They fired head coach Brett Brown after seven seasons and hired former NBA Coach of the Year Doc Rivers from the Los Angeles Clippers. Then they brought in Daryl Morey, former general manager of the Houston Rockets, for the role of president of basketball operations. Also, the Sixers parted ways with Alex Rucker, the executive VP of basketball, and gave general manager Elton Brand a contract extension.

Kobe Bryant’s death

Before his 20-year NBA career in which he amassed over 33,000 points, five NBA Championships, two scoring titles and 18 all-star appearances, Kobe Bryant starred for Lower Merion High School, a high school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. He made the leap from the Lower Merion to the NBA in 1996.

“Lower Merion and everything associated with it made me who I am,” Bryant said in 2016.

On Jan. 26, Bryant, 41, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California.

Lead image credit: AP Photo/Matt Slocum

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Katie Kohler

Katie Kohler is a Philadelphia-area based award-winning journalist. She is the Managing Editor at PlayPennsylvania and covers the Pennsylvania gambling industry with an emphasis on sports betting, online casino/poker and the lottery.

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