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Original Issue

Attitude Adjustment

Philadelphians don't feel like underdogs anymore

Lucky Tyrell Martin. He's 17 and lives in a city with two daily papers (one of which he reads!), two sports radio stations and the biggest Rocky statue in the country. He lives in Philadelphia, the epicenter of the sporting universe. At least it was last weekend.

You may have heard: The New Yorkers came to town, for Games 3, 4 and 5 of the World Series and a Sunday matinee between NFC East heavyweights. The Yankees. The Giants. New York, New York. Tyrell went to New York City once for a basketball tournament. It might have been in upper Manhattan, or maybe the Bronx. He's not sure. Anyway, a great city. It reminded him of his home.

He prepared for his city's phantasmagoria of sporting fun by playing in a game of his own last Friday night; two ancient Philadelphia public schools playing football, Germantown High hosting Frankford High. Tyrell was the only Frankford player to play both ways, as a running back and a cornerback. Frankford won, going away. When the Pioneers scored their 35th point, the cheerleaders chanted, "Gimme a win and shake that thing!" The perfect cheer. A credo for the entire city.

Things are different for the modern Philly fan—modern meaning since the Phillies' 2008 World Series victory. If you're Tyrell's age, most of your memories of the Phils have come since 2004, when beautiful Citizens Bank Park opened. Since then the Phillies, to one degree or another, have been in contention every season. When the Phils won it all, the victory parade rivaled any celebration New York has ever had. This year it was New Yorkers, not Phillie fanatics, who came into the World Series antsy from a long championship drought.

So on Saturday night, World Series Game 3, Tyrell was confident when he fell asleep with the home club leading the Bronx Bombers 3-zip. He woke up on Sunday morning to the shock of a Phillies loss, but also the promise of a unique doubleheader: Giants-Eagles in the afternoon, Yanks-Phils that night. He was going to the first Eagles game of his life.

Tyrell is the captain of the Frankford team, the president of the senior class and near the top of his grade, with a 3.8 GPA. Last week he was the winner of the Donovan McNabb/Philadelphia Daily News award and on Sunday he found himself sitting, with one of his coaches, Juan Namnun, in McNabb's seats at Lincoln Financial Field, smack-dab on the 50-yard line. The Eagles were up 7--0 before Tyrell could finish his kickoff hamburger. He made small circular let's-get-busy motions with his left fist and said to Namnun, "See how they have the trips on the right and the handoffs go left?" Trips is coach-speak for three wideouts. The kid's got a good eye.

One row behind them was a Giants fan in a Yankees windbreaker, Spike Lee. When the Eagles' rout was well under way—they would win 40--17—the coach turned to the director and asked, "How you like the scoreboard now?"

Spike: "Hey, we're pitching CC Sabathia tonight. You're pitching Joe Blanton. Joe Blanton!"

The Phils might have been pitching lefthander Jamie Moyer, who grew up in Souderton, on the outskirts of Philadelphia. He was in the dugout but not on the roster, recuperating from abdominal surgery. During the second half of the football game he drove from his downtown apartment to Citizens Bank Park, listening to the Eagles on the radio and talking on his cellphone. Over time something happened to the New York intimidation factor in his hometown, Moyer said. The big league pitcher and the high-school football player have pretty much the same view of Gotham. "We know we can go there and win," Tyrell said.

After the Eagles game Tyrell and his coach descended into the bowels of the Linc to meet their host. McNabb arrived in a splendid brown suit. Tyrell told him about Spike—how he bailed out early with the Eagles way up, how he bragged on his Yankees. "Well, we got to look out for Spike," McNabb said. "He's got to do that. I mean, c'mon. Look at his Knicks." Philadelphia, the new Philadelphia, taking it to New York.

It was close to 5 p.m. when Tyrell and Coach Namnun made it out of the Linc and back into the fading daylight. Thousands of football fans were making the short walk across Pattison Avenue to Citizens Bank. Moyer was hoping they would bring some of the Eagles' extra 22 points with them.

Didn't happen. In Game 4 the Yankees scored three runs in the ninth and won again. Spike left the park wearing a hat stenciled with the 26 years that the Yankees have won the World Series. Now they were one win away from number 27. Tyrell, in his Frankford row house, turned off his TV.

Jamie Moyer drove home along the narrow streets of South Philadelphia, near the places where Rocky trained and pounded away at a side of beef. For a while, in his rearview mirror, he could see the glowing ballpark. He wasn't depressed, and neither was Tyrell or Coach Namnun or a million other Philadelphians. No matter what, the defending World Series champion Phillies had a hell of a season in 2009, and now it was the Eagles' turn. Gimme a win and shake that thing. How's New York going to compete with that?

Senior writer Michael Bamberger lives in Philadelphia.

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Even World Series losses couldn't dampen spirits when Philly was the EPICENTER OF THE SPORTS UNIVERSE.