Another difficult year is in the books, thankfully.
While you take this time to reflect on the year that was, we’re taking a look at a 2021 sports year that all-too-often provided an escape from the harsh realities of the world outside our front door — or beyond our favorite sporting venue.
Philadelphia didn’t experience a trophy-winning campaign from any of its major professional sports teams, but this year was filled with indelible memories that will be talked about around the athletic landscape for years to come.
It wasn’t easy, but here are Metro Philadelphia’s top 10 sporting moments of 2021:
Jan. 11: Doug Pederson fired
After a wild week of speculation, including Pederson expressing confidence that he would return for the 2021 season, the Eagles fired their Super Bowl-winning head coach after five seasons.
The Eagles regressed mightily since winning their first-ever Super Bowl in February 2018. They put together one of their worst seasons in 20 years, going 4-11-1 in 2020, finishing last in the worst division in football, the NFC East. It also included uncertainty at the quarterback position which led to the benching of Carson Wentz for Jalen Hurts.
In 80 games with the team, his 42 wins rank fifth in franchise history.
“We all look forward to the day he will be inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame as a Super Bowl-winning head coach, and we are confident he will have success with his next team,” team owner Jeffrey Lurie said at the time.
Pederson is currently in the running for the Jacksonville Jaguars’ head-coaching job.
Jan. 13: Lindblom gets on the board
Philadelphia Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom had to wait nine months to hit the ice again after being diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in December 2019. He then had to wait an additional four months to find the back of the net. Lindblom scored his first goal since November 2019 thanks to a bit of luck.
In the third period of a 4-3 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, a scramble in front saw Lindblom knocked down. But Travis Konecny’s follow-up backhander off a rebound caromed off Lindblom’s helmet and into the back of the net.
Jan. 21: Nick Sirianni hired
After building up a resume as an offensive specialist with the Kansas City Chiefs, San Diego/Los Angeles Chargers, and Indianapolis Colts, Sirianni was brought in to steer the Eagles back on course after their disappointing 2020 season.
It came with uncomfortable situations surrounding Carson Wentz and Zach Ertz, but Sirianni has helped steer an Eagles team with Jalen Hurts at the helm firmly into the postseason conversation as they enter Week 17 of the 2021 season with an 8-7 record, good for the seventh and final NFC playoff seed.
Feb. 18: Carson Wentz traded
The disgruntled Eagles quarterback who was benched during the final weeks of the 2020 season got his wish and was dealt to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2021 third-round draft pick and a conditional 2022 second-round pick that will become a first-rounder given that Wentz met his snap-count quota.
It was the final act of the quarterback’s fall from grace, which began with MVP and all-time-great aspirations after he was selected No. 2 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Wentz, who is currently sidelined due to COVID, has completed 62.8% of his passes this season with 3,230 yards, 25 touchdowns, and just six interceptions for a Colts team that is in the AFC playoff picture.
Jun. 25: Nola strikes out 10 straight
Aaron Nola’s 2021 season wasn’t anything to write home about. In fact, more questions were created about his ability to be the Phillies’ staff ace for the long haul. But on one June day, he was dialed in when he struck out 10 straight New York Mets. It tied an MLB record that had stood on its own for 51 years when the Mets’ Tom Seaver struck out 10 straight San Diego Padres on April 22, 1970.
After hitting lead-off man Jeff McNeil, Nola struck out the next 10 batters he faced that day, ending with a punch-out of Michael Conforto to lead off the fourth inning.
“That’s pretty cool, being in a category with Tom,” Nola said. “Getting ahead in the count, 0-1, 0-2, and winning the 1-1 counts was big for me today. Then I could put them away with stuff.”
The Mets would win the game, though, 2-1.
Oct. 15: Zach Ertz traded
The writing had been on the wall for some time and, finally, the Eagles traded one of the faces of their franchise in Ertz to the Arizona Cardinals for rookie cornerback Tay Gowan and Arizona’s 2022 fifth-round pick.
It was an emotional split, including Ertz’s admittance that he cried in the team’s locker room following his final game.
“I was crying in the locker room last night for 30 minutes. I felt bad because the guys didn’t really know, but I couldn’t help it,” Ertz said. “It was special. Last January against Washington, there were no fans, so it was weird. I’m glad I didn’t end it like that last January. It was special last night.”
Ertz was a fixture in Philadelphia for eight-plus seasons, accruing the second-most receptions in franchise history and the fifth-most receiving yards.
Nov. 18: Bryce Harper wins MVP
Bryce Harper has only gotten better over his first three years with the Philadelphia Phillies — and 2021 was by far his best season yet with the club.
At times, the 29-year-old single-handedly kept the Phillies in the playoff hunt throughout the season, slashing .309/.429/.615 — the latter a league leader in slugging percentage — along with an MLB-best 1.044 OPS. Harper also slugged 35 home runs with 84 RBI and a league-leading 42 doubles.
It was the second NL MVP Award of Harper’s career — the first coming in 2015 with the Washington Nationals — while becoming the seventh player in Phillies history to earn such honors, joining Jimmy Rollins (2007), Ryan Howard (2006), Mike Schmidt (1980, ’81, ’86), Jim Konstanty (1950) and Chuck Klein (1932).
Dec. 5: Shorthanded Union push NYCFC in East Final
Under normal circumstances, the Philadelphia Union would have been favored to defeat NYCFC in the MLS Eastern Conference Final at Subaru Park. But COVID had other plans, sidelining five starters and 11 players in total with a trip to the MLS Cup Final on the line.
Remarkably enough, Philly not only hung tough but took an improbable lead in the 63rd minute when a Daniel Gazdag cross created a New York own goal. NYCFC would respond swiftly, however, equalizing just seconds later before Talles Magno put the visitors ahead with just six minutes to go.
“To be missing 11 players is certainly not something someone usually sits up here at a press conference and has to say,” head coach Jim Curtin said. “I don’t know how to really respond. I can’t be proud when we lose but at the same time, this is about as unique a set of circumstances as you can have in the game… It still hurts that we lost but I’m still proud of the group.”
Dec. 6: Alain Vigneault fired
Following eight straight losses and an embarrassing 7-1 drubbing at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Flyers parted ways with the veteran head coach after just two-plus seasons behind the bench. Vigneault compiled a 74-54-19 during that stretch, but a surprising 2019-20 campaign that saw the Flyers snag the top overall seed in the Eastern Conference after COVID prompted round-robin tournament at the restart of play that August was followed by two consecutive playoff-less campaigns.
Mike Yeo was elevated to interim head coach, though the Flyers still sit in sixth place out of eight teams in the Metropolitan Division.
2021: Ben Simmons drama
It’s difficult to pinpoint a definitive date for the Ben Simmons saga because it’s been going on all year. Trade rumors in January involving James Harden; struggles in the playoffs that saw him called out by Joel Embiid and Doc Rivers; trade demands that cropped up over the summer.
Then came the hold-out coupled with the 76ers’ high asking price that has stalled progress on the trade front all year. While Simmons vowed he would never play for the team again, he showed up to team facilities just days before the start of the regular season before explaining he wasn’t mentally ready to play for the Sixers.
And so the wait continues. Maybe he’ll be gone sometime in 2022.