Who is Philly’s Most Popular Player?

15 01 2009

Warning: After reading this column you will want to respond. You will not be able to control yourself.

By Joe Mitchell

Someday soon it will be over. The career of Brian Dawkins. Watch closely. Cherish these moments. You will tell your children and grandchildren about him. There will be, and have been, other great running backs, hockey goalies, centerfielders and quarterbacks. We have never seen the like of Dawkins in a Philadelphia uniform.

Dawkins is the perfect Philadelphia athlete. First he plays football. Second he plays defense. Third HE HITS. Fourth, he cares. He gets as depressed as the fans after a loss.

Fifth. He hits. Sixth, he’s basically a little guy. Seventh he hits. Eighth he loves the fans. Ninth he’s been here a long time (this is critical) And, of course, he hits.

You’ll talk for years about his hits on receivers foolish enough to cross the middle. And then you’ll laugh when you talk about the next time the same receiver came across the same area and dropped the pass because he was looking over his shoulder.

So does all that make Dawkins the most popular Eagle or even most popular Philadelphia athlete ever?

Well here are some other candidates. I propose 2 nominations from each of the 4 major teams.




Well you know 1 one of them is Dawkins. No Eagles fan doesn’t like him. Even when we complain about his play, we feel bad about doing it. And I don’t think he has ever been booed.

There are many other candidates. Harold Carmichael, Randall (but there were a lot of people who complained about him while he was here), Reggie White (he played other places, and he left us), Jaworski (he got booed…..alot), Bednarik & Van Buren (before my time).

No my other nominee is a bit of surprise. Dick Vermeil. Sure he wasn’t a player, but he was the coach of a brief glory period for the Eagles. How popular was Vermeil in Philadelphia? Even while he was coach of St Louis, he was still doing lots of ads in Philly. Unbeleivable.


Bobby Clarke. An expansion team in a city that new little about the sport, took the city by storm. The face of that team was the toothless grin of Clarke. He wasn’t just one of the best players in the sport and the captain of the Stanley Cup Champions. He played like we would want to play. A poke here, a jab there, and a lot of hustle. Yes he started fights. But he wasn’t afraid to finish them. Much of the popularity the Flyers still enjoy is due in large part to the way Clarke played the game.

There are many other popular Flyers: Kerr, Schultz, Barber, Parent even Lindros.

But if you want to talk about popular I am going with Ron Hextall.

We like a certain kind of player here. A guy who will stick up for his team.

Good ol number 27

Good ol' number 27

That was Hextall. Few goalies have been in more fights. He even scored.

And in his younger days he was a great goalie, leading the Flyers to the finals.

There are still a lot of Hextall Jersey’s visible at Flyer home games.


This is hard. The Sixers have had some of the greatest players in NBA history.

Wilt, Barkley, Moses, Cheeks, Bobby Jones, AI, DR.J.

I know I said 2 from each team but I am forced to nominate 3 from the 76ers.

Allen Iverson was one of the biggest stars in the league and perhaps the most popular person in Philadelphia. Every house in the Philadelphia area has at least one Iverson jersey. People of all ages and backgrounds, loved his play. Of course he shot too much. Of course he did stupid things off court. But nobody ever played harder than that little guy. And those are 2 things we always love. Little guys. Play hard.

Dr J. was a rock star. He was bigger than the game. He was one of the most mythological athletes in sports. He was the big big free agent. And he signed with Philadelphia! This had never happened before. He made the Sixers the biggest attraction in the league. Sure he hasn’t been back much since he retired, but that under-the- backboard layup against the Lakers may be the greatest play ever…..in any sport..

AND he got in a fist fight with Larry Bird. Way to go Doc.

Finally, Wilt. Yes I know Chamberlain left Philadelphia twice. The second time at his own bidding to go to L.A. But the man was the greatest athlete I have ever seen. He was huge, and powerful and graceful. He revolutionized the sport. Is he the most popular? I am not sure. But I am very partial.




This may be the hardest. The team has been around the longest. And the length of a baseball season allows us to develop a deeper relationship with the players.

Carlton (always great, but his demeanor made it hard to like him) Tug Mcgraw (wasn’t always a Phillie), same with Pete Rose, Bowa (the manager thing didn’t work out so well). Richie / Dick Allen. (Yes was popular with young fans in the 60’s. Yes he had to tolerate a lot. But he was a lightning rod and was not always loved). Chuck Klein, Jimmy Foxx (way before my time).

I guess you have to go with Mike Schmidt. He is the greatest player in the history of the team, and the greatest 3rd baseman ever to play the game. Yes he got booed. Yes he was aloof. But towards the end the fans realized what they had and treated him accordingly.

The other is easy. Richies Ashburn was the face and the voice of the team for 50 years.

I grew up in the 60’s so I did not get to see him play for the Phils. But my parents and older brothers worshipped Richie. He led the Phillies to their only World Series between 1915 and 1980. To me though, Ashburn was baseball. The teams may have stunk but Ashburn was always entertaining. Forget the game, I could listen to Richie just talk for 3 hours.

So back to the original question. Who is the most popular Philadelphia sports figure ever?

Here are my top 3.

1) Richie Ashburn – Next to Ben Franklin, he may be the most popular Philadelphian ever.
2) Bobby Clarke – 50 cents of every dollar Ed Snider has made on the Flyers he owes to Clarke.
3) Brian Dawkins – It seems that way now. We’ll see how it holds up over time.

Now what do you think? Who are your nominees and/or most popular over all.

I look forward to your ideas.




2 responses

16 01 2009
tony mitchell

Brian Dawkins is my favorite player of all time, in any sport. I am 26, so that is “all time” for me. I love the list and really couldn’t argue with any of the reasoning. The only other candidate who deserves top 3 consideration, in my opinion, is Allen Iverson. Most Philly athletes are heros here, but villians everywhere else, or at least less appreciated in other cities. Iverson was the most popular player in the NBA during his time here, sold more jerseys than anyone in history, and resurrected basketball in this city. Not only does every household in the tri-state area have a iverson jersey… most houses in north america do. For that matter, most professional athletes do. On top of that, watch the news, or olympics, or anything in Europe and you will see random Iverson jerseys.

To outsiders, Philly is not cool. It is viewed as a lesser city than the other big one’s and people don’t like its inhabitants. People who aren’t our fans hate our teams. They hate our players. That is, of course, except for Iverson. How many people by Yankees hats or Cowboys jerseys simply because of the name/logo. We hate those people, they are just frontrunners and just people who go with whats popular. No one does that for a Philly player…. except Iverson.

Iverson might not be the most popular in Philly, but he’s the most popular nationally/globally and that’s got to count for something.

20 01 2009
Michael Gill

I really enjoyed this article, but since I am a little young Asburn doesnt get my vote. I think the most popular guy in my time was Barkley or maybe the Eagles D as a whole back in the Buddy Ryan days. The Philly fan base is not a fan of players so much as they seeem to be for units or teams.

I also think Lenny Dykstra was a fan favorite that was as popular as anyone for his short time here.

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