PHILADELPHIA – Try as he might, Bruce Graham (search) couldn't squeeze all the dashed hopes of Philadelphia sports fans into his new 75-minute play.
The perennially down-on-its-luck city boasts four professional sports teams, but together they've won just six championships in a half-century.
"The Philly Fan" recounts the frequent travails of the Phillies, Flyers, 76ers and especially the Eagles (search), who have crushed fans by reaching three straight NFC title games — and losing all of them. The story takes place in a corner bar soon after that third NFC a-filled piece is exuberantly brought to life by veteran stage and TV actor Tom McCarthy (search), himself a long-suffering local fan.
Graham, a longtime collaborator with McCarthy, took just two weeks to write the play, which moves next spring to the larger Walnut Street Theater for a short run. He didn't have to do much research, instead relying on a lifetime of memories, more bitter than sweet.
Graham, 47, listened to the June 21, 1964, radio broadcast of Jim Bunning's (search) perfect game for the Phillies (against the Mets) in his family's station wagon, on his way home from Indian Guides camp. In true Philadelphia style, the team collapsed at season's end, unable to win just two of its 12 final games and reach the World Series.
McCarthy's character, a profane, widowed union man called only "the Fan," recounts to a bar mate how he had to leave that perfect game early when his hot dog-laden son threw up on a nun. Like a loyal sports-radio caller, the Fan rants about the city's long championship drought, team owners such as Jeff Lurie and Norman Braman, and the public's $400 million-plus bill for the city's two new sports stadiums.
To make things worse, fans last year were told they couldn't bring outside food to Lincoln Financial Field for security reasons, prompting a revolt. "Hoagies of Mass Destruction," the Fan — quoting a Philadelphia Daily News headline — sneers to his companion, "the Cowboy," who hails from Dallas, home of the Eagles' arch-nemesis.
The show doesn't leave out the rare glory years, flashing black-and-white screen images of Flyers icon Kate Smith singing the National Anthem during their Stanley Cup era (1974 and 1975); the 76ers' Julius Erving floating in for a layup; and the Phils' 1980 championship team, which featured Pete Rose, Tug McGraw, Mike Schmidt and current manager Larry Bowa.
Alas, the only other championships in the past five decades were earned by the Eagles in 1960 and the 76ers in 1967 and 1983.
Graham, a film and theater teacher who writes for television and whose movie scripts include "Dunston Checks In," grew up in working-class Ridley, Pa., a short hop beyond the South Philadelphia sports stadiums. ("South Philly with lawns," he calls it.)
He's not alone in sometimes wondering if a losing record is just part of the Philly psyche.
"I'm not sure if it's us or the outer forces on us," he said Thursday. "We're so used to it, I think that we're almost really disappointed when things go right."