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At long last, hope Springs eternal for both Flyers and Phillies fans

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Let's be honest, I can't recall the last time that there was an equal and legitimate buzz of this magnitude surrounding Equal support for Flyers and Phillies this year has been evident. Photo: http://img689.yfrog.com/img689/1604/kb6.jpgtwo of our sports teams this late in the Spring.

Although the Sixers (you ALL remember May-June 2001) and Flyers have had some impressive playoff runs over the last decade and a half, the Phillies were usually setting us up for another disappointment by starting off hot and flaming out early. When the Flyers were last on the doorstep of the Stanley Cup Finals in 2008, the Phillies had yet to become World Series Champions. And with the team capturing another National League Championship last fall, it is now the Flyers' turn to try and bring a hockey championship back to Philadelphia for the first time since my parents were newlyweds!

Even though the Flyers are in the home stretch of their season and the Phils are just taking off, having the enviable chore of switching back and forth (or even going to some games) between the Phils and Flyers over the past month has been pretty exciting. Philly sports teams can bond this city like no other. Even more so when multiple teams are playing meaningful games. By now, most fans in Philly see the Phillies' season as a means to an end until they reach the playoffs. Being that I have seen almost every moment of this team for the past quarter of a century, I'm not so quick to do that.

Although the Phillies are currently coasting despite their numerous injuries, it's a whole other animal come playoff time, and it's uncertain whether this team is currently ready to make another deep playoff run the way they are set up right now. One thing is for sure: the Phillies, unlike those teams over a decade ago, are bona fide contenders, and there will be plenty of time to analyze  Ryan Howard and Co. after the Flyers' season ends (hopefully, that will be sometime near the end of June).

Speaking of the Flyers, hopefully they are due to break that Eastern Conference Finals jinx of theirs. We've been here before: six times over the last 14 Michael Leighton has been outstanding for the Flyers in his limited playoff action. Photo: http://www.wgr550.com/HAMILTON--For-the-second-straight-season-it-hasn-t/7068072years to be exact (remember, hockey was locked out for a year). I don't care what anybody says, the 2000 debacle to the New Jersey Devils  is still fresh in the minds of many in the Delaware Valley. Moreover, chances are the Flyers would have beaten the Calgary Flames if they were able to skate past the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. Although their run in 2008 ended on a sour note to the Penguins, it made things easier to swallow considering their 2007 season was the worst in team history. Now, the only thing standing between the Flyers and a trip to their eighth finals appearance is the Montreal Canadiens. For now, just think of them as the 2010 version of the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays (Thanks for the analogy, Downsy. Let's hope the end result is the same!!).

It's taken longer than expected, but this team is finally gelling under the guidance of head coach Peter Laviolette. Truth be told, most NHL "experts" were picking the Flyers to reach the Stanley Cup Finals when the season started. Nobody however, could have predicted the route it took to get them to their current destination. Mike Richards has stepped up as the team leader many thought he had the potential to be. And in the process, this team began playing like an actual TEAM: more so than any previous Flyers team in recent memory.

Playoff hockey in May and June is special. There was nothing like hanging out with the guys in high school watching the Flyers as the year drew to a close. The Phillies were so bad back then, we crossed our fingers every year that a deep playoff run would come courtesy of the orange and black. Otherwise, it was looking forward to the NBA Draft (see Sharone Wright). I even remember all of the different houses where we watched those games, and there were lots of playoff games during those years. As the Flyers continued to advance past each round, we imagined how great it would be if we were lucky enough to ever attend a parade (Even though when all was said and done, the Flyers never did get to raise Lord Stanley's Cup).

Hopefully, those guys and yours truly will reunite this summer (easier said than done considering we are now spaced out all over the country) and finally get to raise our glasses in honor of our heroes. Not only for this current Flyers squad, but to the Legion of Doom, Jeremy Roenick, Roger Neilson, and all Flyers' teams of recent memory who may have been more talented, but were never able to take that final step.

Hey, you can always dream. Either way, it's a pretty special time to be a Philadelphia sports fan. Especially when the Flyers and Phillies are trying to make their own run at history. As you know, this can come and go very quickly, so savor this!!

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

Homepage photo: www.kyw1060.com