Points by Ben Simmons during Game 3 victory over Nets

Three of a kind

Posted by Eric Fisher On July 27

Professional athletes have a bad reputation. Far too often the reputation is deserved. But many times it is not.

Although it’s more substantial than a few bad apples spoiling the whole barrel, there are plenty of good people on the rosters of professional sports teams.

And then there are the special athletes. The ones who combine exceptional ability with work ethic, desire and admirable personal characteristics. The fans cherish these players, and relish their connection with them.

We are in the midst of a two-week stretch celebrating three of these cherished players. Chase Utley. Brian Dawkins. Jim Thome.

Utley just completed a farewell series – barring a Phillies-Dodgers playoff confrontation – at Citizens Bank Park. Utley announced he is retiring after this season in time for Phillies fans to bid farewell. That gesture says a lot about Utley’s character. The fans demonstrated their appreciation by showering him with repeated standing ovations.

Dawkins will feel the love from Eagles fans one week from Saturday when he is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Thome doesn’t have the same long-term relationship with Philadelphia fans as Dawkins or Utley, but the big man made a lasting impression during his short time with the Phillies. He will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on Sunday.

The connection with the fans is about more than talent. Terrell Owens, who also will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame the same day as Dawkins (although he won’t be present for the ceremony), was a fantastic player. He helped the Eagles reach their second Super Bowl and, memorably, returned from a serious foot injury to play in the Super Bowl. Eagles fans loved T.O. They even wrote songs about him.

But Owens’ bizarre behavior prevented him from establishing the special bond of an Utley, Dawkins or Thome. After reaching the Super Bowl, he tore the team apart with his contract demands and the insults, , even invoking the incendiary “Uncle Tom” label, he directed toward quarterback Donovan McNabb. T.O. had the city in the palm of his hand, but he threw it all away.

By contrast, Utley never uttered a disparaging word. Phillies beat writers probably wished he would have uttered a few more words – Utley kept his emotions close to the vest – but there were never any questions about Utley’s attitude. He let his actions speak for themselves. His hustle and knack for making big plays at big moments endeared Utley to Phillies fans.

Dawkins was more than a great player. He was the heart and soul of the Eagles. In contrast to Utley, Dawkins wore his emotions on his sleeves – and his chest, his helmet and his entire body. When the Eagles allowed Dawkins to become a free agent in 2009, leading to his signing with the Broncos, it brought Dawkins and Eagles fans to tears.

Dawkins and Utley both played 13 seasons in Philadelphia. Thome played just two full seasons, and portions of two others, with the Phillies, yet he also is fondly remembered by Phillies fans.

Thome’s arrival as a coveted free agent in 2003, which also happened to be Utley’s first season, signaled that the Phillies were on the rise. In addition to his prodigious power, Thome earned the fans’ love with his down-to-earth attitude. Despite his short time here, Thome established connections with the community. On one occasion, Thome left a check for a significant amount at a charity event at which he was appearing – and didn’t tell anyone. His generosity was only discovered when organizers were going through the checks.

Thome, Utley and Dawkins are the genuine article. They are the real deal.

They were beloved for their commitment to winning and their team-first attitude, which earned them the respect of their teammates and fans. By contrast, there was always the impression that T.O. was out for himself, a perspective confirmed by his decision to celebrate his induction to the Hall of Fame at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga instead of Canton, Ohio.

Dawkins and Thome are headed to their respective sports’ hall of fames during the next 10 days. Will Utley join them by becoming a Hall of Famer one day? Maybe. But, along with Dawkins and Thome, he’s unquestionably a Philadelphia Hall of Famer in the hearts and minds of the tough Philly sports fans, an honor that values attitude and character more than gaudy statistics.

We were blessed to have had this trio of fantastic players, and wonderful people, playing in Philadelphia at the same time.

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