The Curse of Billy Penn

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The curse of Billy Penn was a curse that was believed to cause the futility of Philadelphia’s major sports teams in their respective championships starting 1987. The curse is connected with the construction of the One Liberty Place building which surpassed the height of the William Penn’s statue perched on the Philadelphia City Hall. The curse lasted up to 2008 when the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series. Incidentally, this was just over a year after a four inch figurine of William Penn was placed atop the Comcast Center, which was completed that year and is currently the tallest building in Philly.

How did the Curse of Billy Penn Begin?

Before 1987 there was an unwritten law that no building would ever exceed the height of the Billy Penn Statue atop the Philly City Hall building. William Penn was the founder of the city and the original proprietor of the colony of Pennsylvania. The statue had been erected in his honor and was thus sacred to the city. In 1987, the city relaxed the restriction and the One Liberty Place ascended beyond the William Penn Statue by 397 feet. Prior to that occurrence, sports franchises in Philadelphia had enjoyed a run of success.

The Phillies had won the 1980 World Series as well as the National League pennant in 1983. The NHL’s Flyers had won consecutive Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975 and had reached the finals in 1976, 1980, 1985 and 1987. The NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles had appeared in the Super Bowl in 1980 and the NBA’s 76ers had won the 1983 NBA title and reached the Finals in 1977, 1980 and 1982. Following the opening of the One Liberty Place, Philadelphia’s Sports franchises began a string of failures that saw them miss out on major world championships for nearly two decades.

Effects of the Curse of Billy Penn

The Philadelphia Flyers were the first to be affected, losing the 1987 World Series to the Edmonton Oilers, barely two months after the construction of the One liberty 1997, the Flyers lost the Stanley Cup Finals again as they were swept in four straight games by the Detroit Red Wings despite possessing home advantage.

In 1993, the Phillies lost the World Series to the Toronto Blue Jays in six games with Joe Carter’s walkoff 3-run home run ending the game. In 2001, the Phillies, who possessed the talents of Allen Iverson lost the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers despite being heavily favored for the title.

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles lost the NFC Championship game three seasons in a row before they finally made it to Super Bowl XXXIX in 2004. They were the first team to lose the NFC Championship game three seasons in a row since the Dallas Cowboys from 1980 to 1982. They were however beaten by the New England Patriots by three points.

In the years after the One Liberty Center was built, Philadelphia’s sports franchises interestingly only made it to their championship finals in the years that US presidents were inaugurated. The Flyers were the least lucky of these teams, losing the semifinals five times, out of eight such eliminations by all Philadelphia teams during that run. The team was just one win away from the 2000 Stanley Cup Finals having led the New Jersey Devils 3-1 but lost the Final three games of the Eastern conference Final to the New Jersey Devils. The again lost game seven of the Eastern Finals to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004 to miss out on the Stanley Cup again.

Other teams and sports personnel were also seemingly affected by the Curse of Billy Penn. College basketball teams Villanova Wildcats and St. Joseph Hawks were both eliminated at the fourth round of the NCAA Basketball Tournament in 2006 and 2004 respectively. The Temple Owls had lost in the same round five times since 1987.

What Ended the Curse of Billy Penn?

There were various attempts to end the curse over the years. Sometimes when a team from Philadelphia made the championship round of their respective league, the Penn statue was decorated. Finally upon completion of the Comcast Center in 2007, a small statue of William Penn was placed atop the tower. Once again Penn towered above the city and sports fans were hopeful that this would appease their city’s legend.

This was more of a marketing gimmick than a legitimate attempt to end the curse. Nevertheless, it seemed to work wonders as the Phillies won the 2008 World Series barely a year later, beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in five games.