Friday, December 23, 2005

Back For the Future?

Eagles fans… think back. Think back through the mists of time. The year was 2003. Things were different then. Terrell Owens was still playing on the opposite coast (well, was still playing at all). The Linc was brand new. Expectations were high. Things were good.

Things were different back then- especially at the position of running back. The Eagles touted the “three headed monster” of Duce Staley, Correll Buckhalter, and Brian Westbrook. The running game was something other teams feared. During that season, Staley rushed for 463 yards combined with 382 receiving yards. Buckhalter had 542 yards on the ground and 133 through the air. Westbrook tallied 613 yards with his legs and was able to secure 332 yards with his hands.

Individually, none of those numbers stand out. But collectively, they ran for 1618 yards and collected 847 receiving yards. Collectively, they tallied 20 rushing touchdowns and 7 receiving touchdowns. One must admit that these were impressive numbers from the running back position. One must also admit that the 2005 running game left a great deal to be desired.

With all that has gone wrong this season, it is difficult to find something- anything- that can ease the pain of those in Eagle Nation. But one person has shown some promise. One person has shown that he might just belong. One person gives some hope for the future.

That person is a rookie from the football factory Louisiana Tech. That person is Ryan Moats.

On 39 attempts this season, Moats has collected 242 yards. That’s an average of 6.2 per carry. 10 of his 39 carries have gone for first downs. His percentage of 25.6 in that category compares well with Seattle’s Shaun Alexander (28.9%), New York’s Tiki Barber (20.4%), and Indianapolis’ Edgerin James (26.2%). He has also scored 3 touchdowns in only 5 games. Not bad for a guy playing on an offensive unit that is comprised of mainly backups.

The results so far have been good. They have been encouraging. Eagles fans can look to 2006 with some anticipation. Perhaps a backfield of Westbrook and Moats can be productive. Both have shown that they have talent. For the Eagles to return to the top of the conference, their running game must look more like it did in 2003 than it did in 2005.

Will Moats help that cause?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Pennsylvania’s College Football Powerhouses: A Study in Contrasts

Yesterday, the AP overwhelmingly selected Penn State’s Joe Paterno as Coach of the Year. Putting behind him a few years dominated by scathing criticism and calls for his dismissal, 79-year-old JoePa led the Nittany Lions to a 10-1 record and an Orange Bowl berth. Even more impressively, to my mind, Penn State achieved all of this without absolutely dominating any single offensive or defensive category. They simply played as a team, performed well across the board, and did what they had to do in each game to win. Heck, their one loss—a 27-25 thriller in Ann Arbor—might have been their hardest-fought battle of the year. In other words, it wasn’t just an old coach on the sideline, it was old school football—and it was great to see.

Man of the Year in 1986...
Man of the Year now.

Having graduated from Pitt, I’m sure that at some point I signed a piece of paper saying that I forfeit my first-born or waive the rights to all of my possessions or something like that if I ever speak well of Penn State. But last year I was one of those guys who swore up and down that JoePa’s time had come and gone and that he should do the program a favor and step down. This wasn’t based solely on the team’s lackluster record, mind you. The word I kept hearing was that Pitt was grabbing up the in-state recruits and out-of-state recruits were going to schools with hipper coaches, flashier schemes, and quicker routes to playing time. Penn State (I joined the chorus in saying) was doomed for the foreseeable future. So I feel the need to apologize.

JoePa, that was my bad.

And really, any legal rights Pitt has on my attention span were forfeited this year when former Panther Dave Wannstedt traded in South Beach for the banks of the Monongahela River and dragged Pitt through a 5 and 6 season against one of the least impressive schedules ever assembled. (Yeah, but we killed Youngstown State!) What’s worse, anybody who had watched a Dolphins game in the last 2 or 3 years knew everything they needed to know to beat Pitt, because all Wanny did all year long was repeat the mistakes he had perfected in Mami.

Pitt's fearless leader.

Just two or three years ago, it seemed that the Pennsylvania college football pendulum had swung to the West, but that turnaround just hasn’t come to pass. Instead, we’ve ended up with a funny little juxtaposition: In one corner, an old-timer with a glorious past, a surprisingly successful present, and new hope for the future; in the other corner, a new coach with a lousy moustache and a lot of work ahead of him.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

28 Going On 45

I've seen the future and the hardware shines bright

Late last night I sat down in my recliner, flipped through the 400 channels of digital cable and, after watching about 2 hours of SportsCenter, settled on the Jennifer Garner chick flick 13 Going on 30. Still awake when the film reached FIN, I went into my sports room, sat down with a beer and began to think, what would my life be like in 17 years, when I’m 45?

Then I started to think about Philadelphia sports 17 years in the future. I took a swig of beer, and rested my head against the wall. Must have been a little too hard, though, as one of those turnstile-gift bobble head Mike Schmidt dolls dropped down from a shelf above and knocked me on my head.

Suddenly, I woke up, in a strange place. There were Phillies World Series pennants on the wall from 2019, 12-year-old twins begging for lunch money, and the mirror showed me an image of a salt and pepper haired older man with a fading mustache. Frightened, I asked one of the kids their names?

“I’m Sonny and he’s Fredo,” one said. I immediately knew they were my sons. Who else would name their kids after characters in The Godfather?

“Honey? Get the kids ready for the bus,” a woman’s voice boomed from another room. I was scared as hell to find out to whom I was married. Wedding photos framed on the wall revealed she was cute, but it was an old photo. Then I saw her. Beautiful. She handed me a glass of orange juice, and I dropped it. When I bent over to clean up the spill, I slipped and whacked my head on the floor. I went out like a champion who fought one fight too many.

When I came too, I was in the parking lot of Commerce Bank Field (they had conveniently taken over every stadium in town) tailgating at an Eagles-Cowboys game, which was for the NFC Championship. I looked at someone’s newspaper and the date was January 23, 2022. The Birds, playing for head coach Brian Westbrook, had reintroduced the West Coast Offense, which had become passé by 2010. The Eagles won the game, and then beat the Jaguars in Super Bowl LVI. It was the Eagles second title, with the previous victory coming in 2008 over the Kansas City Chiefs. I went to the tickertape victory parade in Center City. Some jerk in one of the offices decided to throw his stapler out the window, striking me in the back of the head and ending my elation.

Can Jim Boeheim end the Sixers 39 year NBA Championship drought?

Magically I arrived at my next stop, a Temple University men's basketball contest, where John Chaney was finally ending his coaching tenure, just two months past his 90th birthday. Chaney had taken a page out of Jay Leno’s book, announcing his retirement five years earlier. At the same time that he made his announcement, James Kingston, an 8th grade point guard from Birmingham, AL, was being considered for the cover of Sports Illustrated. Chaney’s announcement beat him out of it. But Kingston was a tough kid, and made the cover four times over the next four years, with the last one reading, “Hoo, Hoo, I’m an Owl.” Kingston, and many of the other top McDonalds All-Americans got together and decided to play for Chaney, looking to win the coach his first ever championship. It worked, and in his final season, Chaney cut down the nets of March for first time in his illustrious career. I was celebrating in the aisles and jumping up and down, the last time missing the step and taking a bad tumble.

My next vision was game 7 of the NBA Finals at the old, dingy Commerce Bank Center. Sixers Head Coach Jim Boeheim, whose transition to the pros was rocky, had taken over a dismal club in 2019. His winning percentage in the league was below .300, and this would’ve likely been his last chance at redemption. It worked. The players bought into his system, and competed the next two seasons with no one standing out as a star. Their starting lineup was like a revolving door, with players receiving an equal amount of time on the floor. It was a revolutionary approach, but for a team of cast-offs, past-their-prime veterans, and hapless rookies, they had nothing to lose. The gamble paid off, and the Sixers hoisted the trophy for the first time since 1983, beating, who else, the Los Angeles Lakers. I was loving it, but I knew my time was about to end there, so I picked a fight with the meanest cholo-looking Lakers fan I could find, let him hit me with a good one, and went out like a light.

I eagerly awoke on an unseasonably warm October night. I was sitting on the first base side of the brand new Veterans Stadium at Commerce Bank Park, built on the same site as the original Veterans Stadium. After retro fields went out of style in 2013, the city council devised a plan to build an L-shaped skyscraper with a ball field as the centerpiece, and the Philadelphia skyline as the backdrop. It featured a retractable roof, could be easily converted into any nouveau or retro style should tastes change, and also served as a great business rental opportunity. The aging Darren Daulton was at the helm, with a coaching staff that consisted of Mike Schmidt, Curt Schilling, Lenny Dykstra, John Kruk and Von Hayes. With their knowledge of the game, the team could do nothing but win. It was their third title in four years, and second consecutive.

Harsh reality of 2005

With the loud crash of a bottle of suds falling from my hand and smashing on the floor, my odyssey into the perfect sports world abruptly came to a halt. Because my glimpse of the future was so vivid, I immediately ran for my sports almanac. It confirmed that I was back in 2005, and reminded me of the 22-year drought of serious hardware.

I got knocked on the head in a city that hadn’t seen a title in 22 years, and in one magical journey I witnessed four championship victories. If my fantastic voyage is any indication, Philadelphia will be sports town U.S.A. in 2022.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Quick Hits For the Weekend

The Flyers continue to suffer from injuries seemingly every time out. Robert Esche and Mike Richards are the latest casualties. While they still stand only four points behind the Rangers, they have slipped to fifth in the Eastern Conference. There’s a long way to go, but with the Olympics making travel schedule nightmares come February, they better start banking some wins now.

Villanova seems to be on Christmas break. Between now and their big match up with fourth ranked Louisville on the fifth of January, they have only two games. They play La Salle on the December 22 and Temple on December 31. Not much in the way of a tune up for the upcoming difficult Big East schedule.

Alex Rodriguez is an idiot. He has decided to forego this spring’s World Baseball Classic because he can’t decide which country for which to play. He was born in the United States, but his parents were born in the Dominican Republic. He’s an American. He should be playing for the United States. But, I guess A-Rod just isn’t interested in playing.

Terrell Owens is quoted in the January edition of GQ as saying that he felt “disrespected” by his Eagles teammates. He said they thought he was selfish for trying to come back for the Super Bowl. He said that he felt “used” by the Eagles. He said that the media has it out for him. Oh, man. C’mon. T.O.- the problems in your life can all be traced to one source- YOU! If you would just shut up for once- ONCE!- perhaps you would still be playing football. Perhaps you would have an opportunity to make more money. Perhaps 80% of the football world wouldn’t tune you out as soon as you open your big, fat mouth… but, that’s just me.

I was pleased to see the Phillies deal Vicente Padilla this week. I have spent too many hours worrying when he would self-destruct during an outing that seemed to be going well- too well. Almost like that calm before the storm thing. I’m not sure I like what they got in return- mainly because I don’t know what they got in return yet.
Pat Gillick still sees that the Phillies need help with their starting rotation, but there doesn’t seem to be much happening. Look for the Phils to be at least one arm short again this year.

The Great McNabb Debate – Part IV

Read Part I, Part II & Part III of the Debate

Which quarterback is truly elite? I'll tell you who's not...or at least not yet.

Two days ago, on this blog, Matt said plenty in response to Andrew’s December 12th column—namely:

1) Donovan McNabb is one of the league’s top quarterbacks
2) Jake Plummer is not

But one of Andrew’s points requires specific condemnation—that point being that Ben Roethlisberger is a better quarterback than Donovan McNabb. When I first read it, I brushed it off, figuring that Andrew was on some mood-altering drug since realizing that T.O. would never again wear an Eagles uniform, and that the drug was impairing his judgment. But then Ahamed Iqbal, a loyal BSJ reader, showed support for the notion, writing on this blog, “Brady, Manning, Palmer and maybe Big Ben are definetely above him.” Now, I know Andrew can go off the deep end sometimes, but Ahamed? Ahamed, I count on you to be the voice of reason around here! Well, it looks like this time around that voice of reason will have to be mine.

Let’s begin with the obvious: Including the postseason, the kid has 26 games under his belt. He simply doesn’t have the record to be considered a premier QB. But that doesn’t matter to Andrew or Ahamed, so let’s look at the numbers.

Clearly, we have to concentrate on last year. Big Ben’s most impressive stat was his 66.4% completion percentage. But Donovan was right behind him at 64%. How about yardage? With only one less start, Ben had—count ‘em—more than 1200 less passing yards. TDs in the air? Ben: 17. Donovan: 31. TDs on the ground? Donovan had 3 to Ben’s 1. And my favorite QB stat—Donovan: 8 interceptions in 469 attempts; Ben: 11 picks in only 295 tosses.

This is getting embarassing. Oh wait—Andrew credits Donovan’s success to the West Coast offense. Yes, it’s a pass-friendly offense. But you know what else is pass-friendly? A good running game. Last year, Jerome Bettis racked up 941 yards and ex-Eagle Duce Staley put together 830. Much as I like him, Brian Westbrook’s 812 rushing yards don’t stack up. Everybody knew Donovan was passing on almost every play.

As for receiver support, Terrell Owens is the most talented receiver in football. But Hines Ward is excellent in is own right. Take 2002: 112 catches, 1329 receiving yards, 12 touchdowns. So with the Great Roethlisberger, he must have blown those numbers away, right? No. 80 catches—and only 4 touchdowns.

How about defensive support? I have no complaints with last year’s Eagles defensive squad, but how did those Steelers rank? In yards: #1. In points: #1. Not bad.

But one of Andrew’s biggest problems with McNabb is his performance in big games. Should I even go here? Is it even fair? No, but oh well. Roethlisberger’s sudden fall from grace in last year’s postseason was sad. The wunderkind got whupped two weeks in a row. Against the New York Jets he threw 2 interceptions that almost cost the Steelers the game. Against the Patriots, he was picked 3 times, fatally wounding an already struggling Steel City defense.

Also, Ben’s a graduate of the Brett Favre school: he’s exciting but reckless and often hurts his team by pulling out playground moves more suited to athletic quarterbacks lke Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, or (yep) Donovan McNabb.

Don't get me wrong: Big Ben's time will come.

I like Ben Roethlisberger. He seems like a good, hard-working player, as well as a nice guy. He has a real future in football. But to compare him with McNabb is silly. In fact, it doesn’t hold up under even the slightest scrutiny.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Great McNabb Debate- Part III

Donovan McNabb. The Pride of Philadelphia. The Most Overrated Quarterback to Ever Walk the Earth. An OK Guy to Lead the Team.

Well, which is it?

Contrary to what some may believe, there are few men in the NFL who should be picked before McNabb to lead your franchise.

Before we get to the numbers, let’s clear up some items put forth by our esteemed editor-in-chief. First, Andrew claims that the Eagles’ QB is “uncoachable” because he was attempting to play this season through an injury. Andrew states, “Any other player--including Owens--would've been put on IR, but McNabb was allowed by Andy Reid to indulge his massive ego and prove he's a warrior who will play through an injury. All he proved was that he was foolish and that his own agenda is more important than the Eagles winning. So, yes, he is uncoachable. Clearly.” Since Reid took over the Eagles, there have been now at least four situations that have involved serious injury where a player attemped to either play through the injury or rush back from injury. The first was during the 2002 season when McNabb broke his ankle. He broke his ankle in the middle of November and was back in time for the playoffs. The Eagles didn’t put him on IR- they said hurry back. Secondly, last year Terrell Owens broke his ankle- in the middle of December- and was back for the Super Bowl. The doctors told him his season was over. It would have been easy for the Eagles to put him on the IR list. They didn’t. He played. He played well- very well. The third is McNabb this season. The last is Brian Westbrook, again, this season. The Eagles did finally decide to put Westbrook on IR, but they were contemplating trying to bring him back. They made the correct decision since there is nothing left this season for which to play, but they thought about it. The Eagles regularly allow their guys to try their hardest to play. So, why not their star quarterback?

Next, when I said that he might not be able to be on the sidelines, I meant that sometimes surguries don’t allow you to be able to stand for an extended period of time. It might not be physical exhaustion. It might simply be that there could be too much pain to actually do it.

Now, on to the numbers…

Andrew mentioned several quarterbacks he thought would be a better fit for the Eagles. As such, I believe that it is important to compare McNabb to each of these players.

McNair (Tennessee), Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh), Brees (San Diego), Plummer (Denver), Johnson (Minnesota), Bledsoe (Dallas), Culpepper (Minnesota).

Player Team Comp % Rating Tot TD/Int Composite
McNabb Eagles 10.35 7.92 1.00 6.42
Brady Patriots 5.54 6.13 5.20 5.62
Roethlisberger Steelers 1.00 1.00 4.59 2.20
Bledsoe Cowboys 11.86 10.82 10.33 11.00
Culpepper Vikings 2.10 4.68 4.92 3.90
Favre Packers 5.95 6.83 7.28 6.69
Johnson Vikings 5.68 7.84 7.82 7.11
Plummer Broncos 12.00 12.00 12.00 12.00
Brees Chargers 4.99 7.27 7.29 6.51
Palmer Bengals 2.51 5.25 5.80 4.52
Manning Colts 2.79 3.67 4.37 3.61
McNair Titans 8.70 8.23 5.15 7.36

The chart above shows a ranking of the quarterbacks in question. The lower the ranking in each column, the better. A ranking of one indicates that person has the best career ranking in the category. A ranking of 12 indicates that you are Jake Plummer. In between, rankings are weighted according to linear differences between the best and the worst in the category. The Composite result is an average of the quarterbacks’ rankings in each of the three categories. Completion % and QB rating are straight up. Total TDs/Interceptions is total passing and rushing touchdowns divided by interceptions thrown. All data are based on career numbers.

As you can see, Big Ben comes in first. Given his short career and the fact that he passes the ball about twice a game, I don’t see him as the game breaker some of the other guys are.

Peyton Manning comes in second. He is better than all of these guys, so this makes sense.

Daunte Culpepper is next. A good quarterback, indeed. But his numbers have struggled mightily without Randy Moss. This is not to say he isn’t a good quarterback, but he also lacks the playoff experience McNabb has. I’ll take McNabb.

Carson Palmer is fourth. This guy is going to be good for quite some time. But, as of now, he is inexperienced. This could hurt in a big game. I’ll take McNabb.

Fifth is Tom Brady. OK- this guy also has three Super Bowl rings to his credit. Well, perhaps there is an argument to be made that this guy is better to have in the lineup than McNabb.

McNabb is next.

Then, there is everyone else. (Jake Plummer, Andrew? Really?)

So, of the five QBs who scored better than McNabb, I believe it is clear cut that only two of them have the real credentials to be picked ahead of him. That puts Donovan J. McNabb in pretty good company. Don’t you agree?

Monday, December 12, 2005

The Great Donovan McNabb Debate -- Part II

Read Part 1 Here

The Pride of Philadelphia

For disciples of Donovan McNabb, this column is not going to be a picnic, but it will be a necessary dose of reality about the wildly over-rated quarterback. That's correct...OVER-rated.

My cousin Mark listed some clever statistics below in PART 1 that, at a cursory glance, seem to support his claim that McNabb is only second in the NFL to Peyton Manning. Let me begin to debunk that myth. First, McNabb's career completion percentage, below several of the better quarterbacks out there, is only as high as 58% because of the great number of screen plays and short yardage passes the Eagles have been forced to run over McNabb's career. Mark even supplied the evidence as for why -- because he simply can't throw a pass over ten yards with any regular accuracy.

Next, on the surface McNabb seems to have impressive passing yardage totals, but do not be deceived. He has been playing in Andy Reid's west coast offense which grossly favors the pass over the run. Naturally the more pass plays you run, the more passing yards you will rack up.

Although until last year McNabb had a dearth of talent at the wide receiver position, for the last year and a half he had one of the greatest receivers ever to play the game as his main target. And as a result McNabb put up the most impressive passing statistics of his career over that period. But, before the arrival of Terrell Owens, McNabb did have a couple of quality players to throw the ball to. Chad Lewis, Deuce Staley, L.J. Smith, Brian Westbrook, Dorsey Levens were all great players to toss short passes to and those players helped increase McNabb's yardage and completion percentage. Of course with Owens on the field he made anyone else on the field more open and available for McNabb deliver the ball to. That's why McNabb and virtually everyone else on the Eagles offense (even Todd Pinkston) had career years in 2004.

Is Mama McNabb feeding baby Donovan too much chunky soup?

As far as intangibles go, McNabb is mostly over-rated there as well. His galvanizing Philadelphia fans is more of comment on the gullibility of Philadelphia fans than it is on McNabb's intangible presence. Frankly, McNabb has a tremendous ego, perhaps even larger than Owens. But, McNabb is unable to admit this fact and unfortunately, because even Andy Reid bows to McNabb's massive ego, he is practically uncoachable. I'll give McNabb loads of respect for throwing four touchdowns on a broken ankle against Arizona a couple years ago, but that is just one game. Trying to play through a whole season injured is plain foolish and any other player that would have tried something so stupid and selfish would have been curbed by Andy Reid. One positive about McNabb is that when he's out on the football field, he (often) is having fun. That's important and cannot be said for all players. However, in big games his performance and his leadership, thus far, have been seriously lacking. Furthermore, I think his off-season preparation leaves something to be desired. McNabb, no doubt a great athlete, often looks out of shape and even portly at times out on the field. He's not nearly the physical specimen that Terrell Owens is or even Michael Vick, if you need another QB to compare to. And it's unclear whether he has the genuine respect of his teammates. Instead of watching yesterday's game against the Giants on the sideline with the team, McNabb sat in the luxury box with his mom--a man of the people if there ever was one.

Overall, McNabb is just an average QB. Maybe slightly above average. But here are the QBs that are better than no particular order: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Bledsoe, Daunte Culpepper, Steve McNair, Brett Favre, Brad Johnson, Jake Plummer and this year Drew Brees and Carson Palmer are better.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Great McNabb Debate - Part I

I know it’s not nice to talk about a guy who can’t defend himself because he’s laid up with a sports hernia, but oh well. The Great McNabb Debate rages on. The other day, Brett, a loyal BSJ reader, mentioned in a comment on this blog that “Donovan is NOT a great QB—we all need to accept this.” I hear you, Brett. But right now, there is only one great quarterback—Peyton Manning. After that, Donovan McNabb is as good as it gets.

1. Numbers

How efficient is he? Donovan’s career completion percentage is 58.4% with a best (last year) of 64 %. Manning and Daunte Culpepper are more impressive, with averages of 63.9% and 64.4%, respectively, and bests of 67.6% and 69.2%. But he’s on par with Tom Brady (61.7%/63.9%) and Brett Favre (61.5%/65.3%) and way ahead of Michael Vick (54.2%/56.4%).

Look at it another way: How many interceptions does he throw for every TD? Donovan has a career 49% rating (interceptions/TDs). Peyton the Great is up at 53% and Brady the Bowl-Winner is at 54%, Favre and Culpepper keep each other company at 63% and 64%, and Vick makes me laugh with 73%.

Yardage? Donovan’s 3,875 yards from last year isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s better than Brady or Vick have ever put up, and Culpepper’s only beaten it once. Touchdowns? His high through the air is 31, which Vick and Brady have never touched, and Culpepper and Manning have beaten only twice apiece—and only Culpepper has more TDs on the ground.

2. Intangibles

No player in recent memory has galvanized Eagles fans like McNabb. Charismatic, hard-working, and clean-living, he lets us and his teammates concentrate on the game by never instigating any unnecessary drama. He’s also often done the unthinkable, busting memorable moves and in one game throwing four touchdown passes on a broken ankle.

3. Team Success

As I stated in my last post, since 2000, when McNabb took over, the Eagles are 64 and 28—as compared to, say, the Patriots’ 60 and 32—and they’ve won the NFC East four times and the NFC once.

4. Extra Credit

Even Donovan’s harshest critics can’t deny that he possesses true game-breaking potential. There’s always the possibility he’ll break a play that changes the game completely, whether it be a daring run or a deep pass. Also, no other QB has suffered such inadequate receivers. With the obvious and crucial exception of T.O., Donnie has never had a serious and consistent option.

Big talent. Little box.

So why all the frustration? A few reasons—and, yeah, they’re big ones.

1) He can’t throw a ten-yard pass. If hitting a receiver in the toes was good, he’d be Johnny Unitas.

2) He’s a Mama’s Boy. Can’t he balance those soup commercials with a Colt 45 ad or something?

3) He got tired in the Super Bowl. Allegedly.

Is Donovan McNabb overrated? Yes. He’d have to be. People love the guy like he carried scores of elderly people out of a burning building when, really, he’s nothing more than an above average QB. But he is that, and except for Peyton Manning, there’s nobody better.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Watch These Wildcats

Over the past several weeks, the Eagles and Phillies have dominated the Philadelphia sports scene. Of course, this makes sense considering the headlines that they have submitted to our fair nation. But, now that the Eagles have proven beyond all shadows of a doubt that their season is over and it is still months until baseball season, I suggest paying attention to the basketball team from Villanova University.

The Cats are currently ranked 4th in the country in both the AP and Coaches' polls. They are 5-0 including two nice early season victories over current #8 (then #5 Oklahoma) and a fiesty Bucknell team that has quickly gained a reputation for knocking off their biggest opponents. Success and expectations early in the season don't necessarily translate to success in March, of course, but it is my thought that this team has what it takes to make a run at the whole thing.

Here's why.

Led by guards Allan Ray, Randy Foye, Mike Nardi, and Kyle Lowry, this team is quick. They can pressure anybody, force turnovers, and make moves on defenders like you've never seen before. They know how to put up a bunch of points in a hurry and they have just enough presence inside to be a force with Jason Fraser and Will Sheridan.

Also, they've already proven that they can play in the big game. In actuality, they beat North Carolina in the tournament last year, only to have their victory erased by the worst call in basketball since the 1972 Summer Olympics. If that call hadn't been made, it is reasonable to think that they would have been a Final Four team last year.

Jay Wright has this team on the right track. Not only do they have the talent, they will most certainly be prepared for tough competition later in the year. Their schedule this year includes the afore mentioned games against Oklahoma and Bucknell, Big Five games against St. Joe's, Penn, and Temple, conference games against #5 Louisville (twice), #3 Connecticut (twice), Syracuse (twice), and West Virginia, and a non-conference game in January against #2 Texas.

This could be a special year on the Main Line. I suggest that you follow the Cats.

Loss is Reid’s Low Point—Not His Legacy

Monday night was my company’s holiday party. Apparently, my president wasn’t concerned about ruining my Monday Night Football plans. But she did me the favor of ending the party at nine, so I figured I’d get out of there, find a burger joint with a big TV, and resume my normally scheduled programming. But by the time I got there, it was already too late for small pleasantries like food—it was time to throw down a few drinks and cope with the chaos unfolding at the Linc.

Monday night might have been the worst the Eagles will play in my lifetime—or at least I hope so. But the fact that it came as such a shock to me is the good news: Despite uncountable injuries and poor play so far this season, I expected my Eagles to play hard and put the Seahawks (who I thought overrated) in their place.

Why should I be so bold as to expect such things? 1) For the last five years, the Eagles have been good. 2) They’ve succeeded before despite injury—two years ago when Donovan McNabb went down, they kept finding ways to win; last year when T.O. went down, they found their way to the Super Bowl. Monday night they didn’t find much—least of all the pride to compete—but I expected them to win, and I will expect the same thing this upcoming weekend.

Calls for Reid’s dismissal are ludicrous. In 1999, the Eagles went 5 and 11. They were outscored 357-272. Since then, they have gone 64 and 28, won the NFC East three times, won the NFC once, and played in their first Super Bowl since Ron Jaworski was the NFL’s top QB. The have succeeded because as a franchise they maintain a steady vision of how to achieve success. Monday night was an abomination, but it was also a game played without Donovan McNabb, Terrell Owens, Lito Sheppard, Correll Buckhalter, Hank Fraley, Todd Pinkston, Tra Thomas, and Jerome McDougle, among others. An injury problem is one thing, but this is more like the Black Death.

Should they have lost 42-0? Absolutely not. Should Reid be fired during this season or directly after it? Absolutely not.

There is a fundamental disagreement on the editorial board here at the Broad Street Journal. As you know, Andrew believes the Eagles blew the T.O. situation; I believe T.O. blew the Eagles situation. But at this point, T.O.’s absence is just one of many problems. The Eagles’ ship took on a whole lot of water Monday night, just as I took on an unwise amount of alchohol. But Andy Reid will right this ship. A steady presence at the helm, he’s steered this ship straight for five years and he’ll do it again. So, while I secured yesterday’s hangover while cursing Reid and the boys in green and black, I also dedicated at least one of those drinks to the better days in the future—with Reid still in charge.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Eagles Humiliation Worst Since '98

Time to send the big boy packing?

First, to respond to Matt's rebuttal to my "what if" scenario (read both below), he makes several good points about how things may have played out differently in the long run, allowing Owens to wind up in Washington and, perhaps, Brad Johnson playing QB for the Eagles right now. A quick note about Johnson--he is undefeated this year. Nevertheless, things have gone well over the years since Rhodes' firing. The crux of my argument wasn't that Lurie has done a horrific job as owner, it was that he made a titanic mistake in how he chose to handle Owens and, had he taken a more Croce-like diplomatic and patient approach rather than allowing his ego to get in the way, Eagles fans wouldn't have witnessed the franchise's worst loss in thirty years and maybe longer last night (I got tired of sifting through Eagles history to go back further).

Frankly, I prefer seeing Owens celebrate in the endzone (but that's just me)

Matt invoked the name Ray Rhodes. Well, it was Ray Rhodes who, in the 1998 season opener, "led"
the Eagles to a 38-0 loss to the Seattle Seahawks. I researched back in Eagles' history to 1976 (the year of my birth) and could not find a more lop-sided Eagles loss than what took place in Philadelphia last night. Let me throw a couple of names at you. Rich Kotite. Marion Campbell. Now that your done wincing at the site of those two synonyms for ineptitude, get a load of this. Neither of those coaches ever presided over this bad of an Eagles loss. Andy Reid has entered rarified air with last night's dud performance. He has made history.

So, what to do? Well, it might be time for the Eagles to re-evaluate whether Andy Reid is the right man to coach the Eagles. I know, I know...people will point to four straight trips to the NFC Championship game and an appearance in the Superbowl to rationalize that this season is an aberration. But, some of that success can be attributed to a weak division and a weak conference. And Reid's inability to coach in big games cannot be overlooked either.

What does Reid have the Eagles doing all week? They can't be practicing

Some people, stupidly, will continue to blame Owens. I can't imagine Owens would have allowed himself to be pushed around by the Seattle defensive backs like Greg Lewis did last night. Feelings of nostalgia for the NFC Championship game against Carolina nearly overcame my feelings of nausea last night watching the hapless Eagles. I was waiting for James Thrash to run out and line up in the slot for a a squad that played like a high school team.

Now is the time for the Eagles to deal with their reality. Otherwise this could be the first of several looming losing seasons.


Saturday, December 03, 2005

What If? That's a Tough Question

In response to Andrew's final paragraph in his post about how things have go wrong for the Eagles, I must say that it is not reasonable to expect that if Pat Croce had been able to beat Jeff Lurie to the punch that the same situation would have existed in the Eagles organization this year.

Imagine this scenario...

Perhaps Croce wouldn't have fired Ray Rhodes as quickly as Lurie did. Instead, Rhodes is allowed to coach the Eagles one more season. In the process, Andy Reid is hired instead by the Washington Redskins. The Eagles, with the second selection in the 1999 draft, decide that Ricky Williams is the best choice for their franchise. Rhodes touts him as a tough guy who just knows how to play football. McNabb, in turn, finds his way to the Redskins and Reid.

Also- remember how long it took Philadelphia to get their act together to get Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens' Bank Park built? Remember how Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were given the money by the state at the same time, but Pittsburgh had their stadiums built 2 or 3 years before Philly? Jeff Lurie wanted a new stadium from the day that he bought the organization. He talked of moving them if he didn't get a new stadium. Perhaps the stadium thing wouldn't have been as high on Croce's list of things to get done. Lurie pushed and pushed and pushed for it and it still took five years to happen. Perhaps the Eagles would still be in the Vet if Croce was the owner. If so, it might me reasonable to say that Ricky Williams would have decided to move on much earlier, as nobody wanted to play in that dump. Perhaps the Eagles QB would currently be Brad Johnson.

And finally, with the Eagles not on the doorstep of a Super Bowl championship, perhaps T.O. would have thought that Baltimore didn't look so bad compared to Philadelphia. Why go play in that dump for a franchise with no hope for the future?

The point is that it isn't not fair to say that the Eagles would have been as successful if Pat Croce had bought the team. Every event that occurs on this Earth is both affected and affects everything else that happens. The particular string of events that have unfolded for the Eagles over the past 7 years have occurred because of the moves Lurie and Reid have made. If those two men hadn't been there, I believe that it is more likely that the Eagles would be worse off today than they are.

Don't sell Lurie and Reid short. They have built the franchise into a model that many other franchises are trying to emulate.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

For Phils and Gillick, Things Looking Good…Then Kind Of Bad…Then Pretty Good…Then Bad Again

When Jim Thome came to town, I was more excited than I had been since the organization released that VHS version of “Whatever It Takes, Dude.” In this corner, a 32-year-old guy coming off a 52-home run season! In the other corner, a team in need of leadership and power! What could be better? And it was great…until his back gave out. Now Jim’s 35 and rehabbing an injury that will probably never go away. Oh, and what’s this? The Phils have a young Rookie of the Year at first base. Put it all together and you end up with the Phils making the right choice—a tough one, but the right one—by sticking with promising young slugger Ryan Howard and letting Ol’ Jim designate a few hits in the A.L.

Then Billy Wagner signs with the Mets. OK, see, this is bad. Really bad. Why, exactly?

1) We like Wagner. (As a rule of thumb, we like anybody who converts 38 of 41 save chances and establishes an ERA of 1.51.)

2) We don’t like the Mets.

3) We don’t want Tom Gordon. (Not only is he inferior to Wagner, but he’s 38.) Also, the way teams across the league are scrapping for anybody who a) has a faint pulse and b) has ever closed a game, successfully or unsuccessfully, in his life, whoever we get is going to cost too much. So I wish they’d just payed top dollar for proven talent.

But then I read about Abraham Nunez. Not that I had any clue who Abraham Nunez was, but it quickly became clear that he was an infielder. Dare I dream it? Might this mean the end of the David Bell era? (Look, I realize that Bell isn’t the Antichrist. Heck, he’s not even the worst guy they could have at the hot corner. After all, this is a guy who in 2004 hit .291 with 18 homers and 77 RBI in 143 games. But those numbers took a significant dip this past year, and he remains a charmless and flat-footed Phil.)

But then Pat Gillick clarified: David Bell remains the starting third baseman.

So, a lot of ups and downs during Gillick’s first days. The big up is that Ryan Howard is safely tucked away. The big, big, big down is that Billy Wagner is moving to Queens. The result is that Pat Gillick has a lot of work ahead of him.

Oh, and Pat? Julio Santana’s nice and all, but I hope you’re also aiming a little higher than that.