Tuesday, January 31, 2006


During the week leading up to last year’s Super Bowl, I was a wreck. I was nervous and I was excited. I was simultaneously steeling myself for soul-blistering disappointment and preparing myself for three liver-scorching days of celebration. It was great.

So it killed me this year to watch my Eagles stumble through one of the least impressive seasons imaginable. Contract disputes, injuries, heart-breaking losses, merciless poundings—we proud, stupid Philly fans suffered it all. So no one out there deserves to be as down this week as we all are. Patriots fans? No way. They’ve enjoyed more than their fair share of success. Bears fans? Ah, no one expected them to be there anyway. Colts fans? Close call, but at least they had fun during the regular season. We had it worst. So what bothers me is all these commentators complaining about how much they pity themselves having to cover this week’s championship bout.

Take Skip Bayless. This week he posted on ESPN.com’s Page 2 an article entitled “Wake me up when it’s over.” http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=bayless/060130 In attempting to articulate that this year’s Bowl will be a snooze fest, Skip offers up a whine fest, blah blah blahing about how Detroit will host a dud because this game “feels like a game without a favorite.”

Wait. You mean, the teams are evenly matched? The shame!

This is not only an idiotic op-ed piece, it is further evidence of the ESPN-ification of sports.

Exhibit A: He scoffs at the Steelers’ luck, making clear that they might not have beaten the Bengals if Carson Palmer hadn’t gone down, pointing out that they wouldn’t have passed by the Pats if they’d had to, noting that they wouldn’t have defeated Denver if Roethlisberger had been picked off more often. Then he likewise laughs at those lucky Seahawks.

Hmm, good points, Skip. Oh, but they did win those games? And they are in the Super Bowl? So all of that is irrelevant? I mean, has Skip ever seen a team get to a championship game – in any sport? Has he never noticed that a lot of things have to go a team’s way – and that that’s what makes it exciting? And what’s Skip cheering for here, anyway – a team to win every game on the road to the Super Bowl by more than 40 points?

Exhibit B: Not until paragraph 28 – 28! – does Skip even consider whether the actual game will be any good. When he gets around to it, he begrudgingly admits that “this matchup is pretty intriguing” and features “two very likable teams and coaches.” Up until this point, all Skip is concerned with is the potential lack of highlights, the various subplots, and who among the game’s players has a chance of becoming “this game’s breakout Madison Avenue star.” At one point he even says, “I’m starting to missing T.O.” Yeah, well, I’m starting to think Skip’s tuning in more for the Stones and the commercials than the Steelers and Seahawks.

Who said this game won't be exciting?!

The truth is that we football fans are lucky: a great Super Bowl is on tap, featuring two excellent coaches – one of whom has a chance to solidify a legendary legacy – and a smattering of some good players, young and old, whose refusal to offer up off-the-field antics allows us to concentrate on the game itself. In fact we’re so lucky that even I, a Philly fan, can see it.

And the bottom line is, if you’re not from Philly (or, OK, maybe Indianapolis) keep your complaints to yourself.

Oh, and if you’re the Worldwide Leader in Sports, maybe take an interest in the actual game, and suggest to your columnists they do the same.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Next up, Cecil Fielder!

Yesterday, ESPN said the Phillies have had "very preliminary" talks with those who represent Mike Piazza about signing the Philly suburb native. Shortly thereafter, a source hushed the story, pointing out that the Phils don't have an opening for Piazza.

May I say: I hope that guy's right.

Look, Piazza has put together an amazing career and I'm ready to admit there still might be a little juice left in his bat. Plus, I love the idea of signing a Cooperstown-bound local as much as the next guy. But to my mind, there are two obvious things that make this rumor a little tough to swallow.


That's right, they still don't allow it! Mike Piazza is one of the best hitters to ever ruin a pair of knees behind home plate. For his sake, I wish somebody had decided early on that, "Hey, maybe this really good hitter should play first base or outfield or something!" But nobody decided that, and his body has paid the price. Some people can continue to produce at Piazza's age. All signs indicate that -- though I don't blame him for it -- he can't. So I'm having trouble warming to the idea of the Phillies signing up a guy designed for a position that doesn't exist on their team. I mean, if they wanted to go that route, there are plenty of options -- Cecil Fielder...Jim Thome -- oh, nevermind that one.

Hey, you -- need a job?

2) He'd cost too much money.

The Phillies have plenty of holes to fill. Paying Piazza a ton of cash to fill none of them probably isn't the right approach.

It seems a distinct possibility that this is all just blather -- a rumor that will run its course and fade away. Let's hope so. If not, I daresay things suddenly seem a great deal more dire for the Phils.

Monday, January 23, 2006

What if ESPN Covered the Olympics?

Note: What follows is the second installment hypothesizing what the United States would suffer through if ESPN covered the Winter Olympics. In today's piece, the outgoing Sunday Night Football crew of Mike Patrick, Joe Theisman, and Paul McGuire cover ladies' figure skating...

Patrick: Hello everyone, along with Joe Theisman and Paul McGuire, I’m Mike Patrick. Tonight, the ladies take center stage in what is easily the most anticipated event of this entire Olympic Games. Ladies’ singles figure skating. It doesn’t get any better than this! Joe, in your mind, is there anything that can compare with ladies figure skating?

Theisman: Not in the context of the Winter Olympiad. For four years, all of us have been waiting for this moment. The fans, the coaches, the officials, and, of course, the skaters. Now the moment is here. The question is this: which of these skaters has the focus, the drive to bring home the gold medal.

Patrick: And, Paul, this is a unique night, indeed, as there are 12 different countries represented in the 12 finalists here tonight.

McGuire: But it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The U.S. has had a tough go of it so far. Two of the three skaters fell during the preliminaries, leaving only Sasha Cohen in the competition tonight. It’ll be interesting to see how she reacts to the pressure.

Patrick: Speaking of Sasha Cohen, she is on the ice and ready to go! She will be attempting a Triple Lutz and a Triple Sowcow during this performance. The level of difficulty is off the charts! If she is able to pull it off, she will be putting a lot of pressure on the other skaters to follow!

Theisman: The thing about Sasha Cohen is that she is a bit of a gunslinger. She never seems to do anything by the book.

McGuire: She’s the ladies’ figure skating equivalent of Brett Favre. She improvises when necessary in a sport that doesn’t traditionally allow for a great deal of improvisation.

Theisman: Speaking of Brett Favre… If you’re watching, Brett, PLEASE come back and play next year. The Packers need you and the NFL needs you.

Patrick: Brett, we need you. We love you. Please play some more football.

Theisman: Here comes the most difficult part of the program- the Triple Lutz/Triple Sowcow combination.

Patrick: SHE GETS THROUGH THE TRIPLE LUTZ! AND NOW… OH SHE JUST MISSED LANDING THE TRIPLE SOWCOW. That’ll definitely lead to a deduction in the scoring. Now her performance is over. While we are waiting for the scoring, we are unveiling a new wrinkle in the coverage of figure skating. It’s called ESPNJudge. Even though instant replay isn’t available to the judges here tonight, we will present the performance as though it were available. In this situation, Cohen’s coach would have thrown the red flag because there may have been some debris on the ice just at the spot where she was attempting to land the triple sowcow. So here is the replay of that moment, in extra slow-motion.

McGuire: See- she loses her footing right… THERE! That’s where she started to fall. I don’t see any debris. If this were a real situation, I think the call would stand.

Theisman: No, Paul, you’re wrong. Look a little closer. There is definitely an ice shaving there. That could be construed as irrefutable visual evidence to overturn the call and not cost her the mandatory deduction for the fall.

Patrick: Remember, the call on the ice would have been that there was NO interference by the ice. There must be irrefutable visual evidence, as according to the rules that ESPN has enforced on ESPNJudge, to overturn a call on the ice. The poll on ESPN.com indicates that 55% of you would let the call stand. Great job, loyal ESPN.comers.

And the beat goes on…

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Phillies to Raise Ticket Prices... Bad Move

The Philadelphia Phillies have announced their regular season ticket prices for the 2006 season and their announcement included a new wrinkle- variable ticket pricing. 45 of their 81 home dates will have tickets that cost more than the other 36. The increase occurs during the middle of the season, when the weather is warmer and more people are inclined to engage in outdoor activities. Tickets for the beginning and end of the season will remain at 2005 prices.

According to the Phillies, every other team in the National League East uses this method and the increase has nothing to do with who is on the schedule- just when they are on the schedule. The hikes represent an increase of between 6 and 10 compared to last year's prices (or even some of this year's prices).

While the Phillies have the right to charge any amount they wish for attendance to their games, it really doesn't look good to be raising prices this year. For the past five seasons, the hype has most definitely been greater than the results, which has led to a change in manager and general manager, along with some significant changes on the roster. The most notable of these changes is, of course, the departure of Jim Thome. Just last week, new General Manager Pat Gillick was quoted as saying that he realizes this team, at this point, is not a contender in their division.

What kind of message does this send to the fans of Philadelphia? "We know we have underacheived. We know we aren't in a position to take the division. But we want more money from you guys this year."

If people are willing to pay the increase, then this column is worthless. But I think the organization needs to reconsider this move. The team saw a significant drop in attendance between 2004 and 2005- about 600,000 people fewer in a year when they were in the playoff hunt even after they had concluded their last game. With fewer illusions of grandeur for 2006, it would seem that attendance should drop again. Wouldn't the more prudent action be to tell the fans that they are holding the line on prices this year (or, get ready for this... drop prices a bit) because we know we need more time to get this team where we want it to be? Wouldn't it be a good PR move to try to get fans back in the stands at this point?

Raising ticket prices is not consistent with the messages the Phillies have been sending this winter. They dealt Thome. They have been trying to deal Bobby Abreu for quite some time. The general manager has already said the team needs work. Everything they are saying indicates that they don't expect as many wins as last year. Why would fans want to pay more for a product they know is worse?

Esche is Back in a Big Way

On Saturday afternoon in Pittsburgh, the Flyers defeated the Penguins by a score of 2-1. Their success on this warm January day can be summed up in only two words.

Robert Esche.

In his first game in a month due to a groin muscle problem, Esche faced 33 shots and stopped 32 of them. He was quick with the arms and legs and he was stingy with the rebounds. In short, he looked amazing on a day the Flyers needed their netminder to be as such. The lowly Penguins were fiesty and their goalie Marc-Andre Fleurry was almost as strong as Esche.

Flyers fans should be encouraged by Esche's performance. While the offense struggled to light the lamp today, they were still able to secure two points in what has quickly become a crowded leaderboard in the Eastern Conference. Even with the victory, the Flyers trail the Ottawa Senators and Carolina Hurricanes in the standings. The difference between the top seed and the third seed in the playoffs could be only a couple of points in the standings, but could be huge in terms of opponents. The top seed will likely get a team who squeaks into the playoffs such as Toronto, Tampa Bay, or Montreal- each of whom are struggling in many aspects of the game. If the playoffs started today, the third seed in the East would get the New Jersey Devils, who have currently won 9 in a row and have a history of playoff success.

The Flyers have been playing good hockey since Christmas. They have done so without the help of Robert Esche. If he can continue to play the way that he did today, the Flyers should be in good shape come April.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A College Football Legend, a Bunch of Angry Women, and Two Lessons Worth Learning

The day before his Nittany Lions won the Orange Bowl, Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno was asked about accusations that Florida State middle linebacker A.J. Nicholson had sexually assaulted a woman. In answering, Joe said this:

"There's some tough—there's so many people gravitating to these kids. He may not have even known what he was getting into, Nicholson. They knock on the door; somebody may knock on the door; a cute girl knocks on the door. What do you do?

"Geez. I hope—thank God they don't knock on my door because I'd refer them to a couple of other rooms. But that's too bad. You hate to see that. I really do. You like to see a kid end up his football career. He's a heck of a football player, by the way; he's a really good football player. And it's just too bad."

In reaction, Joanne Tosti-Vasey, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization of Women, said she was “appalled” and demanded that Penn State can Paterno.

Not a JoePa fan.

At first I figured the story would disappear. Then I saw it on SportsCenter and reminded myself that the folks at ESPN can take a two-second clip of a high school soccer player picking his nose and turn it into a mini-series. So we might as well talk about it.

There is nothing funny about sexual abuse. It’s even less funny when it involves a seriously huge dude imposing himself on a woman. So I don’t know why JoePa felt the need to make a ha-ha. In fact, why does it happen so often that people speaking in public get themselves in trouble by flexing their funny muscles at the exact wrong moment? Remember that time President Bush showed reporters a picture of himself looking under furniture in the Oval Office and said, “Nope, no weapons over there.” See? Not funny. Of course, unlike the President, JoePa often is very funny. But not this time.

"Hey, this guy's even less funny than me!"

Lesson #1: When you speak publicly on tough issues, just say the right thing and shut up.

So I sympathize with Ms. Tosti-Vasey’s frustration at JoePa’s facetious remarks, but I also think it’s clear that she's off-base. It’s clear that the situation upsets Paterno. He’s devoted his life to working with young men—serving not only as a coach, but also as a father figure. Making a bad joke doesn’t make him a bad man.

Also, Ms. Tosti-Vasey is being ridiculous in calling for his dismissal. Does she honestly believe Penn State will fire the 79-year-old legend? Probably not. She probably figures, “To make as much noise as possible, you have to make as much trouble as you can.” The problem is that she’s undermining her understandable anger by making ludicrous demands.

Lesson #2: Don’t hurt your chances of achieving the things that matter by asking for things that don’t.

I think we all know that Joe’s not losing his job over this, but it’s one of those ugly incidences that easily could have been avoided—and should have been.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

What if ESPN Covered the Olympics?

Note: The following is the first installment over the next few weeks leading up to this year's Winter Olympics hypothesizing that to which the United States would be subjected if the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports was the network covering the games...

SportsCenter following the Opening Ceremonies
hosted by Stu Scott and Mike Greenberg

Scott: Coming up on da 'Center- in depth coverage of the mayhem you just saw right here on ESPN! Winter Olympic Opening Cermony craziness like you've never seen before!

Greenberg: Hello, I'm Mike Greenberg along with Stuart Scott and you are watching SportsCenter. The opening ceremonies at the Olympics have never been known to be anything more than a waste of time, but that all changed in Torino, Italy tonight. For details, I turn it over to Stu.

Scott: This was wild-crazy. As the Russian team was entering the stadium, watch the fan in the crown waving a flag from France . He drops the flag, RUNS OUT ONTO THE CONCOURSE, and gives Vladimir Allyonov, Russia 's premier giant slalom skier, a HANDSHAKE. Then he tried to go back into the stands, but the security guards tackled him and brought him into custody! John Clayton was at the Opening Ceremonies tonight and joins us now LIVE for an update. John, could you please rehash what you saw?

Clayton: Well, actually, Stuart, I didn't see the event itself. I was attempting to get interviews with some members of the US team.

Scott: But, I mean, let's be real, didn't the whole place erupt when this went down?

Clayton: Not really.

Scott: But I mean, c'mon… what about all the security guards that just flat-out tackled the guy?

Clayton: Actually, there were only two security guards. And they didn't tackle the fan. They just led him out of the stadium into a holding area where he was later released after having his tickets for the games revoked.

Scott: John Clayton tellin' us how it is. For more analysis on this crazy story, we turn it over to our Winter Olympic expert desk and Mark Schlereth and Sean Salisbury. My boys, how will this incident affect Allyonov?

Schlereth: Allyonov is a giant slalom skier. And giant slalom skiers aren't affected by things like this. Giant slalom skiers see the mountain and take the mountain. Giant slalom skiers are only interested in one thing: giant slalom skiing. Opening ceremonies don't affect giant slalom skiers. Handshakes don't affect giant slalom skiers. Only things that happen on the giant slalom course affect giant slalom skiers.


Greenberg: Thank you, gentlemen, for your insight. Coming up after the break, we'll head back to Torino for more on how this could affect the rest of these Olympic Games…

Friday, January 06, 2006


"He's going to pitch better than 15 losses," Gillick said, speaking of the latest addition to the Phillies rotation, Ryan Franklin. "If he loses 15, I'd bet he wins 16 or 17. I think he's a better pitcher than the numbers indicate."

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Sixers' Missing Ingredient On Team They Just Beat

Iverson needs a better center to lead the Sixers deep into the playoffs

Now that the Eagles season is officially over perhaps Philadelphia will start paying attention to the 76ers basketball squad. At a glance the Sixers seem to have all the necessary components to run away with the mostly hapless Atlantic Division and even compete a little in the playoffs before they run into the steamroller that is Detroit. Yet after last night's 111-98 win over Sacramento the Sixers are hovering just one game over .500 at 16-15.

Despite Allen Iverson having one of his best seasons ever (33.7 points per game, 7.4 assists per game and 2.23 steals per game) and a healthy Chris Webber that has been putting up some quality numbers (19.6 and 10.4 per game) the Sixers can't seem to grab the division by the throat. The Sixers even have a few solid, young role players. Andre Iguodala is explosive and is on the cusp of being as good as, if not better than, Richard Jefferson. Kyle Korver is the perimeter shooter that the Larry Brown Sixers never had and other parts of his game are improving. John Salmons is a servicable player coming off the bench. Offensively, coach Maurice Cheeks has the Sixers scoring more points per game (102.9) than everyone other than Phoenix. The team has the veteran leadership and experience of Webber and Iverson.

Miller would look great in a Sixers uniform

The one glaring void is right in the middle. I want to love Samuel Dalembert, but he's just not the presence the Sixers need in the middle. Dalembert is an amazing shot blocker (third in the league with 3.17 per game) but he also racks up a lot of personal fouls and lacks the strength the Sixers need in the low post. Dalembert is great, but I'm not convinced he's a real center.

The type of center the Sixers need is the one who put up 36 points against them last night. Brad Miller. He's not an elite center, but he's physical, he runs the court well and he is fiercely competitive. Miller's personality would fit well with the Sixers and even though he wouldn't block as many shots as Dalembert, he would give the Sixers the toughness inside that they need to be a legitimate contender in the East.

Billy King and Cheeks should make a concerted effort to coax Brad Miller from Sacramento, a team that is underachieving this year and is in serious danger of missing the playoffs. He could give the team that push that Mutumbo gave the Sixers in 2001. Otherwise, Iverson can average 40 a game and the Sixers will continue wallowing in mediocrity.

Monday, January 02, 2006

It's Time to Figure Out What's Next

At long last, the 2005 season is over for the Philadelphia Eagles. For many fans, it was a season that stirred up old memories- memories of past regimes. It stirred up memories of seasons led by inept coaches such as Ray Rhodes and Rich Kotite. It stirred up memories of days when wins were hard to come by and games like yesterday were the norm. The Eagles had every opportunity to beat the Redskins, but they made sure to grab defeat from the clutches of victory.

The obvious question is this: what’s next? How do the Eagles go about preparing for the 2006 campaign that will feature games against the Cowboys, Giants, Redskins, Falcons, Panthers, Buccaneers, Jaguars, and Colts? Andy Reid should be given every opportunity this off-season to show that he deserves to keep his job. This is the first seasonal step backward since he arrived in 1999. But it is obvious that some changes need to be made. Most of these changes need to be made on only one side of the ball- and it isn’t the side that grabbed most of the attention this year.

The Eagles’ offense was poor for the second half of the season, but most of the feature positions were filled by backups. Donovan McNabb will come back healthy. There should be no problem with the starting quarterback. But this season showed that the Eagles do not have a backup quarterback that is capable of being reliable for an extended period of time. More than anything else, Mike McMahon showed Philadelphia why he was unable to succeed in Detroit. For every instance where he showed his talent and potential, he followed it up with an inexcusable mistake. Koy Detmer has also shown over time that he can be a useful backup, but he also is not going to be someone who will lead a team to the Super Bowl. The Eagles need to find a better second string quarterback.

The Eagles might be OK at running back. The combination of Brian Westbrook, Ryan Moats, and Bruce Perry could work. Moats is not a threat in the passing game, but his speed should be enough to serve as a role player. The Eagles are high on Perry, and his performance yesterday could be enough to land him a spot getting some important carries next year.

At wide receiver, the Eagles are obviously not as strong without Terrell Owens, but they do have more talent at the wideouts than they did before Owens’ arrival. Reggie Brown, Greg Lewis, and Todd Pinkston will most likely be the first three on the depth charge. These three are not likely to run freely from all the defenses they face, but they should be adequate.

Overall, the Eagles offensive line is in pretty good shape. Jon Runyan is a free agent, but the Eagles should seriously consider letting him go. His play has started to deteriorate and he has committed some costly penalties recently. Other than Runyan, the line should be OK for next year.

The defense, however, will require a great deal more work. Remember that the offense lost McNabb, Westbrook, Owens, center Hank Fraley, and Pinkston this year. That’s a heck of a lot to absorb. On the other side of the ball, however, the injuries were not as severe. Brian Dawkins, Sheldon Brown, Michael Lewis, and Jeremiah Trotter played all season. Lito Sheppard was around for most of the season. Week after week, the Eagles defense would give up big plays. These were the same guys that were all chosen for the Pro Bowl last year. What Reid needs to determine is whether the problems on defense stem from the players having lost a step or from a lack of defensive play calling by defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. Something went terribly wrong on defense this year. In order for the Eagles to reclaim a spot as one of the top teams in the NFC, that problem needs to be addressed first.

Except for Bill Cowher, all NFL coaches face a time when they need to show that they can handle adversity or they pay for it with their job. This is most likely that time for Andy Reid. It was only one bad season, but in this league and in this city, that is about the extent of a coaches’ margin for error.

2005 was a disaster. Andy, you better figure it out by next fall or else you might get a pink slip.