Monday, December 29, 2008

Miraculous





















The Jewish festival of Chanukah commemorates two significant miracles in the people's history. One is historical; a celebration of a dramatic, against-all-odds military victory that ensured the survival of the Jews despite the intentions of a tyrannical foe. The second is the stuff of legends; that when the victorious band of brothers went to re-dedicate the Temple they'd won back, there was only enough oil to light the lamps for one day. Yet somehow this oil lasted for eight.

And as Jews all over the world lit their menorahs for the eighth and final time in 2008, Philadelphians were celebrating a miracle all their own.

Somehow, some way, with the deck heavily stacked against them, the Eagles made the playoffs. Call it the Miracle at the Linc.

I could have seen the Bears losing to the Texans. But the 5-10 Raiders going into Tampa Bay and holding off a determined Bucs team? That was the stunner. Knocking Dallas out of playoff contention would have been motivation enough. But the Tampa and Chicago losses set up a showdown where the winner was headed to the playoffs, and the loser was going home.

And it wasn't even close.

When the smoke and rubble cleared, the final tally was an incredible 44-6. (Just typing that is fun. Can I do it again? 44-6! Over Dallas!) The Birds embarrassed the team--and the player (and the owner)--they love to embarrass the most. And our holiday gift to the people of Dallas is a miserably long offseason of wondering how all of that talent couldn't even crack the playoffs. I kinda feel bad for them. Oh wait. No I don't.

It was nice to see the run game return, especially without relying so heavily on Brian Westbrook. It was nice to see Donovan making nice passes into tight spots, like DeSean Jackson's inside the 10, and the touchdown pass to suddenly-stud tight end Brent Celek in the back corner of the end zone. It was nice to see touchdowns coming from red zone possessions early on rather than disappointing field goals. It was really nice to see karma in action, with TO dropping a ball in his chest and Pacman Jones fumbling a kickoff with just seconds remaining in the first half. And it was nice to be able to make jokes like, "We missed the field goal and they made it. Should be 47-3 and it's 44-6. What a difference."

And the defense. What can you say about this defense, that came to work every down of every game all season, winning a couple of games on their own, and keeping them in games they probably should have fallen out of. Four fumbles forced, two returned for touchdowns, one against the toughest running back in the league to bring down, and an interception. Who knew Chris Clemons was a) that fast and b) had such a stiffarm! Damn! Tashard Choice got schooled!

What a day. Everything that could have gone our way, did. The other games. The Akers field goal sneaking inside the corner of the uprights for that extra boost before halftime. The bounce of the first Romo fumble right into Clemons' hands. The way the Barber fumble stayed in bounds for Jozelio to scoop it up and go 96 yards. The word "unbelievable" was invented for days like yesterday.

Ed Werder said on ESPN, "When it was over, the Eagles were going for the playoffs, and the Cowboys were going for the smelling salts."

My friend Shwa texted me, in perhaps the understatement of the year:
"Didn't see that one coming."

But Brian Dawkins couldn't have said it any better than he did to his squad after his second forced fumble.

"Hallelujah. Hallelujah."

Bring on the Vikings.
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Special year-end Other Musings:

Pekka Lintu, Finland's ambassador to the United States, officially recognized the Flyers as the "most Finnish team in the National Hockey League." (Antero Niittymaki, Kimmo Timonen, Lasse Kukkonen, and Ossi Vaananen.)

I love Riley Cote, Flyers resident toughguy since Donald Brashear left. But against the Capitals two Saturdays ago, Brashear reminded Cote--and the rest of us--who's still the man. Check this out.

The winner for worst sign ever at a sporting event goes to a kid at last week's 6-4 win over the Senators, which read, "We're hot, you're not." Oooh, BUSTED! Are you kidding? How does anyone even know who he's talking to?

Have you seen the Billy Mays commercial (you know, the screaming infomercial guy) for ESPN 360? I get the concept; it's supposed to be funny. But all I can think of is Happy Gilmore saying, "Ya know, I know what you're doing right now. And I don't like it. So why don't you shut your trap. Before I put my foot in it."

I don't know about you, but when they turn it over to Marcellus Wiley on ESPN, I laugh to myself, thinking of the Ving Rhames character Marcellus Wallace in Pulp Fiction. I just want someone to ask him about a quarterback and have him say, "In the third, his ass goes down."

Shakira was on while I was at the gym the other day. Shakira, your hips may not lie, but your voice sounds like Kermit the Frog on acid.

In the past I'd been excited about Toyotathons. But now? Now is the Toyotathon of Toyotathons. So I don't know what to do with myself.

Just what the hell is a "rib-sticking meal?" Does that mean it has greater eatability?

There aren't too many commercials that have me laughing out loud for several minutes after I've viewed them. But this one did.

Happy 2009 everyone. Go Birds!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Boo, Birds


There is an expression reserved for a rare group of people that are incorrigibly stubborn, and stubbornly incorrigible:

They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

And so it was with the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend. Given early Christmas presents by both Dallas and Tampa Bay, the Birds went into their 4:15 showdown with Washington finally, miraculously, in control of their own destiny. In games where the score is as close as it was yesterday, it's usually pretty easy to figure out who the goat is. Yesterday, that was not the case. Yesterday, losing was a team effort.

The defense, as it's been pretty much all year, was strong. I appreciate that half of the team actually showed up and did its job. For everyone else, there's plenty of blame to go around. So get ready, cause here it comes.

Boo on Andy Reid. How is it that you still don't know how to manage the clock and playcalling? 55 seconds into the second half, looking like they didn't know what game they were playing, Reid calls a timeout. I just knew somehow that was going to come back and bite us, and I said so at the time. You think that might have been helpful after Reggie Brown's catch on the 1? Yeah, I do too.

And another boo for Andy, from the department of If It Ain't Broke, Break It Til It Is. They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. I think it's taking it to a new level when you've done something over and over and failed, changed it up to terrific results, and then reverted back to what was a miserable failure. 46 pass attempts, 16 runs. That's almost 3 out of 4 plays. And that's just ridiculous, regardless of Westbrook's health.

Boo on DeSean Jackson. 4 drops. 2 of them deep, one in the end zone. You wanted the spotlight. You wanted the ball. Both were given to you, and you dropped them both.

Boo on LJ Smith, for dropping two dump-off passes that I could've caught, as well as for missing that crucial block on the pass to Westbrook at the Redskin 4 that should have been a touchdown. It was a bad playcall, but it would've been fine if you hit your man. LJ, your team, coaching staff, and fans, all stuck with you, wanting you to be what we all thought you could've been. Instead, 2008 was an enormous disappointment.

Boo on Donovan McNabb. I know some of you will disagree with this one, citing the seven (seven!!!) dropped passes, tossing away the "couple" of shorties thrown. But I disagree. I saw several horribly underthrown passes and several more thrown foolishly to covered, sometimes double-covered receivers. It's true that the WR corps didn't help him out, but he didn't help himself much either, and he was lucky not to be picked off. And would it kill you to run the ball and get a first down on 3rd and 3 when you have no one open? More importantly, Donovan, it's called urgency. Look into it.

And lastly, boo on Asante Samuel. Last week's interception runback against Cleveland was not an easy pick, requiring athleticism to even get a hand on the ball, much less catch it. Yet he made it look pretty easy. On 3rd and 10 from just about midfield, a pressured Jason Campbell floated a duck nowhere near his receivers, but right into the waiting arms of a Pro-Bowl cornerback. Who subsequently let it bounce off of his elbows. Possession near midfield might have been slightly more helpful than being downed at the 3.

The worst part? They're still alive. In the unlikely event that we beat Dallas, the Raiders upset the Bucs, and the Bears fall in Houston, we're in. They can't just put us out of our misery, can they.

As my friend Matt texted me yesterday,
"Uch."
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Other Musings: I happened to look at the nutrition facts of a Dasani bottle of water the other day. As expected, everything was zero. Zero grams of fat, zero cholesterol, zero calories and, guess what, it's zero percent of the recommended daily value. It says "Percentages are based on a 2,000 calorie diet." No they're not. They're based on the fact that zero is zero percent of anything. How old were you when you learned that?

Flyers beat the Caps 7-1 on Saturday, behind a Scott Hartnell hat trick and two goals by Jeff Carter, who for the moment leads the league with 25 goals. This guy was almost dealt at last year's trade deadline. Good move keeping him, eh?

Lastly, -ability is spreading like a virus, like a cancer. The latest offender is of the repeat variety, now that Optimum is now advertising something about "knowability." Shoot me. I'll tell you one fact that's become highly knowable to myself: I know that pictures hold much more nicely to my fridge with my World Champions magnet.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Brown Beatdown


So here we are, 8-5-1, after a dismantling of the hapless Cleveland Browns, which wasn't as close as a 30-10 score might indicate. That probably should have been the score at halftime, but whatever. It was nice to know that even the Eagles couldn't blow that kind of lead, though of course I was reluctant to say such a thing out loud, for fear of the kiss of death.

The Donovan McNabb roller coaster ride continues its latest upswing, and all of a sudden it's like he can't miss. Except for the play call and execution of the last play of the first half, resulting in the second end-zone interception of the game, and a text message to my friend Matt that could only say "STUPID STUPID STUPID." Westbrook continues his resurgent rampage, spelled now by Correll Buckhalter and Kyle Eckel, the big bruising runner the Eagles have missed since...Refrigerator Perry? (Who knows if he might have been the difference in those torturous Bears and Redskins fiascoes?) And Asante Samuel made an athletic pick six, killing any spark of momentum sought by Ken Dorsey and the Browns.

And yet, as always, there are a couple of things we need to discuss:

1) Andy Reid, your playcalling has suddenly improved since the debacle against the Ravens just three weeks ago. I must give credit where it's due. But here you are, moving the ball at will against a miserable defense, and you once again resort to trickery? DeSean Jackson at quarterback? Yes, it would've been kinda cool if they'd have pulled it off. And it's not to say that there isn't a place for that kind of thing. But that surely wasn't it. Enough with the "cleverness." Just put the ball in the end zone.

2) Asante Samuel. The word "incredulous" was invented for the look on my face when Samuel, running back his interception, flipped the ball away before crossing the goal line. Are. You. Kidding. Me. It was one thing when a cocky rookie did that on Monday Night Football. (DeSean, you are forgiven.) It is entirely another for a six-year, All-Pro veteran cornerback to do that. At least he had some sense to pick up the ball in the end zone. If they had lost that, I would've lost it. I understand you're excited cause you haven't done that in a while, but get a hold of yourself.

3) Kevin Curtis. Welcome back to the land of the living.

Boys, if you're reading this blog, let's make it happen. Find every ounce of strength, courage, and magic you've got, and let's beat up on the Skins and Cowboys. Wouldn't it be sweet if we knocked Dallas out on the same day we punched our ticket?

Have faith. And maybe, just maybe, it'll happen.
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Other Musings: Through 30 games, the Flyers are 17-7-6. How's that for appropriate patriotism from Philadelphia? And oh yeah, even though they're still four points back, they've also played four fewer games than the Rangers. 2nd-ranked power play, only behind Detroit, and a league-leading 12 shorthanded goals. Love this team.

I don't care at all for NASCAR, and all the more so since I discovered the name of one of their legends is Dick Trickle. How unfortunate is that name?

Not only is drinkability ridiculous, the concept is actually spreading. I saw a commercial recently for Optimum digital something or other, that has "great shareability." Kill me.

Everytime I think of Big Papi now, I think of that MLB commercial where the guy in the Red Sox hat in Japan is mistaken for Ortiz. Because he's wearing the official hat. To assert that the Japanese people are really that dumb is absurd, and probably racist. Only Americans would be that stupid. "You no Big Paaaapi."

And you might have heard that the Yankees stole away CC and AJ. But I don't really care. I've learned that my front door opens a whole lot more easily with the help of my World Champion keychain.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Flipping the Birds


Ok, so I lied. And, to be completely honest, I'm pretty sure I knew I was lying at the time I said it. But, to be fair, I think you all knew I was lying too. "No more Eagles postings" was not only untrue, it was foolish of me to ever expect to follow through on it. Then again, when I wrote that, there was absolutely nothing available to indicate that there were actual human beings inhabiting the uniforms of the Philadelphia Eagles. I know without a doubt in my heart that you understood my frustrations, because you felt them too.

With that said, a week of vacation and a half-week of catching up at work has changed, well, almost everything. And all I can do is ask the question that seems to be on everyone's lips:

Where the hell has this team been all season?

I was honestly dreading the game against the Cardinals, fearing we'd be the last victim of three blowouts on Thanksgiving Day. And yet, for the first time all season, McNabb showed up before kickoff, capitalizing on Arizona turnovers to jump out 14-0, never looking back. Having the pleasure of being in the Philly area for the holiday, I loved watching the Comcast post-game show with Governor Ed Rendell (which I still think is the coolest thing). All four of them were sarcastically marveling how successful this team can be when it actually uses Brian Westbrook.

And the defense shined against the Giants this past Sunday, holding them to just 211 yards total offense. And those numbers included the 70-yard garbage-time touchdown with time running out in the game. Westbrook's 203 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns were reminiscent of Marshall Faulk on those Super Bowl Ram teams. And, perhaps the most telling statistic, the Birds were 12 for 18 on third down conversions. Remember those?

And suddenly, the Eagles have an outside chance at making the playoffs. Now, I'm certainly not counting on it. In fact, I'm betting that they'll come as close as they can, just to keep us all interested, and fall just short. And then how huge will that stupid tie against Cinci be? (For the love of God, the Bengals are 1-11-1. How ridiculous is that? Almost as ridiculous as the fact that we couldn't beat them, or that Donovan didn't know that a game could end in a tie.)

But maybe, just maybe, the tie will make them a half-game better than someone and they'll sneak in, and try to be--I hate that I'm about to say this--this year's Giants.

Who knows?
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Other Musings: A new Chevy commercial talks about people suffering from "importitis," the notion that imported cars are somehow better than American-made autos. Now, I'm no doctor, but if "importitis" were a real condition, it would be an inflammation of one's import. And that just doesn't make any sense.

Chris Berman said in the Blitz this Sunday, "It's not Pepe LePew, it's Pierre Thomas." What? Seriously, if anyone reading this has any influence with ESPN whatsoever, I'm begging you, for the sake of humanity, do your part in taking the microphone away from that caricature's yapper.

I just read that the Arena Football League is going to cancel its 2009 season, perhaps folding for good. I'm sorry to hear that, but if that's the case, then the Philadelphia Soul would be the final Arena Bowl champion. Guess the league knew it couldn't top that.

Don't look now, but the Flyers are only 4 points behind the Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division. Told you I liked this team.

And lastly, you probably heard by now that the hated Mets have signed K-Rod, still the dumbest nickname that exists. Some thoughts:
a) The Mets are the new Yankees (and the Yankees are still the Yankees)
2) The man may have broken the saves record with 62, but he blew 7 more. 48-48 is much more impressive than 62-69.
d) It doesn't matter how good a closer you have if your middle relief is an embarrassment.
IV) Wasn't Santana supposed to be the answer last year? When the Mets choke and miss the playoffs again, this signing will only make it that much sweeter.
6) Isn't it nice that the league is trying to play catch-up with us, rather than the other way around?
and g) Who cares? I've learned that water tastes better when I drink it out of my World Series Champion glass.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Les Miserables


I was going to take the advice of my friend Scott and, like last week, pretty much ignore the Eagles entirely. As people have been saying things to me like, "You must be pretty frustrated by the Eagles," my new favorite response has been, "Why, is there a football team in Philadelphia?"

But I can't ignore this. This is out of control. It is not only shameful, it is an absolute disgrace. From everything I heard about yesterday's game, and then having seen the lowlights this morning, I am so, so grateful that I didn't waste any more hours of my life watching this miserable excuse for a football team.

I can't believe Andy Reid is still calling in passes on 3rd and 1, or that his one decent move all season--benching McNabb--actually came at a time where it made the least sense, down only 10-7 at the half. I can't believe he still thinks we're okay at the wide receiver position, or that Donovan still likes to throw the ball into the middle of three defenders. And I certainly can't believe that the only points we scored all day were on the first kickoff return for a touchdown since 2001.

Simply put, I'm done with this team. No more Eagles postings. Reid needs to go, McNabb needs to go. Until then, I'm all about the Flyers (9-4 since their rough start) and Sixers (starting to figure it all out). On Thursday, the only bird I'll be focused on is the Thanksgiving turkey.

After the game, Donovan said, "At the present time, I'm not even thinking about what happens after the season is over."

I sure am.
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Other Musings:

I think I'm going to start a contest to come up with a business slogan for the Eagles. All entries welcome, and the winner may land a guest spot on the blog. My opening entry:
Reid and McNabb, Inc.: Inventing ways to lose since 1999.

The AT&T commercial where the missed call regards the alarm code? Are you kidding me? Who goes to house-sit someone's place without knowing that first? What kind of friend only plans to give that information in a phone call and doesn't leave a message? Both of them deserve to be arrested and jailed on multiple counts of utter stupidity.

Recently I found myself ready to vent about the pathetic state of giving athletes nicknames. Everybody is just their initials, or (Letter)-Rod. A guy's got a name like LaDainian and all you've got is LT? Nevermind that he's not even the first famous LT. Even worse, and a reason I started to root passionately against him, is BJ Upton. You know why he's BJ? Not because the B is Bernie or Bobby or Billy. No. It's Bossman. BJ is short for Bossman Junior. That might just be the lamest thing I've ever heard. I thought the kids who gave themselves nicknames, let alone dumb ones, were the ones who got beat up......
HOWEVER, my faith was restored when I learned the moniker for ridiculously-named Patriots running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis. They call him Law Firm. As in, that's what his name sounds like. Big fan of that one. Best since calling Kordell Stewart "Slash" because he was a QB/RB/WR/KR/PR.

And finally, in case you needed a reminder, the Phillies are still World Champs. And this week in ESPN the Mag was the first time I'd read a reference to this team. The Sports Guy, guiding us through the YouTube clip of the 1976 Battle of the Network Stars, wrote, "Gabe is mauled by his euphoric team. They do everything but pile on top of him like the 2008 Phillies." Love it.

Monday, November 17, 2008

First Look


It's not often you get to do a season "preview" a fifth of the way into the season. So I'm going to take advantage of the rare opportunity and present my Hockey Preview 2.0. Now I know you're wondering, 'Where was 1.0?" and you're very astute, as always. Hockey Preview (now 1.0) was the original, completely predictive and entirely before the season started, and it was written in my head. 2.0 allows me a fraction of hindsight to see where I may have already been wrong, to be honest about the first edition and make some correctives where necessary.

Now that that's behind us, let me begin by saying I really like this Flyers team. A lot. My friends know that I'm the ridiculous eternal optimist, always predicting at least the Cup Finals most seasons. But I do like this team.

Don't be too overly concerned by the slow start. Of course it's unfortunate, but the lesson we've learned from hockey more than in any other sport is that all you've gotta do is make the playoffs. Think about the Edmonton Oilers, the 8-seed out West back in 2006, coming within a game of winning it all. Or think about the Flyers of last season, overachieving all the way into the Conference Finals before falling to the Penguins. And this team should make the playoffs too, even if in an unspectacular fashion.

The other reason not to be too discouraged by the record is that they've lost approximately a ton of one-goal games. In just 17 games, the Fly-guys have already lost six games by one tally, many against very good clubs like two to the San Jose Sharks (overtime and shootout, respectively), and two in overtime to the Pens. What it means is that they're not far off. And with a talented, young core of players that is not going anywhere, this team could sneak through a the playoffs again and find themselves contenders in the East. They're not right now. But the season is long.

So my initial prognostication, in typical homer fashion, was that the Flyers would take the East and lose pretty badly to the Detroit Red Wings, much like in 1997. I don't think that's going to happen this season. Maybe they can get there next year, but I'd say the farthest we get is the same we did last season. And that would still be no less of an accomplishment after where this team was just two seasons ago. But the Penguins are good, and so are the Rangers, which I didn't see coming, though for many they remain a trendy pick to win it all. I thought there's no way a team that lost as much as it did could be better than they were last year. Yet another example of hockey being truly the greatest team sport.

So, the conservative pick (and probably better bet) is that it'll be a flashback to last season, with the Red Wings taking out the Penguins in an even-closer series. But don't sleep on the Sharks out West, or the Rangers, Canadiens, and, yes, Flyers in the East.
Flyers to watch out for:

Luca Sbisa, 18-year-old from Italy. This is the guy we got with the pick acquired in the Umberger-to-Columbus deal at the draft. Smart, fast, good puck-mover and transition player.

Braydon Coburn. By the end of the season, Paul Holmgren is going to look like a genius for getting this kid from Atlanta for Alexei Zhitnik. Trust me.

Oh, and Mike Richards is already starting to look like the new Brendan Shanahan. Just a pure goal-scorer.

Players to watch out for:

Alexander Semin, Washington Capitals. Think Scottie Pippen to Ovechkin's Jordan.

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings: The latest proof that Los Angeles is a pitiful excuse for a hockey town is this kid. Combination of a slow start, an egregious lack of talent around him, and the fact that southern Californians don't understand or appreciate the game are the reasons this guy isn't yet a household name. But I think he will be. 20 goals in his first season, 32 in his second. Dude just turned 21.

Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks. I'm probably a season or two too early on this one, but this kid, the top overall pick two drafts ago, is really talented. He is a huge part of the reason they're talking playoffs in Chicago for the first time in a long time.
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Other Musings:
A tie?!?!? To the Bengals?!?!?!?!?!???? Talk about inventing new ways to lose...

(Also a tad freaky is that the last time the Eagles had a tie--eleven years ago--was on exactly the same date. Weird.)

Anyone notice that the Monday Night Football theme music is used for every commercial? And for things that haven't the slightest connection to the game. Just For Men? That ridiculous, limited-edition Brett Favre coin offer? (Pssst! He's still playing!) I even saw it used the other day in a commercial for the animated film Wall-E. Are you kidding?
Shaquille O'Neal. His foul last night on the Pistons' Rodney Stuckey looked very bad. He was called for a flagrant foul, T'd up twice, and ejected from the game. Afterwards he made the point that, "if you understand the laws of physics like I do...[which] say that a body in motion stays in motion. So if you have two objects meet in the air, the smaller object is going to fall much harder." The man may be right. But this is a man who once said: "My game's like the Pythagorean Theorem. It can't be solved." So, you understand my skepticism.

They announced the MVP today in the National League. And the winner is...oh yeah, who cares? Nothing like winning the whole thing to show you how meaningless the individual awards are.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fed Up

It's one thing to not hear the knocking of opportunity at your door. It's entirely another to hear it, ignore it repeatedly, finally open up and smile at it, only to slam the door in its overly patient face.

And yet, it seems that no organization is as efficient at doing so than the Philadelphia Eagles.

Unable to watch the game live, I was up until 2:00 early Monday morning watching the Birds find a new way to lose a football game. I will never get those hours--or the energy spent punching my couch--back. So someone owes me an explanation.

Maybe it's Donovan, whose perfomances are so puzzling I think I'm going to start calling him McNygma. The commentators were talking about his streakiness, his tendency for late starts, how different coaches know whether he's in a rhythm or whatever by looking at his footwork, blah blah blah. These are things that get said about rookies and second- and third-year players. Donovan, however, has been an NFL quarterback for ten seasons. Ten. Seems like more than enough time to me to figure out how to set your feet, show up for the game at kickoff, condition your body so as not to burn 20 seconds during a drive to try and win the game to catch your breath, or to learn that your primary job when holding the ball in your own end late in the first half is NOT TO THROW AN INTERCEPTION, for the love of God.

Maybe it's Andy Reid, who seems to have forgotten that he coaches a professional team. What is with these "wildcat" formations, these reverses and fake reverses, the hook-and-ladder against the Cowboys? (Yes, I'm still mad about that one.) What ever happened to play calls where the quarterback just drops back and throws to (rather than behind, over, or at the ground somewhere near) his receivers? What ever happened to...that guy...I can't remember his name...really talented....runs and catches....oh yeah, BRIAN WESTBROOK??? Remember screen passes and dump-offs? You know, Andy's BREAD AND BUTTER??? Like they would have been able to drive for a touchdown even if Westbrook got that first down? "You're killin' me, Smalls!"

Maybe it's the special teams, who need a refresher on some basic rules. "When they kick it off to me, should I catch it or drop it? Dammit, I never remember this one!" "When the guy signals for a faircatch, I can't hit him? This league really is soft!"

And what I realized as the final seconds of another opportunity ticked away is that this game was a perfect representation of what these last ten years have been for us. The expression "woulda, shoulda, coulda," was invented for the Reid-McNabb era of Eagles football. Missed opportunities, atrocious playcalling, turnovers at the worst possible time, failure to convert third downs. How bout the interception runback against Tampa Bay in '03? The interception on the New England 2 in the Super Bowl? The penalty to negate the first-down catch against the Saints in '06? And those were just the playoff games! All four losses this year, and five of eight last year, by less than a touchdown. The difference between their 5-4 record and 8-1 or even 9-0 is less than a handful of plays. And yet, that is the story of a decade of Eagles football. As writer Kevin Noonan said, we've "learned to live with a team that falls short when it matters most, a team that still wins lots of games but never seems to win a big game." This team seems to rest forever on the line between good and great. And the difference is not drinkability.

Someone at the bar last week said, "If they don't do it this year, Reid, McNabb, or both of them have to go."

I know I'm breaking my own rules about having phaith. I know that just a few weeks ago I was hailing McNabb's performance as, literally, the Second Coming. I know that at 5-4 the season isn't yet over. But sadly, in last place of a division we haven't won in and a tough schedule ahead of us, I'm starting to agree with the guy in the bar. Here's hoping I'm wrong.

And by the way? The Phillies are still World Champions.
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Other Musings: What's with offensive linemen and all this pointing? You have to wonder what they're saying. "Look, the clock is over there!" "Watch out guys, the uprights are yellow!" "I think that guy wants to hit you, Eli!" They're trying to look like they're making adjustments. But really they just look like oafs.

I think I would seriously consider paying someone to rip out Chris Berman's vocal chords so that he never speaks again.

And in case you were wondering what makes the Triple Steak Burrito triple, it's "steak, steak, and more grilled, marinated steak." Now it all makes sense.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Remember This Moment






(The following is printed with permission from the author, Matthew Soffer, and was written in the moments following the Phillies' World Series victory over Tampa Bay.)

"Remember this moment.

Lidge just threw the final pitch of the Major League 2008 Post-season. Hinske swung the final swing, the fatal miss. The Phils are the champs.

Remember this moment, when we're across the street,

When the Eagles take it to the one, and push with all their might—when their might falls inches short,
remember this moment.

When the Flyers fly to the Cup with seeming invincibility, and with heartbreaking instability, gut-wrenching fallibility, fall on their faces—when they leave fans stunned and silent,
remember this moment.

When the Sixers take game one of the Finals, raising the city's hopes higher than anyone expected, and they drop games 2, 3, 4 and fall in 5—when we sit staring at our TVs, stuck drinking the warm backwash of our beers and all we can say is, "of course"—remember that the course has changed
because of this moment.

Remember this moment, when it's hardest to remember this moment.
When it feels like the drought will never end,
remember this moment,
and how it will feel
when it happens again."


My phaithful phriends, Matt's eloquent plea never to forget any part of this glorious triumph dovetails with my own special request.

Every one of us knows all too well the reputation of Philadelphia phans among the rest of the country. Some of it is earned, some of it is not. Some of it comes from the fact that there are people who love to hate us. When unruly fans in other cities emerge in ugly episodes of boos (this week in Chicago), throwing baseballs (Minnesota), snowballs (New York), and even batteries (Cleveland), the media takes some hackneyed "few rotten apples spoiling the bunch" line. But when anything negative happens in Philadelphia, it's "Ah, you know how those Philly fans are. They booed Santa Claus." (Which, by the way, is totally blown out of proportion, only proving the point further.)

I have made this argument before, and likely will again, but the one defensive point I could always make was about our championship drought. I would say, "If you had endured what we've endured, you might be bitter too."

But now, that's gone. The dawning of the new post-championship era gives us an unprecedented opportunity to give our reputation a complete makeover. We no longer need to be the angry, bitter fans the world has come to know. Now we can be content with the knowledge that we are, and will forever be, the 2008 World Series champions. Being content with that knowledge means that we don't have to get in anyone's face about it. We can smile and say "World Series champs" or, better yet, nothing at all, because the facts speak for themselves.

My confession: All this season, before we could concretely imagine making the Series, let alone winning it, I wanted to go up to anyone wearing a Mets hat or shirt and say, "I went to sleep last September when the Mets were up 7 games. Of course they made the playoffs, but how did they do?.....Wait a minute, they didn't...make the playoffs? Really? Come on, really? I just assumed they did. You're kidding, right? Wow, that must have been some collapse!"

But a) I resisted because I didn't want to feed into the reputation, and b) we still hadn't won it all. Now we have. Let's learn from the negative example of Red Sox fans who became the epitome of obnoxia once they got the 89-year-old monkey off their back. Let's make this not only the redemption of Philadelphia, but of our reputation as phans as well.

I leave you once again with a quote from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:

"But Charlie, don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted."
"What happened?"
"He lived happily ever after."
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For more of my photos from the victory parade last Friday, click here.
For some short video clips, click here.
I know they're not much, but at least they're my own.

Wouldn't it be nice if Donovan McNabb could play an entire game? I was joking with people that Reid should tell him that the game starts at noon instead of one. Then by the time he gets "warmed up," it'll actually be before kickoff. My friend Jonah texted me during the first quarter: "Cole Hamels should play QB."

Apparently we're not the only ones who can't stand the Saved by Zero commercial. (Thanks, Scott)

From ESPN the Mag, for all of you old-school Nintendo fans:
NHL 2k9 cover boy Rick Nash on his NES Ice Hockey strategy: "It was important to get a good mixture of fat guys to rough people up, but you needed those skinny goal scorers as well."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Euphoria





















The day we thought would never happen, happened.

After 28 years and one weather-lengthened week, the Phillies are World Series champions once again.
As the clock struck 10:00 on the East Coast, and the initial screams of disbelief subsided, my friend Matt uttered four profound words:
"I feel born again."

With one pitch, Brad Lidge completed his season-long masterpiece of perfection, and the Phillies won the 2008 World Series four games to one over the Tampa Bay Rays. With Eric Hinske's swing and miss, the levees holding back a quarter-century of tears, heartbreak, and frustration, came crumbling down. In one instant, a flood of emotion washed away the longest championship drought of any four-sport town. The man they call "Lights Out" ironically banished the shrouding darkness of 25 years.

Just over nine months from the day pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, an entire city was reborn.

Grown men and women of all ages were reduced to puddles, tears of unbridled, unparalleled joy streaming down their cheeks. Complete strangers were toasting and dancing and hugging in the streets. The weight, the burden, the misery of a hard-luck, hardcore sports town, was lifted in one spectacular moment, released in one uber-cathartic sigh, that none of us will ever forget.

For a terrific example, click here. Listen to that guy!
(Also enjoyable for the eruption is this one I found.)

And then the calls started coming in. Scott called me from the Upper West Side, screaming with cracks in his voice, "Did it really happen? Did it really happen??? I can't believe what I just saw!!!"
My boy Kevin, not one to be so outwardly emotional, called me from Seattle. I never heard the pitch of his voice so high in my life. "All of a sudden, I see the world differently," my choked-up friend said. "Perhaps there is a God after all."

My friend Jared sent me a text, on behalf of all of us under 30, saying, "We only had to wait our whole lives!"

Even my friend Mark, a (ahem) Yankees fan who had witnessed so much of my suffering, sent me a text saying: "this...changes...everything.....congrats."

And it does. It changes everything. Forever. Because now we have our stories. We have our "remember when" story, knowing exactly where we were, who we were with, and how we all reacted when Hinske swung and missed, when Lidge dropped to his knees and thanked the heavens, when Ryan Howard tackled Lidge and Ruiz to start the greatest pile-on this town has ever seen.
And maybe I'm alone on this one--or maybe I'm not--but I just knew it was going to happen. Somehow, deep down in my soul, something about Wednesday just felt different. While many of us were fuming at Bud Selig's suspension of Game 5 (and understandably so), dreading a typical Philadelphian reversal of fortune, I experienced a bizarre sense of calm that is and will remain completely beyond explanation. Maybe it was the sense of, "We've waited 28 years. What's two more days?" Maybe it was Penn State winning in Columbus for the first time in 30 years the Saturday before. Maybe it was the Phils and Eagles winning on the same day for the first time this year. Maybe, like Matt says, it was when we were able to take that obnoxious "saved by zero" commercial and make it into dance party music. I don't know. But I just knew it. That's all I've got for you.

And I was right. There were moments in this game that would have spelled doom for other Philly teams, where you know you were waiting for the worst to happen. In the ninth when Ben Zobrist hit a liner to right that looked like a hit. Instead it hung up just enough for Werth to make the catch. When Hinske came to the plate and you remembered that the only other at-bat the guy had he hit one that still hasn't landed, you feared the worst. And in the top of the 7th when it looked like the Rays were about to squeeze home a run that would have given them the lead, Chase Utley did it again with his fielding. He faked the throw to first, gunned it home, and Ruiz laid the most important tag in Phillies history on Jason Bartlett, right on the cheek, prompting yells of "IN DE FACE!" like Akeem from Coming to America. After the game, it occurred to me just how fitting that was. For all of the pundits, the experts, the naysayers, the haters, this Phillies team tagged them all out, right in the face.

And every ten minutes or so, I remind myself of the miracle we witnessed Wednesday night, and nothing can bother me.
Matt's mother Bess is often quoted saying, "Yestahday was yestahday. Today is today."

Today is redemption. Today is the rebirth of Philadelphians wherever they are. Today is the day where we can finally say what we've always wished we could: The Phillies are World Series Champions.

Today is a beautiful day.

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Other Musings:
When the Phils signed Geoff Jenkins in the off-season, before I really knew much of anything about him, I loved it. I've been calling him Leroy all season, and laughing to myself. If you don't know what I'm talking about, watch this. I promise you it's worth it.

In honor of the magical week that was, in lieu of asinine commercials, I'd like to give honorable mention to some commercials that make me laugh.
One is the T-Mobile commercial where the father comes home to announce the new family calling plan he signed them up for. The little boy says, "And you can call that lady at my soccer games you always stare at." The daughter says, "And I can call Derek." The father says, "Derek with the moustache and the Mustang, Derek?" "Yeah." "Yeah...no. It's weird, there's a no-Dereks-with-moustaches clause, it's in the fine print. Oh, what a drag, dude." Very funny.
Another T-Mobile one I like is with the younger brother who picks the same Fave Five as his sister, saying "Your friends are HOT." When she asks her father, "Are you gonna do anything?" he replies, "Maybe you should have uglier friends."

Also funny is the Domino's commercial for their new oven-toasted sandwiches (a novel idea!). The sub store employee has the Domino's guy leave the sandwich around the side of the building. I'm telling you, all week I've been going around saying, "But I love Submart!"

Lastly, a shout to my boy and hardcore Philly fan Adam "Shappy" Shapiro, whose latest ad is for Oberto beef jerky, and is very funny. (He's the one on the right.)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Phlying High







When I woke up Thursday morning and realized that the night before had been no dream, I jumped out of bed. Not that I wasn't tired, mind you. I was exhausted. I'd stayed up until about 3 in the morning, watching every highlight, interview, and pithy analysis, for two reasons:

1) I wanted to make the moment last as long as humanly possible, and

2) I wanted to make sure that everything I thought I'd just seen had actually happened.

And I don't know about you, but the layoff between has been a strange blessing for me as a fan. It's allowed me time to celebrate being National League champions and has afforded many an opportunity to factually say the words, "We're going to the World Series." It's created moments like one from a concert I went to the other night. I passed a guy in a Phillies hat and went up to him, put out my hand, and just said, "Phiiiiils!" He said, "I know! Say it with me now, 'We're going to the World Series.'" And it's given me time to watch baseball, while our season yet continues, without eating my fingernails.

Cole Hamels pitched another incredible game, making one mistake to the machine-like Manny, with no one on. The numbers are amazing: 2-0, 1.93 ERA in 14 innings; 3-0 for the playoffs with just 3 runs given up in 22 innings. And Jimmy Rollins may not be hitting up a storm just yet, but leadoff home runs can be devastating for a home team and crowd, and Jimmy's now done that in each series. And what else can be said about Shane Victorino, a warrior in every aspect of the game of baseball. The catch against the Best Buy sign (and Tim McCarver's brilliant comment that Victorino is probably the team's best buy of the last 10 years), is one I will never forget.

But there were some other incredible things that happened, that are at least worth mentioning, if not marveling over the fact that all of them, and not just one, happened:

1) Pat Burrell made a fantastic catch. I'm going to say that again: Pat Burrell made a fantastic catch. In the bottom of the sixth, Andre Ethier sent a shot deep into the corner of left field, that Burrell reached, caught and somehow hung onto. (And then--though perhaps I'm exaggerating--it seemed like he looked up right into the Dodgers fans' eyes, as if to say, "No no. No reason to get excited. I got it.")

2) In the bottom of the ninth, Casey Blake rocked an offering of Brad Lidge's very deep to centerfield. With his back literally to the wall, Victorino made the catch look easy. What is amazing is not so much the catch itself, but the fact that Blake's hit just didn't make it. That ball could not have been hit any deeper without being a home run that would've made things a whole lot scarier than they were. How often does that happen for us? How often is it exactly the opposite, with the ball finding a way somehow over the fence?

3) After Manny's home run ended Hamels' shutout bid, Russell Martin came up and worked the count full. And on a borderline pitch that Martin took, home plate umpire Mike Winters called it strike three. Inning over.

We got the call. Full count, close pitch, and we got the call. When does that happen? How bout never. But then....

3b) It happened again. Not a full count this time, but a more important situation, with Matt Kemp on second and Nomar Garciaparra on first, and two outs. The 2-2 pitch. Called third strike. Inning over. In all honesty, it was probably low, but I couldn't give a damn. We got another call.

Two more things worth mentioning:

1) Pat Gillick is the man. This guy makes all of the right moves that seemed small, yet completed this team (see Jayson Stark's article on ESPN.com) and what does he do when they present him with the National League trophy? He gave all of the credit to Ed Wade, his predecessor at GM, for "a tremendous job getting the nucleus here." All Gillick did, he said, was "kind of filled in around what Ed had in place." What class.

2) I totally fell in love with Charlie Manuel. We've all criticized him as manager, wondering just what the hell he's thinking. But this guy is the patriarch of a real baseball family. As he went to hug Hamels in the post-game celebration, you could see that he called him "my boy." That's why every every infielder is involved in every mound conference during the game. That's why every player leaves everything out on the field. That's why, even when no one outside of the locker room understood it, these guys swear by Manuel. Every player is like Christopher on the Sopranos, saying of their Tony, "I would march into Hell for that man." After losing his mom, June, on the day of Game 2, Charlie fought through it all, calm and cool, focused on being the leader his team needed him to be. And in his typical, understated fashion, dedicated the win to the people of Philly and to June. "I guarantee you my mom's watching right now."

And while ESPN.com writer Gene Wojciechowski is right that the champagne celebrations are overdone, the Phils earned this one. We earned this one.

I gave you beating the Brewers in four. I was one off when I said we'd beat the Dodgers in six. Tampa Bay is a very good team. But my friend Ben said it best:

"It's our time."

We're winning the World Series in six games.

Billy Joel knows what I'm doing. I'm keeping the phaith.

----------------------------------------------------

Other Musings: Anyone notice that the drinkability ads are even bigger? The word itself is the focus of the campaign now, whereas before it was just a throw-in line. It's like someone read my blog and did it just to spite me.

Also dumb are the ESPN commercials where guys think that because they listen to them everyday that they know them. "Mike! Mike Tirico! It's me, Stupidy Stupid! I listen to you guys everyday!" If I were a celebrity, and someone just got into my car at the airport, I wouldn't think it some funny coincidence, a cute story to share at the ESPN Radio water cooler. No. I would think I was being carjacked. And that's not so funny.

Did anyone notice the postgame interview with Victorino where the guy asked him if he'd rather play the Red Sox or the Marlins? Oops.

Did anyone notice the guy (I think he was a scout?) who came over to Cole Hamels when he was being interviewed following the game and said something like, "The best looking guy and the best pitcher I know." Whoa, awkward.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Phreaking Out

Agony. Ecstasy. Defeat. Victory. Rinse. Repeat.

If you're like me--and I know I am--then describing last night as intense is like saying the Eiffel Tower has height. This game was ridiculous in every sense of the word. Up 2-0, then down 3-2. Looking like they were certain to tie it up in the top of the sixth, then they blew it, but then tied it up anyway on Chan Ho Park's wild pitch that brought in Ryan Howard. Then Chad Durbin comes in and gives the lead right back, a home run to Casey Blake. A couple of hits, Howard throws the ball away on a sacrifice bunt, and all of a sudden it's 5-3 Dodgers. Even after Chase Utley's fantastic catch and sliding tag of second base to double off Rafael Furcal kept the game close, I was miserable. And I know you all were too. "Now it'll be 2-2, it'll go 7, and we'll find a way to lose."

And my friend Mark, sitting with me at the bar in Hoboken, said, "Couple of runs is nothing. Remember, this is October."

And wasn't he right. Five outs away from having our 2-0 series lead erased, and Howard on first, Los Angeles Public Enemy #1 stepped to the plate. Shane Victorino, our Flyin' Hawaiian, nailed the first pitch from Cory Wade deep down the rightfield line, and somehow it cleared the fence into the Philly bullpen. Tie game. And Hiroki Kuroda was somewhere on the Dodger bench wishing he hadn't thrown at Victorino's head the night before.

Then, with Carlos Ruiz on first, Charlie Manuel sent waiver-deadline acquisition Matt Stairs to the plate to pinch-hit for Ryan Madson. Dodger manager Joe Torre brought in his closer, Jonathan Broxton, who hadn't given up a home run to ANYONE since May 31. And he hadn't given up one in Dodger Stadium since July of 2006. Take a moment, let that sink in. Stairs took a strike, and then three balls. Broxton reared back, fired his best fastball, and with one swing, the 40-year-old Canadian crushed the pitch, and the hearts of many a Dodger fan.

But of course that wasn't it. Brad Lidge reminded the world that you can strike out and still make it to first. With two on in the bottom of the eighth, in typical Philly fan fashion, I was waiting for the three-run shot that would give the Dodgers the lead back. But then Loney flied out weakly to left. And Lidge was lights out in the ninth.

And I was delirious. It's a good thing the Giants game was over and that most of the bar had cleared out, cause that meant I had room to jump around and pump my fist without hurting anyone. And I still can't believe we won. I keep checking the scoreboards and the highlights to make sure that it really happened, that they didn't decide in the middle of the night to take it away.

It's crazy, all of it. But Mark was right. So is October.

"Have a little phaith." --John Hiatt
Better yet, have a lot.
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Other Musings:

When the Phils got Stairs, I liked the move, and I remember sending the story to a couple of friends. Here's an e-mail I got this morning from my friend Scott:

"So when the Phils got Stairs I remember you being really excited (i think it was that acquisition) and I said to you something like "relax, he's a utility player, they rarely make the difference, he's not the contact hitter we need nor is he the answer to our problems..." Well, all it takes is one swing to make you right...and right you were, so I'm giving you props - for one night (the most important night of our season so far) he was the man...and the difference. Wow, what a game."

Anyone notice how the Eagles and Phillies just cannot win in the same day? Good news for everyone, the Birds are on their bye this week. And with the Eagles hanging on to win, we gained a game on everyone in the division, who all lost to teams they probably should've beaten.

Does anyone really like these Old Spice ads? First of all, just what is that whistle? Is that supposed to be catchy, to get in my head and make me want to buy the product? Then you've got that Robert Goulet wannabe butchering Hungry Like the Wolf at the piano, while scantily clad girls are taking turns saying, "Ahoy." Ahoy?!? What the hell is that? Are we 17th century Englishmen on a ship that's just come in sight of landfall? Not the last time I checked. And now we've got this guy who's a half-man, half-horse, and it's supposed to be funny cause he's "two great things in one" but no one's mentioning that he's a horse. I don't know about you, but I can't imagine being half-man, half-horse is a good thing. Am I supposed to be jealous? Am I supposed to think, "Yeah, that would be cool to be half-horse!"? Cause I don't. The fact that this campaign was ever hatched is only beaten by the fact that it's still going. So, I'm done with Old Spice products. If good commercials are supposed to make you want to buy the product, I'm boycotting products whose commercials piss me off.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Phired Up

Pat Burrell must have been listening. He must have heard all the murmurs and rumblings, the whispers and the shouts. I know we were talking about it where I watched the first part of Saturday's disappointing 4-1 loss.

"We're not keeping him, are we?"
"Not at that price tag, nah."
"And besides, what's he done lately?"

And there it was. That horrible, ungrateful question asked not just in Philly, not just in the world of sports, but in pretty much every venue of life, and of pretty much everyone.

And though he's repeatedly rejected the moniker "Pat the Bat," it turned out to be precisely how he answered the question: with his bat. Yesterday Burrell became the second Phillie ever to have a multi-homer postseason game, the first since Lenny Dykstra in 1993. Much more importantly, Burrell carried the Phightins to their first postseason series victory and NLCS since that very same season. Not to mention that '93 was also the last postseason without a New York team. Coincidence? I think not. (Okay, I admit, I threw that last one in for fun. Can you blame me?)

And it seems the murmurs weren't just coming from our fair city. We weren't the only ones to notice Burrell's struggles. I mean, the Brewers intentionally walked Ryan Howard to get to a guy with 33 home runs. After all, he hit 32 of them in April (okay, slight exaggeration.) It's almost like you could hear his inner monologue (if he's got one) right before the shot that essentially pulverized the Brewers' millstones:
"Not bringing me back, eh? Not worth the money? Haven't done much lately? Intentionally walking Ryan to get to me? Fine. We'll see how you feel tomorrow."

This game was huge. Obviously because we took the series, but for another reason as well. The difference between the good and the great teams is very often the "killer instinct," the ability to put a team away when you have your foot on their throat, and not let them hang around. To have lost yesterday and to have face Sabathia in a Game 5, regardless of being at home and marginal success the first time around, would not have made any of us feel very comfortable. How often have you found yourself saying something like, "Nothing comes easy with this team." This was a big step in the right direction.

I love Jimmy Rollins leading off the game with a home run. I love that Jayson Werth made Burrell's three-run shot hurt even more by going back-to-back. (Especially after that horrid strikeout in the first inning Saturday night. Did you see that? Not only was it 5 feet outside, it bounced 10 feet before the plate!) I love that Joe Blanton was everything we hoped he would be in a clutch road performance. He made one mistake, to behemoth Prince Fielder, and there was no one on base. Other than that, a gem. 50 bucks if you can name even one of the prospects we dealt for him.....That's what I thought.

And, once again, I'd like to reiterate how much I love Brad Lidge. In Game 1, when Manuel put in Lidge for Cole Hamels, who was throwing a two-hit masterpiece, I was upset, and I know I wasn't the only one. Lidge's last handful of outings had gotten increasingly hairy, recalling images of another hairy, Wild one whose name need not be mentioned. My fingernails have only begun to grow back from that first game. Why, we all asked, would you pull a guy throwing a two-hit shutout?

In the end, I've come around. Manuel was right, for two reasons. The first is that he didn't know how long the series would go, and might have needed to save even an inning for Hamels, if we needed him to go again down the road. But the bigger reason is a mental one. My read on the end of the season for Lidge, as saves became extended pacings in my living room, is that he started to get psyched out again. Baseball is a head game, and perhaps no more so than for closers. And Lidge was as dominant as they come for closers, before his meltdown against Albert Pujols and the Cardinals in 2005. So maybe he was getting too much in his own head. And I think letting him pitch the ninth of Game 1, get the jitters out and the confidence back, might end up being huge for this team. It may not have been fun to sit through, but he's given up just one hit in his two innings since then. At least someone in Philadelphia can make a good coaching move every so often (that's right, Andy Reid, that one's for you.)

Lastly, looking ahead to the Dodgers. Yes, they're hot, and have been since the middle of August. But you know who else has been hot since then? Oh yeah, the Phils. And as they say every year, momentum goes only as far as the next game's starting pitcher. I may be a minority on this one, but I'd much rather be playing the Dodgers than the Cubs. Chicago was deeper in its pitching and its lineup than the Dodgers are, even though the Cubs choked again. I like our chances, and I wouldn't have as much if it were the Cubs.

I gave you beating the Brewers in four. We're beating the Dodgers in six.

"Cause I got to have phaith." --George Michael
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Other Musings:

I don't want to talk about the Eagles, because I will take yesterday's tradeoff every time I'm given that option. Right now they should be 4-1, maybe 5-0. You know that whole foot-on-the-throat thing I talked about? Have the Eagles ever had that? Ever? Exactly.

This Onion article is worth some laughs--chuckles for the article and the awesome 80's reference, loud guffaws directed at the New York Mets. (Thanks Ross.)

If you didn't see this, it might be the greatest catch ever. (Thanks Scott.)

Also funny, from a couple of weeks ago, if the NFL had a Facebook page. (Thanks again, Scott.)

And lastly, to borrow a concept from Sports Illustrated, This Week's Sign That the Apocalypse is Upon Us. (Thanks Matt.)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Phinishing Strong


I didn't have to be watching the game with my father to know exactly what he said after Rollins to Utley to Howard clinched the Phightins' second straight division crown.
"Never in doubt."
Of course, the phrase is only uttered ironically in our family, when the outcome is anything but. Every Philly fan knows all too well: if there's any time left in the game/season, there's time left to blow it. And as I paced my living room, listening to Harry Kalas (because I was blacked out of watching it), I know I wasn't the only one picturing disaster, not just on Saturday, but extending somehow into Sunday, giving the Mets the division and leaving us at home. The story was going to be Brad Lidge blowing his first save of 2008 after going 40-for-40, when one more would've wrapped it up. And yet, as the story was writing itself in the dark recesses of my mind, Jimmy Rollins saved the day. The man may not have been a hitting machine this year, but his fielding is always solid.
"Never in doubt."
"Yeah right, Dad."

It's time to give Lidge his due. I wanted to last week when we regained first place, but I was mortally afraid of being the kiss of death. He was probably the best closer in the game this year (even the stupidly named K-Rod (psst there's no K in his name!) blew 7 saves in his record-setting season). Anyone remember how we got this guy? He and Eric Bruntlett came over from the Astros for Michael Bourn, Geoff Geary and Mike Costanzo. Translation: We got a lights-out closer for some extra bulbs. Even if he didn't pan out, or was only marginally successful, it's not like we mortgaged Boardwalk to put a house on Baltic.

So here's to Brad Lidge, captain of the surprisingly solid Phillies bullpen. Here's to Pat Gillick for making the trade look like two twenties for a ten. Here's to Ryan Howard, who discovered at the end of August that at-bats can have outcomes other than home runs and strikeouts. Here's to winning it on Saturday, not just for our mental and physical health, but also because Hamels didn't have to start on Sunday, which sets up the rotation nicely for the first round against the Brewers. And here's to Jamie Moyer. I mean, the guy's like 87 years old and he went 16-7? I don't know how that happens, and, frankly, I don't care. Cause this team is good, and we're beating the Brewers in four.

(P.S. Here's to Wes Helms. The man may have not done too much in a Phillie uniform, but you gotta love him hitting the home run that ended the Mets season. I think I may buy a portrait of Jose Reyes heading to the locker room and frame it.)

Regarding the Eagles, I'm not going to say too much. Today, and this week, is for the Phils. So I'll sum it up quickly: stupid penalties, ATROCIOUS playcalling, the tally of DeSean's huge screwups now at three, no two-minute drill EVER, and a refusal to challenge the most crucial spot of the season thus far. philly.com's Eagletarian voiced exactly what I feel about the game in his article entitled "This One's on Andy." God forbid all the Philadelphia teams win at the same time. Hell might just freeze over.

"I'm phorever yours, phaithfully." --Journey
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Other Musings: So I know you've seen the Pizza Hut commercials where they're pushing their Tuscani pastas. They show a restaurant of New Yorkers thinking they're eating gourmet pasta. The chef comes out to give them the news and he says, "I didn't do anything tonight. In fact, I didn't even cook." What? "In fact, you didn't even cook"? Like that makes any sense! If you didn't do anything, then of course you didn't cook! I don't know who this guy is, but he probably thinks the meatatarian is a funny guy.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Phight For Your Right

Two weeks ago it was Meat Loaf in the title. Now it's the Beastie Boys. How bout that for diversity?

This past weekend was one of which Philadelphians should be proud.

Our Boys of Summer continued their red-hot September by taking two of three from the Florida Marlins. Saturday's 3-2 win was one of the gutsiest, grittiest wins of the season, and not just because the Phightins regained first place from the Mets. Joe Blanton had another solid outing, the Flyin' Hawaiian came through with another clutch line-drive homer, and Greg Dobbs, aka Mr. Timely, knocked home the game winner in the 6th.

Then, Jamie Moyer went out to the hill yesterday, and did what he does best: shut down the Marlins. Like shooting fish in a barrel. (Get it? Fish in a barrel? I kill myself!) I couldn't get my brain around why the man would be so good against one team, when teams change over so many years. But my new theory is that he dominates them because, no matter who's in their lineup, they're always a young team, guys who haven't been in the big leagues too long. So his changing of speeds throws them off, cause they're not used to someone who pitches like that.

The question is: if a baseball team plays in Miami, and no one comes to see them, did the games really happen?

Now that the Phils are back in first, here's hoping they never give it back. And that Milwaukee takes the wild card from the Mets.

Not to be outdone by their baseball counterparts, the Iggles showed a whole lot of character in slugging out a 15-6 victory over a very good Pittsburgh Steelers team. Big, big ups to defensive coordinator Jim Johnson the Eagles' D, who continue to make me look a genius in fantasy football. 9 sacks including a safety, 2 fumbles forced and recovered, and another Asante Samuel interception. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger should be thankful for his team's huddles. Otherwise he might have forgotten what his receivers looked like. When the front office signed Johnson to that huge extension, I said then that it was bigger than any defensive free agent signing. Except for maybe Asante Samuel.

We were all nervous and fearing the worst when we saw Westbrook go down, and we've been holding our breath since. The latest report is that he's day-to-day with an ankle strain, and that he should be alright to go next week. Even the atheists among us are thanking God for that piece of news. In the meantime, the honest truth is that we shouldn't need too much of Westbrook (if any at all) to take down a mediocre Bears team this Sunday night. Correll Buckhalter showed yesterday that he's still got it, and alongside Lorenzo Booker, we actually have decent depth at the position. So I hope they don't rush him back too soon, cause we're gonna need him at 100 percent come playoff time.

The first two games proved that the Birds have tremendous offensive capabilities. Yesterday's game proved that when we have to win the ugly, low-scoring, defensive battles, we can do that too.

I love Philly sports more today than yesterday. But not as much as tomorrow. (Thanks, Spiral Starecase.)
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Other musings: Have you seen the commercial (I think it's Verizon) with the guy with the endless playlist? You see the entire course of their lives--meeting, dating, getting married, having children, sending them off to college, and in their older years (with horrible "old man" makeup, to boot)--and he's reading her his playlist. Who is this guy? What kind of girl is interested in a guy like that? And the tagline is, "Love 'em or hate 'em, you get 'em all." Why would I want songs that I hate? "Oh yeah, I absolutely despise that song. But, man, do I need it! I'm so glad I have Verizon!" I can't even stand to mute it, cause I still have to look at it. So now I change the channel to anything else for 30 seconds. What's upsetting about these commercials is that there was a person who came up with this idea. What's more upsetting is that there was at least one other person who liked it.

I wish I were in a position of power to be able to do something about this. Maybe I'll run for commissioner of the More Taste League.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

As my man Tony Reali says on Around the Horn: "So, that happened." A pretty fantastic game last night in Irving, Texas. Never a dull moment. If you saw the game, you know that there is much to discuss. So I hereby dispense with a snappy introduction, and I give you:

The Good

1) Donovan McNabb is back. Last week and, arguably, the last few games of 2007, we saw that Donovan's arm strength is every bit as good as it's ever been. What we hadn't seen in a good long while was his ability to scramble. Two plays stand out in my mind: the one where he wriggled free from a surefire sack to get the first down, and the other where it took five Cowboys to bring him down as he correctly switched the ball to the sideline hand twice. And how bout the Favre-esque flip to Westbrook for 18 yards at the end of the third? As many of us have said for years, all it takes is a couple of lemons-to-lemonade plays per game to get the defense thinking about it, and everything else opens up even more. I confess I got a little emotional, saying things like, "There's the Donovan McNabb I remember!"

2) The offensive line is a wall. Simply put, all of the above is true, because this is true.

3) Asante Samuel is worth every penny. A lot of us seem to have forgotten that the defense was actually decent last year. The difference between last season and the years before was the lack of turnovers forced. And that's what they paid Samuel the big bucks for. What Donovan's scrambling does for the offense is what Samuel's presence does for the defense. It allows everybody else to be that much more aggressive.

4) Brian Westbrook is a man possessed. There is an argument to be made--at least for the moment--that Westbrook is the most valuable, if not the best, running back in the league. The leaping touchdown that bailed out DeSean Jackson's unparalleled stupidity in the second quarter (oh, don't worry, we'll get there) and the twisting, third-effort touchdown in the fourth have me convinced.

5) DeSean Jackson is the real deal....... Amazing stat I saw last night: Jackson is the first rookie to start his career with two 100+ yard receiving games since 1940, when Don Looney, another Eagle, accomplished the feat. He is incredibly exciting, but....(can you tell I'm chomping at the bit on this one?)

Overall, we should be very encouraged. Birds played a great game on the road against a ridiculously talented team, and established themselves, for all to see, as a serious championship contender.

The Bad

1) Donovan McNabb still makes the occasional poor choice with the football. Note to Donovan: If you have no one to throw to, nowhere to run, and are about to get hit, for the love of God, throw the ball away. Yes, it is that simple. I appreciate trying to make something from nothing, but a sack is less than nothing. Personally, I prefer nothing to less than nothing. But maybe that's just me.

2) Handoffs. Another note to Donovan: faking out a defender = good. Faking out your own running back = bad.

3) The hook and ladder. The hook and ladder?!? Are you kidding??? What are we, in high school?!? Nevermind that the execution was terrible, leaving Westbrook with literally nowhere to go. Whether he meant to or not, the message Andy Reid sends with that play call is that he doesn't have the confidence in McNabb to throw a 20-yard pass and get another first down. I just don't understand resorting to a play reserved for the utmost desperation, when your quarterback has been able to move the ball almost at will. I usually trust Reid, but every so often his playcalling is nothing short of bewildering.

The Ugly

1) The single stupidest play in the history of football. Congratulations, DeSean Jackson. Your mom must be proud. If you didn't see it, you need to. As Emmitt Smith correctly said, the problem is that Jackson was so focused on what he was planning to do to celebrate the touchdown that he forgot to score it first. And the worst part of it is it's not the first time he's done something like that! In his area high school all-star game, running in for an easy score, Jackson went to do a flip into the end zone. Except that he landed on the one. Oops. (Watch it here.) He is so lucky that it wasn't a turnover and that Westbrook bailed him out. If that had been the difference in the game....nah, I don't want to think about it.

2) I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, Terrell Owens. Love how he still doesn't think he did anything wrong as an Eagle. Is anything TO does TO's fault? One thing I realized last night is that, as strong as my dislike for players like Jose Reyes and Martin Brodeur, it's in the world of athletics and not terribly personal. But I think if I ever actually met TO in person, I would punch him in the face.
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Other Musings: Can someone tell me just what in the hell the More Taste League is? How can a food or drink have more taste than any other? How does that make any sense? (Thanks Mark.) Nevermind that the imbecile "cool" guy recognizes him as "the Commish," he still feels the need to say, "of the More Taste League, that's right." When reporters address the presidential candidates as "Senator," do they say, "of the United States Congress, that's right"? I don't think so.

And, oh yeah, the Phils are only a half-game out of first.

Keep the phaith. Now and forever.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Two Out of Three Ain't Bad


You know it's a good posting, when the title quotes a song by Meat Loaf. Not that I plan to do it again anytime soon.

Yesterday was a red-letter day in the world of Philly sports, though I confess I don't know exactly what that term means. The Phils played a day-night doubleheader against the hated Mets, while the Iggles opened up their season at home against the St. Louis Rams.

Let's talk football first.

Those of you who know me know that I'm the eternal optimist, a terrible homer. But before yesterday, even I had the Birds going 10-6 and taking an NFC wild-card spot. I was stunned to hear that Sports Illustrated and some other writers had the Eagles in the Super Bowl, and one or two even had them winning it. But I was more stunned when I checked the score in the 4th quarter yesterday (hey, some of us have to work on Sundays) to see 38-3. Now, the disclaimer is necessary that the Rams are just not very good. But 38-3 over anyone is impressive, no matter how you slice it.

I got to watch the game this morning, and what struck me were the things I hadn't seen in a very long time:

1) Donovan McNabb. Connecting passes short and deep, angry when he missed them, not laughing to himself for over- and underthrowing balls. I don't know about you guys, but I got really sick of that trying-to-play-it-cool laugh. 361 yards? Finally, finally, Donovan is back.
2) Receivers catching balls. An amazing concept. I was worried when I found out that #1 (Kevin Curtis) and #2 (Reggie Brown) were out for this game. My fears, apparently, were unfounded. Some of you were partying with me the weekend of the NFL Draft (for my bachelor party, not for the draft) and remember my reaction when we drafted DeSean Jackson. I don't know anything about college football, but I saw this guy play at Cal, and I wanted him. Big big fan.

3) Pressure on the quarterback. Now that defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has Asante Samuel along with Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard at cornerback, he can be even more creative with his blitzes, cause the secondary is that much stronger, that much less likely to give up the big play. Not to mention there were about 4 or 5 should-be interceptions. Those'll start coming soon. If you took a risk like me and drafted the Eagles defense for your fantasy team, you're looking good right now. (Too bad the rest of my team is not so much....)

4) What was that thing we used to have back in the day? Oh yeah! SPECIAL TEAMS. Jackson was great, with over 90 yards in returns, and was one tackler away from going all the way on one of them. At the very least, he did something known in the business as "holding onto the God-forsaken football," something guys didn't really like to do last year. And on the other side of the ball, when was the last time our guys downed the ball inside the 5? When was the last time it happened twice in a game?? Quentin Demps, wherever you came from, thank you.

Bottom line is I think next Monday night's game is going to be fantastic, which I wasn't saying a couple of weeks ago. So, go Birds. Let's shock the world.

Quickly to the Phils. You gotta love Mike Schmidt writing an e-mail to the Phils saying, among other things, that the Mets "remember last year" and "they know you're better than they are." All the more so for the fact that who knew Schmidt still cared about the Phils or the city of Philadelphia? (You can read the letter here.)

Two of three from the Mets was big, though a sweep obviously would have been huge. But they're just 2 games out, with 19 games to play. Also, if you haven't yet heard, Billy Wagner is done for the year. So here's hoping that bullpen blows up all over the place. And that we can keep winning.

Wouldn't that be nice?
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Other Musings: Asinine Commercial of the Week goes to Wendy's. The guy doesn't want any of his date's salad because, he says smugly, "I'm a meat-atarian," explaining, "I only eat meat." Yet, the guy is eating a sandwich that has bread and cheese on it. So, basically, guy, you're an idiot. Note to Wendy's: Bad idea, poor execution. Note to self: Resist the urge to go get a yummy bacon cheeseburger....I hate you, Wendy's! I'm gonna go look for the beer with the best drinkability.

Monday, August 25, 2008

For Crying Out Loud

Watching the Phils-Dodgers last night, I saw something I've never seen before.

Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth, Shane Victorino got things started with a single. Eric Bruntlett laid down a beautiful sacrifice bunt to move Victorino to second. (It still amazes me how many of these professional ballplayers can't lay down a bunt to save their lives.) Werth struck out, and Andy Tracy walked in his first Major League at-bat in four years. Two on, two out, Pedro Feliz is at the plate, the difference between losing and staying alive. And what were some of the Phaithful doing in their seats at the Bank?

They were doing the wave. That's right. The wave.

Now there are those who feel that the wave is harmless fun. And I couldn't disagree more. The wave is what you do when you're not interested in the game. When you're bored. Why on earth would you pay good money to sit in a stadium where a professional ballgame is taking place and focus on the other fans? Is there something I'm missing here?

If you feel that the wave contains some kind of karmic, cosmic bond connecting everyone in that stadium, everyone's entitled to have a wrong opinion. But can we all at least agree that the bottom of the ninth in a one-run game in a pennant race at the end of August might not be the best time for a stinking wave???? Honestly, people.

It's like the bleacher bums who keep doing the E-A-G-L-E-S chant at Phillies games. Fine if the Phils are way out of it, as they were most of the 80's and 90's. But so not cool (or Taguchi for that matter) while they are very much in the thick of a tight division battle.

At a Phils-Mets game last fall with my dad, I finally had enough. I stood up, turned around to the "cheap" seats and yelled, "HEY! IT'S BASEBALL SEASON! YOUR TEAM IS RIGHT HERE!!!!" And I was applauded in my section.
So, seriously, with all due respect, cut the crap. No more Eagles chants. No more waves, certainly not in the bottom of the ninth inning. Let's focus on the task at hand, and do our part in all of this by being good phans.
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For your entertainment, a very funny and short Onion article on Jamie Moyer. (Thanks Matt.)

Other musings: Coors Light may have a vent in its cans for a smoother pour. It may have mountains that turn blue to let you know the bottle's cold like those winter gloves from the 80's (does anyone else remember them?). Heck, it may even have actual crags from the Rockies in each and every delivery truck. But that doesn't change the fact that the beer sucks.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Jimmy Cracks Wise, and We All Care

Jimmy Rollins appeared on the Best Damn Sports Show Period last week, and made some comments that have, to say the least, poked the hornet's nest of Philly sports with a big old tree branch.

"They're frontrunners. When you're doing good, they're on your side. When you're doing bad, they're completely against you." (You can watch the whole clip here as well as his follow-up comments following the Phuror.)

It's much too easy to make this a black-and-white issue, either by saying Jimmy's exactly right, or by allowing yourself to be angry and outraged. There's a whole lot going on here, and it's certainly much more gray than you think.

On the one hand, my initial reaction was more in line with the second option listed above, something to the effect of: "Frontrunners?!? Doesn't that require consistently winning teams? Didn't you read my entry from a couple of weeks ago?

You wanna hear the end of the boos, Jimmy? Why don't you remember how to hit like you did last season? Where did that guy go? Also, while you're at it, could you teach the rest of the guys something we all learned in Little League called protecting the plate with two strikes??? I may not be a ballplayer, Jimmy, but I do know one thing: it's statistically impossible to get a hit if you don't swing the bat. "

John Salley, co-host of Best Damn, was exactly right. "That's called family." Philly fans are the most loyal--spending time, money, energy, and a lot of tears following our beloved teams. When an entire lineup shuts down production, it is so natural to say, "Hey, we show up. We do our jobs as fans--loving, supporting, rooting unconditionally. Time to do your job. Time to show up." Philly fans don't leave early, they stay and let you have it, if you deserve it. Anyone remember that Monday Night Football game a couple of years ago when Seattle was up like 42-0...at halftime? People stayed. And they booed. Cause you know what? That's part of the job of the fan, to let them have it when they deserve it.

On the other hand, Jimmy's frustrated, and who can blame him? He may not have chosen his words so wisely, and he tried to clarify his meaning in his follow-up statement. But he was trying to express something else, something we all forget, all too often.

Jimmy was trying to say, "Hey, we're people too. You think you're frustrated as fans? You can't even imagine how frustrated we are in this dugout, in this locker room. And when you get on our case and boo like crazy and tell us to show up, that doesn't help. All it does is increases the negative energy, something we're trying desperately to shake. Don't kick us when we're down. Try to reach down and help pick us up."

Hey man, we're all in this together.