Friday, October 30, 2009

Showdown


"So. It is down to you. And it is down to me." --Vezzini, The Princess Bride

I had dreaded it for months. Working as I do on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I hoped the day wouldn't come. But, of course, it happened. Mariano Rivera struck out Gary Matthews, Jr., and the hypothetical became reality. A Phillies-Yankees World Series. To say that I'm in the thick of enemy territory is like saying that LeBron James knows a little something about basketball. I had to put a sign on my office door that says, "No se habla beisbol aqui" in between the teams' logos.

Yesterday was a nice day to come into work, especially after all the classless garbage seen in the Gotham tabloids this week. The Post ran a cover that screamed both amateur and immature, calling us "Phrillies" and "Phrauds." How clever. The Daily News ran a headline that said, "Silly-delphia thinks they have a chance against NY." Oooh. Silly-delphia! Crushing!

Cliff Lee put to rest forever the few lingering questions and murmurs concerning some pitcher on the Blue Jays whose name I can't remember. Chase Utley wasn't impressed by CC Sabathia's prior dominance over left-handed home run hitters. And the Yankee bullpen let a close game get out of hand, raising more red flags (double-meaning intended) for an arrogant and obnoxious fanbase.

Today? Not as good a day to come into work. Last night was frustrating. But let us first give credit where it's due, as compared with the New York news channels, who began their broadcast as if someone had died, blaming the Yankee bats rather than appreciating the masterpiece that was Cliff Lee's outing. AJ Burnett pitched beautifully. Occasionally he was helped out by certain players forgetting that it's impossible to get a hit with the bat on their shoulders. But that doesn't lessen how good Burnett was. He deserved the win. Pedro Martinez pitched well, and gave his team a real chance to win, which is all you can ask for from your starter. Though I never give up until the last pitch, I knew it was all but over when Chase grounded into the double play in the 8th. You don't get many chances like that off Rivera. So when you do, you have to cash in.

The silver lining, of course, is that we did get the split in New York. The Yankees had the best home record in baseball, and we took one in the Bronx. Now we head home for three. The word "amazing" is entirely overused in our vocabulary nowadays, but that would be precisely the appropriate adjective if we can sweep at home and repeat as champs.

I'm looking square at you, Cole Hamels. For Halloween, I'd love to see you dressed up as you from 2008. Think you've got that costume stashed away somewhere?
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Other Musings:

Does the Eagles' offense know that byes only last one week? As my friend Shwa once said in a similar win over the Redskins a couple of years ago, "Only the Eagles could win and still make you feel like crap."

A couple of logical questions for Fox and other broadcasters of sports: How can there be a "game-changing" or "game-saving" play when the game isn't over yet? How can you have several players, like the "Eagles defensive line," be the "player of the game"? It's like when John Madden used to put ten guys on his asinine horse trailer. And by the way, I can't tell you how much I don't miss that man.

Have you heard the annoying whistle for PC Richard & Son? It sounds like something you should do when your car blows a tire. It's like the Dragnet theme they play at the Wachovia Center when the opposing team gets a penalty against the Flyers. It's certainly not a positive sound. And then I noticed they play it after strikeouts thrown by Yankee pitchers. Hated that place before. Hate it more now.

Enough with "DAY-O." It doesn't mean anything, you never play the next line, and if that's what you need to keep the crowd in a ballgame, your fans are idiots.

And, so that I end on a positive note. For fun, a great article by Gene Wojciechowski on ESPN.com giving fifteen reasons why the average fan should root for the Phillies. Also, in a great article by Jayson Stark, he provides some awesome perspective: "It wasn't so long ago that this franchise had played in two World Series in its first 97 seasons of existence. And now it's about to play in its second in 12 months." As my boy Kevin texted me, "I never thought I'd live to see a team like this."

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Somehow, Some Way


I never give up hope. If I've learned one thing as a Philadelphia sports fan over the years, it's that as long as there's time left for something dramatic to happen, it can and very often will.

And I never gave up hope on Monday night. Not completely. But after the bottom of the 8th inning, when the Rockies put up three runs to take a 4-2 lead, even I, Optimist Prime, prepared myself for a Game 5 that would somehow be even more intense than Games 3 and 4. I was already in a text conversation with my friend Matt, who had tickets to Game 5 in Philly for Tuesday night:

"What we feared would happen last night happened tonight. Looks like you're going to the ballgame tomorrow night."
"I can't go. Gotta teach."
"You gonna sell it?"
"That's the plan."

But that wasn't the plan. Not for the Phightin Phils. Two strikes, two outs in the ninth, down two? No problem. Sure, I'd been sitting at the bar with my friend Tim silently praying and thinking of all of the amazing two-out rallies this team had put up in the past. But I was figuring out how soon I could get home from work Tuesday night so that my drawn-out heart attack could resume.

Then Utley walked. And then Ryan Howard rocked a game-tying double to deep left. And then, I thought, "This is awesome. Now I have to prepare for extra innings." But again, this was not part of the plan. Jayson Werth, redeeming himself for an ugly strikeout earlier in the game with runners on, drove a single to right center, and as suddenly as possible, the Phillies were winning. Un. Believable.

And so, heading into Game 1 of the NLCS rematch against the Dodgers, let me just say this: I expected the division. We should have beaten the Rockies, but that is with all due respect to them. They were a very good team, especially at home, and we needed to play our best ball to beat them. So, kudos to the Rockies. And big kudos to the Phils, the Road Warriors, rising above freezing temperatures in a place not friendly--in terms of record--to visitors.

It goes without saying that we can beat the Dodgers. But I don't expect to, not in the way I expected to repeat in the East. If the Rockies are a very good team, the Dodgers are certainly near the "great" category. And so, this series is going to be exciting, and could obviously go either way. And as such, combined with the fact that--in case you forgot--we did win it all last year, I'll be somewhat okay if we can't beat LA again. In my mind, the series hinges on the performance of one man. It's not Cliff Lee. It's not Ryan Madson. It's not even Brad Lidge. It's Cole Hamels. If Cole can be even 80 percent of what he was last year, we win.

The call here is that he does. Phillies in six.
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Other Musings:
I'd like to personally thank Miller Lite. Not for the unique brewing process in which hops are added three times. But for the fact that I had been wondering what greatness tastes like. Now I know.

Anyone notice the Olive Garden commercial with the frat guy from Road Trip? I can't find it online, but you know who I'm talking about. Every time I see it, I want to yell, "Psi! Chi! Psi! Chi Chi!"

If you haven't seen this yet, this is literally one of the most amazing things I've ever heard. They're naming it the call of the year. Might be the greatest call of all time. Check it out.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Saints and Sinners


"Was it business or personal?"
"A little bit of both."
--The Usual Suspects

When I started writing this blog, I made an unofficial promise to myself that I would uphold and maintain, to the best of my ability, a separation of church and state. In the context of this blog--as well as that of my religion--I understand that using that term is perhaps funny, perhaps inappropriate. Perhaps both. That even though there are several overlapping aspects and practices associated with both my religious and Philadelphia faiths, I made the choice for this space to focus on the latter, avoiding the ample opportunities to bridge the gap between my two worlds. (I know that I bent that rule in calling the delightful 44-6 drubbing of Dallas the Miracle of Chanukah. But come on. That was literally irresistible.)

But in the vein of the honesty and forthrightness that this time of year calls for from people of the Jewish faith, I must confess: in celebration of the traditional second day of Rosh HaShanah, I didn't see a snap of yesterday's game.

So all of my commentary on it comes from highlights, stats, and the perspectives of friends and family. Yet, as I learned that the final score of yesterday's beatdown was Saints 48, Eagles 22, I realized something not a little perverse: that missing yesterday's game, in its entirety, was God's new year's gift to me. Happy 5770 to Josh.

A lot of people shared with me that Kevin Kolb, in his first career start, was not so much to blame, and that the fault lies primarily with the defense. To these people, I pose the question: what did you expect? That Drew Brees wasn't going to find his receivers? The man threw for over 5,000 yards last year. 5,000. You had to know he'd score some points.

The truth is that this was all about expectations. Fans are less likely to point the finger at Kolb this week because everyone--absolutely including myself--came into yesterday with little to no hope of his doing well. In six games last season, he went 17 of 34, with four interceptions, and a pathetic quarterback rating of 21.8. Why Andy Reid chose this guy was, and probably still is, as inexplicable as why his name is pronounced "cobb." At least in part because the bar was so low, 391 yards was a pretty impressive number, even if he did have 51 pass attempts.

Yet the real story of the game seems to be Kolb's mistakes, crucial in both magnitude and timing. First and ten from your own 3 with 1:40 left in the first half of a game tied at 10. Knowing how potent the New Orleans offense is and that they have two timeouts, you gotta figure you have one job in that situation: get one first down. At the very least, take enough time off the clock and give your O a little more space so that, if you have to punt, you don't have to do it from your end zone. Give Brees a short field, and he'll kill you for a TD almost every time.

Added to the frustration of that costly three-and-out is the basic fact that the Saints are not exactly known for their defense, ranked 23rd in total defense last season. I did give Kolb credit for actually running a one-minute drill and getting a field goal back before the half. (Perhaps finally arriving into Andy Reid's vocabulary are the words "clock management.")

I know that the Ellis Hobbs fumble to start the second half is certainly not Kolb's fault, especially when he was carrying it like an idiot. But on the next possession--your first of the second half and immediately following a bad, quick touchdown the other way--you can't get picked so easily inside your own 25. That's twice in a row Brees is starting inside your 30. And on the next possession to go three and out again, against this defense, says you're not doing what you need to be doing, to establish a rhythm and get the momentum going back the other way. Only when Hobbs redeemed himself with a 63-yard return from the 2, and Kolb was the one with the short field, was he able to cash in, his only score of the second half.

I hope I don't sound too hard on Kolb. He's 25 and has limited experience. He may end up being whatever Andy saw that made him want him so badly. All I'm saying is that because our expectations of Kolb were as low as I think they were for most of us, it changes what we view as the things that went wrong in this loss.

While 48 points is a lot to give up, only ten of them came on lengthy scoring drives (two), where the Saints' starting field position was inside their own 35-yard-line. That means your special teams and your turnovers on offense (three of four being Kolb interceptions) are the real cause of your loss. Not your defense. Not against Drew Brees.

But it's all good. Sure, it's a bummer to lose your home opener, but McNabb should be fine (speaking of faith), the Saints are pretty good, and besides, it's the guy's first start. Obviously we all hoped for the best yesterday, but raise your hand if you really believed we were going to win.

That's what I thought.

But it's tough not to feel good about Kansas City and Tampa Bay after the bye week.

I'm just saying.
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Other Musings:

The Phils' magic number is down to six over both the Marlins and Braves. A sweep of the three-game, two-day series with Florida eliminates them. It'd be nice if we were division champs by the weekend. Good news is they still have something important to play for. Obviously the best record in the NL would be ideal. But even if we can't catch the Dodgers, getting the 2-seed would be huge, both for home field advantage in the first round, as well as the elimination of either Los Angeles or St. Louis, should we make it that far. 3-seed would likely mean having to play both.

It seems that the art of the original slogan has all but died. "It's either Bridgestone, or nothing." I don't know if what's on my car is a Bridgestone. But if it isn't, I have a feeling it's still a tire, and it's probably better than just a hubcap.

Anyone see the Wendy's commercial clearly poking fun at Friday's, et al.? I have news for you: Friday's got rid of flair and that entire uniform eight years ago. I know. I worked there.

Pet peeve I've long intended to bring up: the playing of Harry Belafonte's "Day-O" at baseball games. Don't misunderstand, it's a great song, not to mention triggering recollections of that unforgettable scene in Beetlejuice. But they always play just the first one. They play it, everyone repeats, then a pause so that it's not even keeping a rhythm, followed by a repetition. Whose idea was this anyway? Either play the song, or put it away.

Everytime I think Chris Berman can't get any more obnoxious and ridiculous, I'm always proven wrong. You'd think I might have learned by now.

I'm really happy for Guinness celebrating its 250th anniversary. That's definitely cool, and I don't even mind this new sponsorship of my favorite show, Around the Horn. But the next person who yells out, "To Arthur!" is going to get punched in the face. I'm just saying.

Friday, June 26, 2009

An Open Letter

June 26, 2009

Dear Philadelphia Phillies,

I know it's been a while since we last spoke, and for that I apologize. Yes, I've been busy with work and everything, but aren't we all? That's not much of an excuse. Though I haven't always been able to watch you over these last few weeks, I'd still say I've been following you pretty closely. My 15-second refresh button on my phone is how I survive eating dinner in the same room where my wife is watching The Bachelorette.

When I think about why I haven't written a word about you in several months, it's probably a combination of a) the fact that I was still basking in the warm glow of the days (and official merchandise available) since October 29, 2008, and b) the faith I was clinging to that the early season roller-coaster ride would smooth out, that the sheer talent of this team would raise them above the NL East, not to mention the resolve and experience of having just won. I still hoped that winning it all would relieve some of the pressure, that a small dose of relaxed confidence would tremendously benefit this team over the course of the season.

I wanted to write a quarter-season review, give you guys a report card of sorts, after you took two of three in the Bronx against the Yankees on Memorial Day weekend. The strange thing about that series was that you should've swept them, and yet you almost lost the series. No disrespect whatsoever to Brad, whose perfect season is perhaps the greatest in the history of closing, and without whom we all know we'd never have won the whole thing. But Brad has been almost as bad this season as he was good last.

To say that this is all on Brad is not only unfair, it's wholly inaccurate. Madson has yet to prove himself the next dominant closer we all thought he would be in Brad's absence. The bullpen as a unit has slipped, failing to keep the team in tight games in late innings. The hitting with runners in scoring position and number of men left on base are statistics that have been far from in our favor as of late. I know I'm not telling you someting you don't already know, but since taking a terrific two of three at Citi Field in Flushing, you've now dropped ten of twelve games, including six in a row at home to Toronto and Baltimore.

My friends know me as something close to an eternal optimist, always the positive, karmic Philadelphia sports fan. They look to me to be the one raising people's frustrated spirits with a reminder to always keep the faith. And you should know, if you don't hear it enough from me, that I continue to, and will always, have and keep my faith in the Philadelphia Phillies.

But it has been more of a challenge to maintain that role, confidently asserting to friends that you will be there in the end. Please don't misunderstand. I don't expect to win the World Series again this year. I have no doubts that you are talented enough to be right back in that winner's circle. But to expect it is unfair, both to you and to us, only setting everyone up for disappointment.

I am disappointed, however, in the missed opportunities of late. Especially while the Mets are momentarily riddled with injuries and question marks. Even playing slightly-better-than-.500 ball would've made a little space between you and the rest of the division heading into the summer. I feel very fortunate, as I'm guessing you do too, that, at least until tonight, you're somehow still in first place. Meaning that, as bad as it's been, the division's still yours to lose. Most people, including our neighbors in Queens, would have to agree with that.

So, gentlemen: the weekend in Toronto offers fresh opportunity. It is a chance to close out strong what has proven to be a tumultuous month, to get this train back on the tracks. I know you can do it. Show me. Show us. Tonight.

Always yours,
Joshua H. Strom

Monday, April 27, 2009

Going Out With a Whimper


"So close, yet so far away." --Hall & Oates

"Today I sing tomorrow's song." --Phish

The world was a beautiful place.

Danny Briere's power play goal had given the Flyers a 3-0 lead at home over rival Pittsburgh four minutes into the second period. Fifteen seconds later, toughguy Daniel Carcillo beat the living snot out of Maxime Talbot, exiting the ice with an energetic salute to the riled-up faithful at Wachovia Center. All the momentum was swinging our way. Visions of a miraculous series comeback--or at least a Game 7--danced in our heads. All was right with the world.

I was jumping up and down with excitement. I was about to turn to my friends and say that the last Flyers player who won fights and then saluted the crowd like that was Dave Brown.

I didn't have the chance.

Talbot skated off the ice and put a finger up to his pursed lips, as if to say "shh" to the Philly crowd. He must have known something we didn't. Because fourteen seconds later, former Flyer Ruslan Fedotenko poked home a loose rebound, and the momentum vanished. And Briere's goal, enormous for not a whole minute, would be the last of the season.

Sure, there were a couple of saves that should've been made, like on Sid the Punk's game-tying soul-crusher at the end of the period. (Marty, you gotta snag that out of the air.) Sure, Jeff Carter's sudden inability to score didn't help. And sure, the officiating was absolutely offensive in its rampant inconsistency and blatant favoritism towards Pittsburgh's dynamic duo.

But this loss isn't on the refs. And it isn't on Marty. It's on everyone.

Saturday afternoon didn't hurt so much because we lost. Once we went down 3-1 in the series, I had resigned myself to the fact that it was over. Not that I gave up hope for a comeback, mind you. But I was prepared that the season would end. Between that and the manner in which this team finished the regular season (especially the home loss to the Rangers on the last day that kissed home-ice away), even I, the eternal optimist, had significantly lowered my expectations. And I wasn't wrong.

No, Saturday's loss hurt because for 52 of the 60 minutes of game time, the Flyers didn't show up. It was all reaction, not action, like the entire game was a glorified penalty kill. Once the Pens tied the game, we could feel the end was near. The problem was, the players did too. There was no urgency, no desperation, no fight til the final horn sounded. There was nothing. And since you get out of something exactly what you put into it, here we are.

In a seven-game series, the better team wins. Plain and simple. Many complain about the length of the hockey postseason, and they're entitled to have their own ignorant, wrongheaded opinion. The Penguins were the better team and, along with Boston, are the favorites to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Finals. So, I'm okay with losing to a better team. I just wanted to see some fight, some pride, just something. Anything. And I got nothing.

I still really like this Flyers team. As said multiple times throughout the season, the pieces are in place, both at the pro and minor-league levels, to be in contention for a while. Carter, Richards, Briere, Gagne. And you have to love the breakout of Claude Giroux. There's nothing that he doesn't do, and he's 20. Just wait til our #1 pick and Jersey native James van Riemsdyk hits the ice. Last season we overachieved, this season we underachieved. Get me a shutdown, physical defenseman like what Derian Hatcher used to be, and maybe an upgrade at goalie, and we're a Cup contender.

Be sure to tune in next year, friends. Same Flyer-time, same Flyer-channel. But hopefully, a different result.
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Other Musings:
In the meantime, an almost completely opposite dynamic was in play in Florida this weekend. Down 3-0 to the Marlins in the ninth, all was wrong with the world, no Phillie could hit, and I was wondering if we'd been spotting teams 3- and 4-run leads before the game even started. By the middle of the ninth, it was 7-3 Phils. By the end of the weekend, the Marlins were swept.

I've actually been watching the Sixers. They came all the way back last night to tie it at 81, and then Hedo Turkoglu drained a 3 with 1.1 left on the clock, and home-court advantage went back to Orlando. Sad.

In other news, the Eagles are still actually operating. The draft brought us a great wide receiver in Jeremy Maclin from Missouri, and running back LeSean McCoy from Pittsburgh. I'm happy with what I know of both of these players, and I like the acquisition of cornerback Ellis Hobbs from the Patriots. But I'm especially excited by the fact that we now have a DeSean and a LeSean. How many teams can say that?

I saw a guy at the gym the other day wearing a Yankees world championship t-shirt. This is the essence of what I hate about Yankees fans, because there's no better representation of how they feel about winning it all. It's to be expected, an entitlement. So much so that you wear the shirt to work out in. I haven't even taken mine out of the package, let alone worn it.

I like how the commercials for the new Mets stadium call it a "world-class home of baseball." They just wanted to use the word "world" and couldn't follow it up with "champions."

I really like the commercial for the Kia Soul with the hamsters. A great social commentary, but what really makes it is the little nod the passenger gives out the window.

Lastly, I almost bought a case of Bud Light when I saw this in Philly a few weeks ago.

Monday, April 20, 2009

A Banner Day




"You once wrote,
'There comes a time when all the cosmic tumblers have clicked into place,
and the universe opens itself up for a few seconds
to show you what's possible.'"
--Ray Kinsella, Field of Dreams

You can call it coincidence. And I know most of you will. But I happen not to believe in coincidence.

On Saturday afternoon, Philadelphia said a tearful final goodbye to Harry Kalas, legendary voice of the Phillies for nearly four decades.

On Sunday, something magical happened. Or rather, somethings magical happened.

The Phils were down 4-0, in danger of losing their third in a row at home to the lowly Padres. Then Chase Utley hit a two-run shot in the sixth to make it 4-2. Then Jimmy Rollins came off the bench, with five hits in his first 40 at-bats this season, and smacked a pinch-hit homer, and suddenly it was 4-3. Ryan Howard came up in the ninth and hit a single only he could hit. Because the outfielders had to play him so far back, he blooped one into shallow center, and the tying run was aboard for Raul Ibanez. Up 2-0 in the count on pitcher Edwin Moreno, Ibanez crushed a changeup towards rightfield. If it stayed fair, it was certainly gone. And it was fair. Ballgame.

I know I wasn't the only one saddened by the fact that we wouldn't get to hear Harry call it out. But I was comforted, if only a little, that somewhere in heaven was heard, "Swing and a long drive to deep leftfield...is it fair?...is it fair?...it's OUTTA HERE!"

At the same moment, the Flyers, down 2-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins in their opening round series, stormed to a 2-0 advantage on goals by Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. But with 13 seconds left in the first, Evgeni Malkin, Public Enemy #2 in Philadelphia (guess who's #1) beat Marty Biron to cut the lead in half. Then 13 ticks into the second period, Rob Scuderi scored, and just like that, a great period of hockey was undone in less than half a minute.

But that's when the French Connection took over. Danny Briere collected the rebound of a Darroll Powe shot, dished it beautifully to a wide-open Claude Giroux, who slammed it into an empty net. Just a few minutes later, when the horrible officiating crew called Mike Richards for a hold no one saw, the Pens went back to the power play. Giroux carried the puck deep into the Pittsburgh zone by himself. As we applauded his efforts in taking time off of the penalty, he spun away from defender Kris Letang, zoomed behind the net and found Simon Gagne all alone in front for the shorthanded goal. Jared Ross, called up from the Phantoms last Monday, scored his first ever NHL goal to make it 5-2. And Gagne's nifty empty-netter salted it away at 6-3. Now it's a series.

By the way, Claude Giroux is the real deal. Not enough space to elaborate quite yet, but Giroux, just 20, accomplished what I think they used to call a "Gordie Howe hat trick." A goal, an assist, and a fight. He may not have gotten the actual five-minute major for fighting. But it was a fight. I'm counting it.

And then there were the Sixers. Having finished the season losing six of seven for a .500 record of 41-41, no one gave this team a chance against the 3rd-seeded Orlando Magic. And it certainly looked like everyone was right, as the Magic built an 18-point lead in the third quarter and began the fourth up 14. Orlando went ice-cold, and Donyell Marshall, the pride of UConn, helped the Sixers crawl back and somehow tie this game up at 91. An earth-shaking dunk by Dwight Howard put the Magic up 98-95 with 49 seconds to play. Marshall drilled a three to tie it, finishing with 11 points just in the fourth. And with 2.2 seconds remaining, Andre Iguodala, in the face of great pressure by Hedo Turkoglu, floated a 22-foot jumper to steal Game 1 on the road, 100-98.

The magic, it seems, was all for Philadelphia yesterday.
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Other Musings:
I was reading something in ESPN magazine about a hockey player who had spent time in the minors with the Greenville Grrrowl. Yep. No typos there, you read it right. Grrrowl. With three rrr's. Most ridiculous team name ever. (If you look at the logo, you can see that they do the same thing with Grrreenville. I feel like an idiot just typing that.)

I don't know about you, but I love the name Hasheem Thabeet. Everytime someone says it, I get that Go-Gos song in my head. Come the draft, some team is going to be singing, "We got Thabeet, we got Thabeet..."

Just wanted to point out the trashiness that seems to happening at every sporting event recently. You know what they'd all say if it happened in Philly. But of course, when it's somewhere else, there's usually some comment about "a few bad apples," yadda yadda yadda.

Exhibit A: During the Cavaliers-Pistons Game 1, fans were chanting, "Detroit sucks." Note to Cavs fans: You live in Cleveland.

Exhibit B: At Rangers-Capitals Game 2, fans were chanting, "Yankees suck." They were calling out one of the baseball teams of the rival city during a playoff hockey game. Caps fans just took a huge hit in my book. (Not that they care.)

But then again, we are still Philly fans.

Exhibit 1: During yesterday's Flyers game, a skirmish along the boards allowed for a closeup of the players. You could see a fan in the front row flipping the bird--two, actually--at Evgeni Malkin, yelling something I'm sure Malkin couldn't hear, let alone understand. God bless the slow-motion on the DVR. That was classic.

Exhibit 2: When the Chicken Dance was played over the PA, Flyers fans filled in the part usually reserved for claps with, "Hey ref, you suck!" I actually thought that one was pretty clever. The organist couldn't have been ready for that.

Lastly, anyone else think Eduardo Perez on Baseball Tonight looks like a thinner, better-looking, Latin version of Luca Brasi from the Godfather? I'm just waiting for him to say, "The Reds need him to pitch well today...on the day of your daughter's wedding."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

A Tribute to Harry


"He had high hopes,
he had high hopes,
he had high apple-pie-in-the-sky hopes."

"The oh-two pitch - swing and a miss! Struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 world champions of baseball!"


"We lost our voice today." --Phillies president David Montgomery

"The Phillies will do their best to honor him, but there is no statue that can be erected more impressive or lasting than the indelible body of Kalas' work. He was a comfort in time of need - and Phils' fans know all about that - and a friend in the darkness of a drive through the night. He was the narrator of a city's soundtrack, the background conversation at countless events in millions of lives.

The birds stopped singing in Rittenhouse Square yesterday. The tugboats on the Delaware couldn't sound their horns. When the carriage horses took their customers past Independence Hall, there was no clop-clopping on the cobblestones. The factory whistle wouldn't let anyone leave work. Kids burst from their school rooms and didn't utter a peep.

Philadelphia went quiet yesterday afternoon. Harry Kalas died at the ballpark, and the city lost its voice." --Bob Ford, Philadelphia Inquirer

"His voice will resonate in my mind the rest of my life. I will never be called 'Michael Jack' again without seeing his smile." --Mike Schmidt, Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman

"Harry Kalas was baseball. And he was Philadelphia. He was as much part of the city as William Penn’s hat. As much part of the city as the green of the Walt Whitman Bridge. We would hear him on NFL Films and think “he’s our guy.” We would hear others speak about the golden voice and think “he’s our guy.” Our pride for Harry was greater than maybe our pride for the Phillies themselves." --Tim Malcolm, philliesnation.com

"When he first came to town in 1971, he was Harry Kalas, the Phillies' new broadcaster. And then, before anyone knew it or realized it, he was just Harry - no last name or formal title necessary. Loved ones don't need those. That's what happens when you invite a person into your home year after year after year. He becomes part of your family, even if you've never met him face-to-face." --John Gonzalez, Philadelphia Inquirer

"Close your eyes, and it's a muggy summer evening and you've just tuned in to the Fightin's, and on the TV in your den and on the radio in your car, all you need hear is The Voice, and from the sound of it, without knowing the score, you can tell instantly whether they're winning or losing." --Bill Lyon, Philadelphia Inquirer

"So enjoyable were Kalas' voice and demeanor that purist fans were known to shun games on TV in favor of listening to his play-by-play on radio. A warm night, a cold beer on the porch, and Harry Kalas describing succinctly all you needed to know, and not one word more. Summertime didn't get any better than that." --editorial from philly.com

"I feel incredibly fortunate that I was in that position and that he was the guy that called it. That will obviously be something I'll never forget. Now it's going to be even more important to me, because every time I hear it, I'm going to think about Harry. It's going to have a lot more meaning than it's ever had before . . . To me, that will always be perfection, listening to him call that." --Brad Lidge

"He is the Phillies. He is the voice." --Ryan Howard

"Summer won't seem the same." --Sister Florence Kobierowski (from Kristen Graham, Philadelphia Inquirer)

(from Harry's acceptance speech as the 2002 Ford C. Frick winner at the Baseball Hall of Fame)

"This is to the Philadelphia Fan

To Laud your passion as best I can

Your loyalty is unsurpassed

Be the Fightins in first or last

We come to the park each day

Looking forward to another fray

Because we know you'll be there

We know you really care

You give the opposing pitcher fits

Because as one loyalist shouts, "Everybody hits"

To be sure in Philly, there might be some boos

Because you passionate fans, like the manager, hate to lose

Your reaction to the action on the field that you impart

Spurs us as broadcasters to call the game with enthusiasm and heart

We feel your passion through and through

Philadelphia fans, I love you."


We love you too, Harry. Rest in peace.


Click here for a video tribute to Harry.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Down...and Out?


"I'm ringin' all the warning bells,
careful you don't hurt yourself."
--Guster

"Your love is like a roller coaster, baby, baby."

--Ohio Players

Just over a week ago, I wrote about the Flyers finally seeming to come around. I described an argument with my friend Matt over the effects of falling just short in Detroit, and how I was "righter" than he was. I spoke of breaking out of the Jekyll-Hyde routine that had emerged in the prior weeks, how the Flyers were finally gelling and hitting their stride. My whole gist was how impeccable the timing was.

It seems I spoke too soon.

Mr. Hyde has returned. Matt is looking wiser for lamenting the loss of crucial points against the Red Wings. And the Flyers' sense of timing, simply put, sucks.

The day after I last wrote, we lost at home to the Panthers, to backup goalie we couldn't solve. Saturday we stormed back to a shootout win against...the Islanders. That's right, the worst team in the league. A home loss to Boston was another missed opportunity, but at least they're good. But last night's loss to the miserable Maple Leafs? In the stretch-run to solidify your playoff spot? That's just shameful. And suddenly, the nine-point, three-game cushion has deflated to just five points over ninth-place Florida. Suddenly, the offense that scared everyone is scaring no one. Suddenly, we're a losing streak away from missing the playoffs entirely.

I don't understand it. But the time to right the ship is running out. And these are the moments where the coach and the veterans need to step up, fire up the boys, and inject a sense of urgency. Coach Stevens, Mike Knuble, Danny Briere, I'm looking at you.

It's time to step it up.
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Other Musings:

Don't look now, but the Sixers are playing good ball, and could make some noise in the East. They entered 2009 at 13-18, and are now 38-35. Recent wins include a shocker over the mighty Lakers in LA, and wins against Miami, Portland, and Atlanta. Just think of what might be possible when Elton Brand comes back healthy next year.

What's really fun to say is that the Phillies begin their World Series title defense this Sunday at home against the Braves. Sure, we all know that I'm the eternal optimist, but why can't this team repeat? Perhaps with the monkey off their backs, they may be more relaxed and thus more consistent than they were last year. And if I'm other NL teams (ahem, the Mets), that's a scary thought.

The Eagles must have signed somebody important by this point, right? Right?

Anyone else think that the Mastercard priceless commercials were old ABOUT TEN YEARS AGO?

I don't know exactly why, but I really like the family in the rollover minutes commercials for AT&T. I find myself at random occasions throughout my week just saying, "Antiques? They're rollover minutes!" I like when she says, "Beat it, kid." Mom wins in this one. But my favorite one is still this one. Mom doesn't fare so well here.

And lastly, just a brief reminder that the Phillies begin their World Series title defense on Monday night.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Up the Ladder


"You need good timin'.
It takes good timin'.
--the Beach Boys

Just ten short days ago, the Philadelphia Flyers were, well, meh. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, it is exactly as it sounds. Meh. Just say it out loud. You'll understand. The Inquirer's Sam Carchidi explained their slightly deceptive record, how going into last Tuesday's battle in Detroit, the Black and Orange had won just 15 of 37 games against the teams that held playoff positions. (Thanks, Matt.) There was definitely a Jekyll-Hyde thing going on, occasionally brilliant, sometimes awful, where it seemed the team didn't know what it was. Not to mention that the last time the Flyers won in Detroit was in 1988. No exaggeration. 1988. I was in third grade.

I checked the score on my walk home from work and almost ran into someone. We're up 2-0 in the second? Sweet. Thought it would be over by now.

For those who don't follow hockey too closely, you need to understand just how good the Red Wings are. You may recall the late 90's teams that used to win the Stanley Cup every year because they had money and spent it wisely. You may remember the 2002 squad with approximately 300 future Hall of Famers. This team might just be better, and probably for a lot longer. The salary cap has changed nothing, at least not in the Motor City, where the Wings continue to always be among the top two or three teams in the NHL.

And so, when the Flyers blew the 2-0 lead and end up falling 3-2 at Joe Louis Arena, the text argument with Matt began. Matt was angry because we squandered a terrific opportunity to knock off the mighty Red Wings on their own home ice. I wrote something to the effect of, "It's a bummer, but I'm kinda proud of them." Sure, there's no spot in the standings for "moral victories," but I, the Eternal Optimist, was hopeful. This could be the spark, I thought, the clarifying moment where this team becomes aware of its potential.

And Matt was right. I should've been more upset at blowing 2-0. But--at least for the meantime--I'm righter.

Though it's only been three games since the game in Detroit, this is starting to look like a different team. Other than the overall Captain Obvious statistic of the team's health, the most specific reason is the return of one Daniel Briere. I think it was Phil Sheridan of the Inquirer who wrote during baseball season how great it would be if Brett Myers was like the "mid-season acquisition" that wasn't really acquired. That's what I was hoping Danny B would be to this Flyers team.

Two goals in a crazy (and I do mean crazy) 6-4 win in Buffalo, an assist in the crucial 3-1 grinder in Pittsburgh, and a goal and an assist in the homecoming 4-2 triumph over the hated New Jersey Devils later, the return of Briere has added some needed kerosene to the Flyers' fire. The result? The Flyers have finally begun to inflate a small cushion in the race for the playoffs. Going into tonight's action, Philly was holding steady at fourth in the East, three points ahead of and three games in hand on Carolina. But more importantly, we're nine points ahead of the Panthers at ninth, putting us a good bit ahead of the cutoff. Especially having gone up the ladder by beating Buffalo, Pittsburgh, and Jersey right in a row. Only three of the Flyers' final ten opponents currently hold playoff spots.

The East is wide open. And this Flyers team is coming together at just the right time.

As my father used to say, "Timing..............................................is everything."
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Other Musings:

"Did you hear who the Eagles picked up?" "Who?" "No One." "Really? What team did he play for?"

On St. Patrick's Day, Martin Brodeur broke Patrick Roy's all-time wins record at 552. Two days later, a New Jersey court ruled that he must pay his ex-wife alimony of a half-million dollars per year until 2020. Sometimes the justice system does get it right.

Speaking of Martins, why is it that the Lightning's Martin St. Louis goes English in the pronunciation of "Saint," yet French in that of "Louis," (loo-EE)? Dude, make up your mind.

There are so many terrible broadcasters on television and radio. I can't stand the Yankees announcer whose only home run line is, "See ya!" "See ya"?!? That's it? Then, to restore my faith in humanity, along comes Florida Panthers announcer, Randy Moller. Seriously, you have to see this. The other night, I heard him scream, "Do you know the muffin man?" (Thanks, Mac.)

And, just for good measure, Jimmy Rollins once again.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Addition by...Inertia?


"It's been a long time since I hit you with freestyle,
High-tech selections from the rhymes of the Strom files."

(with apologies to Ice-T)


Everyone knew that Philadelphia was going to be a buyer in the craziness surrounding the yearly trade deadline. Everyone was fully aware that the Flyers were hot after stud defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. And as the talented Florida Panther was seen in attendance at a couple of Flyers' games during the stretch run before last Wednesday's deadline, everyone believed the trade to be a done deal, it was just a matter of how.

And everyone was wrong. Because the Flyers got no one.

Well, almost no one. Scottie Upshall was sent to Phoenix for a second-round draft pick and left-winger Daniel Carcillo, the league-leader in penalty minutes. (Have you seen this guy? He looks like a killer.) The only other deal brought defenseman Kyle McLaren from San Jose for a sixth-round pick...until a failed physical nullified the deal.

Carcillo, much to his credit, has actually looked like a hockey player, rather than a fighter on skates. He's also already been in a couple of scraps. So, you gotta love him. And who knows? Maybe this is the Matt Stairs pickup, the under-the-radar pickup who makes one huge play that changes history. I doubt it, but who knows.

So, in the eyes of most hockey analysts, the Flyers were BIG losers at the trade deadline. And maybe they're right.

But maybe they're not.

At the end of the day, the Flyers would have had to give up entirely too much to lure Bouwmeester away from Florida. The Panthers are playing good hockey, for the moment holding the 7th-seed in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. (Though the question must be asked: if a hockey team plays well in Miami, does it make a sound?) And even with Bouwmeester's expiring contract, Florida was now willing to give up its best chance at making the playoffs in a long time. Which meant that the offer would have to have been pretty sweet. Names being tossed around were Braydon Coburn, Matt Carle, and Joffrey Lupul. Coburn is already pretty darn good, and getting better every night. (By the way, everyone in the hockey world continues to talk about the sending of Alexei Zhitnik to Atlanta for Coburn as the steal of the last few years.) Carle continues to impress, and Lupul scored his 19th and 20th goals of the season Saturday against Nashville. So now the Flyers have six 20-goal scorers. Know who else does? That's right. No one.

GM Paul Holmgren looked at his team and decided he likes it just the way it is. He didn't want to mortgage part of the future of this squad to get a rental. As I've said many times before, a) I trust Holmgren, and 2) I really like this team. I don't know if they're quite good enough to win it all this year; I still think they're missing a stand-up shutdown defender. But the East is wide open, and all the more so as Boston has been playing terrible hockey. And as we know, all you've gotta do is make the tournament.

But that's where the nerves come in. We've got a couple of games in hand over almost everyone in the conference, including three over the Capitals, just ahead of us in the 3-spot. If we hold serve, we'll make the playoffs. If we get hot and can overtake the Devils, we can take 3rd or even 2nd seed. But if we go cold, we may not make it at all. That's how tight it is.

But I like what I see.
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Other Musings: Someone needs to explain to me what the Eagles plan to do with 700 draft picks and some $30 million. I'm hoping there's a master plan that somehow brings Anquan Boldin to us. But that would make sense. And we all know how Andy Reid works...

The phrase "mano y mano" should be permanently stricken from our lexicon. It does not mean "man to man." It never has. It never will. It means "hand and hand." Let it go.

ESPN's Mount Rushmore of sports was light years dumber than having a tournament to determine Who's Now. And that was dumb. (Remember when Sportscenter was about real news and highlights instead of But at least I got to hear Rick Reilly use the word "ridonculous."

True story: My good friend Jonah, an employee of ESPN, took me to the ESPN campus. I got to meet Linda Cohn, the Schwab (sp?) and some others. But the biggest thrill was when Jonah and I were walking down a hall, and he says, "Hello Mr. Allen." He turns to me and says, "That's Eric Allen." The words "starstruck" and "speechless" don't even begin to describe. I pulled it together and we had an awesome conversation about watching that incredible '91 Eagles D. He told us that Buddy Ryan was a little crazy, but a good coach. Jonah asked him about Rich Kotite, and Eric Allen was like, "Kotite...not so much." Classic.

Lastly, my new favorite commercial is funny in its own right, and all the cooler cause it's one of our boys. If you haven't seen the Jimmy Rollins commercial for Dick's, it's fantastic. The last one is the best.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Flyer Nation


If you're like me--and I know I am--you hate that every team now has a "nation." Red Sox Nation, for example, is based on the idea that there are Red Sox fans all over the country, and that's what makes them great. But long before Red Sox Nation and the predictable, adolescent response of "Yankee Planet," and without the fabricated marketing tool of labeling it as such, there really was, and still is, a Flyer Nation.

If you've ever watched Flyers games in places that don't deserve NHL teams, then you know what I'm talking about. At last week's game at Tampa Bay and Sunday's 3-2 win over Atlanta, at least half of the people in the seats were wearing Flyers jerseys. The slight roar of the crowd after each Philly goal was delightfully confusing, as you knew it sure wasn't a home game, but almost forgot it was a road game. In the games in real NHL cities (Boston, New York, Toronto, and of course on Broad Street), when the visiting team scores, the reaction, or lack thereof, is so muted, you almost think it didn't really happen or it's not going to count.

But somehow, there really are Flyers fans everywhere. Carolina, Los Angeles, Anaheim, Phoenix, Florida, Nashville, Tampa, and Atlanta. You watch and you just get the feeling that the Flyers coming to town is a big thing for these franchises, cause the attendance shoots up.

At any rate, Flyer Nation got another treat Sunday at Philips Arena, continuing their dominance over the Atlanta Thrashers and their hideous third jerseys. It was their 14th consecutive victory over Atlanta, bringing Antero Niittymaki's all-time record vs. the Thrashers to 13-0. The Flyers' all-time record against Atlanta is an astounding 29-3-1. How on earth does that happen?

The win capped a four-point weekend on the road, after Saturday afternoon's 4-3 win over the Boston Bruins in overtime. This game was a very big deal for a number of reasons.

For one, the Bruins are AWESOME. I don't know exactly why, or where they came from, or who saw them coming. But they are the real deal. We put up a good fight Wednesday night at home, but fell 3-1 in the end. Saturday's game saw us come out with good energy, but Martin Biron was just awful. The first B's goal came inside of four minutes on a weak wraparound shot that somehow trickled under Biron's pads and in. The second goal wasn't so much his fault, but he had a chance to sweep it out of the way and reacted too slowly. But the third goal came literally eight seconds later, so that four minutes after Simon Gagne's goal tied it up at 1-1, it was 3-1 Boston.

But Coach Stevens pulled Biron at the intermission and went back to Niitty, who made some big saves and kept the Bruins off the scoreboard. Arron Asham forced a turnover deep behind the Boston cage, dished quickly to Glen Metropolit whose wrister made it 3-2. And then, Scott Hartnell (the new John Leclair?) got a lucky bounce and enough of the puck to tie it up at 3. In the overtime, Randy Jones, persona non grata in Boston after he ended Patrice Bergeron's season last year, floated a shot from the blue-line that went off the knee of Bruins' defenseman Andrew Ference and in for a 4-3 win. Over the best team in hockey. In their own backyard. Without some of our best players.

The best stat is that in the Claude Julien era as coach of the Bruins, the team is 57-1-4 when having a 2-goal lead at some point in a game. Meaning, only once in 62 games has Boston blown a two-goal lead in a game not resolved by a shootout. Make that twice.

The weekend wins put the Fly-guys into the fourth-seed in the conference, with the fewest games played of any of the current playoff teams. It's pretty unlikely we'll catch Boston for the top seed. But we're certainly making a run at #2.....
--------------------------------------------
Other Musings: The Flyers are one of just three teams in the whole league to be in the top 10 in both power play and penalty kill percentage. (San Jose and Buffalo are the other two...yes, they still have a team in Buffalo.)

Wanna see an absolute heavyweight bout? Check out Riley Cote versus Eric Boulton from Sunday's game. Cote looks good at the start, then fades. But this one is a classic.

A comment in response to the A-Roid fiasco. I love how all the "Yankee Faithful" are calling for his head, urging the team to buy him out and kick him to the curb. I have a lot of issues with a confession and apology that were half-hearted at best, but he still came further than Roger Clemens and Jason Giambi. And no one said boo then. Just in case you needed another reason to hate New York sports fans, now you can add hypocrisy. If they buy, ahem, win the World Series this year, we'll see what the "Faithful" say then.

Kudos to the NBA, for offering an array of awesome games between good teams with plenty of starpower in the week following the Super Bowl. LeBron and Kobe each at the Garden, then facing each other. I actually spent some time at the bar on Sunday watching a regular-season basketball game. Imagine that.

The Bud Light ad I saw for the first time the other day begins with the phrase, "Summer may be over, but don't close up the deck, or put away the grill." "Summer may be over"?!?!??? IT'S FEBRUARY. You're still airing this after Groundhog Day?? Honestly. Oh, and by the way, if you have to ad lime to a beer, then the beer sucks. Period.

Anyone see the Dunkin' Donuts ad where the women goes up on the roof to announce that their coffee is the best she's ever had? And she's talking to other people doing the same thing? And one of the women says it's her sixth cup of so far? So, let me get this straight. It's early morning, you've got six cups of coffee in you...and you head to the roof? Somebody hates their job. I don't think that's an ad for coffee. I think that's a cry for help.

Yesterday's Around the Horn with Lil Wayne was awesome. In his face time at the end of the show, he talked of how there's one guy he's always been afraid of, and that's the original LT, Lawrence Taylor. But now that he's agreed to be on Dancing With the Stars, Lil Wayne proclaimed he is officially no longer afraid. Then he said LT should now stand for "Lil Twinkletoes." Fantastic.

In Sunday's game in Atlanta, following the announcement that the Thrashers were headed to the power play, the song "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" came over the PA. I know they're the second-worst team in hockey, but that just doesn't seem very fair.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Checking In


So I DVR'd last Friday night's Flyers game, a 6-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. I have to be honest, I record the games and then I check the score to see if I really want to watch them. So you can imagine how quickly I deleted Saturday's game at St. Louis, which found the Fly-guys on the wrong end of a 4-0 beatdown. That said, I figured 6-1 over the "Bolts" (more on this later) would be an all-around enjoyable viewing experience. I would argue that the game was closer than the final score indicates, and I ended up learning a ton about this team.

First, the good news:

1) I reiterate yet again that I like this team. They are scrappy, fiery, very balanced in scoring throughout the lineup, with six players who will score at least 20 goals by season's end. Not to mention young. Only six guys on the roster are over 30, two of them--goalie Marty Biron and stud center Danny Briere--being just 31; another of them being 36-year-old Derian Hatcher, who I had honestly no idea was still on the squad until I looked it up. With all of the injuries this team has faced, it's a tremendous tribute to GM Paul Holmgren and the scouting system that the revolving door to and from the minors continues to churn out solid contributors. And a friendly littler reminder that Jeff Carter, second only to the ridiculous Alex Ovechkin in goals scored with 32, and Mike Richards, in the league's top 20 with 50 points, are 24 and 23, respectively. The core of this team is in place for, hopefully, many years to come.

2) Antero Niittymaki is a pretty great goaltender. Against Tampa Bay Friday night, the MVP of the 2006 Winter Olympics made 41 saves and even had an assist on Scott Hartnell's goal to make it 5-1 in the third. He is 21-11-4 on the season, with a 2.59 GAA and a .917 save percentage. He's 10-3-2 in his last 15 starts. And he was pretty much the reason that the Lightning didn't make it a closer game on the scoreboard, because there were plenty of moments where it could have gone entirely in the other direction. Niitty made saves on four one-on-none breakaways, plus a stop on sniper Martin St. Louis' penalty shot in the third that would have brought the score to 3-2.

3) Big fan of defensemen Randy Jones and Braydon Coburn. These guys are so Philadelphia, such blue-collar, rough-and-tumble grinders unafraid to do the dirty work that doesn't show up in the box scores. Winning the battles in the corner, making smart outlet passes, keeping the puck in the zone. Jones was a stud in Tampa, even flashing a nifty wrister that gave us the lead for good. And Coburn had a brief but impressive bout with toughguy Ryan Malone, who took a couple of Braydon's fists right to the face.

4) I like John Stevens as head coach. He is cool as a cucumber, won the Calder Cup with Richards and Carter for the Phantoms in '04-'05, and seems to have earned the respect of his players with last year's surprising run to the Conference Finals.

What concerns me about this team comes down to two main points:

First is that I saw a ton of defensive breakdowns that led to really good scoring chances for the Lightning. While we seem to be doing well in the kind of defenseman that moves the puck well and helps create scoring chances, there's still a need for a big, bruising shutdown defender. Florida Panthers blue-liner Jay Bouwmeester seems to be of interest to Holmgren, and would certainly be a great fit, but the Flyers are one of about a dozen teams vying for his services.

The second problem is that this team takes an egregious amount of penalties. Going into tonight's game, Philly leads the league with 938 penalty minutes, not to mention a few games in hand over any of the closest competitors. The problems may be connected, as the speedier, less physical defensemen are forced to resort to clutching and grabbing and hooking once the wingers get a step on them. Tampa had nine power plays on Friday night, including a 5-on-3 for almost an entire two minutes. Thankfully, the penalty kill, second in the league only to Detroit, was able to survive eight of the nine without a goal. But the Lightning are not that good a team, and I don't care how many shorthanded goals you've scored, if you're always down a man in the playoffs, you're in trouble.

Tonight's tilt with the visiting Bruins will be quite a test for this Flyers squad. Boston comes into the Wachovia Center with an incredible 37-8-6 record, leading the league with 80 points. The Flyers currently hold the six-seed in the tightly-packed East, with 61 points, six behind the Devils with two games in hand, but just two behind the Rangers with three games in hand.

There is still so much hockey to be played, and any number of things can and will happen. I plead guilty, as always, to eternal optimism and wishful thinking, but I do think that we're gonna take the Atlantic, and head into the playoffs with the two- or three-seed.

Go ahead, boys, make me look smart!
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Other Musings (and there are plenty):

Couple more notes on the Flyers game in Tampa:
1) Tampa broke out their new third jersey, which says "Bolts" on it. Ew. Who puts a team's nickname on the front of the sweater? That'd be like us having jerseys that say "Fly-guys" or "Iggles" or "Phightins." That's pretty lame. But then again, so is hockey in Florida.

2) The Lightning have a guy on their team named Artyukhin. I laugh every time I hear it. Isn't that what Ryu shouts on Street Fighter when he throws the fireball?

The E-Trade baby commercials continue to be the best on television and were certainly the best of this year's Super Bowl. The one following the golf game was funny, and the earlier one with the other baby singing Broken Wings are instant classics. Honorable mentions go to:
CareerBuilder.com's ad
Monster.com's ad
Denny's ad
Enjoy.

Though we all know that there is no column in the standings for moral victories, I couldn't help but be proud that the Sixers only lost to Boston last night on a three-pointer by Ray Allen with 0.5 seconds left.

Anyone else absolutely disgusted that Donovan was on ESPN this week talking about the Super Bowl? I couldn't watch. You should've been playing in the game, Donovan, not talking about it.

I like the Best Buy commercials with the stories from the tech guys of why they love their job. The one that kills me is the story with the couple who had everything ready to watch the big game--sound system, wings, nachos, pizza, beer, the perfect setup for all of their guests. Everything. But they came into the store the morning of, in a panic. Why? Because they forgot to buy the television!!! Seriously, who are these people?

Time Warner Cable has a campaign out now welcoming you to "Newer York." Really? That's all you got?

Texting while you walk is one thing. But people who are reading books while they walk the streets of Manhattan almost deserve to be hit by a car.

Lastly, I was appalled to read in the paper the other day that there exists a creature named Staten Island Chuck, who predicts the remaining duration of winter on Groundhog Day. Way to hijack someone else's tradition. Sorry, ASPCA, but Punxsutawney Phil could beat the crap out of Staten Island Chuck any day of the week.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

State of the City


It's the time of year when presidents who are not newly elected give a State of the Union address in our nation's capital. As we find ourselves lamenting another woulda/shoulda/coulda Eagles season, nearing the end of the baseball offseason, and hovering around the respective All-Star breaks of the NHL and NBA, it seems appropriate to offer up some thoughts on where we are in the World of Philly Sports.

First, to the diamond. The team that did it right continues to do it right. New Phillies GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. has picked up nicely where Pat Gillick left off, and has mostly flown under the radar in doing so. Outside of snagging slugging leftfielder Raul Ibanez away from Seattle to replace the now-departed Pat Burrell, Amaro hasn't made any big splashes. That's cause he doesn't have to. He has mostly concentrated on retaining the ccore of this World Champion club (man, that's never going to get old), while showing what he's learned from his predecessor by surrounding that core with unheralded, yet solid, role players. They re-signed Jamie Moyer to a two-year deal, and avoided arbitration in locking up Shane Victorino, Jayson Werth, Ryan Madson, Joe Blanton, Chad Durbin, and Greg Dobbs. Not to mention they locked up World Series MVP Cole Hamels for three years, $20.5 million, which might just be the steal of the century. The Phils had eight potential arbitration cases staring them down, and now only Ryan Howard remains. I call that, as Borat would say, a "great success."

Next we turn to the gridiron, though I must admit I hate that term. (I can see the "grid," but "iron"? I don't get it...) Though the Eagles really only showed up for half the season (in every sense of the word "half"), the pieces are still mostly in place to be some kind of contender in the wide-open NFC. They have to decide whether or not to keep Brian Dawkins, and will likely have to let go of Jon Runyan and Tra Thomas from the offensive line. Runyan I'll be sad to see go, though it seems like it's time. Thomas I probably won't. It's like he's either amazing or amazingly stupid. There was a period of time where it seemed like every penalty on the offense was against him. Besides, what the hell kind of a name is "Tra"?

I've come to realize I'll never understand Andy Reid, and while I think he should be fired, it seems like that's not going to happen. And as much as Donovan frustrates me to no end, I think you have to keep him. If you're a pass-happy coach as we all know Stubborn Andy to be, it seems like he might want to consider...wait for it...a #1 receiver! Wait, you mean completed passes need to have both a quarterback and a receiver? What a novel concept! If I'm Eagles GM Tom Heckert, I'm chomping at the bit for either Cincy's TJ Houshmandzadeh or Arizona's Anquan Boldin. If I'm him and I'm not looking at those guys, then I'm probably an idiot. Think about what might have been if we'd been able to swing that deal for Larry Fitzgerald in the offseason. You can bet this week's blog would've been on a slightly different topic.

To the frozen pond (that one I love). The Flyers are doing just fine, especially considering their horrible luck with injuries. As of January 18th, one game before the All-Star break, the Fly-guys had lost 223 man-games to injury, fourth worst in the league. (Side comment: every time I hear the term "man-game" I think of Vince Vaughn's Wes Mantooth from Anchorman.) One of those injury-plagued skaters is Danny Briere, who just had groin surgery, and hopes to be back in about a month. All that said, our boys are in third in the Atlantic, jsut four points behind the hated Devils and three behind the Rangers. They have a game in hand on New Jersey, and two on New York. So I think we're in good shape. As we know historically from the NHL, and recently from baseball and football, all you have to do is make the tournament.

And lastly, to the hardwood. If I haven't said it before, basketball is far and away my weakest sport. Like not even close. But I'm trying. Since consecutive road losses to Dallas and San Antonio to kick off 2009, the Sixers have reeled off eight wins in their last ten games, and have climbed into second place in the Atlantic division, albeit 14 and 1/2 games behind the Celtics. A win tonight at Houston would even up the record at 22-22. Saturday's win over the Knicks brought them back to .500 for the first time since the second game of the season, also a win over New York. Though it ain't saying a heck of a lot in the Eastern Conference, if the season ended today, the Sixers would be in the playoffs. The stunning piece of news I just read is that they may be looking to trade Elton Brand, after the celebrated coup of signing him away from Los Angelese over the summer. If you've gotta do it, better get some good value for him.

For now, we've got the Flyers to watch, and believe me, they're worth watching. And if that's not good enough for you, pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training two weeks from Saturday. And as you may know, some of those pitchers and catchers will be defending the Phillies World Series title.
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Other Musings: Rex Ryan, son of former Eagles coach Buddy Ryan, has been hired to coach the New York Jets. Maybe he'll punch one of his own coaches in the face.

I really like the Turbo Tax commercials with the historical figures from our dollar bills. Especially the one where Andrew Jackson and Ulysses Grant are talking about how much money they saved doing their own taxes, and Ben Franklin says, "I invented electricity. So there's that." Can't seem to find it anywhere though....

Anyone see the new Geico ads with a wad of money staring at you? You know Funny? You know Funny's cousin, Not Funny? That's him. Shoulda stuck with the cavemen.

You know Bob from those Enzyte commercials. I hate that guy.

The other day I saw a car for a driving school called Grand Prix. Seems to me like a really poor name choice.

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(Special thanks to Alan T., who sent this to me with a note saying, "So funny I cried. So truthful I also cried.")

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Clipped Wings


We knew. We knew, like Dante in Clerks, we weren't even supposed to be here. We knew we were on borrowed time, playing with house money, whichever metaphor appealed.

Yet, somehow, that didn't lessen the sting of Sunday's crushing loss. Somehow, the miracle of making the playoffs just three weeks earlier provided no consolation. When the clock struck zero in Phoenix, it was the Arizona Cardinals who had won the Battle of the Birds, and had earned the right to represent the NFC in Super Bowl XLIII. And I don't know about you, but I felt like I got punched in the stomach.

There was so much talk leading up to this game about legacy. How would this NFC Championship game, the fifth in eight seasons, impact history's judgment of this Eagles era? Was Andy Reid, the winningest coach in Eagles history, worthy of the Hall of Fame? Was Donovan McNabb, statistically the greatest Eagles quarterback of all time, deserving of a plaque in Akron? In my heart I knew the answer, but I still hoped beyond hope that Sunday's game would prove me wrong.

It didn't.

What I saw on Sunday was a team that came to play a half too late. I saw a defense that expected another cakewalk like it had on Thanksgiving night, leaving the best receiver in the game right now single-covered. Repeatedly. I saw an undisciplined team, committing false start penalties and taking cheap shots at an unprotected quarterback nowhere near the ball. I saw a running back, obviously hurt beyond the possibility of contribution, continuously handed the ball, while his healthy backup--the star of the romp over Dallas, averaging 5.7 yards a carry in the playoffs coming in--mostly rode the pine. And yet again, I saw a team with no sense of urgency, oblivious to the notion of clock management, as time dwindled down in each half.

And that is why Andy Reid is not a Hall of Fame coach.

But oh, how I wanted more than anything for Donovan to succeed. How I hoped that this would be the day that number 5 proved them all wrong, played tough all four quarters, using his arm and his legs to scrap for first downs when sacks seemed imminent. How I prayed for this to be his coming-out party, a chance to show the world that, come Hell or high water, he was gonna find the end zone. But there was the badly underthrown pass to Hank Baskett at the end of the first half, where if he'd hit him in stride, he was off to the races untouched. And still I prayed.

And after an incredible half of football brought the Birds back into a game they were being blown out of, the stage was set. Down 7 with under three to play. Where the cream rises to the top. Where Montana, Young, Elway, and Favre made their bones. Where good becomes great. Where Donovan went 3-8, with two of the completions overthrown to open receivers, and one for five yards in the middle of the field that took up 24 seconds.

Yes, there were dropped passes as always. Yes, this team has no true number one receiver. Yes, there were two egregious pass interference penalties that weren't called. But when it really counted, when the team really needed him to step up and be the man, Donovan McNabb wasn't there.

And that is why he is not a Hall of Fame quarterback. Not yet, at least. But still I hope, still I pray, that Donovan will someday prove me wrong.

The magic has run out, the roller coaster of the 2008 season is over.

But, as they say, there's always next year.
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Other Musings: The guy doing the lead-in for 30 Rock says, "Hey. What's 10 rock times 3 rock? Give up? It's 30 Rock." Actually, it's 30 Rock squared. Thanks for playing.

Even Budweiser couldn't resist trying to capitalize on Barack Obama, with their "inaugur-ale" ad. No -ability joke here. That's just gross.

You see they brought the Southwest commercial back with the guy who smashes his pal's TV by throwing the controller? It's funny, yet upsetting, cause I'm waiting for my wife to do the same thing with Wii Bowling. Worse is the fact that the whole tagline, "Wanna get away?" implies that you can just pick up and go. Problem is that those amazing rates are only with a 14-day advance purchase. Oops.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Triumph


The temperatures in New York City are hovering around freezing, and are expected to dip into single digits by the weekend. Something tells me that it feels even colder to fans of the New York Giants. Especially at around 3:00 ET this Sunday afternoon, when the NFC Championship game commences without their beloved Big Blue.

In a fashion that can only be described as stunning, the Philadelphia Eagles marched into the Meadowlands on Sunday and knocked off the defending champs 23-11, earning a trip to Arizona for the right to go to the Super Bowl. Donovan McNabb created opportunities with his feet, scored a touchdown on a QB sneak, and made huge third-down conversions, doing just enough to eliminate and humiliate Eli Manning. (My favorite headline here in New York was "From Hero to Zero.") The defense was awesome once again, intercepting two passes, stopping the Giants' ground game on two fourth down runs, and held their opponent to 14 points or fewer for the sixth straight game. And, oh yeah, no touchdowns.

And I still can't believe it happened. Since that self-inflicted fumble by receiver Steve Smith, since the second knee taken by Donovan, I can't even count how many times I've said, out loud and to no one in particular, "Oh my God, we won." When I woke up yesterday morning, it was literally the first thing that crossed my mind, asking myself, "Did it really happen?" Yes. It really happened. Six weeks ago, the Ravens destroyed us, 36-7, leaving us at 5-5-1. Three weeks ago we couldn't score a touchdown in Washington, and it looked like the season was over for sure. And now we're one win away from the Impossible Dream, Super Bowl XLIII.

It is, without a doubt, unbelievable.

We know the obvious plays that made this incredible win credible: Another Asante Samuel interception and return to the Giants 1. The stop on 4th and inches on Eli's pitiful sneak attempt. The stop on Brandon Jacobs' 4th down run. The Quinton Mikell interception. The third-and-20 play where Donovan eluded the sack and got a 21-yard pass play to Jason Avant. The third-and-20 play where Donovan eluded the sack and got a 21-yard pass play to Correll Buckhalter.

But there were four tackles that were very literally the difference between winning and losing.

The first was the opening kickoff, when Ahmad Bradshaw nearly returned it to the house. If it weren't for David Akers knocking him out of bounds, the Giants open the game with a touchdown. Talk about momentum.

The second was just under four minutes left in the first half. The handoff went to Jacobs, and he was off to the races. If Sheldon Brown doesn't get enough of the man's shoes to trip him up, he's probably gone.

The third, from the same drive, following the two-minute warning, was a crucial third down and five screen pass to Derrick Ward, who was tackled just shy of the marker by Darren Howard. Held them to a field goal.

And in the first minute of the second half, where a McNabb pass deflected at the line ended up in the hands of Fatty McGee, aka Fred Robbins. He slid through a tackle, got a couple of blocks, and he was on his way to the end zone. If Kevin Curtis doesn't get enough of him, that's six the other way, scored by the defense, to start the second half. It was redemption for the wide-open doink off the man's helmet from the first half. And I know you know what I'm talking about.

And kudos to the offensive line. Three games against the Giants this season, and zero sacks. Good thing Winston Justice wasn't out there.

Now, can we talk about Donovan's stupidity? That whole sequence of events was what I like to call Stupid All Around. Play call to do a pass play: stupid. Running out of bounds when you need the clock to run: stupid. Running out of bounds when you need the clock to run and not even getting the first down: stupid. PICKING UP THE PHONE ON THE GIANTS SIDELINE AND PRETENDING TO TALK? Are you kidding me?

That, combined with owner Jeffrey Lurie coming down to the field and pumping his fist in celebration made me so upset. I had flashbacks to the game a couple seasons back where we were up on the Giants 28-7 in the 4th quarter and lost in overtime. I could just see the story being written...

But thankfully, now it's just an asinine footnote on a triumphant day.

And hopefully, this Sunday will be yet another one.
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Other Musings: The Giants without Plaxico Burress are a very, very different team, and everyone agrees. When he shot himself in the leg, he shot their season in the foot.

You have to love Brian Dawkins getting all emotional. He knows that this is all a pretty big deal.

You also have to love Brandon Jacobs saying in a postgame interview that he's "on the bandwagon" and that he doesn't think anyone's gonna beat us.

Who else is sick of Joe Buck? "Here come the Giants." Dude, shut up. At least we have Merrill Reese. I can't stop listening to his call of the Westbrook touchdown from last week. (If you haven't heard it, click here, and go to 4:30 of the clip.) Even Merrill doesn't usually get that excited.

Anyone else see Andy Reid in the locker room after the game? Awesome.

Love the new Pizza Hut commercials telling you to "choose real taste." I prefer my taste fake, thank you very much.

And finally, I can't believe there's an Angry Whopper. I think it's hysterical. Can I order that with a side of gravely-disappointed fries and an elated Coke?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Bigplayability


You heard Troy Aikman say it and, admit it, you thought of me.

The Hall of Fame quarterback and Fox NFL analyst said something about the Eagles having "big play ability," which sparked a conversation where I was watching the game about how many words that was, and the various permutations of each.

Whatever Aikman meant by it, it didn't matter to me. He'd given me my new favorite phrase and, once Sunday's 26-14 victory over the Vikings was concluded, the title of this week's entry.

Watching the game was an interesting experience, a game that could've ended just as easily in a loss as it did in our favor. One person wrote into ESPN: "Too bad for the Vikes. This Eagles team was right there for the taking." And perhaps that's true. It also could've ended in an Eagles blowout, if some early drives had been cashed in for six instead of three. So, to be honest, I'm still not totally sure what to make of this game.

First, the frustrations:

Was it just me, or did every single call in the game go against us? The sack that wasn't a sack that knocked us out of field goal range? Maybe it just felt that way.

The running game never really got established. Now let's be fair: the Vikings had the best rush defense in the league, and the Metrodome is one of the most difficult places to play. Westbrook had just 38 yards on 20 carries. Eek. And Andy Reid, once again studying logic in order to depart from it 180 degrees, barely used Correll Buckhalter, the offensive MVP of the Dallas Destruction. The box score reads that he had two carries for 27 yards, and that his long was 27 yards. Maybe think about getting the ball into the hottest hands on the team? Even if Westbrook is 100 percent, Buckhalter should be in there for, say, 10 carries a game. All the more so if Westbrook is not.

The defense was once again really solid, but missed at least three or four opportunities to come down with interceptions that might have put the game away sooner.

However, when you have bigplayability, it only takes a couple of things going your way to make all the difference. Asante Samuel's 44-yard interception return for a touchdown was vintage Asante. I felt like I was having deja vu to every other Asante pick six I'd ever seen a highlight of. Only this one was in Eagles white and green. And did you see the Chris Clemons block on Tarvaris Jackson? WOW. Dude got picked up and pancaked.

And then Westbrook broke off the biggest play of the season, taking a screen pass 71 yards to paydirt. You had to love this for so many reasons, not the least of which was the entire team effort blocking all the way downfield, including help from receivers Kevin Curtis and my boy (yes, I wrote that) DeSean Jackson. Big-play-ability. On a side note, did anyone else notice how close the pass was to hitting Nick Cole in the back? Can you imagine if it did? I don't want to think about it. I wished I had a direct line into Reid's headset to say, "Look at that! A screen pass! We've only been saying it for months!"

Many said it would be a game of field position, and it was. Special teams came up big, and we won that battle pretty handily. Might've been the biggest difference in the game.

And the defense deserves more kudos. They have been the constant this season, and while I wouldn't go so far as to say they shut down Adrian Peterson, they certainly contained him. Don't be fooled by AP's numbers. He may have had 83 yards, but 40 of them came on one play. 43 yards on 19 carries? You can't be unhappy with that.

Not that anybody ever does, but I really have no clue what's going to happen this Sunday at the Meadowlands. The Giants' bye week and the Eagles' momentum could play either way, as we've seen in the last few seasons. I'm feeling hopeful that we'll play a good game, but I'm certainly not about to talk any trash. The Giants are a very good team, probably the better team on paper. But if the defense keeps up its solid play, run blitzing to contain Jacobs and Ward, getting some good pressure on Eli, the game certainly has a high level of winability.

We should remember that we shouldn't even be here, that we're really playing with house money, as the expression goes. Our very own Sal Paolantonio in an interview with Donovan after the game, said:

"A couple of weeks ago, your season was marooned. Now it's revived. How did that happen?"

"Well, you know what, you just gotta stay mentally strong, keep faith in God, and understand that there's something positive at the end of the tunnel."

I'm working on it, Donovan. I'm working on it.

Go Birds.
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Other Musings:

The Flyers are a hurt bunch, once again hit by an injury epidemic. If they can survive the next couple of months until they get everyone back, I think they're in great shape.

Interesting that Tampa signed Pat the Bat. That team is going to be really good again, and you have to hope that they win that division again.

In a related report that just came out, the New York Yankees have signed Satan and the Angel of Death. As you can imagine, terms of the deals were not disclosed.

In the ongoing battle between the cable companies for the dumbest ad campaigns, Time Warner's new ads advertising its calling plan might just take the cake. Why should you sign up for their plan? Cause in one moment, you're in your parents living room, in another somewhere else! So, I should sign up because Time Warner will ensure my telephone works...like a telephone? Amazing. Truly amazing.

My new favorite commercial is the LeBron James State Farm commercial, with the huge old-school shout-out to Kid n Play. Check it out.

I've been saying it for weeks, and no one's been listening. Don't be too shocked if the Baltimore Ravens make it to the Super Bowl.