Monday, March 8, 2010

From the Ground Up

"Thought I'd reached the point of no return,
but came back under the radar.
I've been there ever since." --Little Feat

"And now I'm sneaking
under the radar;
And now I'm creeping
under your nose." --Rolling Stones

From the days before Thanksgiving to the last-minute shopping days of the holiday season, the Flyers, it seemed, couldn't buy a victory. A team that, at least on paper, was stuffed to the gills with talent, experience, and character, couldn't beat anyone. From November 20th to December 21st, the boys in black and orange went an embarrassing 3-13-1. John Stevens was fired from the head coaching position on December 4th, but new coach Peter Laviolette didn't fare much better, winning just two of his first 10 games with the team.

But then, mysteriously, something clicked into place. Maybe it was the return from injury of Simon Gagne. Maybe it was the team's emergence from the learning curve of Laviolette's new aggressive-yet-disciplined style of play. Maybe it was the aftermath of that (first) wicked snowstorm. I don't know. But I do know that that was the end of the nightmare before Christmas, and the team many had hoped was a sleeping giant, was finally roused from its deep slumber.

Since December 23rd, the Flyers are 19-8-2. At the moment, they cling to the 6-spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race, with 72 points. They're only five points behind the Ottawa Senators, on whom the Flyers have two games in hand. They're just seven points behind the hated--and suddenly swooning--Devils at second in the Atlantic Division, fourth in the conference. (Since acquiring superstar sniper Ilya Kovalchuk from Atlanta, New Jersey has lost six of nine games, including back-to-back 3-2 losses at the hands of our resurgent Flyers.) And while the Canadiens are only two points behind in the 7-spot, they've played three more games than Philly.

That's the good news. The bad news is that, as a result of the pre-holiday futility, every game is essentially a playoff game. The standings in the East are tighter than that pair of jeans from college you're still trying to squeeze into, the difference between sixth and 11th being just seven points. And while Washington and Pittsburgh made moves before the deadline that probably make them even more formidable, the Flyers did nothing. Though I wasn't thrilled with this, being Optimist Prime, I'm very much okay with it. It's still a very good team, and any player that might have been of interest would have cost too much talent to acquire. In the end, Sam Carchidi of the Inquirer said it best when he wrote: "The problem is that the Flyers are potentially a very good team in a conference that includes two great teams."

So that's my key to all of this. For the Flyers to be able to make a serious run at breaking a Cup-less stretch halfway into its fourth decade, they need to finish, at worst, in the 6-seed. They need to avoid both the Capitals and the Penguins, hoping that at the very least someone else knocks them around, at the most that someone upsets them. Those are the only teams in the East that strike an iota of fear in me, and I do think we can hang with both in a seven-game series.

After all, the 2006 Edmonton Oilers proved once and for all, that the most important things are to make the tourney, and to end the season strong. They were the eighth-seed in the West, and reached Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final that season. So, very literally, anything is possible.

But let's make the playoffs first.
Other Musings:

I was thrilled to get back to the NHL season, but I will miss the greatest international hockey tournament ever played, even if my DVR won't. What I won't miss, however, is the incessant Day-O chants. Despised it before. Now it makes me want to stab between my toes with an ice pick.

It seems to me that Luke Wilson has worn out his welcome. Those AT&T commercials are so snarky and obnoxious. Besides, the question for his friend to win $1 million is the capital of Peru? And you cheat to get it right? So many things wrong with that. (Note: I had incorrectly written "Owen Wilson" at first. See my friend Kevin's comment below.)

With the creativity level of sports nicknames in a coma, I have to applaud the Kevin Durant's moniker, the Durantula. That's good stuff right there. Also from the name department, the Latvians had a hockey player named Ankipans. Still can't stop laughing from that one. Just say it out loud to yourself. Then you'll understand.

I had been deeply concerned that the new Gatorade would have to lessen its 'G' content in order to make it healthier. But my fears have been assuaged: G2 has half the calories, but all the 'G.' Thank God.

Memo to the Eagles: The reports are true. Free agency has actually begun.

Anyone else crazy-psyched for baseball season?

Monday, January 11, 2010


"I'd like to shake your hand, Disappointment,
Looks like you win again." --Neil Young

There are no words. Except maybe one: ich. Not "ick." "Ick" doesn't quite cover it. Not that "ich" totally does either, but that guttural "ch" sound makes it a somewhat more appropriate reaction to Saturday night's debacle.

But I'm a blogger. Considering my last post was the day before Halloween, and we'd only played two games of the World Series at that point, I wouldn't blame you if you forgot about me. But I'm technically still a blogger. So there have to be words. And believe me, there are. And though I'm a sorry excuse for a blogger at the moment, my new year's resolution is to get back to the grind, or at least not let two and a half months go between postings. Besides, there is no sorrier an excuse for someone or someones posing to be something else than your very own 2009 Philadelphia Eagles.

Chances are I won't be saying anything in this blog that each of us hasn't said (or screamed) already over the last two weeks; the one difference being that I won't use any expletives or obscenities (no matter how much this team may have earned it). But perhaps it will help the venting process--hopefully for you, most definitely for me. So, in the immortal words of the Joker (how appropriate), "Here...we...go."

The defense was--how shall I put it?--not good. (I know, I know. "Thank you, Captain Obvious.") The rushers were dominated by that dirty cheater Flozell Adams, whose Native American name is Trips Defensive Linemen. The three-headed monster of Marion Barber, Felix Jones, and Tashard Choice made the line look like Swiss cheese. They didn't blitz enough, and when they did, it was picked up so easily, Romo didn't miss a beat. Not that he needed so much time, with the secondary looking flat and stunned the whole game ("Oh! You mean Romo might be targeting his Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten? Didn't think of that!" "Wait, wide receivers can go into the middle of the field, too? Whoa!")

In every off-season, it seems, in recent history, some fan favorite is let go by Andy Reid, met with not a little bit of public outcry. It happened with Hugh Douglas, then Jeremiah Trotter, then Jevon Kearse. Each time, when everyone asked how Reid could let them go, vowing that we would rue the day of that player's release, it never came back to bite us. None of them went on to do anything substantial--at least, in Trotter's case, not with any other team, and even then, his productivity in the second stint is still nowhere near that of the first. So, I learned to give Andy the benefit of the doubt, at least in this realm. If these guys were being released, there must've been something they saw--or didn't see--that we have no idea about.

But what was proven, one of the things we learned over these last two weeks in Dallas, is that the Eagles sorely miss one Brian Dawkins, both in play and in heart. It's clear to me now that letting B-Dawk walk away from the place he wanted to end his career was a pretty big mistake. This isn't to say that had we kept Dawkins, we would have won either or both of these games. There were too many things that went wrong to be so simplistic and inaccurate. But they certainly would have been much closer.

Yet, no matter who's playing defense for you, they're going to be thoroughly exhausted when forced to play a shade under 40 of 60 minutes. And why was it that the defense was seemingly never allowed off the field? That's right: because the offense was pitifully inept, not to mention miserable to watch. Either the O-line gave Donovan no time, or there was no one open downfield, or Donovan characteristically threw to the feet of his receivers. I'm so glad that we traded a first-, fourth-, and sixth-round draft pick to acquire Jason Peters, who, when he's not getting burned for a sack, is getting flagged for false start penalties and continuing to block players seven yards out of bounds. It's called a snap count, Jason. Look into it.

And speaking of snaps, I'm sure I'm missing something, but how hard is it to snap the ball to your quarterback? In all of my years playing touch football, I never snapped the ball off of my butt. Anyone out there had that problem? Didn't think so. That's Pee Wee League stuff.

I love how Donovan entered onto the field--laughing, dancing, running right up to the barrier between him and the fans. Oh wait, no I don't. I'm sick of it. I'm sick of the whole routine. The laughing when he overthrows receivers for what would be easy touchdowns, trying to look like he's so loose and cool under pressure, when time after time, all he demonstrates is that he simply can't handle it. And it's not just with his arm. You know what the great quarterbacks do when they need a first down and no one is open? THEY RUN. They scramble out of the pocket and they find a way to move the chains. This is true of every great quarterback, regardless of whether or not they were considered "mobile." Elway did it. Montana did it. Young did it. Heck, Roethlisberger did it. These guys weren't exactly the speediest or most elusive. Donovan is, or, at least, he was. But you'd never know it watching him now. When the stakes are highest, Donovan never seems to rise to the occasion. Ever.

What I saw over these last two epic failures, where there was so much to play for, was a team unprepared, uninspired, and undisciplined. And that goes back to the coach. Everything mentioned above--the shortcomings, the flaws, the mental errors--all trickles down from the top. And that's you, Andy. I didn't get to blog about it, but the final straw for me was the Chargers game, with all of those opportunities to score touchdowns--a first and goal from the 1, to cite just one example--yet always coming away with, at most, three points. That was when I was done with Andy. Now I can't even stand the sight of him. You know what they have on NFL teams now, Andy? This crazy new invention called RUNNING BACKS. You can use them to--wait for it--run the ball! How can play-action work if you haven't established a running game? Why should a team prepare for anything but the pass when you only have your backs run maybe 10 times a game? Is there a brain in there? Why don't you call timeout after you've already received a delay-of-game penalty? I'm sorry, Andy, but you're an idiot.

Perhaps we shouldn't have been so surprised or disappointed. After all, there was just one win this year against a team over .500, and an 0-4 record against teams that made the playoffs. And, as much as we all would rather stick toothpicks under our toenails than admit it, the Cowboys are a better team.

But it would've been nice, especially after watching the Packers' valiant efforts on Sunday, to see some fight in this team. Against the odds, in a hostile environment, down a couple of scores, to know that you gave all you had and left it all out there on the field. The Eagles didn't even roll over. They never showed up.

When we all knew it was over, perhaps even at 7-0, Matt texted me the words: "February 17th." When I texted back what happens then, he said: "Pitchers and catchers report."
Other Musings:

I really like the Windows 7 commercial with the somewhat-dorky guy in glasses. The girl comes in and says, as though she's ratting him out and trying to embarrass him, "He called his mom." And he doesn't even miss a beat, so unashamed, as he says, "Of course I called her. She needed to know this."

"Never send a truck to do a Sierra's job"? Really?? Like, seriously?? Wow. And you know the guy who thought of that is really proud of himself.

In general, I think the Bud Light commercials with the "Too Light/Too Heavy" thing are obnoxious, like most commercials overcompensating for terrible beer. But I have to admit: The paintball one gives a little chuckle. Something about "Bravo Delta, this is Echo Charlie" that makes it work.

Mark Sanchez gained a lot of points with me today, when I heard his reaction to Pete Carroll's signing on to be coach of the Seahawks. If you remember how Carroll reacted to Sanchez's decision to go pro, then you'll probably appreciate the cleverness of this, even if it doesn't give you a laugh like it did for me.