Saturday, November 29, 2008

History in D.C.

A little history will be made in Washington, D.C.—and not of the political variety. Georgetown and Maryland will play each other Sunday for third place in the Old Spice Classic.

Big deal, you say? It is for people who don't have the luxury of the Big Five, as Philly hoops fans do.

Georgetown and Maryland—separated by 12 miles, two leagues, and a tangled history—have one of the greatest rivalries that isn't. They share a recruiting base and the hoop hearts of the nation’s capital, but they don’t share the court too often.

I wrote a story for ESPN about the game. It's here for those who are curious.

For Big Five fans, the countdown of the best players from each Big Five school starts tomorrow with St. Joe's.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Brown Out

Seven players caught passes in the Eagles’ 48-20 rout of Arizona Thursday, led by star rookie DeSean Jackson’s six catches for 76 yards and a touchdown.

Noticeably absent from that group: former “future star” receiver Reggie Brown. A hamstring injury at the start of the season caused him to miss games, as did a groin injury midway through, which have contributed to his worst pro season, a benching, and a future in serious jeopardy.

To borrow the UPS slogan, what can Brown do for the Eagles?

The fact is, Brown always showed more “potential” than production. In six full college and pro seasons (three each), Brown has topped 816 receiving yards just once—his senior year at Georgia when he had 860.

This season will make it seven years below 817, since he has just 13 catches for 192 yards and one touchdown—and what appears to be a permanent place on the bench.

DeSean Jackson has clearly passed Brown on the depth chart—and in the attention he draws from opponents. Who scares opponents more: Jackson or Brown?

The real question is, what to do with Brown now?

He’s clearly not going to replace Jackson or Kevin Curtis. Brown has had more than one catch in a game just twice all season (6 against Chicago, 4 against Washington). Hank Baskett (28-for-409 yards, three TDs) and Jason Avant (24-251-2) are plenty productive enough to serve as backups to Curtis and Jackson.

That five-year contract extension the Eagles gave Brown in 2006 doesn’t look like such a hot move now, unless the Eagles can trade him in the offseason. But what can they expect for a receiver unlikely to see much action the rest of the way?

For now, Brown seems destined to join the ever-growing collection of unproductive wide receivers taken by coach Andy Reid during his 10 seasons.

Reid has drafted 11 receivers; Jackson is the first to make a major impact. (Sorry, but one 4th-and-26 catch does not make former first-rounder Freddie Mitchell impactful).

For a West Coast offense reliant on productive receivers, Reid has come up empty in the draft. His picks: Jackson, Jason Avant, Jeremy Bloom, Brown, Billy McMullen, Freddie Milons, Freddie Mitchell, Todd Pinkston, Gari Scott, Na Brown, and Troy Smith.

If the Eagles feel they’ve resolved their offensive woes, then Thursday’s game presents a new low for Brown. The offense looked great—and he was a non-factor.

Monday, November 24, 2008

One More Move

Eagles coach Andy Reid promised changes heading into Sunday’s game and he certainly delivered. Aside from the demotions of tight end L.J. Smith and linebacker Omar Gaither, Reid also made a little halftime switch that’s drawn some attention.

Now it’s time for one more move: take the play-calling away from Marty Mornhinweg. Whatever loyalty Reid feels he owes Mornhinweg as a fellow former college and pro assistant and Mike Holmgren disciple has long been repaid. At the expense of the Eagles.

It’s time to cut the cord.

Mornhinweg has proven he is incapable of helping an NFL team win. His quarterbacks and skill players may put up gaudy numbers—Donovan McNabb, Jeff Garcia and Steve Young had Pro Bowl seasons for him—but winning is what counts in the NFL. And Mornhinweg has a track record of failure.

In his last two seasons as offensive coordinator in San Francisco, the 49ers went 10-22—before a 12-4 season after he left to become the head coach in Detroit.

The Lions then went 5-27 under Mornhinweg, giving him the worst winning percentage of any Detroit coach to last a season. He was the worst coach for perhaps the worst NFL franchise ever. And he’s all ours.

Mornhinweg is now in his third season as the Eagles offensive coordinator, and the team has gone 23-19-1, with one playoff appearance (assuming the Eagles miss the playoffs this year—a pretty safe assumption.) The Eagles were 31-17 in the three seasons prior, with two NFC title game appearances, and one Super Bowl showing.

The combined record of teams Mornhinweg led as either head coach or offensive coordinator in his most recent seven years: 38-68-1, with one playoff appearance.

That’s 107 games over the course of seven seasons—enough to get a pretty good read on a coach’s ability. Or lack thereof.

Football is a team game. To win, the offense has to be effective and balanced enough to sustain drives and keep its defense off the field for long stretches. Three-and-outs and failed third-down conversions cripple a team’s defense.

The Eagles had six possessions of three plays or less by halftime alone in Baltimore’s 36-7 rout Sunday. And in their last three games, the Eagles have converted just nine of 42 third-down opportunities.

Kolb, assuming he’s named the starter, deserves to show what he can do in a balanced offense, not one that throws the ball 61 percent of the time, as the Eagles have this season—which is even higher than the 55 percent of the past two seasons.

The offense’s failures are not all on McNabb—or Kolb. Mornhingweg and his play-calling sit at the core of the Eagles’ offensive woes. It’s time for someone else to call the shots.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Pickin' & Grinnin'

I’m sure Man U. has a big soccer match this week against Woman U. and that somewhere there's an obscure high school event with Kurt's name all over it, but I'm going with the local boys and their attempt at a Rose Bowl bid: Penn State over Michigan State.

But just to show I have varied interests, I'm adding a second pick and a challenge. I'll take the Flyers over the Coyotes Saturday night. And the challenge: is the following name a Flyer or an Ikea product? Leksvik. — John

Props to:
* Albright for being selected to the ECAC Division III Football Bowl Championship series. Best of luck against Montclair State… you have my support, but just not my pick this week.

* The Hi-Plains Patriots for capturing the Colorado Class A 6-man football championship. Led by Kraig Tagtmeyer’s 307 yards rushing, the visiting Patriots should throttle the hosting Idalia Wolves, 74-24.

* John for picking a hockey game.

* Kurt for not picking the Eagles last week.

My picks: Texas Tech over Oklahoma; The Rams over the Eagles; and despite an undefeated record and a win over them earlier this year, Dayspring Christian (Eagles) falls to Merino (Rams) in the Colorado Class A 8-man football championship. — Kurt

Wow—two bold picks: a Tech win and the Rams beating the Eagles. But if the Eagles beat the Ravens, who they actually play this weekend, does that mean the loss to the Rams and the win over the Ravens gives them another tie for the weekend? — John

I like the fact that Andy Reid finally “Buddy-ed Up" yesterday and read his clubhouse the riot act. Count on an inspired game this Sunday. Season ain't over! If they pull this off, we have Arizona at home on a short week, and we can start thinking about a run for the playoffs. Eagles 17, Ravens 13 — Carnac the Magnificent

The heart weighs heavy with Wake not winning the ACC soccer tourney. At least I/we have the NCAAs to look forward to where Wake not only is the defending champion, they are this year's #1 seed. That'll have to wait though until next week since Wake doesn't play until the second round (11/25).

Still, I know how much y'all look forward to my Demon Deacon picks, so I'll go with Wake's field hockey to knock out the Orange in the national semis Friday in L'vull, KY.

And predictions wouldn't be predictions without a little PL: First-place Chelsea (32pts) at home over 17th place (out of 20) Newcastle (13pts). Game of the weekend: Aston Villa (23pts) handles visiting ManU (24pts).

p.s. Yes, John, there is a Santa Claus and Chelsea won last week. — Phil

I stopped believing in Santa awhile ago, but I've always believed in Chelsea. Of all the soccer teams I’ve seen (Caitlin’s, Daniel’s), I've never seen a soccer team better than Chelsea. Oh, by the way, Leksvik is an Ikea product; however, a Vaananen is a Flyer. Go figure. — John

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Rookie

Please step away from the ledge, all you Phillies fans. Slowly crawl back inside the building and refrain from panicking. Yes, Chase Utley will have hip surgery next week and is expected to need four to six months to recover.

And yes, with a straight face Ruben Amaro Jr. did mention Eric Bruntlett as a legitimate replacement. The same Bruntlett who couldn’t hit a beach ball as a month-long fill-in last season for Jimmy Rollins.

You can exhale because Amaro also mentioned minor-league shortstop Jason Donald. And if he learned anything from Pat Gillick, Amaro will have Donald playing second base starting today in the Arizona Fall League.

Donald currently is tearing up the league, hitting .407 with five homers and 17 RBIs and is second in the league in on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He’s also coming off a phenomenal 2008 season.

He guided Team USA to a bronze medal in the 2008 Olympics, leading the team in batting average (.381), on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He even played in two all-star games last season: the Eastern League All-Star game and the MLB Future All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium.

So Donald knows his way around the big stage.

The questions: can he make the jump from Double-A Reading, and can he make the transition from shortstop to second? Let’s give him a shot to answer the first question in spring training, and let’s get him working on the position now to see if he can answer the second question.

But one thing the Phillies shouldn’t worry about as they look to become the first National League team to repeat as World Series champs since the 1976 Cincinnati Reds: starting a rookie.

The Phillies are the only one of the last four World Series teams not to start a rookie infielder. The 2008 Rays had third baseman Evan Longoria, the 2007 Red Sox started second baseman Dustin Pedroia, and the ’07 Colorado Rockies had shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

To go even farther, eight of the 20 World Series teams over the last 10 years had a rookie starter make significant contributions throughout the season.

Along with the previous three, those players include Chris Burke (’05 Astros), Miguel Cabrera (’03 Marlins), Alfonso Soriano (’01 Yankees), Ricky Ledee (’99 Yankees), and Randall Simon (’99 Braves).

Let’s not forget: the last Phillies team prior to 2008 to reach the World Series featured a rookie shortstop. All Kevin Stocker did after getting called up in July was hit .324 with a .409 on-base percentage for the 1993 National League champs.

And the 1980 champion Phillies featured two rookies in key roles: outfielder Lonnie Smith, who hit .339 and finished third in Rookie of the Year balloting, and catcher Keith Moreland, who hit .314 while leading the team to a 22-11 record in games he started.

The Phillies ought to give the kid a shot. There’s a long history of rookies making an impact on World Series-contending teams and Donald’s 2008 season demonstrates he’s ready for the Big Show.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Philly’s Top Iconic Sports Images and Events

November 19th is the 30th anniversary of “The Miracle at the Meadowlands,” when Herm Edwards picked up a last-second fumble and ran it back for a game-winning touchdown against the New York Giants.

The play’s uniqueness—a last-second hand-off when the opponent can’t stop the clock? A fumble? A return TD?—has stirred imaginations for decades, not just locally, but nationally.

So what better time for a good, yet slightly sad, question: how many such nationally iconic moments have involved Philadelphia sports teams, players, and coaches? Unfortunately, fewer than you’d think.

Here are the 15 images and events that already have stood the test of time, or certainly figure to do so. The goal is nationally iconic; not those legendary local moments that are burned into the brains of the Philly faithful.

Mike Schmidt’s home run in Montreal in 1980, for example, was a classic—but a lack of national TV exposure doesn’t make it iconic. And Wilbert Montgomery’s 42-yard touchdown run against Dallas in the NFC Championship game was nationally covered but simply hasn’t endured.

Not all of the moments were kind to Philly. Joe Carter and The Fog Bowl don’t take Philly fans to their happy places. But it’s hard to argue that Carter and the playoff loss to Chicago aren’t iconic.

And so, here’s the list, with YouTube links where possible. Have your own thoughts—or is something missing? Let me know.

1. Wilt’s “100” sign
2. Bednarik standing over Gifford
3. Schmidt’s leap onto McGraw
4. Carter’s homer off Mitch’s pitch
5. Lidge celebrating on his knees
6. John Cappelletti’s Heisman speech
7. Doc defying gravity against the Lakers
8. Dwayne McClain’s raised arm
9. The Miracle of the Meadowlands
10. Bobby Clarke’s toothless grin
11. Bunning’s Father’s Day no-hitter
12. Chocolate Thunder flyin’, Robinzine cryin’
13. Iverson and “practice”
14. Fourth-and-26
15. The Fog Bowl

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Streaks on the Line

It's pickin' time and aren't all of our teams looking so ... unappetizing. Dallas and Philly at 5-4??? Steelers' fans calling for Leftwich over Big Ben? Penn State coming off a dreadful Iowa loss. And the cold weather beating up Colorado cyclists--Brrrr..... Good thing we always have Albright football!!!

Send 'em in—and will Carnac and Kurt ever lose? — John

They say good things come in threes: This year in Philadelphia, the Soul, lead by owners Ron “Jaws” Jaworski and Jon Bon Jovi, won the AFL championship, the Phillies won the MLB Championship, and…???

Here’s the problem: The 76ers may be fighting an uphill climb this year as the Detroit Pistons have recently added Allen Iverson to their roster, the Flyers are still trying to find an identity, and the Eagles are struggling against teams with winning records.

Good news: The Cincinnati Bengals do not have a winning record. At 1-8, they are definitely a beatable team for the Eagles. After coming off a convincing loss to the New York Giants, the Eagles should be able to turn things around and find a way to beat the Bengals this Sunday. Fortunately, Westbrook (a.k.a the Philadelphia Eagles) is relatively healthy for this week’s match-up. Will the Eagles be the third good thing to happen to Philadelphia? It is unknown at this point, but this weekend’s game should put a W in the win/loss column as they vie for a playoff spot. Eagles 34, Bengals 14. — Troy V. of Yardley

I thought Penn State would be the third titleist that Philly fans could claim. But Iowa? IOWA?!?!?!

Still, I know a winner when I see one—that's you, Troy—so I'm riding your coattails on this one. I'll even throw you a bone and add a pick of Dallas to beat the Redskins. Terrell Owens and DeMarcus Ware will have big games, and the Cowboys get paybacks for the loss earlier this season.

I may be picking 'em, but I won't be rooting for the Cowboys! — John

Remember those really dumb plays Reid called at the end of the loss to the Giants last week? He'll keep on dialing them up, and this week they'll work throughout the game against a woeful team. The Birds win big, and Andy will be feeling like he's Buddy. A motivated Eagles secondary pulls off a safety in this laugh-fest. I love safeties. Eagles 36, Bengals 13 — Carnac the Magnificent

The question: what do you love more, safeties or Buddy Ryan? And if Gern had an opinion, he'd say neither: Larry Bowa is always the answer! — John

Alright, I went outside my comfort zone last week and picked Big Ten football. Shouldda known a conference that calls itself "Ten" but has eleven schools isn't a conference that can be easily analyzed. So I'm dusting myself off and returning to the beautiful game this week with two picks.

First, Wake handles the Wahoos Friday in the ACC soccer semis. Wake took care of UVa a week ago in Charlottesville and I don't see why the outcome won't be the same in Cary, NC.

Second, despite the distraction of Drogba's being fined for tossing a coin thrown at him back into the stands after scoring, Chelsea, standing atop the PL, will pick up 3 more points against cellar-dwelling West Brom. — Phil

That Drogba has some nerve. — John

I agree, but perhaps he’s finally letting some emotion show (poorly directed, no doubt) after that humiliating loss to Rocky in front of Gorbachev

Making a choice in a 3 vs. 4 seed match-up surely puts my streak at risk (I could have easily pansied-up and picked the Bengals to lose). But with risk comes reward right? (I’ll answer that … sometimes. But a reward in an endeavor such as this?) Nonetheless…

I see “The West” prevailing again, as Brit Andy Murray dispatches Russian Nikolay Davydenko in 3 sets in Tennis’ Masters Cup. — Kurt

Friday, November 14, 2008

Philly's Sportsman of the Year?

Sports Illustrated has rolled out its red carpet and begun its Super Bowl-style pre- pre-game announcement of SI’s 2008 Sportsman of the Year. The early essays allow writers to profile those who won’t win, kind of like the Super Bowl pre- pre-game shows that interview NFL stars not in the game.

SI has chosen to go with a big red carpet, considering its off-beat selections, which, for the most part, are just topics the writers want to feature, and not genuine Sportsman candidates.

They offer kind-hearted athletes, such as two Central Washington softball players and Oakland Raider good guy Nnamdi Asomugha (Spell-check, please!), plus the adversity-challenged, like boxer Bernard Hopkins and soccer star Hope Solo.

The winner to be announced Dec. 2, of course, will be Michael Phelps, or SI is off the Mark Spitz.

So who would be Philadelphia’s Sportsman of the Year? As with the Phelps pick, there’s really only one place to look. And the winner is: Andy Reid!

No? Okay, it’s just as easy to eliminate other Philly hopefuls. Any Sixers? Two Andres but no Answer here. The Flyers? They have an Ossi and a Lasse and if you know them, you’re reading the wrong blog.

For the Eagles, it’s kind of like Reid’s play-calling: McNabb, McNabb, McNabb. He’s having a good year—except for that small part about the team’s last place standing in the NFC East—but it’d take a miracle run to the playoffs. And everyone knows the Eagles don’t run.

Hopkins, college hoops, horses, or any Olympic hopefuls can’t compare to the area’s biggest story, the World Series champion Phillies—who provide more choices than Baskin-Robbins.

Ryan Howard, Brad Lidge, Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, Jamie Moyer—even Charlie Manuel, of all people. You could make a great case for each one: the MVP candidate, MLB’s top closer, the NLCS and World Series MVP, the early-season anchor, the team’s winningest pitcher, and the Manager of the Year runner-up.

But to pick one guy would be like selecting an MVP from the 1980 team—not the ’80 Phillies, the ’80 Miracle on Ice team. Like Mike Eruzione and his crew, this ’08 miracle that ended in icy conditions was utterly unpredictable.

The Phillies rallied from 3.5 games back with 16 to play—and won the division by 3. That’s a 6.5-game swing in 16 games.

They finished 13-3 in the regular season, 11-3 in the postseason. And throughout the entire season, a new player would pick up others who were struggling.

From Utley and Pat Burrell early, through Hamels, Moyer, and Jimmy Rollins in the middle, to Howard, Jayson Werth, Shane Victorino, and Brett Myers back from the minors down the stretch this year’s Phillies were a roller-coaster ride that ended at just the right time.

And since when do the Phillies have a bullpen as dominating all season as the one anchored by Lidge, Ryan Madson—the bridge to Lidge—and J.C. Romero, among others?

Would it have been easier if the 79 days spent in first place had been 100 or more? Easier, sure; as memorably exciting? Not a chance. Was there a better way to end a 25-year city title drought than a wild season that ended with snow in October and a last game that lasted three days?

SI has chosen two teams as its Sportsmen of the Year since making the ’80 Olympic team its choice: The ’99 U.S. women’s soccer team, and the 2004 Boston Red Sox. The ’08 Phillies won’t be the third.

But anyone along for the wild ride knows the validation would be nothing compared to the celebration.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Stuck in the Middle with You

Cincinnati’s Reggie Kelly could star in one of those old American Express commercials: “Do you know me? I’m the tight end for a one-win NFL team. But come Sunday, I’ll probably collect more yards than All-Pro Eagles running back Brian Westbrook. See you then!”

If the trend holds, Kelly will feast on the middle of the Eagles’ defense, specifically linebackers Chris Gocong, Stewart Bradley and Omar Gaither. The 5-4 Eagles have allowed opposing tight ends to notch two 100-yard games—with four other tight ends topping 63 yards against the Birds.

That’s six players with at least 63 receiving yards in nine games—while Westbrook has topped 63 yards rushing just twice. The Eagles have made stars of the likes of Kevin Boss, Randy McMichael, and Vernon Davis.

It’s no secret that coach Andy Reid undervalues linebackers. He has drafted just three linebackers earlier than the third round in his 10 NFL drafts—and only one since 2001: Matt McCoy (63rd overall in 2005), Quinton Caver (55th in 2001), and Barry Gardner (35th in 1999).

Those non-descript names aren’t exactly a ringing endorsement for drafting linebackers. But just because Reid’s linebacker picks have been poor doesn’t mean he should abandon the position or relegate it to the later rounds.

That’s a strategy that has handicapped the Eagles, while the Cowboys (All Pro DeMarcus Ware) and Redskins (All Pro LaVar Arrington, starter Rocky McIntosh), among others, have used their high draft choices on top college linebackers.

Granted, Reid did draft all three Eagle starters, but none was among the top 70 players taken in his draft; in other words, a big-name impact player. And Bradley, from Nebraska, is the only linebacker Reid has taken from a powerful BCS college conference higher than the fifth round since 2001.

That kind of neglect at linebacker has allowed opposing tight ends to eagerly await Eagles games. The opposing tight end has led his team in receiving yards six times this year. As a group, they’re averaging 4.7 catches and 65 yards a game, compared to 3.4 catches for 40.6 yards for Eagle tight ends.

As for the Eagles' tight end spot as the team prepares for the Bengals, coincidentally, Cincinnati—the college, not the NFL team—provided the Eagles with the one tight end who has had a starring role so far. Maybe backup Brent Celek, who caught six passes for 131 yards against the Seahawks, should introduce himself to Reid.

“Do you know me? I hold the Eagles’ regular-season record for receiving yards in a game by a tight end, and I’m the only Eagles tight end to top 100 receiving yards this season. You know where to find me—on the sidelines next to you. See you then!”

Linebacker note:
Reid is not alone in Eagles history when it comes to drafting linebackers. In the last 40 years, the Eagles have drafted just two linebackers in the first round. Jerry Robinson, ex-UCLA assistant Dick Vermeil’s 1980 pick out of UCLA who became a 1981 Pro Bowl choice, and 1970 draftee Steve Zabel from Oklahoma.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Picking On Each Other

Anyone up for making a few picks? — John

The King of the Jungle Bowl

There’s going to be a lot of roaring this weekend as the Lions get a game against the visiting Pride. Though the visitors have played valiantly this season against stronger competition, they’ve been unable to come out the victor all too often. Such will be the case again this weekend at Shirk Stadium as Albright defeats Widener, 24-17.

In other Eastern PA football action, De Sales University will… oh wait, that’s right, their football program disbanded after the entire squad got kicked off the team for constantly being late for practice—half the team was unwilling to give up its Dungeons and Dragons lifestyle, and the other half was addicted to playing Boggle.

Luckily for De Sales, though, there is still much excitement over its athletics as the Lady Bulldogs upset their way into the Freedom Conference finals. The game is against the top-seeded Eagles of Eastern, a team that is 28-1 overall, and 8-0 in conference. As defending Conference champs and having been to the NCAA tournament last year, the #3 seed Lady Bulldogs know how to play in big games. But that pedigree won’t help much as they confront a squad that lost only 10 games in its 28 regular-season best-of-3 matches. Eastern def. De Sales, 3-0. — Kurt

Those predictions would make the De Sales SID proud (if we had one...). And by the way, we cool guys played pinochle in college. Dungeons and Dragons was soooo theater-crowd. — John

Is Kurt permitted to talk about my alma mater and include my Albright Lions in his weekly selections? I do agree with him that "we" will beat Widener this weekend.

With that being said I want to take every one to scenic Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for a Saturday noon kickoff between the Pitt Panthers and Louisville Cardinals. Like most Dave Wannstedt-coached teams Pitt is truly baffling. For the first time in many years Pitt was ranked going into the season and they rewarded their diehard fans with a opening-day home loss to powerful Bowling Green. They then reel off 5 consecutive impressive wins and get back into the rankings. What happened next? You guessed it, a blowout loss at home to the mighty Scarlet Knights of Rutgers. They then go on the road and win a 4-overtime game at Notre Dame. The teams combined for 7 field goals (no touchdowns in OT) with the Pitt kicker hitting all 4 and Notre Dame only connecting on 3.

With that detailed analysis I haven't the slightest idea of what is going to happen on Saturday except Louisville plays at Pitt and Dave Wannstedt will be on the sideline. — Dave

It's my understanding that I'm not not permitted. Besides, Albright has much to be proud of, and I thought this was a great venue to share with the world. For example: Who knew that most of Albright's enrollees are overachieving hairdressers? Ooops, excuse me... hairstylists?

Go Lions (and not the Nittany variety.) — Kurt

I KNOW John's absolutely LOVIN' all these in-depth analyses. I'll try my best to keep up with this week's theme: The Other Guy's Alma Mater...

I'd really like to rattle Kevin (Thank you!) and pick the Hawkeyes from the seat of Johnson County, Iowa, and birthplace of Herbert Hoover (Iowa City was founded 1839 as the capital of Iowa Territory, inc. 1853). Instead I'm going with the Nittany Lions from State College, PA located amid farmland in Centre County (settled 1859, inc. 1896).

[Note to anyone wishing to pick the Wake/UVa game: I'll be there cheering on the Demon Deacs. So be sure to factor that into your prediction...] — Phil

I'm drawing a blank on Steve and Brian's alma mater (Rosemont?) and I'd never pick against Kevin's Penn State since "we" Philly fans want to win yet another title. Kurt and Dave got each other, leaving only...Wake.

Sorry, Phil, but with my worst-in-the-group ranking, I'm doing something worse than picking against Wake—I'm picking them to win. Go, Deacs!

The Eagles extended their winning streak to 3 and looked great last week against a mediocre at best football team, the Seahawks. If the Eagles are firing on all cylinders, they may be able to hang in with the Giants, who are playing solid football at this time. Eagles 24, Giants 28. — Troy V. of Yardley

Troy, you're steering clear again of the Cowboys? You're doing Philly proud, which I know was a goal of yours! — John

Cowboys are on a bye. — Troy

Can I still pick them to lose … a head coach? — John

Let's take a look at Week 9 for the Birds when they were coached by the Great One. Buddy Ryan's record was as follows:
1986: Lose to the St. Louis Cardinals, 13-10
1987: Lose to the Stinking Giants, 20-17
1988: Lose to Atlanta, 27-24
1989: Lose to San Diego, 20-17
1990: Beat Washington, 28-14
In each of these years, the Birds had pulled out wins the week before, as is the situation faced by Reid's Birds this year. So, even if Buddy were coaching right now, the Birds would have an 80% chance of losing by a field goal. Prediction: Eagles 20, Stinking Giants 23. — Carnac the Great

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Phillies' All-Time World Series Best

For all those Phillies fans who thought they had this team figured out heading into the World Series, join me in raising your hands in the air like you just don’t care. A World Series championship wipes away the worries of second-guessers, right?

What was known was obvious: Charlie Manuel is a good guy but he won’t win any awards for his in-game management. Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard are going to shine offensively on the big stage while the bottom of the lineup continues its rally-killing ways. And our pitching will dominate.

Well, going one out of four ain’t so good—kind of like the big hitters’ big-game production.

The Phillies overwhelming World Series title—they didn’t trail for even half an inning—arrived because Manuel was a genius, the bottom of the lineup was tops, the subs rose, and the pitching was outstanding.

The only Phillies regulars to hit above .300 for the World Series were not the big-name stars: Jayson Werth (.444), Carlos Ruiz (.375), and Pedro Feliz (.333). Howard (.286) was the only one of the big guns to hit above .230: Rollins (.227), Utley (.167), and Burrell (.071) put together World Series hitting displays that usually lead to disaster.

So, how good historically were the efforts of Werth, Ruiz, Feliz, and the pitchers compared to past Phillies World Series performances?

Unfortunately, as fans know, it doesn’t take long to study the comparisons. The 2008 team was just the franchise’s sixth World Series team—and three of those Series were losses in five games or less.

If you were to name the best Phillies World Series performances, you would assume the team’s legends would fill the lineup, guys like Richie Ashburn, Robin Roberts, Mike Schmidt, Pete Rose, Steve Carlton, and Greg Luzinski.

And you’d be half-right. Here are the best Phillies World Series performances at each position (click on the names to see their stats):

Starting Pitchers:
Grover Cleveland Alexander (1915)
Robin Roberts (1950)
Steve Carlton (1980)
Cole Hamels (2008)
Ken Heintzelman (1950)

Relief Pitchers:
Tug McGraw (1980)
Jim Konstanty (1950)
J.C. Romero (2008)

Pitching and first-base production are the two spots Phillies players have come through most consistently in the World Series. All of the team’s historically best pitchers stepped up when it counted, with 2008 Series MVP Hamels able to rank just fourth on the list.

McGraw, of course, was magic in ’80; the only reason Brad Lidge, who put together the best season of relief pitching in Phillies history, is not on the list is because he only pitched two innings, though they were perfect.

Bob Boone (1980)

Boone was a monster in ’80, hitting .412, driving in four runs, scoring three times, and finishing with a .500 OBP. He edges out Ruiz and his magnificent 2008 Series.

First Base:
Fred Luderus (1915)

Who? With guys like Ryan Howard, Pete Rose (1983, ’80), and John Kruk (1993), how does some no-name win out? Easy: He was a star—the only offensive one in 1915—who hit the Phillies’ first World Series home run and drove in 6 of the team’s 9 RBIs in the 4-games-to-1 loss to the Red Sox.

Second Base:
Mariano Duncan (1993)

What? The Phillies have had Hall of Fame-caliber second basemen in Utley and Joe Morgan (1983), as well as 1980 NLCS MVP Manny Trillo. Doesn’t matter. Duncan collected 10 hits and five runs in the six-game Series loss to the Blue Jays.

Granny Hamner (1950)

This is the closest competition with both Hamner (.429) and Larry Bowa (.375 in 1980) starring in the Series. But Hamner had a higher slugging percentage (.714 to Bowa’s .417) thanks to two doubles and a triple.

Third Base:
Mike Schmidt (1980)

After a “Who?” and a “What?” at two other infield spots, third base is a “Duh!” Schmidt had two homers, 7 RBIs, scored six runs, hit .381, and was the Series MVP.

Lenny Dykstra (1993)
Jayson Werth (2008)
Bake McBride (1980)

Here’s a roll call of star Phillies outfielders over the years: Richie Ashburn, Del Ennis, Chuck Klein, Pat Burrell, Greg Luzinski, Bobby Abreu, Johnny Calllison, Garry Maddox, Cy Williams. But none make the World Series list. Go figure.

Dysktra’s ridiculous 1993 postseason included his 4-homer, 8-RBI World Series. McBride (.304) and Werth (.444) both had sneaky-good Series outings. There’s not really any other close competitors. Again, go figure.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A New Day

The joy of the Phillies’ World Championship still hung in my house like the “#1 Fan” finger poised above the living room TV.

By Sunday night I was finally, genuinely believing both that the Phillies had won the title and that no one would take it away. They couldn’t, right? Hey, I’m a Philly fan so someone—the umps, Joe Carter, Bud Selig—is looking to get us. (By the way, could Miller Lite’s Commissioner of the No-Taste League do any worse than Bud?)

I even once believed my brother had the power to conspire against the Phillies. One night, my dad took my brother and me to a regular-season, non-descript game against the Montreal Expos, one the no-luck early-70s Phillies for once had in the bag.

But my 10-year-old brother Paul thought it’d be a good idea to cheer for the Expos to make things interesting, and to prolong our day at the Vet. So he cheered every Montreal hit, cheered every Phillies out, and didn’t stop cheering until the Phillies lost.

I had malice in my heart—even if I was too young at 7 to spell malice. How could he have done this? He helped the Expos beat the Phillies! Only logic, my dad, my age difference, and my size (4 inches shorter) kept me from pummeling my brother.

Anyway, today, comforted by the exorcism of 25 years of championship-less ghosts and a magical nay-saying brother, I relaxed and watched the Eagles’ 26-7 win over the Seahawks, then settled in to watch Comcast for Ray Didinger’s expert post-game analysis.

During a commercial, I ended up talking to my wife. No worries, I thought, knowing my regular-guy two-minute-warning clock would get me back on the couch before the show resumed. Every guy knows the drill when you’re battling commercials and a conversation with the wife.

Like a quarterback, you should throw your comments to the sidelines to kill time. “Yes, you’re right there.” “No, I couldn’t argue about that.” “Let me think about that one—but again, I think you’re right.”

But something happened as I ran through my progressions. I stopped caring about getting back to the TV.

I certainly wanted to watch Didinger, who never fails to comment on the game like no one else on TV on any network. But as I sat listening to my wife, I realized something drastic had changed.

I didn’t need to watch. For years, I did. Because if I watched, the answer would come. The one thing keeping Philly teams from a title would reveal itself, either in commentary, or in a highlight, or in a post-game interview, or most certainly in the game itself.

One thing or another, the games or the commentary, would take us home, to the land of milk and honey and championship rings. Guide us, Ray-Diddy, V-Heb, the Gov, Barkann, Mitchy-Poo, Ricky-Bo. (By the way, please cease with the nicknames!).

All of these thoughts went through my head as I stood there listening to my wife.

I actually don’t know what she said while I considered this. Or what thoughts must have raced through her head as I stood there so long: “Geez, he’s actually still listening—I must be saying something smart.”

All I know is that it dawned on me: I’ve seen a Philadelphia World Champion for the first time since I was 13. There’s nothing on TV right now that can top what I’ve just seen for the last week. There are no answers to the mystery, no magical formula to be revealed.

There’s nothing more to be done or said. Philly has a World Champion; the Phillies won the World Series. It’s time to relax and enjoy.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Phillies Win! Will Our Weekly Picks?

Quick note: The Phillies won the World Series. I could type that sentence 142 times and not get tired of reading it. The Phillies won the World Series.

However, after long, rain-delayed nights, Game 5-winning celebrations, and Broad Street parade insanity—enjoyed with my daughter Caitlin and two other class-cutting friends whom I won’t name to protect the innocent—I haven’t had a chance to write.

Thankfully, that’s where friends step in, contributing this week’s picks:

2008 World Series Champions—Philadelphia Phillies!! You’re kidding me! I don’t believe it! Incredible! Last week I predicted the Phillies would win the World Series in 6 games. They did it in 5!!! Congratulations to the Philadelphia Phillies, World Champions!

As for my pick: a certain trend doesn’t bode well for the Philadelphia Eagles this week against the Seattle Seahawks. The Eagles have lost their 8th game in each of the last two seasons the Philadelphia Phillies were in the World Series. In 1983, head coach Marion Campbell’s Eagles, led by Ron Jaworski, lost to the Chicago Bears in a defensively tough game, 7-6.

In 1993, Rich Kotite and Randall Cunningham led the Eagles in a 16-3 loss to the Phoenix Cardinals. The Eagles are coming off of an important win against the Atlanta Falcons, but once again find themselves traveling across the country to play in hostile territory. The Seahawks are floundering, having had high hopes of making the playoffs this year, and are desperate for a win to turn their disappointing season around. It will be another close game. The Eagles will be lucky to win and will require Brian Westbrook to once again carry the team by himself to victory.

Philadelphia Eagles – 45, Seattle Seahawks – 10 — Troy V. of Yardley

Seems like this was a time for streaks (both good and bad) to end and new ones to begin.

Readers of this blog, and those not residing beneath rocks, no doubt are now aware that Philadelphia's 25 years of suffering (at least sports-related) is at an end.

Yet I doubt many were aware that Chelsea's 86-game unbeaten home streak also ended recently (10/26 0-1 to Liverpool). The Blues hadn't lost at Stamford Bridge since February of 2004. No, it's not 25 years, but still 86 home games without a loss is quite impressive and a Premier League record (the old record coincidentally held by Liverpool at 63 games from 2/78 - 12/80).

Turning the page... Philly now has its own streak of two consecutive sporting championships (why not count the Soul?!), so I'm looking for Chelsea to begin a new home unbeaten streak of their own by handling Sunderland Saturday.

(While I'm on the topics of streaks coming to an end, regardless of what happens on Election Day, January 20, 2009 will end a 20-year streak in which someone with the last name of either Bush or Clinton was President—and it's not too hard to imagine that the streak could have extended to 28 years!) — Phil

How can you pick against Sunderland? Heresy, I tell you, heresy! — John

Things Pittsburgh Football: The University of Pittsburgh Panthers travel to South Bend, IN, to take on the Golden Domers. It’s been a topsy-turvy season for the Panthers—two embarrassing losses to Bowling Green and Rutgers, and a road win against then-No. 10 USF. Both teams are 5-2, but considering last week’s action—Pitt’s loss to Rutgers, and ND’s convincing win over Washington—it doesn’t bode well for the Panthers. But for some strange reason, that’s when Pitt plays its best. Pitt wins in a squeaker, 21-20.

The Pittsburgh Steelers end their 0-2 slide against NFC East teams and beat the Redskins, in Washington (oops, Maryland) on MNF.

On record alone, the WPIAL AAAA high school playoff game between the Upper St. Clair Panthers (6-3) and McKeesport Tigers (7-2) appears as if it will be a close game. It won’t… McKeesport takes the win in a cake walk, 42-17. — Kurt

As we enter game 8, we should look at the Birds' historic record for game 8's. Specifically, let's look at the era of greatness, the Buddy Ryan years. We have:
1986, beat San Diego 23-7
1987, beat Washington, 31-27
1988, beat Dallas 24-23
1989, beat Denver 28-24
1990, beat New England 48-20

So, the Birds were 5-0 in Game 8 under the Great One's years. Now, they face a feeble Seattle team. If Ryan were coaching, I'd pick the Philadelphia Eagles 45, Seattle Seahawks 10. But, the Winner ain't in town any more, so my prediction is less sanguine: Birds - 34, Hawks 10. — Carnac the great

A 34-10 predicted rout is "sanguine?" Wow, in a mere days a Phillies World Championship has spoiled us. And it's nice to be so spoiled!

I need a win for once—my predictions have been worse than the Rays. Troy V. and Carnac are so far ahead of me I can barely even see them.

So I’m taking a gimme in what used to be a rivalry. Oklahoma blows out Nebraska Saturday night, 63-21. — John