I just had the craziest dream. First, it was 1999, and I was with 30 drunks booing Donovan McNabb. Then it was 2005, and McNabb was throwing up at the Super Bowl. Finally, I was debating the merits of McNabb’s career with former NFL quarterback Kordell Stewart and fending off accusations of racism by Temple icon John Chaney. That was some nightmare.
What’s that? All of that stuff actually happened? Ugh.
The strangest week of my 23-year career in radio began with a stupid remark I made on WIP last Tuesday morning. I suggested, with tongue in cheek, that we re-gather the members of the Dirty Thirty who had booed McNabb at the 1999 draft and blast him one last time at his retirement ceremony. I am no fan of old No. 5, but that would be a dumb move, even by my warped standards.
In the course of my rant, I also made the mistake of dredging up the issue of whether McNabb vomited in the latter stages of his one Super Bowl appearance, leading to a three-day e-mail war with reporters who still believe he did not. Did McNabb barf? Yes, he most certainly did, but what’s the point of arguing it again now?
All of the press I got for my McNabb comments earned me an invitation on an Atlanta radio show hosted by Kordell Stewart, who informed me that I’m nuts not to appreciate a quarterback who got the Eagles to five NFC championship games. I then suggested – nicely, mind you – McNabb is a hero only when compared to lesser quarterbacks like, say, Kordell Stewart.
Could I dig the hole any deeper for myself? Apparently, I could. As the week progressed, I offered some serious analysis of McNabb that did not sit well with his many admirers. I said he negated his many good accomplishments with passive-aggressive behavior that will permanently damage his legacy. I was logical with my criticism, accurately recalling his many failures at key moments and the absurd remarks that inevitably followed.
Unfortunately, timing is everything, and it is obviously considered bad form to tell the brutal truth about a player on the week when he announces his retirement. Among those offended by my commentary was former Temple coach John Chaney, who suggested that the negative 1999 draft reaction was like “a lynch mob.” In other words, we went to New York that day to protest the drafting of a black quarterback.
Chaney has no idea what he’s talking about. We actually made the trip – at the urging of then-Mayor Ed Rendell – to welcome Ricky Williams to the Eagles. The black running back, Ricky Williams. John Chaney owes me and those fans an apology.
Of course, it could be argued that I deserved all of the heat I got last week for stirring up arguments that were best left undisturbed. On that charge, I plead guilty. McNabb was a good quarterback, OK? There, I said it.
Now, please leave me alone while I take a long, dreamless nap.
At a time when his popularity is at an all-time low, Phillies GM faces his toughest decision: Is it time to trade Chase Utley?
On a team of beloved sports heroes, there is one true leader, and that is Utley, the feisty, quiet Phillies second baseman who personifies the gritty fan base. Even his profane “World bleepin’ champions!” exhortation at the 2008 championship rally has somehow become a term of endearment for that legendary team.
But that was five long years ago – five years of punishment on already brittle knees, five years of falling short and falling hard. That Utley has returned to a semblance of his previous greatness this season is something of a medical miracle. He actually looks like Utley again, playing well and smart, squeezing a few desperate wins out of a declining team.
Utley is a free agent at the end of the season, and he will never again be worth the $15 million he is earning right now – especially to a rebuilding team like the Phillies. And that leads to Amaro’s decision about what to do with a player loved by all but worth more now to a contender.
Baseball sage Peter Gammons of the MLB Network said recently on my radio show that no Phillie will bring more in return than Utley, who would take both his talent and his aura to a contender. Doesn’t it make sense to use Utley as part of a rebuilding process that is inevitable now?
The best guess here is that Amaro will trade Utley because it will be the right thing to do for the franchise. And then Ruben Amaro will find out what being hated in Philadelphia is really like.
Sam Hinkie is known as a meticulous number-cruncher with a tireless work ethic, so why did the new Sixer GM do so little homework on the Philadelphia sports fan before his tone-deaf introductory news conference last week?
In fact, it is a challenge to recall any executive, coach or player who seemed more out of touch with his surroundings than Hinkie appeared in his embarrassing debut. At 32, he is not expected to be a master of public speaking, but his stilted reading of boring clichés belonged at a college graduation, not at the dais of an NBA team.
Now maybe he’s one of those geniuses who is just a lot more comfortable making moves than talking about them. Maybe in the long run he will know what to do with a team that has two good players and a rapidly shrinking fan base. Maybe he will even be figure out how to overcome a clueless owner and a clownish CEO.
But what the Sixers really need right now, this minute, is someone who can represent the franchise with purpose and confidence – someone who has not lost his mind like Doug Collins, or someone who cannot communicate at all, like his predecessor, Tony DiLeo. They do not need yet another empty suit yammering about nothing.
What Sam Hinkie needed to do last week was declare, in a powerful voice, that Andrew Bynum is not welcome back here, under any circumstances. He needed to do what new Eagles coach Chip Kelly has done, to connect with the fans. He needed to provide some reason for hope. He failed miserably.
Idle thoughts . . . .
• Eagles coach Chip Kelly choreographed his practices last week with loud, pulsating music, a first in the NFL. Two days later, Andy Reid did the exact same thing in Kansas City. Hold on a second. Which one of these guys is a rookie, and which one has been doing the job for 14 years?
• Ilya Bryzgalov simply cannot shut his mouth. Last week, after blowing another game at the world championships, the goalie called Philadelphia dirty, depicted the people here as lazy welfare bums and praised Joseph Stalin. Just one question: Why is Byrzgalov still a Flyer?
• Danny Watkins explained the other day that his struggles with the Eagles were directly connected to unorthodox offensive-line coach Howard Mudd. Now that Mudd is gone, he implied that we can expect a much better return on the first-round pick. Wanna bet?
• If you were watching the miraculous comeback by the Phils Sunday, then you already know that Freddie Galvis absolutely must play every day, starting right now. Forget his game-winning home run. Galvis is potentially the best infield defender since Ozzie Smith. He is that good.
• Welcome to the Phillies, Carlos Zambrano. The former ace pitcher with serious anger-management problems – he has been known to physically attack teammates and Gatorade coolers without provocation – is working himself back into shape and should be on the major-league roster soon. Meanwhile, somewhere a village is missing its idiot.
The fans of Philadelphia have launched a quiet rebellion against our pro sports teams, and they are doing it with the biggest weapon in their arsenal – their wallets.
In fact, if the teams joined together for an ad campaign, the most accurate slogan they could roll out right now is: Good seats still available. Very simply, fans have finally grown weary of mounting losses and broken promises. They are disgusted with a playoff shutout by our winter teams, a horrific 4-12 season by the Eagles and now a sub-.500 start by the Phillies.
The biggest current story in Philadelphia sports is not the Roy Halladay saga or Chip Kelly’s first public practices. It is what happened at the box office last Thursday, when the Eagles put single-game tickets on sale, and – for the first time in more than a decade – had them available the next day, and the day after that, and even now. That’s right. You can buy tickets to an Eagles game right now.
For a team that had a waiting list for season tickets of 50,000 just a few years ago, this sudden turn of events came as a surprise to everyone, including the Eagles. Their decision to raise ticket prices after a 4-12 season reflected an arrogant belief that the fans would answer the call, regardless of the quality of the product. Welcome to the real world, Jeff Lurie.
Equally clear now is the fact that this Eagles ticket issue is not an isolated case in Philadelphia. Remember, Sixers tickets were selling for as low as four cents on the secondary market during the Andrew Bynum fiasco, and even Flyers tickets – always the least vulnerable to fan dissatisfaction – were available for a small fraction of their face value in the final month of a terrible season.
Then there are the Phillies, whose consecutive-sellout streak ended last summer at 257. Somehow, in a single year, the Phils went from selling 44,021 tickets a game to 37,321 today. Last year at this time, you could not buy a Phillies ticket on the primary market. Today, you can sit behind home plate.
So, why are the fans rebelling? Well, the obvious answer is that the teams are all pretty awful right now. They aren’t worth the money. But it goes beyond that. Fans are tired of watching players like Jimmy Rollins not run hard when he should be, they are fed up with ticket hikes by billionaires like Lurie, and they have been insulted one time too many by bums like Bynum.
The fans have had enough. They aren’t buying tickets the way they have been, and they won’t reach back into their wallets until the teams fix what they broke. And what the teams broke is the trust of their fans.
The Sixers finally took a positive step last week when they hired Sam Hinkie to become the face of their lost sports franchise. I know almost nothing about the former Houston Rockets executive, but I can say with great confidence that he will be a major upgrade as GM. The truth is, a sea otter would be a major upgrade.
Hinkie subscribes to what owner Joshua Harris calls “analytics,” which sounds a lot like an NBA version of Moneyball. Through the study of sophisticated statistical models, Hinkie plans to rebuild a team that hasn’t interested Philadelphia since 2002. The good news here is that Sam Hinkie actually has a plan. At this point, any plan would do.
And the better news is that Tony DiLeo has left an organization that he put to sleep for most of the past decade, as an assistant GM, a coach. and GM. After DiLeo’s snoozefest, Hinkie can win huge public acclaim immediately simply by announcing that Andrew Bynum will never play for the Sixers.
As for the rest of the roster, Hinkie should set aside Jrue Holiday and Thaddeus Young and then fumigate these hopeless underachievers. With a player option at $3 million next season, Kwame Brown’s permanent spot on the bench should be declared a toxic-waste site.
As for Spencer Hawes, the big, soft center Tweeted after Hinkie was hired “Hate, Hate, Hate” and then made an idiotic remark about statistics that was aimed right at the new GM. Well, at least a Sixer has actually exceeded our expectations. Hawes is even dumber than we thought. Good riddance to you, Spencer, and to most of your loser teammates, too.
Roy Halladay issued an apology last week to Phillies fans for his horrible pitching this season. Good for him. After lying for months about the condition of his aging, sore pitching shoulder, he owed us some expression of accountability.
Now, while they’re at it, how about some more acts of contrition? At the top of the list is GM Ruben Amaro Jr., who actually said – it’s on tape – that he was OK with Halladay hiding his sore shoulder for two weeks while the Phils absorbed two straight 14-2 losses with the former ace on the mound.
Next in line is Rich Dubee, the dour pitching coach who has refused to discuss Halladay’s pitching (or arm condition) because he didn’t like the tone of questions being asked when Halladay was getting crushed early in the season. Dubee is a bad pitching coach with a worse attitude. He needs to apologize for being such a black cloud over the organization.
Of course, no expression of regret over this Halladay mess will be complete without a few well-chosen words from manager Charlie Manuel, who gets paid $4 million a year to let his player manage themselves. The skipper allowed Halladay to pitch with a sore arm at the end of last season – ever wonder what kind of damage that caused? – and was still ready to send him back out there until Halladay fessed up.
That noise you heard when Halladay’s arm problem became official last week was the slamming shut of an era of prosperity unrivaled in Phillies history. They are not going to find their way back from this nightmare of a season. Deep down, we all know that now. What they can do is show some dignity in these difficult times. At least Halladay started that process with his apology last week.
Idle thoughts . . . .
• o n nine years of strategic bumbling, Charlie Manuel just finished his worst week ever. He blew three straight one-run games with illogical moves, the most glaring when he replaced Antonio Bastardo with Mike Adams to face Miguel Montero in Arizona. Asked why he didn’t exploit the lefty-lefty matchup, Manuel said: “Adams is my eighth-inning guy.” Oh.
• o Jimmy Rollins was lollygagging on the basepaths so badly last week that broadcaster Chris Wheeler called him out on it, shouting, “Run, Jimmy, run.” The shocking part of this is not that Rollins failed to hustle again. No, it was that Wheeler—the ultimate homer – actually told the truth for once.
• o Tom Heckert got yet another personnel job last week after dreadful runs with the Eagles and Browns. Denver hired him, raising the question: Does anyone ever scout the scouts in the NFL?
• o Ilya Bryzgalov had a busy week, even if the Flyers didn’t. The goalie ducked under a puck in the hockey world championships, got caught playing Angry Birds after being benched, and then ripped the Philadelphia media again for being unprofessional. Hmmmm. Is Bryz trying to get the Flyers to dump him?
Doug Collins did something unprecedented in his final few months as coach of the Sixers. He rendered his status as a Philadelphia sports hero obsolete. Never again will he be the gritty overachiever who cared so much about winning. Now and forever, he will be the man whose raging ego ruined his legacy.
After a week of shameless public lies about his intentions, Collins finally stepped down last week in one final flurry of self-serving bravado. He prefaced his tribute to himself by saying that he had been plotting with his bosses a dignified goodbye, making his nauseating exit yet another spectacular failure in this disgraceful season.
In fact, it is impossible to imagine a less dignified send-off than the one he gave himself. If there were any remaining doubts about his total disconnection from the fans – remember, last month he advised them to pray for Andrew Bynum – they disappeared during his final news conference.
At one point, Collins actually had the audacity to blubber about his loving relationship with the fans, after stonewalling all of their questions for months. Now we have learned – from him, no less – that he had actually decided to leave last Christmas.
His final words to the city included a detailed recitation of his resume, conveniently omitting the fact that he was actually a loser here with a 110-120 record. He also emphasized his amazing kinship with his players, none of whom he thought highly enough to confide in his plans to leave. And he actually said he was “always a winner, never a champion.”
Always a winner? Was he a winner when he publicly attacked his players for “not breaking a sweat” after one awful loss? Was he a winner when he berated reporter after reporter asking valid questions about the Bynum disaster? Is he a winner now, with his team 14 games under .500 this season and in far worse shape than when he got here?
Doug Collins thinks he can bamboozle the fans with bluster about his playing days here, about his commitment to the job and about his love for Philadelphia. If he actually did love our city, he wouldn’t have spent the final months of his tenure here insulting the fans with his public tantrums and his bold lies.
It is almost impossible for a sports hero in Philadelphia to lose that designation. Allen Iverson is a national embarrassment now, but he still receives standing ovations every time he returns. Lenny Dykstra is in prison, and fans still speak fondly of his playing days here.
Collins managed to soil his legacy in a way even those two pathetic cases didn’t. In the end, he didn’t respect the fans. Ultimately, he cared only about himself. He left with no class, and with no dignity.
As the Phillies continue to flounder below .500, a fascinating debate is emerging about whom to blame more for the failures of the current team, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. or manager Charlie Manuel. The correct answer is Manuel – by a wide margin.
Now, I understand that Manuel won the World Series here in 2008, — while Amaro was just a front-office assistant – so the folksy skipper still holds the support of a majority of the fans. Philadelphia never stops loving a champion. Just ask the 1973-75 Flyers.
But Manuel is the bigger problem here, as he proved again with some abominable strategy last week. On successive nights late in tie games, Manuel placed the team’s fate in the hands of relievers Jeremy Horst and Phillippe Aumont. In both cases, the far better choices – Mike Adams and Jonathan Papelbon, among others – sat in the bullpen until it was too late.
Manuel’s explanations for these obvious mistakes were totally illogical, as usual. He said he was “getting concerned” about how much Adams was being used, although the set-up specialist had pitched exactly six innings in the previous two weeks. Papelbon is used only in save situations – though he entered a game two nights later with the Phillies one run behind and then holding a four-run lead on Sunday.
Amaro did his job last week. He provided Manuel with two of the best late-inning relievers in baseball, but Adams and Papelbon can fill their roles only if the manager uses them.
Charlie Manuel should have been fired a year ago, after his 102-win team lost in the first round of the playoffs because of strategic blunders. If you really want to blame Amaro, rip him because he hasn’t had the courage to get rid of his beloved – ands overrated — manager.
There was no press release or news conference, but the NFL made a bold statement last week about the 2013 Eagles: They stink.
This appraisal was hidden in the new schedule, which has jarred the Birds back to their Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time days before Andy Reid. In the first season under Chip Kelly, the Eagles are slated to play only two night games, and those are in the first 11 days of the season. Barring a late flex-schedule change, the Birds will not appear in the marquee Sunday night game.
What the NFL is saying here is obvious. The debut of Kelly and his newfangled brand of football is worthy of attention; hence, the Monday night opener in Washington. And Reid’s homecoming in week three deserves a Thursday-night stage – which every NFL team is guaranteed anyway. After that, forget it.
Unintentionally, the NFL appears to have done Kelly and his new team a huge favor. Facing the Redskins and a still-gimpy Robert Griffin III in the opener is a gift, followed by winnable games against the Chargers and Chiefs. Is it ridiculous to think the Birds could be 3-0 on Sept. 22? And even if they’re 2-1, can you imagine how much that start will help Kelly’s players to believe in the new system?
Even before the draft later this week, it is becoming obvious that the Eagles will be better than the pundits believe. Kelly’s refreshing new approach – fast-paced practices, shuffled locker assignments, custom-made smoothies – is already providing some genuine hope after the drudgery of Reid’s final years.
Here’s my first prediction of the Chip Kelly era: Despite the new schedule, the Eagles will not stink in 2013.
Idle thoughts . . . .
• * It’s a new season and a new coach, but the same old Michael Vick. The quarterback declared last week that the Eagles are “still my team.” Unfortunately, “his team” was 4-12 last year because he couldn’t stop throwing interceptions or getting hurt. The worst thing that could happen this season is for it actually to be “his team” again.
• * Marcus Vick, Michael’s hilariously clueless brother, resurfaced on Twitter last week with some homophobic remarks directed at the Arizona Cardinals. Am I the only one who will miss Marcus more than Michael when they both finally leave?
• * The Flyers will end one of the worst seasons in their history this weekend. So who goes first? If it were up to me, it would be GM Paul Holmgren, followed by goalie Ilya Bryzgalov and then coach Peter Laviolette. If all three are back next season, the Flyers can expect to miss the playoffs again next season.
• * Jonathan Papelbon used the Boston Marathon tragedy to spout his views on gun control. Hey, I happen to like the Phillies closer. I’m just more comfortable when he’s throwing a 95-mile-per hour fastball than when he’s using the pitching mound as a pulpit for his political views. That’s all I’m saying.
• * Confronted by reporters at the Doug Collins goodbye news conference, perennial NBA bust Kwame Brown – the lazy center who made $3 million for doing nothing this season — sprinted for the exits to elude their questions. Who said the big lug never hustles?