September 12, 2016
Carson Wentz’s debut as an Eagle was like a perfect first date. The rookie quarterback had great chemistry with the fans, performing beyond expectations and then saying all the right things. For just about everybody, it was love at first sight.
But not for me – at least not yet. There have been too many Kevin Kolbs and Nick Foleses for me to jump back into a relationship, even if this 23-year-old North Dakotan is the closest thing to a franchise quarterback we have had since Donovan McNabb left town seven years ago.
One game into his NFL career, Wentz already appears too good to be true. Just last week, he said on my WIP radio show that he began planning for a career in pro football when he was in the second grade. Second grade? My only hope back then was that my Mom had packed me a peanut-and-butter sandwich for lunch.
After an eventful preseason in which he broke two ribs and the spirit of incumbent Sam Bradford – who was traded to Minnesota eight days before the season opener – Wentz has dazzled his coaches and teammates with a tireless work ethic and a poise not normally associated with the hinterlands of North Dakota.
Fans like me were frightened by the thought of an opening-game loss to the hideous Cleveland Browns, but Wentz was not ruffled at all by his new surroundings. On the first possession of his career, the kid marched his new team down the field for a touchdown, and then kept a steady hand throughout the 29-10 cakewalk.
Among at least half a dozen precise throws was the defining moment of the game, a snap-toss to Zach Ertz for a first down midway through the third quarter. At the time, the Eagles were holding a 15-10 lead, and it was fourth-down-and-four from the Cleveland 40.
Let that situation sink in for a moment. Wentz was called upon by new coach Doug Pederson to execute a fourth-down pass, in heavy traffic, over the middle of the field with the game still very much in doubt. The safe play – the Andy Reid play – would have been to pin the Browns deep with a punt.
When I asked Pederson today on my WIP radio show why he chose to go for it there, the coach said it was simple. Wentz had executed the play without difficulty throughout the week in practice, and there was no reason to believe he would fail in a game situation.
In fact, teammate after teammate reflected a similar confidence in Wentz after only one game. More convincingly than any of the franchise-quarterback pretenders that preceded him, Wentz has looked the part of a franchise quarterback. He is unflappable, smart, talented and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
But not everyone thinks he’s a sure thing. Hue Jackson, the quarterbacks guru who coaches the Browns, went out of his way not to draft Wentz, and remained tempered on Sunday after the kid had just beaten him badly. Other skeptics refuse to christen Wentz the next big thing – even though it appears he may be.
And that group currently includes me. I want to believe. I need to believe. But one amazing performance against a terrible team is not enough this time. Nick Foles had a historic season in 2013, and now he’s a backup in Kansas City. Even Kevin Kolb showed flashes once or twice.
So here’s exactly where I am after Carson Wentz’s terrific debut: It was not love at first sight, but it was a great start to a promising relationship.
And who knows? If he plays as well in Chicago next Monday night, it may already be time to go shopping for a ring.
When Allen Iverson became swept up in the emotion of his Hall of Fame weekend a few days ago, he was not the only one shedding tears. The player who captivated Philadelphia basketball fans like no one before or since couldn’t help but cry over the memory of 14 unforgettable seasons in the NBA. Neither could I.
Most of the time, the tears at events like these are rooted in joy, the culmination of an extraordinary achievement. I felt only sadness, however – for Iverson and for us. He will never again know the joy of playing a game that was synonymous with his very existence, and we will never again encounter someone like him.
Have you ever seen a player who loved the game the way Iverson did, especially in those magical years at the turn of the 21st century? The crossover of Michael Jordan, the feuds with Larry Brown, those seasons when every seat was filled, that incredible run in 2001 . . . they were all so captivating, so energizing.
We should have realized then that the fall would be equally spectacular. He loved the game so much, he attempted a comeback here, then tried milking one last season in Turkey, and then faced very public marital and financial problems. Through it all, though, he never failed to honor the fans who supported him.
"I don't think there will ever be another relationship like the relationship with me and the Philadelphia fans," Iverson said during a memorable induction speech.
He is right about that. More than anyone who ever played in our city, Iverson belongs on the court, in his element, for every day of his life. And we should all be watching him, raising our voices even higher when he cocks his ear at us, asking for one last burst of inspiration.
Allen Iverson has not been seen on a basketball court for seven years now, but his acceptance of the ultimate honor last weekend was still a sobering reminder that neither he nor us will ever be the same.
John Tortorella became a hero to me last week when he announced that any members of Team USA who choose not to stand for the national anthem during the World Cup hockey tournament will remain on the bench for the entire game.
Bravo, John. Now where are the rest of the proud Americans who are willing to censure this appalling insult instigated last month by 49ers backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick?
On my WIP radio show last Friday, I erupted in a five-minute tirade against Kaepernick and the shameless sheep who are now following him. I argued – just as I did in this column last week – that there are far more effective ways to protest racially-motivated police brutality than by desecrating our nation in the eyes of the world.
Not a single call of support followed my radio rant, and I assumed that my listeners were probably more interested in the start of the football season than my rare display of political fervor. Then I looked down at my cellphone, checked my Twitter feedback, and read my emails. The response was extraordinary – and anonymous.
People are afraid of this issue because it has all of the ingredients of trouble – race, patriotism, the police, and the overlapping of sports and politics. Even President Obama tiptoed around the issue last week, as did NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. Of course, ex-Eagles coach Chip Kelly, now with the Niners, has taken no stand, either.
Meanwhile, the growing army of dissidents are correct when they say they have a right to express their frustration, but so do the majority of Americans who are outraged when rich athletes turn their backs on the country that gave them such privileged lives.
John Tortorella had the courage to take a stand, people. Now it’s your turn.
And finally …
• As impressive as Carson Wentz’s debut was, it was no more so than Eagles coach Doug Pederson’s first game as an NFL coach. Pederson had a terrific offensive plan, was a steadying influence on the sidelines and held a postgame news conference that included no “gotta do a better jobs.” Maybe he was right when he said he was no clone of his mentor, Andy Reid.
• Remember how NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made such a big deal about his growing concerns over concussions? And do you recall the time last year when he insisted he’s always available to the media? Well, Cam Newton got slammed in the head no less than four times in the opener last Thursday night, and the boss has done nothing and said nothing about it. Roger Goodell is a fraud.
• Journeyman left-hander Rich Hill pitched seven perfect innings Saturday for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but he never got to complete his once-in-a-lifetime feat. He committed the fatal mistake of throwing 89 pitches, too many for blister-fearing manager Dave Roberts. So Hill became the latest victim of the robotic, idiotic pitch-counting craze. Amazing.
• Central Michigan won a game on a Hail Mary throw followed by one of the most impressive laterals in football history. Only one problem: The refs later acknowledged that they gave the winners an extra play. The game should have ended one play before the miracle. So, the Mid-Atlantic Conference awarded the game to Oklahoma State, right? Uh, no. Central Michigan still wins. How dumb is that?
• It’s a shame Sam Bradford didn’t get to play in Minnesota’s season-opening win on Sunday. Is it too soon for him to hold out again?