January 30, 2017
On my very first day working in Philadelphia – July 18, 1983, to be exact – I was sitting in the assistant sports editor’s office at the Inquirer when something astonishing happened.
“Pat Corrales just got fired,” yelled out my new boss, Roy Hewitt.
I looked down at a newspaper on Hewitt’s desk, and the Phillies were in first place at the time. All I could think was, Philadelphia teams fire their managers when they’re in first place? This is the place for me.
Of course, much has changed in the 34 years since then, but it wasn’t until the past week that I realized just how radically different the atmosphere has become. Oh, the fan passion is still here – I hear it every day on my WIP radio show – but the urgency, the impatience, is gone. And I miss it.
Last Thursday night, a grave injustice happened to a Philadelphia sports team. Rookie sensation Joel Embiid was left off the all-star team, even though he is the biggest story in the NBA this season.
By all accounts, the irrational fear of a re-injury to Embiid’s twice-broken right foot was the sole cause of the snub. If the Sixers had not limited Embiid’s minutes, his stats would have been impossible to ignore. Because the rookie center never plays back-to-back games, some of the coaches who voted for the all-star reserves have never even seen him play.
As someone who remembers so vividly the firing of Pat Corrales – and the acclaim that the move received – I expected fans to be upset at the Sixers for holding back arguably the most popular athlete in Philadelphia right now.
I was wrong.
Once again the popular vote didn't matter......— Joel Embiid (@JoelEmbiid) January 27, 2017
In a Twitter poll we conducted at WIP last week, 74 percent of the voters placed no blame on the team. A flood of calls that day on the show confirmed the consensus. Fans agree with the way Embiid has been used this year, even though there is no scientific evidence to support the plan.
What I am saying, in no uncertain terms, is that fans are no longer impatient in Philadelphia. Either because the newest generation has a more tolerant nature or because teams have conditioned them to proceed with caution, our world-famous sports nuts have adapted to a new reality. They will happily wait ‘til next year.
As my co-host at WIP, Al Morganti pointed out to me on the air last week, I don’t hate what the Sixers are doing as much as I loathe the way the fans are reacting to it. He’s right. The biggest reason I came to Philadelphia from my hometown of Providence, R.I. all those years ago was because of the take-no-prisoners atmosphere here.
In fact, there is no phrase that boils my blood faster than “Trust the process,” a term popularized during the three-year tanking regime of ex-GM Sam Hinkie. Even with Embiid dazzling everyone and Ben Simmons on the way, I will never trust any process that requires a blind commitment of three years. I can’t believe anyone does.
But what I am absorbing, begrudgingly, is that I am a dinosaur now, one of the last vestiges of an era that is dwindling with the passage of every day. I can’t believe this is the same city where the fans cheered for the firing of a manager who was in first place.
Where have you gone, Pat Corrales?
I can’t say I miss him, but I do miss the city he left behind.
Jeffrey Lurie was one of only two NFL owners who showed up last week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, AL, and if you think that’s an encouraging sign about the future direction of the Eagles, think again.
Even before Lurie made his second appearance in two years at the annual scouting mission, there were rumblings that the owner’s desire for a championship after 22 ring-less seasons has forced him more into the day-to-day operations of his franchise.
There was more evidence of Lurie’s increased role when word leaked last week that it was the owner, not the front office, who blocked quarterbacks coach John DiFillippo from interviewing for the offensive coordinator’s job with the Jets. His underlings had already approved the interview before Lurie overruled them.
All things considered, Lurie has been a respectable owner, despite a pompous style and an increased detachment from the fan base over the years. But he is no football savant; that’s for sure. His increasingly rare state-of-the-team addresses are filled with silly platitudes and vacuous insights.
And when he has had to make a move, he has shown no creativity. For example, after Chip Kelly imploded as a coach and GM, Lurie brought back his pal, Howie Roseman, to run the franchise and an Andy Reid clone, Doug Pederson, to coach. Instead of turning the page, Lurie started the book all over again.
Now, Lurie’s shortfall in football acumen is hardly unique among NFL owners. Most are billionaires whose success came in totally different businesses requiring totally different skill sets. The only other owner who appeared at the Senior Bowl last week was Jimmy Haslam of the Cleveland Browns, the worst team in football.
The bottom line on this new Lurie-led direction for the team is that it is destined to fail, probably in spectacular fashion. If the owner really wants to break his long championship drought, his best chance is to stay as far away from the daily decisions as possible.
The more he leads, the more obvious it is that the NFL is succeeding in spite of Roger Goodell, not because of him. Even by his low standards, the commissioner just had a pitiful week, with more bad days to come as Super Bowl LI approaches on Sunday.
First, Goodell avoided the AFC championship game in New England, choosing Atlanta two weeks in a row rather than facing the hostile New England fans after the Deflategate fiasco. How cowardly is that?
Next, he declared that the quality of play on Thursday Night Football games is better than Sunday or Monday because there are fewer penalties and turnovers. There is not one other person with a functioning brain and a pair of eyes who agrees with this ridiculous notion.
And then there was his insulting response to the potentially awkward situation that awaits Goodell at the Super Bowl, where Patriots quarterback Tom Brady could be standing on a podium awaiting the Lombardi Trophy from a man he has been at war with for two years.
“He's an extraordinary player, great performer, and a surefire Hall of Famer.” Goodell said. “So it would be an honor.”
Honor? Didn’t Goodell just railroad Brady into a four-game suspension for cheating? Didn’t the commissioner spend two years, and untold millions, on an investigation into whether Brady was getting equipment managers to deflate game balls? And didn’t Goodell, with no real proof, just slam Brady and the Patriots?
Now, suddenly, it would be an honor?
Roger Goodell is the ultimate empty suit in sports today, a man willing to tell fans whatever serves his only real goal, which is to make the billionaire owners richer. Remember, he once said he wants the NFL to reach $25 billion a year in revenue by 2027. (The league projects to be halfway there by the end of this season.)
Just one question: If Goodell is still the NFL commissioner 10 years from now, will football even be worth watching?
And finally ...
• The most unsung sports hero in Philadelphia right now is Wayne Simmonds, and I’m as guilty of the oversight as anyone. The leading Flyers scorer with 21 goals is so unassuming, so understated, that it’s easy to forget that he’s having a better year than the alleged best player on the team, captain Claude Giroux. Simmonds won the MVP award yesterday at the NHL All-Star Game in Los Angeles. Bravo to him.
• Of all the roster decisions the Eagles have to make this off-season, the most difficult will be what to do with center Jason Kelce. Clearly, Kelce’s play has declined, but he is such an effective leader off the field, especially with quarterback Carson Wentz, that it might be a good idea to keep him around for at least one more season. GM Howie Roseman won’t say what he’s going to do. I’d give Kelce one more chance.
• If you have a kid who is playing tackle football, you need to watch the current edition of HBO Real Sports, which features an inside look at the last six years of ex-Eagle fullback Kevin Turner’s life. By all accounts, Turner got ALS and ultimately died because he played football so long and so hard. Parents really need to see the piece so they can help their children make an increasingly difficult decision.
• There was no sadder story in Philadelphia sports last week than Ryan Howard’s public appeal for one more chance to play baseball in 2017. He said there was confusion during his final days with the Phillies because most people assumed he was retiring. Instead, a slugger who once slammed 58 homers in a season is hoping for a tryout somewhere this spring. This is no way to end a brilliant career.
• The dumbest sports-media state in America has to be Oregon, which somehow remains in love with Chip Kelly. Last week, the Oregonian actually tried to sell the notion that a brief visit by Kelly to New England was the reason for the Patriots beating Pittsburgh and heading back to the Super Bowl. Yeah, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady couldn’t have done it without a coach who just finished a 2-14 season and got fired. Oh, please.