November 13, 2017
With every pass he throws, with every word he speaks, Carson Wentz is transforming the pessimism of Philadelphia sports fans. The Eagles quarterback is not just the consensus MVP on the best team in the NFL; his success is having a huge impact on the psyche of the city.
I know this because I experienced the phenomenon myself during the worst medical crisis of my life, a gallbladder attack that landed me in the hospital for four days late last month and required major surgery. At the height of my pain, on Oct. 29, Wentz and his teammates were there to rescue me with a win over San Francisco.
The best way I can describe the effect these exceptional Eagles had on me is this: Doctors had tried two of the most powerful painkillers available – morphine and Dilaudid – and neither brought me the relief that Wentz’s perfect 53-yard touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery did on the eve of my operation.
And I was hardly alone in my jubilation. During the inevitable parade of doctors and nurses visiting my room, most paused to watch a play or two, marveled at the magic of the young quarterback, and then mentioned how much happier the patients seemed on an otherwise bleak Sunday afternoon.
The following week, now home with a drain poking out from my abdomen, the Eagles nudged me toward the finish line of my recovery with an exhilarating demolition of the Denver Broncos. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the last painkiller I required was just before that game. More likely, it’s not.
Just about everyone I encountered during my crisis expressed admiration bordering on adoration for Wentz, and I wanted to express my own appreciation – and my new-found perspective – to the young quarterback when I had him as a guest on my WIP radio show last Friday.
I started with the standard questions about how much he and his teammates had improved since their disappointing 7-9 season in 2016, and he gave the usual word-perfect answers. Nothing he says ever comes across as scripted, just as nothing is ever egocentric or off-putting.
My favorite sequence was when I asked him what it was like to be Carson Wentz when he’s in public, overwhelmed (I imagined) by fawning fans. My moronic notion was that he never has to buy a drink these days – or anything else, for that matter.
The fact is, he said, he really hasn’t been out in public since the Eagles started their current seven-game winning streak, so he has no idea what the fans are thinking, other than hearing their earth-moving cheers during games, home and away.
Wentz also scored some points when he said he was “not a fan” of the next opponent, Dallas, and he attributed his natural ability as a leader to his faith. That was my moment, right there, to thank him for helping me get through my crisis, and for helping so many others facing similar adversity.
Of course, I choked. The best I could conjure up was to tell him he was “a godsend” to all of Philadelphia and to help him promote his Audience of One Foundation – yet another example of his commitment to our community.
What I wanted to say is what I have been gushing about on the air since I got back. Carson Wentz seems too good to be true, especially in a city that has waited 57 years for an NFL championship. At 24, he is already a masterful quarterback, a steady leader, a brilliant strategist and a born winner.
And now I can add to that something I learned over the past two weeks. He is an inspiration to the people who need him the most.
For once, I know what I’m talking about.
Because one of those people is me.
In the end, the final moments of Roy Halladay’s life do not correspond with the 40 remarkable, meticulous years that preceded them.
How could a pitcher so calculating, so committed to excellence, act so recklessly? Is there a more palatable explanation for the video of Halladay swooping precariously close to the water, time and again, in the new single-engine plane before something went terribly, terribly wrong?
I don’t know enough about aviation to answer those questions for sure, but experienced pilots I talked to since Halladay’s shocking death last Tuesday say there is more to the story than those videos. The manufacturers of the plane seemed to encourage that kind of thrill-seeking. Maybe something went wrong with the aircraft.
What his fans are struggling with right now is dealing with the way Halladay died and reconciling it with all of the brilliant moments he created, both here and in Toronto. Ultimately, one eye-blink of irrationality – if indeed it was that – should not alter our appreciation of the exceptional man who accomplished all that he did.
Halladay’s sudden demise sent me on a quest to understand better what elite athletes do to replace the adrenaline rush of performing in front of 40,000 adoring fans, of waking every day as someone special, someone who matters. What I learned was not all that profound: Everyone finds his own path.
Unfortunately, Halladay selected the same flight plan as his father, a commercial flyer, with tragic results. In fact, his dad – also named Roy – said after the tragedy: “He loved baseball as much as he loved flying, and he loved flying as much as he loved baseball.”
As I keep looking at those videos, I keep trying to imagine what the younger Halladay was thinking as he dipped that plane closer and closer to the water. My only conclusion is that he had no idea that he was risking everything. For some reason, he was oblivious to the risk.
They say time heals all wounds. For his many fans, this one is definitely going to take a while.
There is no question the Sixers have enough talent on the court to make the playoffs this season. Off the court, though, the questions just keep piling up. Does anybody in this organization actually know what he’s doing?
For example, the Sixers lost a game in Sacramento last Thursday night when they melted down in the final moments, ending a five-game winning streak. After the flop, coach Brett Brown said his team “went rogue” on him with the game on the line.
Unless the term “going rogue” has suddenly changed, that means his own players weren’t listening to the coach at a pivotal point in a winnable game. Brown may have been pointing the finger at his young team when he made that remark, but he was actually indicting himself. It’s his job to make them listen, no?
And then there’s the ongoing mystery of Joel Embiid, the franchise center who is never healthy, even when does play. After a four-day break mandated by the schedule-maker, Embiid found himself on the sideline last Tuesday night in Utah because the team’s crack medical staff decided it was time for some “load management.”
When he did return after nearly a week off against the Kings, he was out of synch, not really into the rhythm of the game until the second half. Since the Sixers lost that contest by one point, it’s a safe bet that the bizarre decision on Embiid’s status had a direct bearing on the outcome.
After the Sacramento loss, the Sixers then added to the confusion with a statement that defies logic. They said Embiid’s surgically repaired left knee was suffering some soreness but that the team is not concerned at all that a meniscus operation usually requiring six weeks to heal is still causing pain in its eighth month. Not concerned? Really? Then why didn’t he play in Utah?
The odd twist to the story is that, while Embiid has been something less than expected so far this season, Ben Simmons has been more than anyone could have anticipated. He is the biggest reason the Sixers are 6-6 so far, just inside the playoff cutoff. With a stud rookie leading the way, the team should make the postseason.
Of course, first, it will have to overcome some dubious coaching by Brown, some shaky leadership by GM Bryan Colangelo, and some unorthodox medical work by a staff with the worst success rate in sports.
In other words, the Sixers are going to have to beat more than just their opponents this season. They’re also going to have to overcome the stupidity of their bosses, too.
And finally …
• Since Ivan Provorov has emerged as a genuine star this season and Sean Couturier is enjoying the best start of his career, why have the Flyers lost nine of their first 17 games? The obvious answer is an inconsistent offense, caused – I believe – by a lack of emotion. With every game it plays, this team seems more and more a reflection of robotic coach Dave Hakstol. The best guess here is, these talented young Flyers won’t realize their potential until Hakstol is gone.
• The most amazing part of the job Howie Roseman has done since his return as GM less than two years ago is how deep the Eagles are now. How many teams could survive the loss of their best offensive lineman (Jason Peters), their best all-purpose offensive weapon (Darren Sproles) and the quarterback of their defense (Jordan Hicks)? The job Roseman has done since his exile is astonishing, one of the best by a GM in recent Philadelphia sports history.
• The only problem I have with Gabe Kapler being named the new Phillies manager is the implication that GM Matt Klentak did it just to be different. Klentak keeps preaching his new way of doing things, but there are still no numbers – in his terminology, analytics – to indicate that his plan is working so far. Kapler is a completely unknown quantity as a manager, but he’s got something the team really needs – confidence. So far, I like the guy.
• Bob Costas is one of the all-time sports-broadcasting greats, but it’s a little too convenient that he suddenly developed grave misgivings about the NFL soon after he abdicated his weekly duties on Football Night in America. If Costas really believed football had become too dangerous a sport – as he declared last week – why didn’t he say so while he had the biggest forum for that remark, the Sunday-night games?
• Despite being a harsh critic of Roger Goodell since he took over as NFL commissioner 11 years ago, I find myself taking his side in a power struggle that threatens his future. His new nemesis is Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who is so upset that the commissioner suspended running back Ezekiel Elliott that he’s trying to renege on a new contract for Goodell. What I am learning from this experience is that I hate no one in sports as much as Jones, including Goodell. I’m guessing the fans are with me on this.