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February 22, 2016

Hats, ’Cats and the pathetic state of sports in Philadelphia

Opinion

At the height of my desperation to root for a winner, I turned my attention last week to an unlikely source of hope – college basketball. I ordered, with my own $12, a Villanova hat, even though I haven’t really cared about college sports since I graduated 39 years ago.

The focus of my admittedly bogus support is a team I know very little about other than its status as No. 1 in the polls. I am familiar with the terrific coach who runs the program, although Jay Wright has appeared on my WIP radio show only three times in his 15 years with the Wildcats. Other than that, I know nothing.

Philadelphia is a pro-sports city in every sense of the word. It is a sports community infatuated with the Eagles, and highly interested in the other three pro-sports teams if they show any hint of success. I know many people don’t agree with that appraisal. All I can say is this philosophy has kept me on the air for 26 years.

The problem right now is, all four of our pro teams are pitiful. The Eagles finished with a 7-9 record and couldn’t wait to fire coach Chip Kelly. The Phillies are coming off a 99-loss season in 2015, and have a chance to be even worse this season. The Flyers are an enigma. The Sixers are a punch line.

Even more maddening is the way these teams have been failing. How stupid is it for Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie to bring back Howie Roseman, a GM the entire city knows has little chance of radically changing his clueless and petty style? There is no real hope for a championship while Roseman is there. That’s the sad truth.

The Phillies are equally puzzling because they brought in a man who actually knows what he’s doing. I had a 15-minute conversation with new president Andy MacPhail on my show last week, and I came away with two distinct impressions. One is that he is really smart. The other is that he is not as involved as I would like.

MacPhail has been deferring often to Matt Klentak, a 35-year-old GM with absolutely no track record of success. It sounds like Klentak was the catalyst for the controversial Ken Giles trade, and will be for most future moves. MacPhail is filling a hands-off role very similar to that of his predecessor, Dave Montgomery. This is not good news.

The more the Flyers change, the more they stay the same. They have the most exciting young player in the city, by far, in Shayne Gostisbehere, but they still seem trapped in the past. For example, their record in shootouts is 2-6 this season and 32-68 overall. No matter who the coach is, they refuse to fix this chronic problem.

And the Sixers just keep planning for a future with no actual vision. They almost traded Jahlil Okafor last week to Boston for another first-round draft pick – after dumping Michael Carter-Williams last year. If new boss Jerry Colangelo weren’t there, GM Sam Hinkie probably would have hit the reset button again.

That’s why there really is no choice for a Philadelphia sports fan right now, at least if you define success by nothing less than a championship parade. Villanova has an opportunity to do something none of our pro teams will approach for years. They have a chance to be the best.

Embrace the Wildcats, Philadelphia. They are our only hope.

When the hat arrived a few days after I ordered it, I couldn’t wait to pop it onto my head and belt out the Villanova fight song.

It didn’t fit.

I guess I’m just not meant to be a college basketball fan.

***

At 1 p.m. last Tuesday, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office had made a decision on the LeSean McCoy assault allegations. I know this for a fact before the co-host on my WIP radio show, Rhea Hughes, received a text-message from DA Seth Williams indicating so. One hour later, however, all bets were off.

What happened in those 60 minutes that changed the course of this already bizarre story? And what had Williams decided – to press forward with the arrest warrant for aggravated assault against McCoy during a bar brawl on Feb. 7, or to drop the case? Finally, what caused the DA to call off a 4 p.m. news conference so abruptly six days ago?

Only Williams can answer those questions, and his final decision on this ongoing saga may still be weeks or even months away. The DA said on my radio show this morning (Monday) that he is still gathering information on a case that seems to change by the hour.

The latest bombshells erupted this morning when ex-Inquirer reporter Ralph Cipriano obtained the official witness reports of a number of people involved on McCoy’s side and filed a report at bigtrial.net. These documents claim that the officers were the aggressors, that they violated police protocol and that McCoy was actually a peacemaker in the dispute.

The cops’ side of the story has not yet been documented, and Fraternal Order of Police president John McNesby has made no secret of his frustration with the slow pace of the investigation. On my show last Friday, McNesby maintained that McCoy “sucker-punched” one of the officers who was on the ground during the melee.

Many questions remain unanswered: When did the officers identify themselves as cops, if at all? Why didn’t they report the incident immediately after the fight ended? Why did they pass three hospitals before stopping at a facility in Upper Darby? And – here’s the crucial issue – who started the fracas?

Williams is in a precarious position right now, especially with a re-election campaign only a year away. He knows the longer he waits, the more the focus will turn from McCoy and the cops to the DA’s office itself, and to him.

This will be the biggest case of Seth Williams’ career. And already it looks like it’ll be his toughest case, as well.

***

The move itself was a minor one, but it said a great deal about life after Chip Kelly. Last week – two months before the draft – the Eagles parted ways with their coordinator of college scouting, Matt Lindsey. The timing of this transaction was absurd, unless your GM happens to be Howie Roseman.

Why would the Eagles get rid of the guy overseeing the various facets of the draft process so close to the actual event? Duh. Because Lindsey was an ally of personnel guru Ed Marynowitz, who was an ally of Chip Kelly. Anyone associated with Kelly is doomed under Roseman’s petty leadership.

That’s why it was absolutely hilarious when Roseman, in an interview with the Eagles’ own softball-tossing website, said he “liked” Sam Bradford, and would bring the quarterback back if the price was right. Here’s a really strong prediction: The price will not be right.

In fact, the price will not be right for everyone associated with Kelly’s three-year tenure, and especially those toxic months after the ex-coach knocked Roseman off his perch in the front office. It is no coincidence that every veteran receiving a new deal so far this off-season was drafted by Roseman.

Owner Jeffrey Lurie and his beloved yes man will continue this purge of the Kelly era in the months ahead, including Bradford. Because they have no creativity, they have decided to roll the clock back to 1999, when they had a reasonably successful team and a coach (Andy Reid) who pretended to respect their football acumen.

I guaranteed three weeks ago that Bradford would not be back, and I guarantee it again now. The next quarterback will probably be Chase Daniel, a back-up in Kansas City last season and a free agent admired by new coach Doug Pederson. Roseman will then try to draft a young quarterback to fill the Donovan McNabb apprenticeship role.

This plan will not work. If Jeff Lurie were being honest about his “obsession” with winning a Super Bowl, he would see that it didn’t work in 1999, either – at least not well enough to end the team’s long championship drought.

Remember the name Matt Lindsey. There will be many more victims like him whose only real crime is their association with Chip Kelly.

And finally …

• Shayne Gostisbehere is the best thing happening in Philadelphia pro sports right now, by a wide margin. The kid defenseman has an amazing 15-game points streak – an NHL record – and has won four games with overtime goals. He is the next Bobby Clarke, the next Allen Iverson, the next Brian Dawkins. It’s time to jump on the Shayne Train.

• Sixers rookie Jahlil Okafor was fined $439 for going 108 mph on the Ben Franklin Bridge. Is it just me, or does that fine just scream of preferential treatment? He was going 60 miles over the speed limit, endangering the life of everyone on that bridge, and he got no community service? Really?

• The way the Sixers have handled the never-ending rehab of center Joe Embiid just keeps getting nuttier. The No. 1 pick will probably not be ready for the NBA Summer League because of his chronically injured right foot, but GM Sam Hinkie said Embiid is getting superior treatment at a sports-medicine hospital 7,000 miles away in Qatar. Because, let’s face it, there are no good hospitals in Philadelphia.

• If the Eagles really are going to bypass the franchise tag on Sam Bradford, doesn’t it make more sense to try a free-agent-to-be quarterback like Robert Griffin III with a big upside than a journeyman like Chase Daniel? Of course it does. So put your money on Daniel.

• NFL commissioner Roger Goodell received $34 million last season — most of it in bonuses — despite botching the Ray Rice domestic-abuse case, the Adrian Peterson child-abuse case and the Deflategate cheating case. Just one question: How much would he have gotten if he actually had a good year?

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