October 09, 2017
As someone who has made a living for the past 28 years complaining about Philadelphia sports, I find myself in a unique — and rather uncomfortable — position today. There is nothing about the Eagles and their easy 34-7 victory over Arizona worthy of even a low-decibel whine.
For once, the fans (and I) have no reason to moan about coach Doug Peterson’s play-calling, about quarterback Carson Wentz’s errant long throws, about the porous offensive line, about the late-game flops by the defense, about the weather, the price of parking or the refs.
If they keep this up, I’ll have to retire from my radio gig on WIP.
In case you missed it — or couldn’t believe your eyes — the Eagles played just about a perfect game yesterday, charging out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead and coasting to the finish. The Birds are building something special, and not just because they have won four of the first five games.
With every series he plays, Wentz raises new questions about how stupid the Cleveland Browns were to trade the draft pick that brought him here. Did they see all of those third-down conversions, one pinpoint throw after another with rushers surrounding him? Better yet, did the Browns?
Wentz said after the 7-9 finish in 2016 that he had never suffered through a losing season before — in any sport, ever — and he had no plans to do so again. What we are seeing right now is the result of that commitment. He has improved in every area, and especially in his control of the game. He is the No. 1 reason for this terrific start.
Pederson is not far behind his quarterback in the credit department. Fans blanched a few weeks ago when he admitted he was “still learning” in his second year as an NFL head coach, but since then he has proved the point. In the two most recent wins, he has carved out masterful game plans that balanced runs with passes.
Beyond that, the coach seems to manage the locker room masterfully. Players who never appeared on the main blueprint for immediate success — Kenjon Barner, Corey Clement, Patrick Robinson, Jake Elliott, among others — are supporting the stars with consistently valuable efforts.
The best example of Pederson’s ability to find help in unexpected places is the resuscitation of Nelson Agholor’s career. A No. 1 pick who played like an undrafted free agent his first two seasons, Agholor has had some big moments in the first five games, and none more stunning than his touchdown on Sunday.
After Wentz had bought time by stepping up in the pocket, he floated a pass toward Agholor, who snagged it deftly out of the air, raced down the sideline and then left defender Budda Baker dizzy with a final spin move. That play alone should earn Agholor an invitation to Dancing With the Stars, don’t you think?
On the negative side, well, there’s nothing really. Oh, first-round pick Derek Barnett has been a minor disappointment so far, Wentz is still taking too many hits, and the defensive secondary is prone to big plays. But that’s all nitpicking after the Arizona demolition. Any complaining today is inappropriate, just not fair.
The 2017 Eagles are good — maybe very good — and somehow we’re going to have to get through the next few days with no complaints.
Fortunately, we also have dysfunctional teams like the Phillies and Sixers, so this segment officially ends the happy portion of today’s column.
Now, it’s back to reality …
For the two years since the bogus news conference introducing him as the Phillies president, Andy MacPhail has been as close to invisible as any top Philadelphia sports executive has ever been, appearing in public no more than once or twice a year to assess his disappointing team.
Now we know why.
In one of the most insulting, clueless sessions by a local sports leader in recent memory, MacPhail provided no hope that fortunes for his 96-loss team were about to change, because of him and his GM Matt Klentak. If students of the game needed a guide on how NOT to address Philadelphia sports fans, MacPhail provided it last week.
He started by reminding everyone what role he filled in the organization, adding that he thought it was logical to give the media the honor of asking the president a few questions every so often. MacPhail may not have mastered the demands of his title yet, but he’s got the art of pomposity down cold.
Next, he revealed what fans had feared, that he had turned over all major decisions to the totally unproven – and, so far, totally unimpressive – Klentak. Although MacPhail implied when he got the job that he would lead the rebuild here the way he did in Minnesota, Chicago and Baltimore, now we know that isn’t true. It’s Klentak.
Then the president placed all of the responsibility for the firing of Pete Mackanin on Klentak, a surprising move because the manager finished the year 35-35 once his GM had purged the roster of all of the free-agent flops he himself had signed.
"You guys need to understand how much Matt likes Pete,” MacPhail said, “and how much Matt respects Pete.”
And that’s why Mackanin will function for the next year as a paid consultant from the comfy confines of his own home 2,000 miles away in Arizona. Oh, please. Klentak fired Mackanin because the baseball lifer didn’t subscribe strongly enough to his young boss’ infatuation with analytics.
The rest of MacPhail’s 35-minute dissertation was equally insulting to fans who can smell BS from, well, 2,000 miles away. Blah. The rebuild has only just begun. Blah. The payroll will be low again next year. Blah. Money will be spent, but primarily on “the oldest ballpark in the division,” Citizens Bank Park. Blah. Blah.
MacPhail proved only one thing last week, and it is that he has no connection at all with a city that has turned away from his team in record numbers over the past two years, no clue how important it is to be honest in a passionate sports city like Philadelphia.
The team president has been right about only one thing so far. He’s smart to remain out of sight as much as possible. Fans have had enough trouble dealing with his lousy team for the last two years. They don’t need him making it worse.
The Sixers have been consistent only in their astounding knack for bungling every step in the development of their tantalizing, maddening franchise player, Joel Embiid. They displayed this uncanny ability again last week.
When video surfaced of the fourth-year pro jogging along the dark, late-night streets of Center City and playing tennis on his oft-injured feet and knees, the response from fans was one of disbelief. At that point, the Sixers had not cleared Embiid to practice five-on-five with his teammates, but clearly, he had resumed a full life off the court.
In a normal world, the team employing such a big star would have taken immediate action to prevent a recurrence. Of course, the Sixers do not reside in a normal world.
“Joel is Joel,” said coach Brett Brown.
Is this the same Joel who was doing acrobatic dunks after his first foot surgery in 2014, the same Joel who needed a second surgery soon thereafter, the same Joel who convinced team doctors he could play in a nationally-televised game last season despite a knee injury, the same Joel who then needed meniscus surgery?
A team of psychologists should descend upon the Sixers’ new posh training facility in Camden today and test the sanity of everyone working there because the organization keeps repeating the same idiotic mistakes while expecting a different result.
As it is, fans are left trying to decide which games to buy tickets for, not knowing if the main attraction will play. Embiid, 23, has already said there’s really no chance he will play every game – no doubt because his bosses have already told him that. What they haven’t said yet is whether he will get to play tennis every day.
The bottom line is, the people overseeing the reconstruction of the team have no idea how to do it, and they demonstrate this shortcoming every day. If they can’t figure out how to control their greatest asset, what hope is there that they will handle the lesser players intelligently?
“Joel is Joel” has not worked one day so far over his three-plus years here, but the Sixers seem fine with his reckless behavior, and fine with the stupid rationales for his bizarre actions.
This is not going to end well, Philadelphia.
You read it here first.
And finally …
• In an effort to beat the rush, let me be the first to declare how much I hate Thursday Night Football. The Eagles will be playing this week with only three days of preparation in Carolina because the billionaire NFL owners are not rich enough. Without the $45 million the league is getting from NBC and CBS for each game, there’s no way the owners would be able to make ends meet. As a result, we get bad football once a week. No matter who prevails on Thursday, greed is already the biggest winner.
• Is it time yet to start asking exactly who’s benefitting from the weekly anthem protests in the NFL? Certainly, it’s not the league, whose TV ratings are in serious decline. And it’s not the protestors, who are facing public censure with no hope of effecting actual social change. Colin Kaepernick, the player who started the movement, is still unemployed. Who’s winning? And since no one is, what’s the point?
• The revelation last week that ex-Louisville coach Rick Pitino had pocketed 98 percent of the huge shoe deal his school had with Adidas accomplished two things. First, it sealed Pitino’s legacy as a greedy, morally bankrupt fraud. And second, it served notice to all of the other shady coaches that they may suffer a similar fate. If nothing else, maybe scandals like this will turn more fans away from something I abandoned in disgust many years ago – college sports.
• What is it about the baseball playoffs that makes managers lose their minds? Last year. Baltimore manager Buck Showalter blew the play-in game by never using the best reliever in the sport, Zach Britton, during an 11-inning loss. And last Friday, Yankees manager Joe Girardi refused to challenge a hit-by-pitch that clearly was the wrong call in a brutal 9-8 loss in Cleveland. Does the pressure get to these guys? Or are they just robots, unable to think clearly when not pre-programmed?
• When it comes to good first impressions, LeGarrette Blount is taking over Philadelphia right now. In fact, Blount is doing it in two sports. Not only is he winning the city with his powerful running for the Eagles, but he drained a three-pointer before the Sixers preseason game last Friday night. Hey, Blount only plays once a week. Maybe he could help out the Sixers, too. I’ll admit it. I really like the guy. OK?