October 02, 2017
It was love at first shove, for the City of Brotherly Love.
LeGarrette Blount had already cleared the line of scrimmage and was running free when cornerback Desmond King approached from the left side. Blount fended off the tackler, rumbled down the sideline, and then blasted King with a stiff-arm to the neck that sent the defender careening to the ground before completing a 68-yard run.
Blount had played three games plus three quarters for the Eagles before that moment, but it was that one play that certified his status as the next big sports hero in Philadelphia. No city loves physical football more than ours, and no runner in football delivers a hit like Blount.
After the Eagles had moved to 3-1 on Sunday with a 26-24 win over the Chargers, Blount was the name on the lips of every fan, including the thousands in Los Angeles who took over the StubHub Center. He ran for 136 yards on 16 carries, and – as teammate Brandon Brooks said – he ran “like he was pissed off.”
Maybe Blount is still angry over coach Doug Pederson’s snub of him in the Eagles’ only loss in Kansas City, when the veteran running back touched the ball only once all day. Or maybe he’s not thrilled with sharing the load with two other lesser-known runners, Wendell Smallwood and Corey Clement. It’s hard to say for sure what is motivating him right now.
What is safe to conclude is that Blount is inspiring everyone around him. Center Jason Kelce even coined a new term to describe him: “Blount Force Trauma.” Has there ever been a better nickname for a Philadelphia athlete?
“That one run was about as explosive of a run as I’ve ever seen,” Kelce said. “He broke about five or six tackles.”
Smallwood said watching Blount has made him a better runner, because it’s obvious that second effort leads to more yards, and big first downs. There were none bigger than the four the Eagles got on their final drive, when they burned all of the 6:44 remaining and kept Phillip Rivers off the field with the outcome very much in doubt.
There were other heroes in this huge victory, of course. Quarterback Carson Wentz ran the offense with efficiency and purpose, calling audibles, zipping the ball into tight quarters and even hitting a couple of deep throws. Defensive end Chris Long forced the only turnover of the day. Last week’s hero, Jake Elliott kept kicking the ball long and straight.
And then there were the fans, who always travel well but outdid themselves on this warm southern California afternoon. By all accounts, Eagles enthusiasts comprised at least half of the attendance at the game, and they easily drowned out any effort to support the home team from the typically blasé Charger crowd.
But the story of the game – with the potential to be the story of the year – was Blount, who first got noticed during a brilliant career at Oregon, and then won two Super-Bowl rings in New England. The truth is, he’s better off in Philadelphia. He belongs in the city that most appreciates a good, old-fashioned stiff arm.
Because let’s face it, when push comes to shove, Philadelphia is already in love with LeGarrette Blount.
The Phillies just completed an extremely disappointing 66-96 season, but that appalling failure is not the fault of semi-retired president Andy MacPhail or novice GM Matt Klentak. Perish the thought. Both of those baseball geniuses are right on course in their meticulous rebuilding plan. They’re doing just fine, thank you.
No, after the gutless firing of Pete Mackanin last Friday, the message is clear. The manager was the problem, not his bosses. MacPhail and Klentak want you to believe none of those putrid free agents that they signed were the cause of this awful season. They let Mackanin face all the tough questions for two miserable years, and then they kicked him upstairs.
“The rebuild is evolving,” Klentak said, deflecting all questions about why a baseball lifer who took a bunch of kids and went 37-38 in the second half of the season deserved this fate. Mackanin will remain as an assistant to the GM, based in Arizona.
“We’re not firing him,” Klentak insisted. “We’re transitioning him into a new role.”
There was a day, not so many years ago, when nonsense like that would have been mocked by Philadelphia sports writers. If you’re looking for another column lambasting the Phils’ front office today, check the Internet. Other than PhillyVoice’s Ryan Lawrence – who called Klentak “a filibustering politician” – there is none, anywhere.
Nowadays, most of us accept “the rebuild is evolving” as fact, even if it’s coming from a young GM who has never rebuilt anything.
The real story is that Mackanin lost his job in the first half of the season when he was saddled with free-agent busts Michael Saunders and Jeremy Hellickson, and injured flame-outs Clay Buckholz and Howie Kendrick. All of those players were Klentak signings, and they all helped Mackanin stumble to a 29-58 start.
When Klentak finally began to promote the young talent in the minor leagues that was assembled before he got here, the Phillies became respectable. How many of the top players in the second half – Rhys Hoskins, Odubel Herrera, Aaron Nola, Nick Williams, Adam Morgan, Jorge Alfaro – were Klentak acquisitions? None. Zero.
Meanwhile, an even bigger indictment of Klentak is the return he has gotten so far on the Phillies’ elite draft picks, a No. 1 overall choice in 2016 and a No. 8 this year. Players drafted that high – especially No. 1 – have to be transcendent talents like Bryce Harper or Stephen Strasburg or Carlos Correa.
Mickey Moniak batted .238 in single A ball this season and actually declined in production as the year went along. No. 1 picks are never supposed to hit .238. Adam Haseley, who was projected to move up much more quickly because he was a college star, hit .258 when he was promoted to Lakewood (A). Meh.
Of course, Klentak carefully avoided an assessment of his own work when he booted Mackanin upstairs last Friday, instead, lapsing into his usual gibberish about the future.
“It’s time to look forward,” he said.
Time to look forward? What has the organization been doing for the past two years since MacPhail and Klentak arrived? Looking backward? Weren’t the last two miserable seasons all about the future? If not, then why did we have to suffer through 187 losses?
Pete Mackanin took the fall for his bosses last week. His patient development of kids who were here before MacPhail and Klentak arrived was the best thing that happened to the Phillies this season. He deserved another year to continue that process.
If anything good comes out of his ouster, it should be that now, finally, the critical eyes of Philadelphia will be aimed right at Andy MacPhail and Matt Klentak.
In a season with 96 losses, the two biggest losers are still here, trying to con the fans.
And finally …
• A mere seven months after the surgical repair of his torn meniscus – a procedure that normally requires a two-month rehab – Joel Embiid participated in a five-on-five half-court scrimmage at Sixers training camp over the weekend. No one is calling this a medical miracle yet, but kudos must go to the Barcelona soccer doctor and the Austrailian zoologist who masterminded it. With docs like this, the sky’s the limit.
• Adam Silver demonstrated what actual leadership is last week when the NBA commissioner sent a memo demanding that every player stand for the national anthem. Anyone violating the order will face a suspension, a fine, or both. If Roger Goodell had the backbone to do this last year, all of this anthem nonsense would have dissipated by now. Instead, the owners and players lock arms, while Colin Kaepernick – the man who started the protest – remains unemployed.
• Am I the only one puzzled by the fact that the biggest question mark on the Flyers as they open another season is goaltender, where GM Ron Hextall replaced mediocre Steve Mason with equally mediocre Brian Elliott? Hextall was one of the greatest Flyers goalies ever, and he still can’t find someone reliable in the nets? If he can’t scout that position, what position can he scout?
• Odell Beckham Jr. received a fine of $12,154 for pantomiming a dog peeing in the end zone after a touchdown here last week, while LeGarrette Blount was socked with a $9,115 penalty for rolling a ball in the general direction of Giant safety Landon Collins in the same game. One act disgusted America. The other went almost completely unnoticed. Can someone – anyone – explain how the NFL comes up with these fines?
• Shame on the Eagles for banishing their Spanish broadcast team to an obstructed end-zone booth to give assistant GM Joe Douglas his own luxury box. Owner Jeffrey Lurie loves the label “social activist” until his philosophy no longer serves his needs. Latin fans are angry about what the Eagles did, and they said so on my WIP radio show last week. If Lurie actually cares, he’ll fix this mess immediately. Just don’t bet on it.