January 16, 2017
When both refs stationed below the goalposts raised their arms last night, so did all of Philadelphia. The Eagles didn’t make the playoffs this season, but their fans still had a moment to savor, a rush of vindication in a painful year.
The Dallas Cowboys are dead.
Say Hallelujah. The Cowboys are dead.
In fact, it’s not insane to suggest that Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal, as time expired in a 34-31 win by Green Bay, will stand as the biggest highlight of the 2017 calendar year for Philadelphia sports fans. That’s right – bigger than anything our four disappointing pro teams figure to provide over the next 11-plus months.
Just think about the impact of that kick on our city. Based on calls to my WIP radio show this morning, fans were dancing in the Center City streets and bars – especially the bars – after the ball slipped just inside the left upright at precisely 8 p.m. EST. Strangers were hugging, laughing, mocking the city’s most hated sports rival.
There was so much to love about Dallas failing in their first playoff game after a dream 13-3 season, from the magical play of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, to the dumb mistakes by the slow-minded Cowboys, to the glorious, heartbreaking finish.
This was the kind of game that would lead a Cowboys fan to get drunk, although most of them were probably already there. Their biggest stars played well – Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant – and their team still lost. They even mounted a comeback from 18 points down, only to lose. Ha.
And then there was owner Jerry Jones, the often-rebuilt face of the franchise, grimacing at the scope of the defeat, repeating: “It hurts, it hurts,” after the loss. Jones built a billion-dollar palace for his football team, filled it with howling hillbillies, and then watched it become a burial ground for his favorite Cowboys team in a generation. Haha!
Now, to some outsiders who really don’t understand Philadelphia, it may seem pathetic that we should derive so much joy from the failure of a rival. These critics claim we are this way because our own team face-plants far more spectacularly and far more often than the teams we loathe.
On that point, they happen to be right. But a caller pointed out today that “We don’t make the rules; we just follow them.” And the rules state that when the Eagles fall short, we shift our affections immediately to our next favorite team – whoever is facing the Cowboys.
That’s why, when Rodgers threaded that amazing throw to Jared Cook for 36 yards at the sideline with three seconds left, the roars of approval were as loud in Philadelphia as they were in Green Bay. And that’s why, when Crosby’s fatal kick slid past the left upright, there was a euphoria here that defied conventional logic.
When I suggested to my co-hosts today that there will be no moment quite as satisfying to Philadelphia fans in 2017 as the death of the Cowboys yesterday, they cringed. Surely the arrival of Sixer Ben Simmons offers promise. Maybe the Flyers still have a big playoff run in them this season. The Phillies . . . OK, forget that one.
My fellow workers see our hatred of the Cowboys as a weakness; I see it as a strength. The first words many of us teach our kids are “Dallas sucks.” A blue star is verboten here. Tom Landry’s Stetson, Jimmy Johnson’s hairspray, Michael Irvin’s sneer … they are all part of our history of hatred, part of our DNA.
This is a day of celebration for Philadelphia fans everywhere. The Dallas Cowboys are dead.
The NFL Network has been running a documentary over the past month on the Fog Bowl playoff game in Chicago between the Eagles and Bears in 1988, a contest that will be remembered for as long as there is football. Twenty-nine years later, the same league moved the time of a playoff game because of an ominous weather forecast.
What’s wrong with this picture? Where do we start?
First of all, it was a forecast, not an actual event, that sent the NFL into a panic. In the end, the ice storm before the Pittsburgh-Kansas City game yesterday was not nearly as troublesome as expected. Yeah, the conditions were hardly ideal at the original starting time of 1 p.m., but then again, it’s January and the Chiefs play outdoors.
Secondly, the 75,678 fans who bought tickets for the game paid hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars for a game some of them could not attend. Imagine if you got the tickets for a Christmas gift, but had to work later that night. Tough luck, kid.
And third – the biggest reason – is that the NFL was built on a foundation of memorable weather contests. Just Google any of the following: Sneakers Game, Ice Bowl, Snow Plow Game, the AFC championship games of 1975 and 1981, or Lions vs. Eagles, 2013.
Surely you remember that amazing game three seasons ago at Lincoln Financial Field when LeSean McCoy ran through snow drifts for 217 yards in a 34-20 win by the Eagles.
You probably also recall that the team postponed a game against the Vikings in 2010 because of snow. It cost the Eagles their season. Dumb.
The bottom line is, football is a game enhanced by the weather, not hindered by it. Most teams face some adverse conditions during a season – wind, rain, snow, ice, sub-zero temperatures. How they adapt to the weather is a challenge the best teams can overcome.
But not always in the NFL these days. The Steelers-Chiefs game turned out to be entertaining enough, a battle won by Pittsburgh’s six field goals and some dubious coaching decisions by ex-Eagle coach Andy Reid.
Just don’t expect an NFL Network documentary about it anytime soon.
While battling a merciless attack of kidney stones last week, I got to watch the Flyers from a different perspective, and I came away unimpressed with the way Dave Hakstol is coaching the team. Why has he escaped virtually all criticism in his two seasons here?
The problem with the Flyers is that they too closely reflect the personality of their coach. On far too many occasions, they come out flat, with none of the physical aggression or spirit typical of the Flyers. There is surprisingly little emotion on a team filled with promising young players and quality veterans.
The contrast between Hakstol and a coach who embodies passion, John Tortorella, was striking last week when the Flyers lost, 2-1, to Columbus in overtime. The Blue Jackets are having a spectacular season, and they play with the energy of a team that thinks it will win every time it plays. The Flyers don’t.
Yes, I am the same blowhard who last month proclaimed the Flyers the team of the immediate future in Philadelphia right here on this website. Maybe I was swept up in the joy of that improbable 10-game winning streak. Maybe I’m overreacting to the Flyers losing 11 of 14 since that run.
But isn’t it worth asking, probably for the first time, whether Hakstol is the coach who is going to end this appalling 42-year championship drought? After all, if he was brought in because of his ability to develop young players, isn’t it time to wonder what has happened to Shayne Gostisbehere?
The Ghost has become one, at least on the scoring sheet. He has gone from 17 goals in 64 games as a rookie to four in 44 games this season. Even worse, since he is a defenseman, is his minus-17 (compared to plus-8 last year). The other kids, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov, have been better, but far from their potential, so far.
If Hakstol is not improving the kids, what does he offer? All I see is a stone face behind the bench and a college-hockey mastermind who has had little impact since joining the pros.
I’m not ready to say Hakstol needs to head back to North Dakota, but let’s just say I’m less of a fan after watching him and his Flyers from a new perspective over the past week.
Of course, this may just be the kidney stones talking. Maybe I’ll feel different once the pain pills wear off.
And finally …
• Is it even news anymore when ex-Eagle coach Andy Reid blows a playoff game with ridiculous time management? He botched another one in Kansas City’s brutal 18-16 loss to Pittsburgh, burning a crucial timeout just before a failed two-point conversion in the final minutes. Until he finds someone who can help him with the clock, Reid is doomed to the same inevitable fate, season after season.
• The Chiefs need to stop whining about the holding call that nullified their first attempt to tie the game with a two-point conversion. Left tackle Eric Fisher didn’t just hold James Harrison on that play; he mugged the guy. Later, tight end Travis Kelce said the refs should not decide the outcome of a game by calling a penalty in that situation. But wouldn’t they be deciding it the other way if they didn’t?
• Bill Belichick did it again. The New England coach, who spends his spare time looking for former Eagles to turn into stars, won a playoff game on Saturday night behind Dion Lewis, a fifth-round 2011 Eagles draft pick. Lewis was the first NFL player ever to score touchdowns on a pass, run and kickoff return in the same playoff game. The Birds traded him to the Browns in 2013 for the immortal Emmanual Acho. So either the Birds can’t judge talent, or they can’t coach it.
• The Eagles have made three coaching changes since Sean McDermott was their defensive coordinator, but he was never a serious consideration as head coach here. Were they wrong, or are the Buffalo Bills, who hired McDermott to replace Rex Ryan last weekend? I’m betting the Bills blew it. McDermott is no Jim Johnson, who was his mentor here. And he is no Andy Reid, either.
• After not playing at all in the previous five games, Jahlil Okafor scored 26 points and had 11 rebounds in a Sixers loss to Washington on Saturday night. “He’s an NBA starter,” said coach Brett Brown. But somehow he can’t even get into the game on a 12-26 team? That doesn’t make sense, does it?