What’s More Important?

Posted: May 18, 2014 in Eagles

(Brandon Wade / Associated Press)

 

In the 7th, and final, round of the 2014 NFL Draft, the St. Louis Rams used the 249th overall pick to select University of Missouri defensive end Michael Sam. Sam, who was named the 2013 SEC Defensive Player of the  year, publicly came out as gay after the end of his senior season at Missouri.

After he was drafted, cameras showed his tearful reaction upon getting the news that his dream of playing in the NFL was coming true. Sam broke down crying tears of joy before embracing and kissing his boyfriend. The reaction was played over and over and over again in the days that followed.

The media was all over the news of the first openly gay player to be drafted into the NFL, and it’s pretty safe to say that just about everyone knew that they would be, for better or for worse. Sam himself expressed that he wanted to be judged on football and not his personal life.

It’s great to see any player get drafted and see them accomplish one of their biggest goals in their life, but being drafted doesn’t guarantee them a spot on the team that drafted them. As Michael Sam tries to earn a spot on the Rams roster, the various reactions to Sam being drafted bring up the following question:

What’s more important?

Many people are focusing on Sam being gay. Truthfully, the publicity that comes along with drafting the first openly gay player in NFL history is not something that appealed to many teams and can be seen as a distraction. That’s not to say that it will be,  but realistically speaking, that is something that teams more than likely took into consideration.

However, there are other factors that are not helping Sam’s chances.

Although the aforementioned publicity is a factor, the fact that he is gay doesn’t have anything to do with what he does on the football field.

One thing that seems to get lost in the proverbial shuffle for some people is that, although he was the SEC Co-Defensive player of the year last season at Missouri, there are players that are simply better than he is. Not to mention, the Rams are very deep when it comes to their defensive line.

The other thing that is not helping Sam is his, at best, mediocre scouting combine results prior to the draft. Sam ran the 40 yard dash in a pedestrian time of 4.91 seconds, had a 25.5 inch vertical jump and only managed 17 reps (of 225 pounds) in the bench press. While numbers don’t necessarily matter in football as much as they do in a sport like baseball, these numbers matter a great deal to teams and scouts alike.

One of the things that can help Sam the most is the intangibles, or the will to win, desire and heart that a player has. They always say that “you can’t measure the intangibles”, and they’re right (just ask Tom Brady), so he is certainly capable of making the team.

It’s still unknown whether or not Michael Sam will make the Rams. If he makes the team, that’s awesome for him. It’s great to see someone achieve their goal of getting to the highest level of their profession. In the event that he does not make the team, it is not  because of his personal life, it’s because he is not as good as the other defensive linemen.

That’s what’s more important when it comes to Michael Sam making the Rams’ roster this season.

 

 

No Place For Ignorance

Posted: May 2, 2014 in Flyers
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Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban celebrates during Game 1 on Thursday night. (Photo Credit – Elise Amendola/AP)

 

The Montreal Canadiens stunned the Boston Bruins in double overtime of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals 4-3 to take a 1-0 series lead on Friday night at the TD Garden in Boston. The game winning goal came courtesy of a blast from the point from Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban.

The end of Game 1 brought about the beginning of a whole new saga courtesy of some Bruins fans.

But first a quick flashback:

In 2012, the Bruins were eliminated by the Washington Capitals in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals after Caps forward Joel Ward scored in overtime of Game 7 to send the Capitals to the second round in front of a stunned TD Garden.

In the days that followed, Ward, who is black, was the subject of multiple racist tweets and comments from Bruins fans who were not happy with the result.

That brings us back to 2014. P.K. Subban, who is also black, was the recipient of a flood of racist tweets from angry Bruins fans following Thursday night’s game. He was also hit with a water bottle as the Canadiens celebrated their win. It’s no secret that the Canadiens have long  been the Bruins’ biggest rivals. The rivalry is one of the oldest in the NHL and goes back to the days of the “Original 6″ when the NHL first formed back in 1917.

The Bruins and Canadiens have one of the most fierce rivalries in the NHL.

The Bruins and Canadiens have one of the most fierce rivalries in the NHL.

The city of Boston was praised for their resiliency following that tragic bombings during the 2013 Boston Marathon. I have always considered them to be on of the best,  most passionate fan bases in the country. As a member of a fan base that is routinely (and incorrectly) stereotyped when an incident occurs involving one of our fans, I am fully aware that the actions of a few idiots doesn’t accurately portray the entire fan base.

No one can blame Bruins fans for being angry and upset after a loss, especially a loss like that. Having said that, it is still disgusting and completely unnecessary. Being passionate about your team and not liking your rival is one thing. This is way beyond that. This is bullying and total disrespect. I was disgusted when they did this to Joel Ward in 2012 and am even more disgusted that they did it this year to P.K. Subban, whose younger brother Malcolm was drafted by the Bruins.

Now, a lot of those tweets were quickly deleted. Still, A tweet or Facebook post or any other social media post is  like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube; once it’s out it can’t come back in. Several tweets were captured in screenshots before they were deleted.

This picture was one of many signs of support for Subban by Bruins fans.

This picture was one of many signs of support for Subban by Bruins fans.

Fortunately, many more Bruins fans tweeted their disgust at those tweets and many Bruins players, along with Bruins President Cam Neely, expressed their outrage with those tweets. It’s more than understandable that many Bruins fans are embarrassed by those racist tweets, and some even tweeted their support to Subban. That’s right, Bruins fans embracing a Montreal Canadien. Why? because Subban may play for the rivals, but he is a human being.

Many tweets condemning the offensive tweets used quotes when describing those who sent them as fans, and they should. It’s embarrassing when the actions of a few idiots casts a dark cloud over the rest of the fan base.

Listen, there’s nothing wrong with being passionate and there’s nothing wrong with hating your rival. There is, however, something wrong with not understanding that there is a fine line between sports and real-life.

Be Better Than Mediocre

Posted: April 30, 2014 in Flyers

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The roller coaster ride that was the 2013-14 Philadelphia Flyers season has come to an end following a 2-1 loss in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals to the New York Rangers.

The issues that plagued them throughout the season wound up costing them their season in the end, plain and simple. They couldn’t get over their habit of taking themselves out of the game before they had a chance to get into it and handed the game, and the series, to the Rangers in the second period after coming out attacking in the first. The Rangers, to their credit, took advantage of that and are on their way to the second round.

Which brings us to another season with no Stanley Cup and a disappointing end.

(Photo courtesy of USA Today Images)

The Flyers fell to the Rangers 2-1 in Game 7 on Wednesday night. (Photo courtesy of USA Today Images)

Listen, I want a Stanley Cup in Philadelphia just as much as the next person, if not more. The problem is the Flyers are going about it all wrong.

One of the first things that the Flyers need to evaluate is, not their roster, but those who put that roster together. Obviously Ed Snider is not going anywhere, but his stubbornness and denial that the Flyers are not in a great spot is not helping.

Also, my patience is really running out with Flyers GM Paul Holmgren. He was not the first to do this, but the last few years have been filled with overpaying for players that are either nearing or past their prime, and don’t pan out when they are in Philadelphia. Not to mention, his constant attempts to better the Flyers defense have not been working the way fans had hoped.

The Flyers have good young talent on their team, but they also have players that are on the opposite end of the spectrum as well. What’s worse is that quite a few of the older players have big expensive long-term contracts that tend to leave the Flyers straddling the salary cap.

Bottom line is that this whole spend big on older established talent as opposed to younger upcoming players is not working and needs to change. The defense in particular showed their age all throughout this season, and in the playoffs as well. The turnovers, lack of speed and some poor decision making are going to leave the Flyers in mediocrity for year to come if it does not change.

If that doesn’t change, then it’s time to change who makes those decisions. And yes, I am talking about Paul Holmgren.

What also needs to change is Ed Snider, though that’s much easier said than done. As I mentioned earlier, his stubbornness and reluctance to adapt to today’s NHL is really hurting the team. The Flyers don’t have to completely abandon the “Broad Street Bullies” style of play, but they do need to adapt to the new faster NHL. Ed Snider is going to have to realize that sooner rather than later if he wants another Stanley Cup any time soon, which he certainly does.

I’m not saying he has to be gone from the Flyers, but just tweaking his way of thinking will go a long way.

Perhaps one of the biggest piece of the puzzle moving forward is goaltender Steve Mason.

Perhaps one of the biggest piece of the puzzle moving forward is goaltender Steve Mason.

Fortunately, for all the Flyers have done wrong, they have also done some things right. For example, there were some young faces who spent time with the Phantoms in the AHL and with the Flyers in the NHL who gained valuable experience this season. Also, by signing Steve Mason to a 3-year contract extension, they have some stability in goal, which allows them to focus on other areas in need of improvement, namely the defense.

My hope for next season is to see more younger players and less older, slower players who take up cap space. The future looks bright for this team, but there are still major changes that need to be made.

Until then, it’s time to shave my playoff beard and get ready for another early start to the off-season.

Here’s to better years ahead.

 

 

Same Name, Different Goaltender

Posted: April 25, 2014 in Flyers

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Back in the spring of 2009, the Columbus Blue Jackets took on the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the Western Conference Quarterfinals.

For many of the Blue Jackets, it was their first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. One of those young players making their playoff debut was 21-year old goaltender, and Calder Trophy winner, Steve Mason. Ultimately, the inexperience showed and the Blue Jackets were swept by the Red Wings.

That was five years ago.

Fast forward to Spring 2013. By this point, Mason had been relegated to backup, ironically to  former Flyer Sergei Bobrovsky,  and could not seem to find the same success he had back in 2009.

That same year, the Flyers began to realize that the Ilya Bryzgalov experiment was not exactly a success. As their playoff hopes faded away, they traded backup goaltender Michael Leighton and a 2015 third-round pick to the Blue Jackets in exchange for Steve Mason.

At first, it seemed like a backup for backup trade.

However, he change in scenery helped Mason, who many thought won the starting job from Bryzgalov. Mason finished the abbreviated 2013 season with a 4-2 record and the support of the Flyers fan base.

As the regular season neared its end, Mason suffered an injury in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That injury kept him out of the regular season finale as well as the first three games of the series against the Rangers.

After playing the last 7 minutes of Game 3′s loss  in relief of Ray Emery, Mason got the start in Game 4. In was essentially a must-win game for the Flyers, Mason came up huge, making 36 saves on 37 shots to preserve the 2-1 win for the Flyers and, more importantly, tie the series at 2.

Many were unsure of how Mason would fare given his only playoff experience was in 2009 with Columbus when they were swept out of the first round.

Personally, I was happy to see Mason make his return, and Flyers playoff debut.

The thing is, Mason is not a 21-year old in his second season anymore. He is now 25 and has more to prove after the disappointing end of his tenure in Columbus. For some players, all it takes is a change of scenery.

As the Flyers head back to Madison Square Garden, they bring with them a new confidence with the series now tied. For Steve Mason, it’s another chance to solidify himself as a starter for several years to come.

A Lot On The Line

Posted: April 23, 2014 in Flyers
Photo Credit / Bruce Bennett (Getty Images)

Photo Credit / Bruce Bennett (Getty Images)

 

It was a golden opportunity to take full control of the series. The key word there is “was”, because that opportunity is now gone.

After a disappointing 4-1 loss to the Rangers in Game 3,  the Flyers now trail the best of 7 series 2-1.  What was supposed to be a chance to take a commanding lead in the series is now essentially a must-win game when the Flyers and Rangers return to the Wells Fargo Center ice on Friday night for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

The Flyers top line of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek was quiet (again), Ray Emery wasn’t good and the officials were just plain terrible.

Things started out fine. The Flyers had the crowd on their side and came out hitting. Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia Flyers reporter Sarah Baicker even tweeted that the Wells Fargo Center was louder than Madison Square Garden was for games 1 and 2 in New York.

Then Ray Emery misplayed the puck as he went to glove it which allowed Derek Stepan to give the Rangers a 1-0 lead.

Fans were hoping that the Flyers would respond with a vengeance and answer with a goal of their own, but unfortunately it was all downhill from there. It was another slow start for the Flyers and more frustration from Flyers fans. Adding to that frustration was the questionable, and sometimes flat-out awful, officiating by the referees. Sometimes referees will keep their whistles down by their sides and sometimes the whistle never get lower than their neck line. This was much more of the latter.

After a Martin St. Louis redirection that Emery couldn’t do anything about gave the Rangers a 2-0 lead, the Flyer finally got on the board late in the first period when Jake Voracek found a streaking Mark Streit who snapped it by Henrik Lundqvist to make it 2-1.

Long story short, that was as close as the Flyers would get. A Dan Girardi blast from the point in the second period made it 3-1 Rangers. New York added an insurance goal halfway through the third period in the form of a  familiar foe when former Flyer Dan Carcillo beat Emery five-hole on a break away to make it 4-1.

Former Flyer Dan Carcillo's third period goal was the final nail in the coffinfor the Flyers in Game 3.

Former Flyer Dan Carcillo’s third period goal was the final nail in the coffin for the Flyers in Game 3.

Ok, here’s the deal.

This was a golden opportunity for the Flyers to gain serious momentum in the series and they let it slip away. Their habit of giving up the early goal reared its ugly head again and it cost the Flyers dearly. It didn’t help that the defensemen looked slow on the counter rush trying to stop the Rangers attack.

The Rangers are a good team at home  and seemingly even better on the road. Beating them is not easy, but it’s doable.

One of the things they need to do is get better shots on goal. The Flyers had 32 shots on goal in Game 3, but had only one goal to show for it. The Rangers had 28 blocked shots in the game, which made difficult for the Flyers to get pucks through to the guys down low in front of the net.

If they can keep the shots low, that makes the Rangers block the shots with their skates instead of their skin pads. Not only is it more painful to block a shot with your skates, which makes it a long night for shot blockers, it creates opportunities for odd bounces and loose pucks for garbage scorers who like to set up in front of the net, like Wayne Simmonds, to pounce on.

The other thing that will help greatly is simply being more disciplined. It’s been said millions of times, but it’s huge, especially in the playoffs. As I said before, and I speak for both teams, the referees were awful in Game 3, and have been pretty bad all series for that matter.

That being said, it’s important to be disciplined enough to not do anything that is even remotely close to a penalty. It’s understandably hard when the refs are calling every little thing, but it can be done.

At any rate, Game 4 is Friday night. After the Game 3 loss, Flyers captain Claude Giroux was adamant that the Flyers would be ready on Friday and will tie the series.

The bottom line is if they want any kind of good chance at winning the series, then they better win Game 4.

 

The Voice Behind the Pinstripes

Posted: April 13, 2014 in Phillies

harrykalas

In the world of sports, legendary broadcasters become like family to their team’s fan base. For whatever reason, the connection baseball broadcasters have to their team’s fans is different than in other sports.

The Chicago Cubs had Harry Caray, the St. Louis Cardinals had Jack Buck, the Los Angeles Dodgers have Vin Scully, the Detroit Tigers had Ernie Harwell, and so on. I could go on and on and name many more, but you get the idea.

In Philadelphia, there is one name that was synonymous with Phillies baseball; one name that, when someone said the word “Phillies”, it was the first thing that came to your head.

Harry Kalas.

In 1970, Phillies broadcaster Bill Campbell, who, along side By Saam, called Phillies games since 1963, left and was later replaced by Houston Astros broadcaster Harry Kalas. He was not welcomed warmly due to the popularity of Bill Campbell, but it did not take him long to win over fans with his smooth baritone voice and passionate love of the game of baseball.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Harryinhisearlyyears

Though many fans were accustomed to By Saam and Bill Campbell, it didn’t take long for Harry to win over the Phillies fanbase.

Kalas remained the tv play-by-play voice for the Phillies for the next 38 years until the afternoon of April 13, 2009, 5 years ago today.

Kalas was preparing to call a game between the Phillies and the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park in Washington D.C when he collapsed in the broadcast booth and died shortly after.

In a matter of just under two hours, the voice of Phillies baseball for nearly four decades, and, for some fans, generations,  went silent. Kalas was 73 years old.

Kalas’ sudden death was met with an unbelievable amount of shock and sadness. “We lost our voice today.” Phillies owner David Montgomery said, soft-spoken and visibly shaken, shortly after news broke of Kalas’ death. Former Phillies pitcher and current radio color commentator Larry Andersen tearfully spoke about Harry leading the 1993 team in “High Hopes”, the song he would often sing in celebration after a big Phillies win.

As a tribute to Kalas, Tom McCarthy and the rest of the Phillies TV broadcasting team remained silent during the first inning of the Phillies – Nationals game in Washington DC which took place the day he died. There was a brief uncertainty as to whether or not the game would be postponed. However, the Phillies all agreed that Harry would have wanted the game to go on as scheduled. So, after a moment of silence was observed before the game, that’s exactly what happened.

A heavy-hearted Philliees team played as scheduled on the day Kalas died. The Phillies went on to win 9-8.

A heavy-hearted Phillies team played as scheduled on the day Kalas died. The Phillies went on to win 9-8.

A memorial service was held at Citizens Bank Park and his casket was placed behind home plate, an honor that only Babe Ruth and longtime St. Louis Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck had received prior to this. Thousands of fans showed up, many in tears by the end of the ceremony.

Every Phillies fan has their memories of Harry and their favorite calls of his. One memory in particular sticks out to me when it comes to Harry Kalas and it happened back when I was around 12 years old.

My dad, a dentist, had gone down to Clearwater, Florida that spring during Spring Training to examine some of the players and coaches regarding chewing tobacco and oral cancer. Later that season, a group he worked with was presenting a check along with a couple of players before the game and my dad was one of the people who was on the field at Veterans Stadium (“The Vet”, as fans called it) presenting the check.

My mom and brothers were also there and we had press box seats for the game. During the game, I had to go to the bathroom so my dad and I went to the bathroom and as I was finishing up, an older man walked up next to me to use the bathroom. He turned and said “How are you doing son?”. When he walked in, I recognized him, but I wasn’t entirely sure it was him until he turned and said hello in that familiar baritone voice.

When I left the bathroom, I turned to my dad and said, softly, “Dad, that was Harry Kalas.”

It lasted all of about three minutes, but I will never forget it.

He had such a tremendous impact on Phillies fans and players, past and present, that when he passed away, it almost felt like you had lost a member of your family. His legacy lives on through his three sons, as well as at Citizens Bank Park, where the TV broadcast booth is named in his honor.

Many fans and current and former Phillies alike remember Kalas for his love of baseball, his legendary baritone voice that was the sound of many summers, his singing of “High Hopes” and his long list of memorable quotes and calls from some of the Phillies’ most memorable moments.

His most famous call actually started with Phillies shortstop (and later manager and coach) Larry Bowa and batting practice. Kalas, who was in his early stages as Phillies broadcaster and still in search of a famous “catch phrase” for home runs, was standing behind the batting cage as Greg “The Bull” Luzinski took batting practice. Luzinski, who was known for his mammoth home runs, crushed a ball into the upper deck of The Vet. Larry Bowa reacted in amazement and said “Wow! That’s way outta here.” Kalas thought that “it had a nice ring to it”.

Just like that, Harry had a catch phrase and continued to use it up until his death.

Having heard Harry say in excitement “That ball is OUTTA HERE!” many, many times, I have to say, and I think I speak for every Phillies fan, it does have a nice ring to it.

Perhaps his best call came in October of 2008 in Game 5 of the World Series.

In 1980, the Phillies defeated the Kansas City Royals 4 games to 2 to win their first ever World Series Championship. However, due to broadcasting rules at the time, local announcers were not allowed to call the game. So, despite the Championship, Kalas did get to call the final out.

HarryTheKWorldSeries

Not only did Harry Kalas get to finally call a World Series Championship for his Phillies, but he was right in the middle of the celebration, singing “High Hopes” after the game. Of course, where else would he be for a moment like this?

Fast forward 28 years to 2008. At long last, Harry Kalas finally got to call his beloved Phillies “World Champions”:

“One strike away; nothing-and-two, the count to Hinske. Fans on the their feet; rally towels are being waved. Brad Lidge stretches. The 0-2 pitch — swing and a miss, struck him out! The Philadelphia Phillies are 2008 World Champions of baseball! Brad Lidge does it again, and stays perfect for the 2008 season! 48-for-48 in save opportunities, and let the city celebrate! Don’t let the 48-hour wait diminish the euphoria of this moment, and the celebration. And it has been 28 years since the Phillies have enjoyed a World Championship; 25 years in this city that a team that has enjoyed a World Championship, and the fans are ready to celebrate. What a night!”

Those are just two memorable Harry Kalas moments. If you were to ask 100 fans about Harry Kalas, many would have similar favorite moments, but all of those fans will have their own individual memories and memorable moments of Harry. They all paid tribute in their own way.

On a personal note, I want to thank Harry for bringing us Phillies baseball in a way no one else could. My early years as a Phillies fan were during a 14-year playoff drought. Harry made those “dark years” that much brighter. Whether I am playing an MLB video game or playing wiffle ball with friends, I would often imitate his home run call in my head (and even out loud as well.)

It just goes to show you: Harry Kalas may be gone, but he has never, and will never, be forgotten.

Take it away Harry:

It’s Up To DeSean Now

Posted: April 2, 2014 in Eagles
Former Eagles Wide Receiver DeSean Jackson signed a three-year $24 million contract with the Washington Redskins today.

Former Eagles Wide Receiver DeSean Jackson signed a three-year $24 million contract with the Washington Redskins today. (Photo courtesy of the Official Washington Redskins Twitter account).

 

To say that DeSean Jackson has had an eventful week is to say that Jerry Rice is an OK receiver.

Less than a week after being released by the Eagles, Jackson agreed to a three-year, $24 Million contract with the Washington Redskins. Many were critical of the Eagles for releasing their best receiver, and a receiver who is coming off of his best season of his career no less.

Many questioned the move and many have their reasons why.

Some people have even questioned the Eagles decision to cut DeSean Jackson, yet keep, and even give a  contract extension to, Riley Cooper. Cooper of course is now infamous for being caught on a cell phone camera using the N-word while drunk at a Kenny Chesney concert at Lincoln Financial Field.

If you are one of those people, just stop now.

Listen, there is absolutely no excuse for Riley Cooper doing what he did at that concert. Cooper was embarrassed by it, as he should have been. Having said that, he was awarded a new contract because he stepped up when he needed to last season after Jeremy Maclin suffered a season-ending knee injury and he provides some height in the red zone and is a physical presence when it comes to blocking.

But I digress. There are many theories and different reasonings regarding why Jackson was released, and none of those really matter.

What really matters is the Eagles’ reasoning as to why they parted ways with Jackson.

When Chip Kelly came to Philadelphia, he brought with him a new system and a new style of how the team will be run. At the end of the day, DeSean, who was on thin ice years before Kelly’s arrival, did not fit into Chip Kelly’s way of running the team.

After unsuccessfully trying to trade him, and ultimately not wanting to simply leave another team with dealing with the baggage that comes with him, the Eagles released Jackson, which freed up a sizable amount of cap space.

As DeSean prepares for a new beginning in DC, the fact remains:

His career is now on the line.

Even with a slight benefit of the doubt with him entering his first year with a new team, the pressure is on. On the field he will produce, but if his off the field issues rear their ugly head and he has an unceremonious exit from Washington, it will be extremely difficult for him to find another team willing to deal with him. Worse,  it could mean a short career for a promising and talented young receiver.

Will it happen? Who knows.

It’s all up to DeSean Jackson.