Friday, December 30, 2005

Remove the Gloom

Can’t you almost feel the gloom lifting?

My, but there were some bleak months for Philadelphia recently. The Sixers lurched out the gate. Every single Flyer was hurt. The Phillies were throwing off pay-roll like the Marlins north. And the Eagles imploded.

Things aren’t so great now- but I honestly am more optimistic heading into 2006 then I was last year. In 2005, it was hard to anticipate any team outside the Eagles in Philadelphia winning a play-off round. Now, the Sixers seem to be getting organized- every two weeks is better then the two weeks preceeding. Webber & Iverson are healthy and seem to have found some workable ground. They have an excellent chance to win their division- and thus get a workable first round play-off opponent. The Phantoms- I kid of course, but seriously...- are probably the best team in the East now- racking up good wins despite missing key performers over Ottawa and Carolina in recent memory. The Eagles- well hey, it has got to be better. If nothing else, Westbrook and McNabb return to the top of the depth chart in like three days.

Only the Phils seem without real reason to hope for a good “win at least a play-off round” season as 2006 plays out. I have become a fan of PhilliesNation- but I have a bone to pick with their recent view to let Brett Myers play out this year without an effort toward a new deal. Not that I cannot sympathize- as for most of last year I couldn’t see Myers as a true top-of-the rotation starter.

But you know, he's made 100 starts the past three years and won almost 40. I wonder how many 25 year olds can say that currently?

Then I really start to think that maybe the Phillies shouldn't let him play out this year without a deal.

a. Let's say Myers wins 14-/15- games on an 83-win team. Honestly, he might be able to demand eight figures a year for five, six, seven years?

b. Let's say he's merely okay or gets hurt. As long as it is not catastrophic, he's still a marketable player as long as his contract numbers are not wholly insane. An above .500 pitcher under 30 is the most valuable commodity in baseball- short of Myers throwing his arm out, you are never going to be saddled with a "bad" Myers like Leiberthal or Thome.

I just can’t imagine Myer’s ever being impossible to move- even after a sub-par year. He’s young, healthy- and he a pretty sure bet to win double-digit games more often than not for half-a-decade. They gave Wolf the money- and he doesn’t have the stuff or health Myers does (yes, he is a lefty- so the bar is lower). I’d give Myers a deal too.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Up from Despair!

Well, despite the Christmas holiday, so much as happened!

For once, the never-ending nadir that is Tulane athletics lightened a little. First, the basketball schedule read Richmond @ Tulane- and for once, it was truly accurate. No more home games in Texas or all points south- although all of our hosts were truly class acts reflecting great credit on our beloved I-A brethren- Tulane played in New Orleans where we belong! And oh boy!- did the Wave teach the Spiders a little lesson in defense and free-throw shooting- running Richmond right out of the gym by about a thousand points? The Spiders have a good program. They played close with ranked Louisville and Wake Forest- so this big win was encouraging. Does it mean anything past that? Probably not- see St. Edward’s for instance. I know, I know, they’re a quality program- that St. Edward’s. (photo credit)

Still, I will not be dour. There was some more good news too- and I am not talking about the vague rumors that Notre Dame will soon be on the football schedule. Tulane received a heartening commitment from Kevin Moore. I know nothing about him- other than he apparently is gigantic (6’5” 200 lbs.)- and he plays quarterback! However, stealing him away from our League’s top program (UTEP) is gratifying. Some of the services like him a lot also.

Yes, it is a long way before Moore is completing thirty balls against Southern Mississippi some bright Saturday- see the unfortunate Billy Don Malone & Nick Cannon. But he is the type of player Tulane clearly doesn’t normally get- at a position Tulane oh-so-desperately needs to play superior players. For all his faults, Scelfo has done quality work with this position- and when Tulane gets quality play from the quarterback position, well you know, they win some games. Our League is not too good- and if you win the quarterback battle, you can give up a lot at other places, and play with everyone most Saturdays while taking care of the dregs: SMU, Marshall, Rice, etc.

Last year, I wrote you cannot give kudos to any Tulane recruiting class without a quality passer in it- due to our overwhelming reliance on the spread offense. Tulane must feed this spot every year- grooming some and playing the best. The converse is true also- any class with a real live quarterback prospect with sniffs from places like Arizona and UTEP is a solid step in the right direction. One could be optimistic.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Olympic Hockey

To be honest, I like the Winter Olympics. I find the summer games interminable and boring. But the winter games are packed with sports that I actually like to watch- albeit I only like to watch them every four years: luge totally rocks, bobsleigh- and of course, the best two-week tournament in sports- men’s ice hockey.

What do I think of our team?

The United States will be pretty weak on defense. Only Brian Rafalski strikes me as a true world class player. Plus, they are so small. I realize it is the "new rules"- but one canard that is spreading through the league is that “skating” is now all-important for defensemen. That is simply not true- defensemen still need to clean the front of the net and control play in the corners first and foremost. Sure, it is nice if defensemen can lead or start the rush- and with the power play becoming all-important, points from the blue line are surely appreciated. But you gotta contol your end first- and since you can't grab people anymore, you gotta be big to move'em.

I was glad to see US Hockey pick Chris Chelios. He is USA Hockey- and he'll be a great locker room guy- and if necessary he'll cripple Joe Sakic or Vincent Lecavalier to win. If he acccepts a role and limited ice time; who else on the team can complain about their roles? One funny thing is- I think Canada is only okay on defense. Rob Blake, Ed Jovanovski and Adam Foote all have international track records, but they are simply not elite players anymore. McCabe is the only realistic option if one of these guys falter- and he’s not that great either.

Canada is simply loaded up front. The USA isn’t even close depth-wise. But against everyone else, the USA wingers should be fine. There is enough here to put two great lines “scoring lines” together and a grit group (definitely- some good role guys who skate thru walls here). Obviously, the scoring Canada has is absent. And gosh- Canada has some tough guys too- people up north are questioning his selection, but I think Ryan Smyth is wonderful. But the USA group will be solid in their own end- and might score more than imagined prior to the NHL season starting.

Goalie- sigh... to be totally candid, I am not sure I'd be comfortable taking one of these guys into the regular season, let alone a world championship. DiPietro was benched in a game the other night. Esche is good- but not world class. I guess the USA has got to play'em all early in the tournament and play the hot hand. Not a plus- arguably the worst situation in nets among the Big Six.

Lastly, you can put me in the category of people squarely sick to see Todd Bertuzzi make the Canada roster. Look, I love hockey- and I hate when people dismiss it as boring or violent. But Bertuzzi is a violent criminal. Period. Read here a good account of the NHL's (indicative of Canada's position) of this evil thug. Add Todd Heatley, another guy with a series of questionable life choices, and Hugh Adami in the National Post has a point:

With a player of Bertuzzi's calibre in Canada's lineup, perhaps we will be seen as a nation in which morality plays second fiddle to winning. Maybe Bertuzzi's presence will reinforce the image that Canadian hockey is all about thuggery.

I read the Canadian papers religiously- and everyone kind of “knows” that Bertuzzi is probably not the best idea. But Gretzky gets a pass on everything hockey in Canada, even more so now with his recent personal tragedy. He could probably add a donkey & Gary Bettman to the roster, claim they were “character guys” and not only get a total pass but columns in the Toronto Star praising his insight.

Look, I am not saying this is a national scandal on the level of Abu Ghraib. But as where a cherished cultural institution- the US Army- immediately publicly moved to fire, investigate and hand-wring over absolutely everything- Canada hockey took these two guys and elevated them to the cherished national pantheon. And it isn’t like Canada had no other options for Turin. They only have like a thousand skilled front-line players to choose from with similar capacity: Marleau, Tanguay, Savard.

So I don’t get this. It is a mistake. Canada has a lot of players who both can play at this level and who deserve it more. This Canada team will get to Turin- and the number one off-ice story will be Bertuzzi. What a shame.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Just Win Baby!

I sit here at the epicenter of chaos personified! Out on the streets, Manhattan quivers under the mighty blow of the MTA strike.

E-A-G-L-E-S! Eagles! Yes, Philadelphia managed to look semi-decent, at least on defense and special teams, for the second week in a row. It was a victory with a little merit. Anytime you are playing out the string, and find it in your football team to win a game, on the road, where you down semi-late by more than a single score, there is a little pride and some young players contributing.

Just how do you win a road game where you have 97 yards passing, 115 yards in penalties (many really stupid) and lose the turnover battle by three? Well, let’s not kid ourselves. It helps that Rams are a joke, committed 115 yards in stupid penalties too and are playing out the string literally.

You’ll win a lot of road games when the defense only allows one touchdown- and that score came when McMahon turned it over on his own five yard line. I realize in order to find out about McMahon you sort of have to let him throw 3rd-and-long- rather than play it safe, punt the ball and play defense. But man, is he killing Philadelphia or what?

One thing the Eagles’ still can do is sort of either hang around or come back in games they deserve actually playing the game to lose soundly: @ Atlanta, @ Washington, @ Kansas City, both Giants games, San Diego. Philadelphia still is real good forcing teams to play mistake-free football in a one-score game late- particularly on the road. On defense especially, they normally don’t rattle or beat themselves. The Rams are incapable of "smart" or "Mistake-free" of course. To that end, midway through the third quarter to the final gun, the Eagles didn’t play well exactly- but made few gross mistakes- while the Rams had a killer interception, some awful penalties and allowed a big return.

For instance, the turning point in this contest was early in the third quarter. Down by nine, Philadelphia forces a stop and gets the ball in excellent field position for the offense- which promptly punts in right back. Rather than hang their heads, they immediately get another quick stop. The Eagles’ offense this time manages to stagger ahead for a few plays and make a kick. Now, it is a one score game heading into the fourth quarter- and more importantly, this is a game now less of “who is better?” (probably the Rams in their own building) but rather “who is less stupid?” (definitely Philadelphia).

The Rams had some success running the ball early. But as I point out until I am blue in the face, unless you can throw off the run, it doesn’t score touchdowns. The Eagles pass-rush oddly asserted itself for once- with the insertion, of all people, ND Kalu in the game- who for one game at least looked like he was playing for a contract. Fitzpatrick is pretty bad- and not a guy who is going to hurt the Eagles' secondary while under pressure. So the Rams couldn’t turn their early success running the ball into big plays in the passing game- and thus could not score the three touchdowns that would have put this out of reach of Philadelphia’s anemic offense.

McMahon is/was terrible- but we’ve come to expect that. However his one clutch throw was at the right time- after a Rams' turnover in their own end- resulting in a short touchdown to match the Rams. And of course Ryan Moats continued to solidify his campaign to get ten touches a game at least next year- with yet another electric run for a score.

One comfort of the past five or so week is that the Eagles are back to playing some real quality specials- particularly covering kicks. Akers being back restores a huge weapon. They still need to get a punter and some return options.

Still, Philadelphia has played pretty okay four out of five outings now- winning two and forcing OT against a solid Giants team. The Seahawks got them good- but overall- not bad so far for the JVs. They have a decent chance to win both remaining games- in fact, I bet they do get one. Seven wins- including potentially three by a real collection of young, raw players on offense saddled with a brutal quarterback situation- really would be an honest achievement by the remaining players.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

J. Whyatt Mondesire

The Philadelphia Inquirer runs an interview today with J. Whyatt Mondesire- the Philadelphia Sun editor and local NAACP President who fired some bile at one of the less-troublesome athletes in sports today: Donovan McNabb. Mondesire is no dope surely- but, come on, man. There are only like a thousand million athletes or all races who richly deserve approbation- and J Whyatt comes up with McNabb?

I think this whole issue is, to quote an untidy high school phrase, about as totally retarded as it gets. I am stunned at the legs it has. I realize it is a slow Eagles season after years and years of bounty- so the press has to find something to write about- and this is a chance for them to do what the press does best- report news while closetly editorializing about how wonderfully enlightened they are. But this is ridiculous.

It is particularly frustrating when you realize that McNabb might be the easiest quarterback in all of pro-football to deconstruct. At this point in his career, he is a clear step behind the two elite quarterbacks in this League: Tom Brady and Manning. But he’s definitely in that next tier. And he’s at the top of that tier too. He is a pro-Bowl player at the most important position in pro-football. With him healthy and productive, the Eagles were a threat to win every NFC Championship for half-a-decade. Without him, they are a threat to win six games.

Is Donovan a stooge for the Eagles’ organization? Should he have backed TO? Does he consciously hide his race in his style of play?

The first question is a canard. The franchise quarterback is always, along with the head coach, the face of any organization. So of course he’s a stooge. He is unofficial spokesman for the entire organization. Should he be more vocal about the play-calling or the talent selection & retention process? I suppose- but it is a narrow window of the excellence. Only one franchise, the New England Patriots, for absolute sure have done the “play football thing year after year” better since Reid arrived. The part about Donovan going to the wall for TO is moronic. If there is a guy in the world #5 owes nothing to, it is TO.

The second question is more esoteric. I honestly don’t know the answer. But if McNabb’s refusal to run the football is your primary evidence that he secretly is embarrassed to be a black quarterback- that is pretty thin gruel. All right, so you think he doesn’t run enough. Fine. But by all accounts he is a fine husband and father, a nice person, gets along with his mom proudly and publicly, kind to the fans, civil to the press, zero problems with the law- and again, a damn good pro-Bowl level player. Even if his style of play is letting his “race” down on Sunday- which I doubt- he sure is doing them proud just about everywhere else.

Lastly, does Donovan run enough? Is it effective NFL strategy to have your quarterback tuck and run at the first opportunity? And I mean run- not roll out, etc. looking for better protection or shortening the throws to your wideouts. Everyone knows that sort of thing helps an offense. I mean: tuck it and go.

I think the answer is two-fold. If your offensive outfit is bad- particularly with wide receivers who can’t get open in the possession game consistently- then I think it does help the quarterback “to look to run”. If you can’t convert 3rd-and-8 the regular way, then it is worth taking a few shots with another approach- running for it. The quarterback’s mobility forces guys out of coverage- giving room to your slot guys and tight ends. Vick’s running with Atlanta two years ago- and McNabb’s with his early Eagles’ teams- were surely pluses. Hey, those teams weren’t getting into the twenties consistently without taking some chances.

But eventually in the League, the quarterback must throw- and throw a lot- to win big. This is a passing League. Possess the ball through the air. Make big plays downfield. The team that wins games between good teams is the team that doesn’t turn it over and throws the ball better.

To win eleven-twelve games and make deep play-off runs, you have to be able to generate every Sunday 270-300 yards of offense through the air, generate passing offense in the red zone (few teams run effectively inside the 20) with few turnovers. Michael Vick has a world of talent- but at some point every season (last year Tampa Bay and Philadelphia) he is presented with a very good, quick, disciplined 12-win team defensive front that can keep him from going utterly crazy- and his twelve completions aren’t enough.

So as your offense matures and you produce weapons that can hurt people, the ten snaps you give up to let the quarterback run are increasingly counter-productive- or at least not productive to the point that they compensate for the downsides. McNabb threw for just about 4000 yards in 2004- so you better be something damn good when you take the ball out of his passing hands. And the downsides hurt better teams more. Quarterbacks get hurt- probably ending your season- particularly painful if you are good. You generate sacks too- which I argue are almost like turnovers. You lose ten yards of field position and almost always have to punt- equivilant to an interception 25 yards down the field. Turnovers, or ipso de facto turnovers, keep teams in games with good teams.

Now that Donovan is a pretty polished passer (completion percentage too low, but he doesn’t turn it over much and generates a lot of big plays from the position) I almost always want to see him throw from the pocket. But had he been healthy this year, yeah, I would have liked to see him run more.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

The Texas Rangers Voluntarily Cripple Themselves

Padilla. Gone. Can’t say I’m sorry. The guy has electric stuff, the Phillies likely got nothing for him- but Lord, he was such a wearying character. As long as he was around, the ballclub could fool themselves that Padilla might develop into something. What? No one knows. A solid number two starter? I find it hard to ever picture “Padilla” and “solid” in the same sentence. A quality relief ace? Maybe- but I enthusiastically support the idea of not paying him some outrageous figures- how does $5-6 million in arbitration grab you Phillies’ fans?- to find out.

Padilla did have a nice run at the end of the season- but that is just it. He’s has some nice runs- sandwiched between the aforementioned weariness. And arm troubles. Out.

Bill Conlin nervously wrote last week that “all the moves … have been slides sideways or steps backward. The team Gillick inherited from has suffered big-time slippage from the seventh inning on. And the bottom of the roster is starting to read like the waiver wire.” You’re not getting me to absolutely disagree.

But I am not sure that everything is sideways or backwards. On field it is. But on the payroll front, they’ve moved forward. Ridding yourself of actual or potential tens of millions to Thome, Wagner, Urbina, Padilla and- please dear God- David Bell hurts the on-field product next year. But I have a real good idea that not having those same players and contracts around in 2007 and 2008 is a plus.

PhilliesNation bemoans the fact that all this payroll has been freed up- but there is obvious place to spend it- except a plethora of number four starters. He’s right of course. There is probably no more crippling decision in baseball than handing out high eight-figure contracts to thirty-something pitchers with 100 career wins. Baseball is littered with such disasters. Off the top of my head, the only realistically available pitcher I want to lavish multi-years on is Barry Zito (86 wins- 45 more than Prior). You could pry a big-ticket arm away from Chicago- but I want zero part of current Cubs’ rotation.

But I increasingly suspect Gillick is not about 2006. To be honest, I think he hates this team. He clearly distrusts and wants to be rid of the core veteran talent: Padilla, Bell, Thome (albeit forced), Abreu- and in the back of his head you know he wants rid of Leiberthal & Wolf. I don’t think he feels that spending $16 million on the back-end of your bullpen is the best use of resources.

To me, he is clearing the deck for 2007. Gillick isn’t going to spend tens of millions salvaging this group; he’s blowing it up. I mean, come on- a team that is seriously planning to try to challenge the Braves and Mets absolutely does not try to bring Looper in at modest dollars to freaking close.

This is about the year after. The current team can’t win more than it did last year- and that isn’t good enough to beat Atlanta at the very least- and the underlying player and economic issues preclude a quick fix. So it is a transition campaign. Give Utley, Howard, Rollins another year to mature. Let the clock tick on the contracts of the unmovable guys: Leiberthal, Wolf, Lidle, probably Bell. Look at Burrell another year- and make the decision (finally) one way or another on the guy. Run Victorino out there enough times- maybe he can bat lead-off or, more likely, eighth. Give Floyd and Tejada and Madson and Myers every chance to prove they can contribute to the rotation at affordable dollars in 2007 and 2008.

Monday, December 12, 2005


Okay, that was better. A mere field goal away from being back!

Clearly, that is ridiculous. This season is no longer about wins and losses. It is about sorting through the wreckage to find some sort of foundation for next season- and to make an accurate measure of just how far behind the Eagles are. The season is about the young players now. So what is the survey? Well, a week after they all looked gross and stuff, it was a pleasant surprise. The o-line was pretty darn good most of the time, Cole (four tackles- three assists) and Patterson (six tackles) had fine games, the wide outs still appear hopeless outside maybe of Brown and the quarterback has a long way to go.

So yesterday was heartening. The Giants don’t stink. Sure, they are behind the AFC powers- but not by that much. They are firmly ensconced in the next tier of NFL teams- a good defense, an adequate offense, say ten/eleven win potential in the weaker NFC. And honestly, the only two telling differences Sunday were that McMahon was brutal while Manning performed merely bad- and second the Giants featured a punter who belongs in the NFL.

Otherwise the Eagles gave as good as they got. It was tied at the end of regulation for a reason; it would have been hard to pick a team that deserved to win at that point. Again, the Eagles clearly are not as good as the Giants week-to-week. With McMahon, the junior varsity offense, and young guys all over the defensive line & secondary, even with this effort Philadelphia would probably have little hope of winning up in New York- and conclusively would struggle beat the Giants at the Linc. They got some lift from the crowd- like the Marines, you can count on the Linc in big spots to make a difference. Put it together with the Dallas loss- one loss in overtime and another on the worst turnover McNabb will ever commit- they are not far behind. In fact, their effort at the Linc last night beats most teams in this League. And that isn’t bad- although admittedly that is about as good as they can play right now.

This was actually the most “interesting” outing of the season. The Eagles managed to hang around for a variety of reasons. First, with the big caveat of "after the Giants’ opening drive", they played very well on defense. The Giants scored only six points in the second half, and didn’t move the ball a lick in the overtime. They intercepted Manning three times. Yes, the Giants helped them immensely with their “give it to Tiki” 30+ times offense. Do you know how you turn a solid offensive performance against a defense playing a ton of young guys into only two touchdowns- and only one in the last sixty minutes? Run the ball thirty-five times is a good start.

Couple that solid effort with an offense that played with heckuva lot more smarts and moxie than last week, and you had yourself an entertaining afternoon. The Eagles offensive line dominated the Giants physically. At the end Sunday, there was no doubt who the stronger, younger, more athletic grouping was. Philadelphia ran the ball effectively- which I don’t care about so much- but Philadelphia then executed the more important corollary- and generated big plays from the rushing and play-pass attack. The Giants’ pass rush is normally outstanding- but they had to blitz to get pressure. Albeit, they did get good pressure then- but one step at a time.

Andrews had his best game as a pro- absolutely blasting people. Herremans was outstanding in the run game- struggled with the Giants tackles otherwise. There were too many penalties, and the quarterback is incapable of taking advantage of the good things the offense does. The protection was spotty when the Ginats were determined to send enough people to get there, but McMahon consistently had the time to throw- a dozen balls fifteen-twenty-thirty yards down the field and completed a few- and a lot of sacks are due to the fact McMahon cannot manage the pocket at all. But they didn’t turn it over in regulation. I guess you could kill Reid for calling the pass play that McMahon fumbled late. Catagorically, nothing good is coming out of McMahon throwing third-and-forever deep in his own end. But heck, he also hadn't turned it over all day- give him a shot. It doesn't matter anyway- give him a chance to prove he belongs in the League. Regardless, the offense came back from ten points down- and managed two scoring drives in the fourth quarter to tie the game. The line played well. Moats looked fast. They gave themselves a chance. It was encouraging.

There are still problems. They can’t rush the passer inside at all- and the ends got blocked all day too. Greg Lewis regresses before our eyes- and I would cut McMullen today. Reggie Brown did play nicely- but like Moats, you gotta see it week-after-week before I believe. Let’s see Brown get every opportunity to catch 15-20 balls for 200 yards these last three games.

And of course, the Giants with their plethora of quality possession wide-outs, Shockey and then Tiki really cause a match-up problem for the Eagles- who choose not to invest in linebackers who can cover these kinds of people. Obviously, I am member of this Church of Pro-Football. Possession football- throwing and passing- is unimportant in pro ball. I’m worried about the downfield passing game to the elimination of all other factors; I want quality corners and a big pass rush. But the Giants killed them on third down all day long with possession routes. Again, this sort of offense, even like Sunday when the Giants executed well, doesn’t ever lead to touchdowns- but it would be nice to look at getting a 'backer in here who can cover people due to the quality TEs in Dallas and New York.

Fortunately, the Giants didn’t do that "throwing thing" much in more favorable down-and-distance situations- instead allowing Philadelphia to inadvertently and gladly shorten the game & hang around by watching New York hand it to Tiki. I’m not sure if the Ginats noticed- but the one thing the Eagles can do this year is stop the run. Why are you bleeding the clock for Philadelphia? Keeping the score down and eating the clock helps the Eagles- not the Giants. Just dumb.

Unless you don’t trust Manning… hmmm??? I think there is some truth to that.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Roll Wave! Forever!

Tulane will continue to play I-A football. The news is out this afternooon. Tidings to gladden the heart.

Bottom line- there should be room in schlorship athletics for places like Tulane. The NCAA is to be credited for granting the necessary waivers. I realize it was a hard decision. For an institution crippled by Katrina- there will no doubt be brutal cuts. Hundreds were laid off today. But I cannot think that ultimately it is good for Tulane to be I-A- and it good for I-A to have Tulane.

Sitting & Talking of Many Things

As we all sit here with baited breath awaiting the announcement concerning the future of Tulane’s I-A status, we have some cheery news upon the Tulane community. The Wave managed to defeat TCU 56-52 last night.

The Tulane fan cannot be cynical here. Frankly, any win for this collection is a good one. But can you imagine how horrible bad TCU must be? They've lost to Tulane- and got handled by something called Tarleton State.

Seriously, what is Tarleton State? The answer is here.

I guess I ought not laugh- because after noon today Tulane could find them on the football schedule for 2007. They certainly seem to have a nicer place to play football than we do.

As to the review, I speculate- and I have no real inside insight whatsoever- that the NCAA’s announcement that Tulane will not be punished for not carrying the official number of Division I sports is the "telegraphed" answer to the university's short-term problems. The two glamour programs- football & men’s basketball- will survive. Hopefully they will provide the revenue and continued fan engagement needed to rebuild and sustain the other programs. Without the revenue drain of the other programs, Tulane might actually get a decent return- or at least not a scary loss- on its investment in athletics. A nice change, for a few years anyway, from athletic's normal “suckhole” status.

Lastly, there is better news from Bristol Motor Speedway. As usual, the kind folks as NASCAR can’t stop giving to its fan base. Fifty bonus laps! And I honestly thought my Bristol tickets couldn’t get any better. Wrong again Frank. Wrong again.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Two Months Til Daytona!

Sigh… well, at least there is no quarterback controversy in Philadelphia.

There isn’t really too much you can say about that sort of game. You just ball it up and move on to the next one. I think we all knew that Seattle was one score plus better than the Eagles. I honestly thought Philadelphia would get beat pretty handily (obviously not like this). But it is the NFL. You get blown out in this league when you lose the turnover battle by three- let alone six- and have three, really four, returned directly for scores.

Not to belabor the obvious, but the Eagles were terrible awful bad last night on offense. Clearly they whiffed mightily with their back-up quarterback selection. Maybe McMahon can play- but he can't right now. It is sort of odd- because the Eagles have been able to secure a pretty good string of guys who have filled in admirably in McNabb’s absence: the younger Koy, AJ, etc. But Reid missed here. McMahon is clearly an extremely raw project at this point- and really ought not be on the roster as a number two. Couple this failure at the most important position in pro-ball, with seven offensive starters with less than a full year's real experience really playing in the league (sixteen real starts)- and it unmistakably was too much to overcome against a probable 13-win team on a roll.

But you know, I still think this is the smart thing to do. With an eye toward their soft last three games, I guess the Eagles could have strapped Thomas up, sat McNabb for a week or two and gave him another try, endeavor to get a Hicks/Fraley/etc. back in the line-up- and tried to make a run at something. But this team isn't going anywhere in 2005- let alone winning a pair of road play-of games. So play the kids. They largely did okay against the Giants for a half and the Pack. Last night was rough- but I'd rather having the growing pains now. Make a concerted effort to see what you’ve got every Sunday from here out.

Yes, the kids seemed brutal last night I suppose, but McMahon & Detmer were sooo bad- who really knows? You can't evaluate the running game when the 'hawks could put eight/nine guys in the box with impunity- playing ahead 21 points. I loved when they put Moats right back in after his brutal fumble. Don’t let the kid sulk all night. Find out about him. Twelve touches, every game, now until the end. I don’t want to see Gordon once. McMahon: 25-30 throws. And so forth. I have seen enough of Mahe and #80- would it really hurt Reid to cut one of them to get the other younger guys' attention?

Yes, it would be easier to just dream wistfully of Tony Stewart and Daytona. But, for all the problems this year, Reid kind of realizes that four games is a long time in an NFL campaign. They have three largely pick’em games left on the schedule- and are only a game out of third. Win one or two- with the B-offense showing they have some able, cheap, young replacements- particularly on the offensive line- goes a way toward salvaging this campaign.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Come to the Linc!

As the college season winds to a close- with brave Tulane and Notre Dame “in the barn” so to speak- I can now fret full time about the stupid Eagles and their stupid problems.

As I wrote after the Dallas disaster, the Eagles were- for intents and purposes playoff-wise- done. They probably had to win six in a row- notwithstanding one game is now down- but that still leaves five. And they’ve only won five all year. Yuck.

Sigh, I don't know if they can beat the Seahawks- and yes, it probably doesn’t really matter. But, until they lose one more, it kinda does. So I will be bundling up Monday afternoon, hopping the train in Manhattan, ready to roar just one more time. If Amanda, pictured left, has to go- I have to go too, right? At least I'll get to see personally if the Seahawks got the guts to come in and win a road game out east.

Philadelphia is a 4-point dog- which means a TD in a neutral space. I believe that- seems fair. The defense could keep it under 21- but can the Eagles score that many? Doubtful. Realistically, Philadelphia needs a defensive or special teams score- so Westbrook better be handling a lot of kicks.

But a four-point game introduces intangibles- and the Eagles have the three big ones. They’re at home in a venue that brings a real advantage and will desperately want to rally to them. It is a long trip for Seattle- and those coast-to-coast trips do seem to suck at a team's will. And Philadelphia is the way more desperate outfit. At 9-2, Seattle will have some excuses to pitch their B-game out there. The Eagles ought to play their A-effort.

The Philadelphia Eagles will try. They always try- and fight bitterly at home. The Eagles might not be good- their season realistically ended three weeks ago against Dallas- but they have since pitched two games where they played gritty: a nasty physical fight with the Giants on the road and a real stick-to-it effort against the admittedly woeful Pack. The place will be jacked- and tough for the 'hawks. There is some, not tons of course, juice in Philly for this game. I hope the weather is a factor- and it appears it will be: NFC East-style snow, cold and wind. Nasty helps Philly here- anything that makes this less a contest of “who is better?” (clearly Seattle) and more of “who wants it more” (a fair fight). Also, Akers and Landetta being back might mean that half the specials are up from terrible.

2. If Philadelphia does win, the Linc will be a war zone for the Giants next Sunday. Seriously, a war zone. If you’re a fan of the League, you'll want to watch that.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Phillies Meander Apace Part 2

Please God, not Tom Gordon- and not for three years. Yuck.

Billy Wagner took a hike to New York. This hurts the Phillies- no doubt about it. Billy was one easy, routine thing on a team that did not have to many easy, routine things to hang its hat on day after day. But the path to excellence is probably not paved by giving four year deals, plus a buy-out on a fifth, at over ten million per, to a pitcher pushing 35 that has missed significant time twice in six years. The road to ruin in free-agency is committing big guaranteed money to guys in their thirties. So it hurts, but what are you going to do? It would have hurt them more to sign him.

Obviously, it makes more sense to the Mets- who have a narrow window of opportunity with Pedro. If they get two solid runs out of Wagner, coupled with a post-season or two, they probably did okay with this contract. I hate that he is in the division- so that is probably also tickling the Mets’ front-office.

You won’t find it written in any press release- but the Phillies seem determined to clear eight figures from their completely bloated pay-roll. Thome's partial contract reduction and Wagner's expiring deal subtract north of $15 million. I doubt the Phils will be looking to invest all of that back into the on-field product. With any luck Urbina will go to jail forever, eliminating that bill- and the clock will continue to tick on Leiberthal’s, Wolf’s, Padilla’s and Bell’s deals- and the payroll situation will have a chance to improve radically for 2007.

The Phils aren’t bad exactly. They did win 87-games. They seem to try & care. But they have some bad commitments that realistically aren't going to get better. I don’t think anyone seriously can look at this roster’s problems at catcher and third base- combine it with multiple mysteries and holes in the pitching- and seriously get 94-97 wins. Even some of their "strengths" are sort of unproven. Utley and Howard are nice young players- but would you be honestly surprised to see their numbers fall a bit? Rollins had a spectacular finish- but he has months and months of stupid at-bats as well. I tend to think Jimmy is more the latter player than the former over 162-games. Burrell defines enigma. Leiber could realistically make fifteen starts next year. Issues.

I imagine the Phillies are not going to try to force things to contend next year- like the Mets should and will. They’ll be content to be hopeful that their young players develop smartly, that some the inscrutable veterans either rally or have outstanding years, and reposition the organizational deck chairs some. Let Gillick make his own judgments on who is worth keeping, what is growing down on the farm, etc.

The division is full of questions. There is enough, if they get some pitching from unexpected sources and some of the conundrums shake out in their favor, to win 85+ games and hang around in a division that features going-nowhere Florida and Washington. Every year teams package health, some surprises and a little luck into a nice run. The Phils have enough pieces to be that team. And again, they aren't bad. But it would be more luck than rational expectation.

Just there is not enough here to expect that signing one super-closer at an over-market price might put them in a 95-win realm. Or trying to force Jason Marquis or Jason Schmidt into a top-of-the rotation role- as if that is all that separates the Phillies from excellence.

If something good falls in their lap, they’ll pay for it- but short of some modest pitching plays, I imagine you’re largely looking at the 2006 Phillies.