By: Bill Campbell
How do you find the correct words to describe the Eagles?
Is this really the same team that tortured us before the bye week? Someone must have known something about Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha after all. Maybe it had something to do with the weather. The Eastern Division of the National Conference of the NFL has one team — the Giants — at 5 and 2, and three teams — the Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins — at 3 and 4. The Giants don’t look good enough to scare anybody. They have six tough scheduled weeks ahead of them. The Redskins have lost three in a row. And the Cowboys have put their best product on display for all to see.
On Sunday night, Michael Vick was 21 for 29 against Dallas, passing for 279 yards and two touchdowns. Brent Celek caught seven passes for 94 yards and a touchdown. And Vick threw to DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin too. But more importantly this was a team exhibition on how to play the game on both sides of the ball. Shady McCoy had 30 carries for 185 yards, the fourth time this season he’s run for over 100 yards and he has scored in all 7 Eagles games.
This was an Eagle team that had turned the ball over 17 times before Sunday’s game. But in the drubbing of the Cowboys? Zero. On a night when Jim Johnson, their old defensive coordinator, was honored, the defense had a big night. It even gave us a chance to complement the new defensive boss, Juan Castillo, who moved people around like the team had the makings of a possible “dream team” after all. We had an idea after the Washington game that this defense could defend against the pass. After all, it did intercept Rex Grossman four times. But they faced a running attack with Dallas which, in the first half last week, ran 18 plays and gained only 94 yards. Coming into this game, the Cowboys were averaging 25 points and 416 yards per game. They ranked twelfth in rushing and fourth in passing. So it was a big night for Castillo who has endured more than his share of criticism since being appointed to the job. And right in the middle of everything was Asomugha and Jason Babin and Trent Cole and Trevor Laws. Some semblance of the “wide nine” defense remained but the front four did narrow it down on some occasions. The Eagles now have 18 sacks and are second in the league in sacks per pass play. Let’s hope it continues.
For a guy who has been around this area all his life, I find it disturbing that my local prognostications haven’t turned out too well. I guess I’ve been correct on occasion, but my wrong guesses always seem to outweigh the right. For instance, I can remember expressing the belief that the National Hockey League would never fit in Philadelphia. Then Bobby Clark and friends came along and won the Stanley Cup in the 70s and I thought it was just a fluke. But the game is still here, selling out its buildings – nice buildings too – because Ed Snyder and a few others thought it had a future. It hasn’t won the coveted Cup since the 70s but it’s still selling out buildings.
The other so-called major established sports of the times — baseball, football and basketball – have endured a few major labor problems but have survived like hockey. Which brings us to soccer, another game whose influence on our Philadelphia region I have apparently misjudged. The Union, in only its second season, has reached the MLS Cup playoffs and in 18 games in its new stadium in Chester has sold out 14 times. The Houston Dynamo beat the Union this past week 2-1. But the Union is still alive. It will meet the Dynamo again on Thursday night in Houston. The play-off game was another sell-out and some folks who hold Eagles season tickets maneuvered to attend both games last Sunday since the Union played at 5 and the Eagles met the Cowboys later under the lights.
Thursday in Houston will be the Union’s first ever Cup play-off game and reaching it so quickly is a real and rare accomplishment. A musical group known as the “Sons of Ben” was a real sign that the MLS would work in this area. It’s a group that sings, cheers and dances for a full 90 minutes each game. A true signal to build a stadium in Chester and is now urging expansion. In this upcoming Cup play-off game, if the teams are tied after the full 90 minutes, two fifteen-minute overtime periods will be played in their entirety. And if a winner is still undecided it will be done on penalty kicks. Some fans are going to Houston for the big game on Thursday and I guess they should be prepared to stay a while. They tell me quite a few have made reservations for the game — another whose passion, excitement and loyalty I failed to imagine.
There is only a month remaining in Penn State’s Big Ten regular season schedule and the Nittany Lions are about to enter their bye week. They’re 5 and 0 and the Big Ten’s only undefeated team in conference play. And Joe Paterno, while missing most sidelines, is sitting on top of the world. The Lions barely carved out a win last week when Illinois saw a fumbled hold on a field goal in the final minutes of the first half last Saturday result in an interception. Then, with a chance to tie on the game’s final play, a 42-yard field goal attempt banged off the right upright.
Penn State hasn’t really dazzled anybody. In fact, Temple should have beaten the Lions. But only Alabama has accomplished that. Meanwhile Penn State keeps climbing in the polls. They’re now Number 16 in the AP, Number 15 in the USA Today coaches’ poll and Number 16 in the BCS ratings, while Paterno continues using his two quarterbacks. By getting by Illinois, Joe broke a tie with Grambling legend Eddie Robinson for most Division One victories: 409. I have no inside info on Paterno’s future plans. But I’m sure the thought has occurred in a lot of heads, including mine: wouldn’t this be a great time to call it a career with more victories than anyone has ever achieved and probably ever will? As long as Joe is having fun and enjoying it, he should keep coaching. Even from the press box.