By: Bill Campbell
I frequently find myself talking and writing about weekends to remember. We have just finished a weekend that is best forgotten.
Joe Frazier passed away. The son of a South Carolina share-cropper who found fame, fortune and a championship after coming to Philadelphia.
And, of course, we had the Eagles blowing another lead in the fourth quarter, just as they used to do when Buddy Ryan was the coach. And this one they blew with Ryan in the house as a spectator. And they did it with turnovers – one on the Chicago Bears’ 19 yard line and the other on their own nine, which led to 10 changes in points in a game the Eagles would go on to lose by 6.
Before last week’s romp over Dallas, the Eagles had committed 17 turnovers; last week in their glorious drubbing of the Cowboys, none. But the improvement disappeared all too quickly.
Buddy Ryan, looking on from the stands, must surely have remembered. If he didn’t, all he had to do was visit with Andy Reid for a bit after the game.
And there was the Penn State fiasco. The Nittany Lions were in their bye week, no game to play, but managed to create more national headlines than winning an NCAA championship would have provided.
Joe Paterno won his 409th football game last week, more victories than any coach ever has won. With absolutely no inside information, I suggested last week that this might be the perfect time for Joe to call it a career. There is still no official word that Paterno might even be contemplating retirement. But if he was, it would hardly be connected to the talk that has permeated the atmosphere around Happy Valley.
Before the dust settles on this latest development, Penn State could find itself with not only a new football coach but a new President, Vice President of Business Affairs, Director of Athletics and an entirely new football coaching staff. And also a few vacancies in the stands at Beaver Stadium, which has been accommodating crowds of over 100,000 on a weekly basis.
It indeed has been a week for short memories and just imagine all this happened on a weekend when the Lions didn’t have a game scheduled – Nebraska as its next opponent.
Penn State now finds itself on a media planning stage, hoping that it will be restricted only to football questions – and none about Jerry Sandusky. He is the former Penn State defensive coordinator who now faces 40 charges of sexual abuse crimes against minors.
All of us have wondered over the last decade about what ever happened to Jerry Sandusky. It was assumed by most of us in the media, even if we didn’t talk about it, that if and when Joe Paterno retired, the heir apparent just had to be Jerry Sandusky.
Then Sandusky’s name just disappeared from public consumption, seldom if ever to be mentioned until now, in headlines.
The Office of the Pennsylvania Attorney General says that Sandusky has been involved in this investigation for at least the past three years. Yet he has been maintaining an office in one of the Penn State buildings devoted to athletes even though he was no longer a member of the coaching staff — a most unusual arrangement in itself but apparently one that was never investigated.
As one might expect, reporters from everywhere are scouring the Penn State campus today and will be for some time. National TV news people can be seen hourly and attention has lessened on the upcoming critical game against Nebraska, a game that will have some bearing on the Big Ten title, but has dwindled in importance.
There was a time – just last week – when the term “Happy Valley” seemed to fit. Now, hardly anyone seems anxious about the upcoming game. Some fans even have taken turns criticizing Paterno for not taking further action against Sandusky in 2002. Joe did report what he knew from Mike McQueary, one of his assistants, to Tim Curley the Athletic Director. He apparently thought that by doing so, since Sandusky was no longer on his staff, he had discharged his obligation. When no action was taken by Curley or the university, many feel that Paterno should have taken further action.
The Penn State football team meets Nebraska at noon on Saturday at Beaver Stadium. The size of the crowd will be interesting, for even with the scandal it will be huge. Whether Paterno will be coaching from the sidelines or the press box, if at all, will be interesting. He has remained upstairs this season because he remains in some pain from accidental injuries. But he is probably in more pain now – a different sort of pain.
I saw Ryan Howard the other day. He was mingling with some fans at the Eagles-Cowboys game. And the name of Jim Thome came quickly to mind. I wish I could say it immediately occurred on that sad October afternoon when the Phillies’ season ended short of World Series ambitions. But my mind doesn’t work that quickly.
Remember the scene? On the left was Ryan Howard writhing in pain with a ruptured Achilles and off to the right were the St. Louis Cardinals players beginning their victory celebration, which they had every right to do.
It’s a scene that probably still haunts the Phillies from the president to the batboy. But I thought about Jim Thome a few days later when I anticipated his free agency and his intense desire to finish his career in a World Series, an event in which he has never participated. He’s achieved other solid marks along the way, including hitting 604 home runs, which only seven major leaguers have done. And I remembered the excited greeting he received here nearly nine years ago when the Phillies first spent big money on a name player.
Most importantly, I remembered what a good guy Thome is and how he fits in so perfectly wherever he goes. The Phillies tried to sign him last year but Cleveland claimed him on waivers. He will not be the Phillies’ first baseman while Howard recuperates from injury. Just getting into playing shape will be a challenge for Thome. He will not be the overall bench player the Phillies might need but he still swings a potent bat. And Charlie Manuel loves him like a son. He will indeed be the Phillies’ number one pinch hitter with the game on the line and no one is happier than the Phillies’ manager with Thome’s acquisition.
You’ll notice how early in free agency the Phillies leaped to sign him and how long it took Thome to come to a decision about joining them. Maybe 24 hours. It may take Howard longer than we anticipate to return and in his absence don’t expect to see that much of Thome at first base. Jim has not played an inning in the field since 2007 and has played just 28 total innings in the field in the last 5 years.
But Thome calls this an easy decision. In his words, “If this is the way a career ends, I feel right about it. It made for a very easy decision.” The Phillies thought so too. And it makes for easier writing and reading than talking about Happy Valley.
Since the Eagles backward step against the Bears, an added paragraph is needed. The Birds are now 3 and 5. Any resemblance to the team which, on the previous week, demolished the Dallas Cowboys, is purely accidental. This version of the Birds turned the ball over twice in the first half after not doing so once the previous week. It fell behind early, 10-0, only to come back to take the lead 24-17 with only 6 minutes left in the third period.
In other words, a team that lived up to its reputation for blowing leads late in games did it again.
In the featured duel between two of the league’s better running backs, Chicago’s Matt Forte delivered a bit more than Philadelphia’s Shady McCoy. Forte finished with 133 yards on 24 carries, caught 3 passes for 17 more yards but did fumble twice. McCoy, who entered the game second in the league in rushing (754) behind Adrian Peterson, finished with 71 yards on 16 carries. McCoy has usually had good second halves but didn’t get much work in the second half of this game. Forte helped the Bears control the ball and the game.
As for Michael Vick, he had a really bad first half. If the Eagles are to win it is now clear that they must have not only a Michael Vick; they must have a very good Michael Vick — which he was not against the Bears. His numbers: 21 for 38, no touchdowns. It was another long and late night at the Linc.
And I’d much rather write about Jim Thome returning to the Phillies.