By Bill Campbell
The Philadelphia area contains thousands of the most loyal football fans ever. Their sense of loyalty to the Eagles uniform and logo is almost incomparable. Yet here they are in the 15th week of a 16 week season, not only shut out of a chance to win their first Super Bowl, but shut out of the playoffs.
The Eagles will play the Washington Redskins in a meaningless game on Sunday, but the park will be packed, or close to it. Thousands upon thousands will come regardless because they just love their team and support it under any conditions. They will form an amazing list of people who suffer in silence in hopes of getting their names on a long season ticket list. Maybe the problem is the silence of the multitudes — and the contempt with which the team owner and officials seem to hold them.
The apparent knowledge in the upper chambers of the NovaCare Center is that, no matter where the team finishes or how many leads it blows in the fourth period, no matter what, the thousands will continue to come displaying their loyalty, showing the way no matter what, which may be the crux of the problem. How else can one explain the complete and utter silence from Jeff Lurie, Joe Banner and company, or anyone else connected with the once-proud Birds?
Some seem to think the head coach is to blame; that the staff is incompetent; that poor drafting is the problem; that the big fault is in the play-calling. But no one in the front office really knows or worse, as long as the silence continues, maybe no one really cares. Until someone in authority speaks, breaks the silence and offers some kind of judgment, what can loyal fans think or believe? Until someone in authority expresses an opinion, the endless guessing will continue.
And as long as Andy Reid remains in the same spot, the legion of fans will wonder if he speaks for ownership and management or just for himself. Even the most loyal diehard must be sick of hearing on a weekly basis, “It’s my job to put players in the best possible spot to perform” or “I only care about next week and the next team.” And there’s, “We anticipate no changes on the coaching staff”. Or the key words, “I take full responsibility.”
The time has come for someone at NovaCare to express an opinion as to what they think or believe about something upon which all those thousands of loyalists can hang their hats.
This week will mark the closing of the Eagles’ activities in the National Football League for 2011 and the beginning of the 76ers’ activities in the National Basketball Association. Both stand out in bold relief. The Eagles opened the season with a lot of new faces on their roster and spent a considerable amount of money acquiring them. In contrast, the 76ers in the newly established NBA have pretty much stood pat. While there has been much trading and changing of personnel elsewhere in the NBA, the Sixers have contented themselves with bringing back 12 players from last year on a team that made the playoffs and improved by 14 victories over the previous season.
It will be interesting to see which philosophy prevails. In our area, the football and baseball teams were big free agent participants. The Flyers also made some big moves, most of them in trades, except for signing an expensive new goaltender.
But the 76ers, unlike the Eagles or Flyers, think they have a good solid team which, with a little more experience, should become even better. It all makes for an interesting winter, trying to see which system prevails: the instant shake-up or the gradual improvement for the long haul.
The Sixers have decided to ride the backs of talent in-house and see where it leads. In the words of club president Rod Thorn and head coach Doug Collins, “We think we are headed in the right direction. If everything works out for us and we take another step forward, that says that the plan is working. We want our team to get better and better, to show improvement with each season. That is the direction in which we are headed.”
The shortening of the NBA season to 66 games from its previous length of 82 could be a silent advantage for the Sixers. There will be weeks this season in which teams will play four games, some of them back to back to back. And their youth and fresh legs could prove to be an advantage.
Coach Collins believes that a young player can be coached to improve. He has tried to instill a belief in his players that they are not really respected by many of their opponents. Their schedule is difficult. Their first 5 official games will all be on the road. And they will not play a game at home until January 6th against the Detroit Pistons. The Flyers won’t be home until January 2nd against the New York Rangers.
If you get the opportunity to see the Winter Classic Alumni Game between the Flyers and the Rangers on Saturday afternoon, don’t miss it. The featured game between the current Flyers and Rangers will be played at Citizens Bank Park on January 2nd.
But the Alumni Game is scheduled for Saturday December 31st. It may be your only chance to see guys in their 60’s banging into each other on skates as well as enjoying the men who played on the Flyers’ only two Stanley Cup championship teams of 1974 and 1975.
It will feature 62-year-old Bobby Clarke, the Flyers’ senior vice president, 66-year-old Bernie Parent, the goal tender star, 68-year-old Joe Watson, as well as Reggie Leach, Bill Barber, Bob Kelly, Orest Kindrachuk – all in their 60’s as well.
Also playing in the game will be such stellar names as Mark Howe, Eric Lindros, John LeClair, Dave Poulin, Brian Propp, Mark Recchi, Rick Tocchet, Ken Linseman and Eric Desjardins – none of whom have reached 60 years of age but all of whom contributed much to hockey in Philadelphia. Seven of the Flyers top eight scorers in history will be playing in the game.
Parent originally wasn’t going to play but he was coaxed into it and will be in goal for about 10 minutes. So don’t be late. For as they used to say in the 70’s, “Only God saves more than Bernie Parent.”
After Parent agreed to play he said, “The Philadelphia hockey fans are the best. Besides, I’m in my prime.”
Parent plans to wear the same mask and equipment he used in his playing days. When Joe Watson heard Parent’s claim about being in his prime, he wise-cracked, “We’ll see what he says when the first shot goes flying past him.”
It should be a date and a game to remember: Saturday at 1:00 p.m. Even Eric Lindross will be here. Commenting on his past differences with Clarke and the Flyers’ organization, Eric said recently, “It’s all in the past.” And Clarke’s comment was similar, “The feud is over. I can’t be bothered or concerned about it one way or the other.”
Isn’t age a marvelous healer?