By Bill Campbell
Birds and Sixers
In all my years as a sports broadcaster, I’ve seen a lot of coaches and managers come and go. I’ve had varying degrees of sympathy for all of them. I know from personal experience what it feels like to be fired. With it comes a feeling of total dejection plus some degree of shame. The embarrassment is increased, not just when you attempt to face your family, but also the public and the fans. Among those I’ve felt for are Gene Mauch, Jim Fregosi, Dallas Green, Nick Skorich, Larry Bowa, even Rich Kotite whom I never admired much as a coach; solid citizens all. But for some inexplicable reason, that feeling never has transferred itself to Andy Reid for me. Probably it’s because I’ve spent little time in his company. My days with the Eagles preceded his and we’ve had little personal contact. I certainly have sympathized with the problems he has dealt with in his family and with the recent loss of his son, Garrett. But I guess I’ve just grown tired of listening to him say every week that the team is “my responsibility” and that it’s his job “to put the players in the proper positions”. Each time I hear it I silently respond, Isn’t that the essence of coaching? Do we have to be reminded of this every week? It’s old now – and nothing has changed. It has to end.
Let’s not forget Michael Vick who was brought here by Reid. On Monday night in New Orleans, he was playing against one of the lowest ranked defenses in the league. Yet Vick didn’t move the Eagles. He didn’t pass effectively. He scrambled repeatedly, trying to avoid the blitz. In truth, nothing seemed to happen. But it wasn’t all Vick’s problems that lost the game for the Birds. Right tackle Todd Herremans, perhaps his best offensive lineman, left the game early with an ankle injury. The sieve-like offensive line failed to provide Vick with anything close to decent protection, leading in part to the quarterback being sacked seven times. I don’t know how he keeps getting up off the ground. Let’s not forget Trent Cole’s inability to handle a pass which Patrick Robinson intercepted on a deflection and returned 99 yards for a Saints touchdown. This much-too-early score was the signature play of the game, putting the Eagles behind the 7-ball from which they never recovered. Thinking back on it all, you have to wonder if it’s not just time to change coaches but time to change games. From my seat, if Eagles’ owner Jeffrey Lurie had done what everyone expected when he called that infamous press conference at the end of last season and fired Reid, we would have been spared this excuse for a season. Maybe the present abyss into which the team has fallen is his fault. Maybe we’ve been blaming the wrong guy all this time.
Unfortunately, the 76ers are having their troubles too. They were beaten badly in back-to-back games by the New York Knicks, 110-88 in the second game on the Sixers’ home court. They made some big changes last summer, including getting a 7’ forward named Andrew Bynum. Problem is, he can’t play; bad knees. Even a seven-footer needs knees. A few other players are on the shelf too at the moment. So we may be in for a long winter here in Philadelphia.
We’ve written, read, heard and shared more than our share of critical comments about our various teams. And we all do a lot of second-guessing when things are going badly. None of this is terribly newsworthy. But when a player responds to such things, it makes headlines. Jason Babin spoke out the other day and his remarks made their way into the news.
Babin criticized the fans, questioned their loyalty to the Eagles and accused them of bellowing “vile chants about Andy Reid” during the recent 30-17 loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Babin said that
during the game there was a large section of fans “chanting some of the most vile things I’ve ever heard, not just at a football game, but in life in general.” He continued, “They were talking about attacking the coach, talking about people’s wives and kids and chanting [at] them. And I just thought there is no place for that in the NFL.” The defensive end went on, “I’m going to be protective of Coach Reid and Coach Washburn and my teammates. I just found it upsetting that a few bad apples were chanting that stuff.” Babin added that he “couldn’t repeat the lines I heard and I’ve got a pretty high threshold for adult jokes”. He concluded, “There are 17 teams with the same or worse records than ours. Our thanks to the fans who remain loyal. We’ll get it right.” Additionally, DeSean Jackson, one of the Birds’ most prominent players, was asked about Eagle fans during a recent ESPN radio interview. He responded, “Philadelphia fans are definitely the type of people where, if you’re doing good, they love you but once you’re going bad it’s like the world is coming to an end. To be out there and hear our home crowd booing us is a crazy feeling and not easy to take at times.”
While there may be some nasty chanting or booing filling the air from some sections, you can’t deny that a form of apathy is starting to set in at Lincoln Financial Field. The stadium was more than half empty at the start of the last period during the game Babin mentioned, with the Eagles trailing Atlanta, 27-10. If you’ve read our local sports columnists lately, you can infer that the chants up in the press box, perhaps more restrained than those Babin heard but just as passionate, were generally “Fire the coach”. The day is coming.
The NFL Weekend
With the Eagles scheduled for a Monday night game in New Orleans, it was time to look elsewhere for our Sunday football fix. With each passing week it becomes more difficult to overlook the Atlanta Falcons. By defeating the Dallas Cowboys 19-13 on Sunday night, Atlanta commands attention. At exactly the half-way point of the regular season, the Falcons are 8 and 0, the NFL’s only unbeaten team. They lead the Southern Division of the National Conference by a commanding margin. The team closest to them in the division is Tampa Bay, which has a pedestrian record of 4-4. The leaders in the Eastern Division of the conference are the New York Giants, although their loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday was their third. The Steelers, who had to obtain a special waiver from the league to travel on a game day, overcame some early carelessness to put the Giants in their place. Eli Manning had one of the worst games of his career, throwing for just 125 yards. The Steelers’ Isaac Feldman ran for 147 yards, a central figure in Pittsburgh’s 24-20 victory. It looks like the Steelers are back.
There also was an interesting game played in Landover, Maryland, where the Carolina Panthers met the Washington Redskins in a long-awaited battle between two Heisman Award winning quarterbacks: Cam Newton and Robert Griffin III. Newton won the contest, 21-13, throwing for 201 yards and running for 37. RG III was 23 for 39, threw for 215 yards, ran for 53 yards and was sacked four times. The Redskins entered the game on Sunday as the most penalized team in the league and added 13 more infractions before it was over. Washington (3-6) has lost three straight and is facing its third consecutive last-place finish in the NFC East, barring a major turnaround after their bye week. Funny but down in D.C. there are some cries for Coach Mike Shanahan’s head these days even though he’s just started to build a team around Griffin. We’re not alone here in Philly demanding more from our coaches.
In Chicago’s 51-20 win over Tennessee, Brian Urlacher became the latest Bears’ defender to score on an interception return. No other NFL team had returned 6 picks for TD’s through the first 7 games of any season. But the story of the week belongs to Andrew Luck, the Indianapolis Colts quarterback who threw for 433 yards in Sunday’s 23-20 win over the Miami Dolphins, breaking Cam Newton’s year-old record for yards passing in a game by a rookie (422). Luck also became the second rookie QB to produce four 300-yard games in one season. The other guy to do that was Peyton Manning, who plays in Denver now.
Depending on where you were, with all that going on there had to be a Sunday football fix for someone, some place. It was a busy day in the NFL, even without the Eagles.
The College Scene
As noted, the pro basketball season is not only coming, it’s here; and the college game is almost upon us. Before the court game takes over the spotlight, a review of the weekend in college football deserves a recap.
Coach Bill O’Brien brought Penn State back from a difficult loss to Ohio State to just thrash Purdue last weekend on a cold day at Ross Ade Stadium. The Nittany Lions ran wild over the Boilermakers, 34-9. The Lions are 6-3 overall, 4-4 in the Big Ten. Coach O’Brien said after the game, “I’ve been around enough good teams and enough good coaches to learn the things you should learn from a loss.” Discussing the week between the Ohio State and Purdue games, he admitted, “This past week I did do a little yelling and some hollering but you have to put that loss aside. We spent the week thinking Purdue and not Ohio State. That’s history.” Now Purdue is history too. Next is Nebraska, on the road at 3:30 in the afternoon. Cornerback Steve Morris said that the team doesn’t mind playing on the road because, once the defense takes the field before a noisy throng, “We really enjoy quieting the crowd.” Let’s hope the Lions can do that against the Cornhuskers.
Conversely, the Owls of Temple are struggling after losing last Saturday to Louisville, 45-17. They have another tough one coming up – Cincinnati at noon on Saturday at the Linc. Cincinnati is 6-2 overall, 2-1 in the Big East. Temple will be without its center on Saturday. Sean Boyle, a 6 foot, 300-pounder, has a shoulder injury and Coach Steve Addazio has no idea how long the fifth-year senior will be unavailable. Temple is now 3-6 (2-3). Last week, with the Owls trailing 24-17, the game turned at Louisville on a fourth down error on the 49 yard line. A high snap from center became the killer although it was recovered by Temple. But the recovery took place on the 33 yard line for an 18 yard loss. Three plays later, Temple had to punt and Boyle’s freshman replacement, Kyle Friend, made the high snap. Friend, normally a guard, had been switched to center to replace the injured Boyle who’d had to leave the game. He was the guilty party on the snap and that told the story. A tough break for the freshman – and a tough loss for Temple.
It’s tough football times in the City of Brotherly Love.