By Bill Campbell
There was a picture in one of our daily newspapers on Monday morning. It showed Eagles’ trainer, Rich Burkholder, hugging Coach Andy Reid on Sunday afternoon after that last- second win over Tampa Bay. No matter what happens to Reid at the end of this season, Jeffrey Lurie should purchase that picture, blow it up and hang it permanently in the NovaCare Center.
When a guy goes eight weeks without winning a game, the least he deserves is his picture hanging on the wall alongside Bednarik, Van Buren, Van Brocklin and Westbrook—even if you are about to fire him.
You’ve delayed his dismissal this long, what difference can a couple of more weeks matter? Besides, the picture might soften the blow.
This is a season that will be remembered for, among other things, major changes in coordinators: Castillo from offense to defense then out, Washburn and that gimmicky “Wide Nine” in and now out. These moves took a tool on the team all season. Reid must be held responsible for both of them as well as his dogged commitment to quarterback, Michael Vick. Only when Vick was sidelined by another concussion was Reid forced to turn to Nick Foles. Now we can see that Reid’s stubbornness also likely prevented the season’s early salvation.
The Eagles looked like a completely different team last Sunday against Tampa Bay, playing honest defense and holding the Bucs to 79 net yards, taking a 10-0 lead in the first half. When they yielded the lead, they didn’t panic. Rather, they put the situation into Foles’ hands, the rookie quarterback who made his fourth start on Sunday. Entrusting it to the young guy appears to have turned things around for this team – or at least it’s started to do so. Foles, who had been sacked six times, kept his composure on Sunday, took his time in the pocket to find a receiver and simply refused to accept another loss.
According to the press, he even chose the last play. That’s the kind of leadership the team has lacked all year. His pass to Jeremy Maclin in the end zone with seconds to go for the win was a thrill to see. And the grin on Andy Reid’s face was, despite all of his missteps this year, deserved. Worth a picture.
Watching Nick Foles develop over the past month has been the most interesting thing about this Eagles season. He hasn’t fully matured yet but he’s improved each week, bettered his stats and become more comfortable at the helm.
There are a few games remaining on the schedule, including one on short rest this week against the Cincinnati Bengals. It will be a challenge for the new kid. But suddenly, with Number Nine in charge, there’s a glimmer of hope for the Birds for next season and maybe a few after that. The last time we felt that was back on September 30th when the Eagles last scored a win. This one on Sunday was beyond overdue.
The NFL East had been predicted to be a tough division this season. It has been hardly that. Last weekend, the Dallas Cowboys beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 20-19 on a last second field goal. The Giants routed the Saints, 52-27. The Redskins downed the Ravens in overtime, 31-29. Yet last Sunday, as we entered the Christmas season, hope sprang up for us in Philadelphia and the NFL East became exciting again. Saint Nick had landed.
The Phillies made an interesting if somewhat controversial trade with the Texas Rangers over the past week. They had a big vacancy at third base and they acquired a 36-year-old, 7-time All Star named Michael Young to fill it. Young had a no-trade clause in his contract which he agreed to waive so the trade could be negotiated. The Phillies thought he was worth two minor league relievers – Josh Lindbloom and Lasalveto Bonilla from the pretty-well-stocked farm system. There is speculation that Young may be nearing the end of his productive career and that he agreed to the trade because his best years with the Rangers are behind him. It’s true that his numbers have declined somewhat over the past few years and that he has, in fact, played the role of designated hitter more often than not in the past two seasons. But the Phillies see him as a third baseman, allowing Charlie Manuel both to use Freddy Galvis as a utility infielder playing second, third or shortstop and to provide more chances to rest Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins.
Michael Young has twice led the American League in hits, most recently in 2011 when he batted 338. He’s a right-handed hitter, which suits the Phillies’ needs, and he’s hit 21 or more home runs per season 4 times in his career. Last year he trailed off somewhat, hitting 277 with an on-base percentage of 312. During this past season, he started 25 games at third base, compared to 39 games the season before. He’s a 10-year player in the Big Leagues, including 5 years with the same teams, which allowed him to waive his no-trade clause. The Rangers also agreed to pay $10 million of Young’s $16 million contract for 2013. So the Phillies will wind up getting a new third baseman at nicely reduced price.
On the Phillies “Still Wanted List” remain a veteran late-inning reliever, a right-handed hitting corner outfielder and a seasoned starting pitcher. So, expect a few more trades and new faces by spring training. Maybe even Josh Hamilton, if recent rumors turn out to be true.
In another interesting deal this week, free-agent pitcher, Zack Greinke, singed a 6-year, $147 million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He’s a 29-year-old right hander who went 15-5 last year throwing for both the Angels and Milwaukee Brewers during the season. The Dodgers also have an agreement in place with utility man, Skip Schumacher, of the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s raining money these days out in L.A.
Last Saturday, the annual service classic played in Philadelphia resulted in another Navy victory—the midshipmen’s 11th in a row. The finish was a brutal one for the Army cadets.
Army had possession on the Navy 14, and appeared headed for a winning touchdown with its quarterback, Trent Steelman, executing a routine hand-off to fullback, Larry Dixon. Suddenly, the football was on the ground. Dixon never got control of the ball and when it hit the ground Navy’s Barry Dabney was on it in a split second ahead of Steelman. The final play of Steelman’s stellar career was a fumble—and it insured Navy’s sailing on to a 17-13 victory.
Team captain Steelman, who took the responsibility for the error in his post-game comments, described it as “just unfortunate.” It sure was.
Army, which is 2-10 against Navy, had a big edge last Saturday in total offense (418-297) and Steelman got 96 yards of that himself, including a touchdown near the end of the first half to tie the game at 7-7. But fumbles became the issue for Army, including a 39-yard miss on a third-quarter field goal attempt.
The Cadets trailed 13-10 nearing the end and needed a TD to win. But Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds was the game’s ace playmaker, driving his team 80 yards to score after Army’s missed field goal with a great 40 yard pass. With 4.41 remaining, Reynolds scored on the next play and sealed it for the midshipmen.
Navy coach, Ken Niumatalolo, said that Reynolds’ accomplishments never surprise him.
“The kid is a very, very good football player. He listens, he’s coachable. His legacy will be, will he stay hungry and stay humble? If he does those two things, that kid has a chance to go down as one of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever had here.”
Army coach, Rich Ellerson, said that his team really expected to win this one but that the kicking game kept that from happening.
“Those are the things that correlate with success. They are fundamental to the game of football. The score board will reflect those things.”
He made no mention of the Steelman fumble on the hand-off to Dixon. He didn’t have to say a word.
Army’s defeat was especially sad for Philadelphia’s Raymond Maples, a West Point junior who graduated from West Philly Catholic High. Playing in such a prestigious game in his home town, in front of his family and friends, he gained 156 yards on 27 carries.
“Gaining over 100 yards in the Army-Navy game was thrilling,” he stated.
But he turned the ball over on a hand-off and, as he said, “That’s all I’ll remember.”
Fumbles will cost you in any game, especially Army-Navy.
The College Scene:
College football wasn’t limited to the Army-Navy game last weekend; it just seemed that way. Headlines also were written about Texas A&M quarterback, Johnny Manziel, who became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy. Only one other freshman, Adrian Peterson of Oklahoma, had ever come close to this honor, finishing second in the voting in 2004.
As the Heisman nominees were noted in the papers last week, I recalled Ohio State’s Archie Griffin, who won it twice, in 1974 and ’75. I guess that now becomes the next historical target for Manziel.
I also thought about Florida’s Tim Tebow, who became the first sophomore to win the trophy in 2007. Yet, as a junior, Tebow finished third despite the Gators winning the national title that year.
Speaking of Tebow and Company, I realize that the vote for the Heisman isn’t always predictable. Florida won its first 12 games during his senior year before losing to Alabama in the SEC title game but Tebow finished 5th in that tally. So you never know till the name is announced just how it will go.
As far as Manziel’s stats go, he deserved the honor. In his first college season, the QB passed for 3,419 yards and 24 touchdowns, ran for 1,181 yards and 19 TD’s. He became only the fifth FBS player to go over 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards running in the same season. Manziel also led the Aggies to beat Number One ranked Alabama on the road a few weeks ago. And he’s just started.
The runner-up in the Heisman voting was Notre Dame senior linebacker, Manti Te’o, the first defensive player to finish that high since Charles Woodson of Michigan 15 years ago. Te’o had 101 tackles, 7 interceptions and led a defensive squad that allowed just 10 touchdowns on the season. He also had a signature moment, leading the Irish to a victory over Michigan State in the wake of his grandmother and girlfriend’s death.
We can’t forget about college basketball either, which is hot on our scene now. When Temple put its unbeaten streak on the line against Duke last week, they stepped out of their class. The Owls were scrambled by the Blue Devils, 90-67. The game was played at the Izod Center where Duke shot 29 free throws to Temple’s 4. Stats like that tell the story of the game. Duke is now 9-0 and Temple is 6-1.
Villanova and Penn combined to register 52 personal fouls, shot 71 free throws and committed 32 turnovers in a game that the Wildcats won, 68-55.
La Salle won at Northeastern, 66-65, and Drexel finally began to look like the Dragons had been predicted to look, beating Princeton 64-59. Drexel trailed at one point by 13 points but rallied in the second half to take it.
Princeton is the pre-season favorite to win the Ivy League but like Drexel the team has had its early-season problems. A month into the college basketball season and there are 14 undefeated teams, 3 of them in the Big Ten. That sure keeps it interesting.
There was a time when the term “dear old alma mater” meant something. Apparently, it still has some significance. You’ll recall that, in the wake of the Sandusky scandal at Penn State, 14 football players transferred to play elsewhere. Yet over the past weekend, Nittany Lions coach, Bill O’Brien, received commitments from 3 outstanding high school recruits. One of them is Zayd Issah, a Pennsylvania Class AAA linebacker who had backed out of his original commitment, had second thoughts and has now recommitted. Issah is a 6 foot, 220 pound linebacker from Central Dauphin High in Harrisburg, named co-player of the year. He had committed to Penn State in June, before the NCAA sanctions were announced. He withdrew his commitment in September and for a time it looked like he would land at Oregon. But he reinstated after Coach O’Brien hosted official visits for recruits last weekend.
The other two players reportedly committing to Penn State are Valley Forge Military Academy defensive back, Anthony Smith, and Alabama linebacker, Jonathan Walton.
So, when you figure the final tally, 14 left but 17 applied for admission. Who would have predicted that after the scandal and its aftermath?
To me, this is all about loyalty. Loyalty forged by the players left behind by Joe Paterno who were willing to stand with the man brought in to replace him. Loyalty to a university which had built a legendary football program that deserved to survive. And it’s about the loyalty that Bill O’Brien inspired in his players, leading them to compile an 8-4 record this season when no one expected it. Those players put their trust in Coach O’Brien’s hands and their loyalty was rewarded. They’ve done their alma mater proud.
It all has thrust O’Brien’s name into consideration for Coach of the Year ballots. If I were a voter, he’d have mine.
Here in Philadelphia, there’s still no hockey. There’s no sign of Andrew Bynum suiting up for the Sixers. But there’s plenty of sports to go around.