By Bill Campbell
Maybe the biggest sports story of the fortnight was Temple’s major upset of Syracuse. After the Owls had blown a game to Canisius on their home court, their stunning win over the Orange – ranked Number Three in the country – came in the Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York. Once again, Temple downed a top ten opponent, the fifth consecutive season in which Temple (9-2) has knocked off a top ten rival, causing fans to wonder how the Owls lost to Canisius. Temple guard, Khalif Wyatt, scored a career high 33 points. Referring to the Canisius loss after the Syracuse win, senior Wyatt said, “We just want to put that one behind us. This is going to be the start of playing our best basketball and putting a string of wins together.” Wyatt went 15 for 15 at the foul line, made 6 free throws to hold off Syracuse in the final minutes. He was named the game’s most valuable player. The Temple defense also had a lot to do with the win, shutting down Orange point guard Michael Carter-Williams, who made just 3 of 17 shots and went 0 for 5 on 3-pointers. The Owls sophomore center, Anthony Lee, added 21 points, 9 rebounds and 2 blocked shots to the Temple cause. Lee also did a good job at the foul line, making 19 of 34. In fact, good shooting at the foul line dominated the game.
This probably was the biggest victory in Coach Fran Dunphy’s time at Temple. He’s now in his seventh season there after a successful career at Penn. The Orange had won 52 regular season, non-conference games and this was their first regular season defeat of any kind since losing 68-57 to Notre Dame last January. That game was played in South Bend, Indiana, and that winning streak lasted 20 games.
Meanwhile, St. Joe’s lost to Fairfield at home, 60-57. The Hawks are now a lackluster 5-4 and have lost 3 of their last 4 games. Conversely, LaSalle rolled over Sacred Heart 100-71, Drexel downed Davidson 69-58 in a long-awaited good performance, and Villanova, making 18 three-pointers, won its fourth straight handling Monmouth 83-56 and going to 8-4. College basketball is keeping it interesting these days.
It was that kind of game. Out in front, lost the lead, lots of errors – and it ended with a penalty.
This season will be long remembered as the one that began tragically with the death of the head coach’s son. It faded into one that essentially ended with an intentional grounding violation and a walk off the field with 10 seconds to go. The score last Sunday was 27-20, Redskins over the Eagles. It likely was the last home game in the fourteen-year career of Andy Reid in Philadelphia. The final whistle in a penalty-scarred season echoed through Lincoln Financial Field like the blow of a judge’s gavel. It eliminated the final seconds of play and, with it, the Eagles last-gasp chance of, perhaps, tying the game from 5 yards away. As with so many things this year when it came to the Birds, it didn’t happen.
There was a time back in September when the Eagles were 3 -1 and were the choice of many to win the NFL East. At worst, the Eagles were the pick of many fans to battle the New York Giants for the banner. Now the Giants, whom the Birds will meet in New York on Sunday in the final game of the season, remain in contention but they may not win it either. The irony isn’t lost on any of us.
As the crowd filed out of the Linc on Sunday, there surely were thousands of thoughts running through the minds of the fans. I can only share with you what was on mine. When the Eagles were looking for a new head coach 14 years ago, Andy Reid and Jim Haslett were the two most talked-about candidates for the job. The Birds’ director of football operations was a guy named Tom Modrak. I remembered that he didn’t want Reid. But the guy calling most of the shots for the Eagles back was the executive vice president, Joe Banner. He was a Reid guy and he had owner Jeff Lurie’s ear. Lurie, had the final say in the matter – and we know whom he picked. I recalled that there were some memorable years as Reid rebuilt the team with Banner and Lurie, acquired Donovan McNabb and even made it to a Super Bowl. But that era ended a few years back and things have gotten pretty bleak down at the Linc. As I watched Andy Reid shake hands with Mike Shanahan at the end of Sunday’s game, I also saw him exchange bear hugs with Jim Haslett, who is now the Redskins’ defensive coordinator. I wondered what those two guys must have been thinking at that moment and how things might have turned out here if Lurie had listened to Modrak rather than Banner. What if Reid hadn’t been here all these years? What if he and Banner had drafted different players? What if they’d never brought Terrell Owens in? What if they hadn’t taken a chance on Vick? Would any of it had made a difference? Probably not but the memory of the start of the Reid era struck me as the game ended last Sunday and speculating the “what ifs” can captivate you even if just for a moment.
Robert Griffin III – You have to wonder what Robert Griffin III might accomplish if he were consistently healthy. Playing basically on one leg against the Eagles last Sunday, Griffin completed 16 of 24 passes for 198 yards. He threw for two touchdowns and one interception and completed with a passing ratio of 102.4. Though running has been a big part of his game, he didn’t run much on Sunday – just two carries for 4 yards. He has rushed for 752 yards and six TD’s this season but against the Eagles he played with a knee injury, a sprain of his right lateral ligament. When asked about his limitations, RG III seemed almost annoyed, responding, “I mean, we won the game, didn’t we?” to the question. Even with Griffin’s limited running contributions, Washington rushed for 128 yards, 91 of them by rookie, Alfred Morgan, on 22 carries. A Heisman winner out of Baylor, Griffin’s Redskins are 9-6 with a chance to clinch the NFL East on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
LeSean McCoy – On Sunday, Shady McCoy rushed for 45 yards on 13 carries against the Redskins and caught 9 passes for 77 yards in a game he could have been excused from without anyone asking why. He had missed four games due to a concussion but finally had been cleared for Sunday and he wanted to play. “It felt good to be out there,” he said, admitting to some fatigue after the game but he commented, “This is my job. They pay me to go out and play football.” He played and turned in a solid performance. Andy Reid said, “Even when I took him out of the game, he wanted to play. He wanted to continue – which says something about the kid.” Yes, it does. We could use a few more like him.
Greg McElroy – In his first start New York Jets quarterback, Greg McElroy quickly learned what the NFL is all about. He was sacked 11 times by the San Diego Chargers, the most sacks allowed in a game by a single team this season. A remarkable statistic and not one McElroy would like to repeat again, no doubt.
Jason Witten – The Dallas Cowboys’ Jason Witten broke Tony Gonzalez’s 2004 record for most catches – 103 – in a season by a tight end.
Blair Walsh – Minnesota Viking’s rookie kicker, Blair Walsh, nailed a 56 yard field goal against Houston, giving him a record ninth field goal of 50 yards or more in a season.
Calvin Johnson – The Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson broke Jerry Rice’s single-season yards receiving record to go 1,892 yards with one game to go. He also became the only Detroit player with 100 yards running in 8 straight games.
Andrew Luck – Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts passed for 205 yards on Sunday against Kansas City to break Carolina Panther Cam Newton’s year-old record of 4,051 in a season for a rookie. With one game left, Luck holds the new mark of 4,183. He’s averaging 267 passing yards per week Indianapolis isn’t exactly pining away for Peyton Manning these days, is it?
Michael Vick is coming back – at least for one more game. Last Monday, coach Andy Reid announced that Nick Foles had suffered a hairline fracture in his throwing hand during Sunday’s game against the Redskins and is through for the season. Michael Vick will return for at least one more game on Sunday against the Giants. Vick had been listed as the Number Three QB against the Redskins last week but he has been medically cleared for action after suffering a concussion against Dallas in November. So he gets the start. Vick’s comment was, “You never know what could come out of this game. You never know what I could learn. You never know what I could accomplish. I could go out there and break a record. There is tremendous upside.”
Foles suffered the hand injury at the end of the first half last Sunday but, after warming up, he felt OK and played the entire second half with a broken hand. Andy Reid observed, “Obviously, by going through with this he is a tough kid who never mentioned it but pushed himself through and did a good job.” So if the 2012 book is complete on Foles, it will read completions on 60.8% of his passes for 6 TD’s, 5 interceptions and 3 fumbles. Foles’ injury provides at least one more game for Vick who will close this season and, perhaps, his career with the Eagles against the Giants. If he stays for next season, the Birds are on the hook for his $16 million salary.
Win or lose, whatever the game, writing here each week provides me with an opportunity to say that I hope all of you enjoyed the holidays. I also hope that you will enjoy an even better new year, not only on the gridiron but in everything you aspire to in 2013. See you in the New Year.