By Bill Campbell
We Have a Hockey Season
To the surprise of more than a few, we’re going to have a hockey season after all. I find it even more surprising that the owners and union couldn’t come to an agreement a long time ago. The issues were so clear cut and, at least in my opinion, solve-able compared to the controversies of the past that a full 82-game schedule could have, and should have, been played. But that’s all over now and the pucks are going to drop soon. It’s going to be interesting to check the ticket sales and attendance figures as the shortened season unfolds.
In many respects, a 48-game schedule can compare favorably to the regular season. In fact, some observers think that a shortened season will be more meaningful and provide fans with great theater. As always, when the teams approach the Stanley Cup playoffs they will gain momentum as they challenge for the title. It’s always been necessary to play your best hockey down the stretch and it’s always made easier by having a hot goalie. If you do, the seeding has little significance.
Since the teams will play a lot of games in a compressed time period, training camps will last only 6 days. That could mean that we may see more injuries than usual and the depth of the squads will be more of a live-or-die situation. On the local scene, the Flyers have 3 defense-men coming off injuries: Kimmo Timonen, Andre Meszaros and Nick Grossman. They surely will be closely watched. Even with a shorter season, there isn’t any reason to rush anyone back. Flyers general manager, Paul Holmgren, will have some personnel-maneuvering room at mid-season if needed with about $7-8 million of cap space when Chris Pronger goes on the long-term disabled list. So the 48 game season might work after all. In my book, 82 games always has been too long for such a low-scoring game anyway. But that’s strictly a personal opinion, as is my belief that 113 days was much too long to settle this labor controversy.
The Flyers attracted an overflow crowd of more than 3,000 fans on their first official day of practice in Voorhees – a crowd bigger than any to have attended practice till now. The fire marshal would not allow them to move onto the resting area to watch and many were turned away. Peter Luuko, the president of the Flyers’ parent company, Spectacor, said that he was “overwhelmed” at the size of the crowd and its enthusiasm. He went on to say, “The fans want to see the players playing games” and that the turn-out meant that “it’s time to move forward. They want to see news about the Flyers and their games, and not on the business pages of their local papers with all the news about labor disputes.” As one Cherry Hill resident who attended that practice said, “Philadelphia’s other sports teams have not had banner seasons. The Flyers might be all we have left.” He may be right. But it will be good to see the orange and black flag fly down in South Philly.
Villanova had a 7-game winning streak going when it had the misfortune of running into a defense-minded Syracuse last Saturday on the Orangemen’s home court. Syracuse played 2-3 zone, which has paved the way for most of Jim Boeheim’s 900-plus victories. This time they picked on a freshman point guard for the 72-61 Big East victory over the Wildcats, who played without their second leading scorer, James Southwood. He had to sit out with what the school called an “eligibility issue”. Seventh-ranked Syracuse used the 2-3 zone to limit Villanova’s shooting to 31.5% and cause 16 turnovers. A Courier Dome crowd of 27,856, the largest in the nation to see a college basketball game this season, turned out to see the two teams do battle. Villanova is now 11-5.
Princeton upset Penn in the Ivy League opener, 65-53. It was the Quakers’ eighth straight loss. Post-game, Penn coach Jerome Allen said, “We were out-played in all departments of the game. In terms of urgency, rebounding, defense, ball-handling, doing all the things necessary to win on the road. We failed to produce.” That about sums up Penn’s season to date.
Drexel blew another one last week. This time it was to James Madison in a Colonial Association game, 51-43. The Dragons continued their inconsistent ways. Damien Lee couldn’t play because of a bone bruise in his knee. The team badly missed his scoring off the bench and used only 7 players. Daryl Cey also did not play and his absence was felt. The Dragons are now 9-8 on the season.
LaSalle, coming off last week’s loss to Charlotte, is now 11-4 and 1-1 in the Atlantic Ten. Steve Zack scored 11 points in a reserve role with 6 rebounds as the Explorers over-ran Richmond, 71-59. The 6′ 11″ Zack really impressed Richmond coach, Chris Mooney, a graduate of Archbishop Ryan. Tyreek Duren, a junior point guard, held LaSalle together once more, contributing 15 points and causing 7 turnovers. At Pittsburgh, the St. Joe Hawks held off Duquesne, 74-66, to go 9 and 5, 1-1 in the Atlantic Ten. Philadelphia University coach, Herb Magee, won his 950th game, beating Chestnut Hill 67-63. Temple also scored a 65-54 win over St. Louis, ending its recent 2-game slide and putting a stop to the Billikens’ 9-game winning streak. The Owls are now 11-4, 1-1 in the Atlantic Ten.
Best Football Ahead
In the NFL, it all comes down to the coming weekend. My bet is that it probably will give us the best football money can buy – certainly the most entertaining.
The San Francisco 49ers will battle the Atlanta Falcons in Atlanta at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday afternoon followed at 6:30 p.m. by the clash between the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. It’s difficult to produce a more exciting weekend in sports, isn’t it? The names that caught our attention last weekend were Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Matt Bryant. This weekend will be just as captivating. I think we can predict that once it’s over we’ll also be talking about the 49ers quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, and the Ravens’ Joe Flacco.
Brady has engineered his way to the playoffs and a possible fifth Super Bowl appearance. He’s won 3 already. His boyhood idol, Joe Montana, went 4 for 4 in the Big Game playing for Brady’s home town team, San Francisco. But it’s Brady who set the record for post-season victories last week in an incredible performance against the Houston, 41-28. He just dominated the game from the coin toss to the final whistle. That was the second time the Pats had beaten the Texans in a month and it’s going to take Houston some time to recover. Brady has said, “I grew up a 49ers fan. Joe Montana and Steve Young, those guys are in another class.” But Brady is right there with them. He had to win it on Sunday without some of his more solid team-mates, but Shane Vereen scored 3 touchdowns – 2 on passes from his clutch QB.
The Atlanta-Seattle meeting was a classic as well. It had Hail Mary passes, a final-second field goal and a couple of guys named “Matty Ice” in both Matt Ryan and Matt Bryant. Ryan went 24 for 35 passing with 3 scores. Bryant kicked a 49-yard field goal with 8 seconds remaining to overcome quarterback Russell Wilson and his gutsy Seahawks. Wilson had 385 yards passing, doing all he could for Seattle. His last throw, a desperation toss into the end zone, was intercepted by the Falcons Julio Jones. But up until then, Wilson had thrown a memorable game.
We can’t forget about Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez, a likely Hall of Famer, catching a 19-yard pass and then a final one with 13 seconds to go to set up the Bryant field goal. Gonzalez wept after the game, once Matt Bryant’s kick had crossed the uprights. He said, “I’ve never before cried after a game” but they were tears of relief since the Falcons had finally made it to the final playoff tier after 14 years. Can’t blame him a bit. We’ll be in front of our flat screens this weekend for more.
Searching for a Coach
Jon Gruden, Brian Billick, Jay Gruden, Chip Kelly, Brian Kelly, Lovie Smith, Gus Bradley, Mike McCoy, Bruce Ahrens, Bill O’Brien, Dirk Koetter, Mike Nolan, Keith Armstrong and Greg Roman. All have either been interviewed or will be for the Eagles head coaching job. A couple of them have now signed elsewhere. As of this writing, the search continues.
Joe Banner, now president of the Cleveland Browns, out-jumped the Eagles for the opening tap by signing their former offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski, as their new head coach. His name is probably the only one that didn’t appear on the Eagles list. But I guess it’s safe to say that, as far as Jeffrey Lurie, Howie Roseman and Don Smolenski are concerned, the Browns drew first blood and got it done. They surely are planning for the draft, training camp and the next season now. The Eagles are still looking.
The Kansas City Chiefs wasted no time in identifying their man and got down to the business of signing Andy Reid. Then they got themselves a brand new general manager too: John Dorsey, who worked with Reid back in Green Bay from 1992 to 1998. Reid always has made it a point to have someone in that slot whom he worked well within the past. Joe Banner knows about that.
According to people who’ve been in on these head coaching interviews in the past, they can be compared to marathons, long-running conversations that consume many hours. The discussions stretch over topics including, not only pre-game preparation for off-season, pre-season and regular season games, but also the selection of scouts, handling drug, alcohol issues or domestic violence concerns with players, media relationships, etc. It’s easy to see how the hours can fritter away. The Cardinals, Chargers, Jaguars and Bears are still in the hunt too but the available candidates are starting to dwindle. At this writing, Gus Bradley has left Philly for a meeting with the Jags. The Eagles triumvirate hasn’t signed anyone yet. Stay tuned.