By Bill Campbell
After a stumbling start, the first encouraging news of the hockey season came the Flyers’ way. It happened last Saturday with the first score of the season by team captain, Claude Giroux. That shot ended Giroux’s 21-game scoreless drought in a 4-2 win over Edmonton – a drought which had lasted since April of last season. His shot, taken after two missed chances earlier in the game, came in the third period and helped to seal the win. After the game, he rightfully called this score a very special one. The goal caused the bench and the fans to stand up and cheer for Giroux, they were that happy to see things finally go his way. His team mates were aware that Giroux has been “working his tail off,” in the words of winger Jay Rosehill, who expects to see his team captain “go on a hot streak now”. After the game, Giroux said that he seemed “to perch on his stick” all night and he finally smacked the puck in from there. Scott Hartnell, who scored the game’s second goal, said, “That’s the old G. For every game that he’s out there and hasn’t scored a goal, it was weighing on him. He’ll go on a tear now, I hope.” Giroux surely shares that hope too.
Jay Rosehill, the team’s enforcer, scored the first goal, redirecting a terrific set-up by defenseman, Mark Streit, who also had the primary assist on Hartnell’s goal. At 1:47 goals per game, the Flyers had entered the Edmonton game as the lowest scoring team in the league. The team had gone 8-plus consecutive periods at home without a goal and “it was getting everyone down,” according to Giroux. This game marked the second time this season the Flyers scored more than 2 goals in a game, so maybe better days are coming. Whatever the future holds, it was good to see Captain G enter the scoring column. Ironically, former Flyer goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov, was signed by Edmonton the day before this game but he did not suit up in favor of tuning up with the AHL Oklahoma City team for a few games.
At present, Tampa Bay is leading the NHL’s Eastern Conference at 12-4. Toronto stands at 11-6. In the Metropolitan Conference it’s Pittsburgh at the head, 11-6. Colorado leads the Western Conference at 14-3, hotly pursued by Chicago (12-2-4), St. Louis (11-2-2) and Minnesota (10-4-4).
Last weekend several schools opened their basketball campaigns, including a few local ones. LaSalle, coming off a big time 2012 season, lost a tough opening game to Manhattan at the Tom Gola Arena. The contest went into double overtime with Manhattan winning the game on the glass, outrebounding LaSalle 51-33 on their way to a 99-90 win. LaSalle coach John Giannini said of Manhattan’s dominance on the boards, “They’re big, strong and athletic but the difference [between the two teams] shouldn’t be that big. They would miss a shot, get the rebound and put it back in.” That’s what hurt the Explorers.
LaSalle sent the game into OT by overcoming a 70-60 deficit in the final 3 minutes of regular play to tie it at 73. Tyrone Garland, who had 28 points for the night, hit a 3-pointer to make it even with 9 seconds on the clock. After scraping back that way, the outcome must have been hard to take. After the final buzzer, Giannini chastised himself for not making certain that the ball got into the sure hands of LaSalle’s senior point guard, Tyreek Duren. The inbounds play the coach called broke down and Duren never touched the ball. “I really messed that up,” said the coach, “I really can’t believe I wasn’t emphatic about getting the ball to Tyreek.” That really hurt their chances in the stretch.
Elsewhere over the weekend, Drexel lost to UCLA in Los Angeles, 72-67. St. Joe’s defeated Vermont, 74-64. Temple had a tough time but managed to eke it out over Penn, 78-73. Last night, both Villanova and St. Joe’s added another to their win column.
There is a story to be told about Eagles’ defensive lineman, Cedric Thornton, who went unselected out of Southern Arkansas University, a Division II school. When the Eagles drafted defensive linemen Fletcher Cox and Vinny Curry, it took several weeks for Thornton to warm up to them. Their draft status vs. his unselected one really bothered him. In the long run, though, it seems the difference actually inspired him.
Cedric Thornton was dismissed from SAU in his senior year with 2 games to go for a disciplinary problem. However, he played in the Senior Bowl and went to the NFL scouting combine in 2011. He remained undrafted. He signed with the Eagles and made it out of pre-season that year but was released before the opening game. He then signed with the practice squad and later turned down a chance to sign with another team because he believed the Eagles had plans for him. “I just didn’t want to go,” he explained. He was right.
Last season, Thornton played back-up to Fletcher Cox and veterans Cullen Jenkins and Mike Patterson, finishing with 47 tackles and 1 sack. But a new coach was coming and Thornton didn’t know what that would mean for him.
Before coming here, head coach Chip Kelly hadn’t heard of Cox, Curry or Thornton, nor had head line coach Jerry Azzinaro. But Thornton’s odds improved once the new guys got down to business here. At practice, both coaches were impressed by Thornton’s toughness and dedication and they could see he was a player. But he presented a problem for them: where would they play him, where would he fit? Thanks to his performance Thornton answered those questions with his own determination. He’s now a starter and Coach Kelly has given him frequent praise, saying he’s his best defensive lineman on any given Sunday. General Manager Howie Roseman has talked about building a squad, putting together a roster that can win now but also in the future. He wants to develop draft picks and undrafted free agents, similar to the system that Green Bay has successfully used to compete year in and year out. Of the 53 Packers presently on their roster, 31 are draftees, 9 were free agents, and 6 are carry-overs from the last 2 seasons. It works for them. If Thornton’s story holds true, it might also work here.
As for that undrafted status stigma, Thornton says he plays with a constant chip on his shoulder about it. But it seems to work for him. “What would have happened,” asked Thornton, “if they did draft me? And I would have just been content? There’s a lot of guys, when they’re drafted they’re satisfied with what get paid.” Thornton wasn’t and he kept pushing. It’s paid off for him now.
Cedric Thornton hails from Star City, Arkansas, where his father served as a pastor and his mother as a minister. He picked peas by hand during his childhood summers, 12 hours a day for $50 a week. He was 6’4”, 210 pounds when he walked on to the Southern Arkansas University field. Now he’s here in Philadelphia, at 6’4”, 309 lbs. and he’s carved out his niche on the team. It’s been a long road for Cedric Thornton who, as tough as he plays, takes time to read the Bible before every game. “I had no choice but to find a job in
football,” he says, “There wasn’t much in my future.” There sure is now.
A former Eagles quarterback and 3-time Pro Bowler, the 8th leading passer in Eagles’ history: that was Bobby Thomason. He left us this week, succumbing to heart failure in Charlotte, North Carolina. I remember him well. Bobby played for the Eagles from 1952 to 1959, succeeding Adrian Burk as the team’s starting QB. On November 8, 1953, he became the first Eagle quarterback to throw for 400 yards in a game, throwing for 437 yards and 4 touchdowns in a 30-7 victory over the New York Giants. In 40 starts with the Eagles, Thomason had a record of 12-21-1. He reached the Pro Bowl in 1953, 1955 and 1956. His 57 TD passes are tied with Michael Vick for 7th on the All Time list. Thomason passed for 8,124 career yards, placing him ahead of Norm Van Brocklin and Roman Gabriel among Eagles career passing leaders. Adrian Burk, who also died recently at age 101, and the 85-year-old Thomason contributed much to the Eagles in their time. Rest in peace, old friends.
Penn State is now 0-3 in Big Ten road games. Bill O’Brien seems to be getting a bit hot under the collar about it as some of these games are getting away from him. Apparently, O’Brien delivered a rather fiery locker room speech to his squad after being downed by Minnesota last Saturday, 24-10. O’Brien told the press after the team meeting that he wasn’t going to reveal all that he said to his team but assured all, “We’re going to make sure we do everything we can to help these seniors go out of here as winners because the senior class means a lot to me.” He went on, “I said three things to them: I think there is a lot of football left, and I know these kids will play hard [and] I don’t ever doubt their effort.” O’Brien didn’t share more. The Penn State players were unable to provide reaction to O’Brien’s remarks because, for the first time in O’Brien’s tenure, they were not permitted to interview with any press after the game. Maybe the coach just wanted them to think some things over that night, including the final stats. Minnesota totaled 19 first downs, Penn State 22. In passing yards, the Golden Gophers went 46-199, the Nittany Lions 36 -190. The Lions (5-4, 2-3) have lost four consecutive road games for the first time since a nine-game skid spanning the 2003 and ’04 seasons. Their most recent road victory was Nov. 3, 2012 at Purdue. No wonder O’Brien was concerned. In Conference play, Michigan State is now 5-0, Nebraska 4-1, Minnesota 4-2.
Looking ahead, the Sixers are at Atlanta on Friday, New Orleans on Sunday. The Flyers will swing through Winnipeg, Ottowa and Buffalo over the next 5 days. On Sunday the 5-5 Eagles will play the 3-6 Washington Redskins at Lincoln Financial Field at 1:00 p.m. Nick Foles vs. Robert Griffin III. Mick Shanahan’s team has been improving of late and Foles is on a roll. Should be a fun couple of hours at The Linc. Can the Eagles lift the curse and win one at home? Stay tuned.
See you next week.