By Bill Campbell

Improvements at the Wells Fargo Center

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Both the Flyers and 76ers have started their respective seasons with a few stumbles. At the start, both fans and media alike predicted dark days for the two teams. However, both on the ice and the court, things have begun to change. Each team has a new head coach and those fellows are seeing some improvements in their teams’ “blind spots”. At this writing, the Flyers are 7-10-1 in this busy week on the road, following victories over Washington, Houston and Pittsburgh by identical 2-1 scores. In the past, the Flyers have had a losing record but that win in Pittsburgh was well received. The Flyers slowly battled back in that one and at this point have, somehow, reached some respectable numbers. After such a miserable start, winning 3 in a row against respectable opponents for the first time this season means a lot. They have something to prove now on the road.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are 11-7 and remain a Stanley Cup contender in everyone’s minds. The Pens had a goal disallowed after their winger, Chris Kunitz, kicked the putt into the net following his own rebound. According to Rule 2, “A goal cannot be scored by an attacking player who uses a distinct kicking motion to propel the puck into the net.” The lucky Flyers were awarded a do-over and took advantage of it. For the early part of the first period, Pittsburgh had the Flyers on their heels and playing defensive hockey despite being out-shot from a rocky start 10-8. The Penguins took the lead 1-0 but, as time was about to expire in the first period, but a tipped crossover pass from the Pens’ Evgeni Malkin flew into the net to tie the score.  As time later expired in the game, Pittsburgh center Sidney Crosby just missed one and the Flyers took it 2-1 before a packed house.

Every time a general manager is fired, Flyers’ assistant general manager, Ron Hextall, is mentioned as a possible replacement sine he once had the job in LA. After Buffalo fired its longtime GM, Hextall’s name as well as that of assistant Ted Nolan was mentioned again. Hextall made his position clear when he told the other club, “I still want to be a GM and I’ll say that until I become one or I decide that the dream’s over.” He said he’s happy working for the Flyers but, if someone called with a GM offer, he would listen.

The 76ers

          As for the Sixers, they were in Houston over the weekend and it required some extra effort but they won in overtime to beat the Rockets, 123-117. Playing without rookie point guard Michael Carter-Williams, The 76ers mapped a 2-game winning streak. Houston has lost its last 2 games and 4 of its last 6. Sixer James Anderson scored a career-high 36 points and was 12 for 16 for the Sixers. Anderson, who was waived by the Rockets in July, made 5 of 7 three-point4ers. Back-up point guard Tony Wroten had 18 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds. He also scored a triple-double in his first start. Jeremy Lin made a game-high 9 three-pointers to lead the Rockets with 34 points. But it was Anderson who forced the game into overtime with a three-pointer that tied it at 106 with 6 seconds left. Spencer Hawes had a put-back with 29 seconds left in overtime to decide the game. It’s encouraging to see the 76ers playing hard and hanging in considering the low expectations when the season started. New head coach Brett Brown is very pleased.

Local College Scene

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          But for Temple, three of our local schools had opposition to think about during the past week. The Owls were big underdogs to Central Florida and they lost as predicted, 39-36, but not without throwing a big scare into UCF. The team took the loss badly since they nearly had it won. But they’re handling it, in part due to former Eagle great, Brian Dawkins, who had stopped by to talk with the team during the bye week. Afterwards, Coach Matt Rhule said that Dawkins was “absolutely phenomenal” with his team. “He spoke the truth to our tea,” said Rhule, and both the coach and the kids were grateful. Dawkins drew parallels for the 1-8 Owls, talking about the 1999 Eagles who went 5-11 under a new coach, Andy Reid, and a new quarterback named Donovan McNabb. Temple is being steered by Rhule and new QB, P.J. Walker. Dawk reminded the young squad that, after such a rough start, they went on to win 11 games in each of the next 5 season culminating with a 2004 season that took them to the Super Bowl. Temple dropped to 2-78 all-time against the Top 25 opponents, and eight of the Owls’ 10 opponents this season have passed for at least 300 yards. Despite these problems, Coach Rhule remains optimistic, believing that the Owls are heading in the right direction. “I came here to build a program and to build stability and I see those things happening. I think the program is healthy and moving along correctly.”  Three weeks ago the team put up 49 points in a loss to SMU. Two weeks ago they lost to Rutgers, 23-20. But there’s no denying the fact that the team is 1-8.  But Rhule believes they are close to putting it all together.

Penn faces long odds in winning another Ivy League title, but the Quakers continue to believe they can do it. After last weekend, Penn is 4-4 overall, 3-2 in the Ivy League, 2 games behind Princeton with 2 to play. Princeton can eliminate Penn by winning either this week at home against Yale or next week at Dartmouth. So Penn is in the role of spoiler and, according to Coach Al Bagnoli, somewhat depleted by injuries. Penn State takes on Purdue and is a heavy favorite though the overtime loss to Michigan really hurt last week. Thanks to a change in the restrictions the NCAA originally placed upon Penn State, the Nittany Lions should be vastly improved next season with the entry of the Class of 2014.

The Eagles

          It surely has been noticed by many observers that Nick Foles has been throwing a lot of touchdown passes lately. But I wonder how many have noticed that 5 of Riley Cooper’s last 7 catches have been for 2 TD’s with 2 against Green Bay? In 17 quarters with Foles at the helm, Cooper had been the target 21 times with 15 catches for 393 yards and 6 touchdowns. His numbers in 19 quarters with Michael Vick as QB have been 8 catches, 91 yards and 1 TD. Foles has thrown 16 touchdowns this season without an interception. This state causes me to remember Milt Plum of the Cleveland Browns, who opened the 1960 season by throwing for 16 TD’s with no picks. But more importantly, the only player in NFL history who has thrown more TD passes to open a season without being picked off is Peyton Manning, who threw 20 this season. Foles hasn’t thrown an interception in his last 173 passes. Going back to last season, he had just 2 picks in his last 399 attempts and 5 in his 401 career attempts. That’s a 1.2 percent interception rate. With this set of stats, how can Chip Kelly make a change, even if Michael Vick returns to being 100% healthy? Foles is the man of the moment and it shows in the overall offensive performance.

The Eagles’ defense also is getting better. It held the Packers without a touchdown on 4 red zone interceptions. The D has allowed only 2 TD’s in 10 red zone challenges. In their last 7 games, the Birds have held the opposition to 7 of 14 passes on third downs. When they were 0 for 4 in the red zone, it included their end of the game possessions. Foles has attempted just 2 passes in the red zone, both incomplete. For the season, however, he is 12 for 17 for 93 yards, 7 TD’s and no INT’s in the red. It looks like the Eagles are getting better on both sides of the ball and are truly in contention at the 11-game mark. The weekend game with Washington, lifting the losing curse at home, was really significant. More about that one next week but it was a sweet win.

David Frei

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Who, you may ask, is David Frei? He is the only star dog-show-sanctioned judge who wears a Super Bowl ring. He was down in Philadelphia over the weekend to serve as commentator for the National Dog Show presented by Purina which will be broadcast on Thanksgiving at the Philadelphia Expo Center in Oaks, out near Valley Forge. Hosted by the Kennel Club of Philadelphia, one of the oldest and most prestigious kennel clubs in the world, the event is broadcast right after the Macy’s Parade and draws huge ratings. Between all the parades and football games, the show has managed to snag some big viewer numbers of its own. Frei identifies himself by saying, “It’s really the John O’Hurley show. It is plain entertainment. I just come in and talk about the dogs.” O’Hurley is an actor and dog aficionado. But Frei also serves as the commentator on the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show that airs every February. He brings that experience to the Philadelphia show. For the kennels, dog owners, trainers and judges, these shows are no joking matter. If you’re a dog lover, tune in while the turkey is roasting.