Post Super Bowl Depression: Joe’s 4 Reasons to Look Forward to Philadelphia Sports

The NFL gods picked Mrs. Robinson. Why?

Watching the Giants win the Super Bowl in the year of “The Dream Team” felt like some sort of sick distortion of the 1967 hit The Graduate. It was like Dustin Hoffman struggling to choose between Mrs. Robinson and Elaine only instead of choosing the smoking hot 19 year old, like Hoffman does in the end, he picks the 45-year-old Mrs. Robinson.

Yep, you heard right, the NFL gods picked the older, psychotic, alcoholic woman and it’s a damn shame.

So after punching several holes in my wall, setting fire to any Sports Illustrated cover that featured Vince Young, and yelling “WE COULDA BEEN CONTENDERS. WE COULDA BEEN SOMETHING. INSTEAD WE’RE BUMS!” I settled on the all too familiar refrain here in Philadelphia: There’s always next year.

So here are my Top 4 reasons to look forward to Philadelphia sports.

1.     The Good Omen

I’ll say it right now: I like the 2012 Phillies’ title chances.

Of course, you might be sitting there thinking, “How can you ever be encouraged about this coming baseball season? This team is offensively challenged and Chase Utley has the hips of Betty White! They are coming off their best regular season ever, and they couldn’t get it done in the postseason. They’ll be another year older and only more likely to get injured.”

That is all very true, but while last year’s group was full of professional veterans who quietly and admirably went about their business; it is my belief that they were without a very important element of a championship winning team. They were missing the bit of fun needed to break the tension of the long season.

It seems like the teams that win championships usually have a couple of characters that keep the clubhouse loose. In ’08 the Phillies had Myers, Burrell, Romero, and Greg Dobbs. These were guys who were a little more engaging (especially Myers). When the Yankees won in ’09 they had virtually the same team that missed the playoffs in ’08 but added AJ Burnett, Nick Swisher, and Mark Teixeira. Teixeira was great but the 2008 Yankees did not lack the offense needed to win titles. They were missing the characters. Burnett struggled at the end of the season and in the playoffs (racking up a 7.00 ERA in the World Series), and Swisher hit .249 for the year and around .120 for the playoffs. Still, the team got better and won the World Series. Much was made about the way these guys changed the clubhouse culture, helping teammates deal with the pressures of a big market along the way.

Obviously, health and production have the biggest roles in success but I do think that a crucial piece in winning is a little clubhouse personality. People forget: baseball, like any sport, is a game. It was made for little kids. It’s supposed to be fun. The Phillies have Victorino and Rollins who are very upbeat. They added Pence last year and I think he definitely brings a refreshing energy. Ty Wigginton, who they brought in to spell Polanco a little at third is an older guy, but by all accounts he is very energetic and Pence described him as “one of the best teammates I’ve ever had.” No word on whether or not Wigginton also hangs out with Playboy playmates, but that would also bring the team a big boost on the awesomeness scale. Thome was added and, while he probably won’t produce a ton on the field, I do think he’ll play a Jamie Moyer-like role in the clubhouse as the sage. Thome will be the guy the rest of the team can lean on for advice and support. He’ll be the guy who the team rallies around when they realize that he’s played his entire Hall of Fame career searching for a title. Finally, Papelbon, while undeniably overpaid, is the eccentric closer who knows how to win. Like most closers, he’s a different guy and is known to clown around.

Oh and what about ‘The Good Omen’? Well, the last time the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl; the Phillies won the World Series. That’s got to count for something, right?


Well I say it does…I hope.

2.     The Nowhere to Go But Up Factor

Yep, it’s safe to say that this Eagles season went about as awful as a season could go. Not only did the Iggles fail to meet expectations, but they also finished strong enough to miss a high draft pick. DAMN YOU STRONG FINISHES!!!!

Now, I am by no means a fan of tanking the season, and they were one win away from taking the Super Bowl champion Giants’ place as the proverbial “team that faced adversity all year, staggered through the season, was much criticized, caught fire, and then beat everybody in the playoffs.” If anything, that in and of itself is very encouraging.

What I am saying is that it stinks that while the season was such a disappointment, the Birds will go into the draft with a very mediocre 15th overall pick.

What makes next season exciting, or at least bearable, is the concept that we really cannot be any more disappointed next year than we were this year. Short of finishing 0-16, LeSean McCoy retiring to Africa with Ricky Williams, and Andy Reid cooking his challenge flag, there’s nowhere to go but up, right? Right?!? RIGHT?!?!

They’ll have a defensive coordinator in Juan Castillo, who now has a year of experience under his belt, and unlike last year, will be without the disadvantage of implementing a new system in a lockout shortened offseason.

And hey, if they’re bad, we always have…

3.     THE SIXERS!!!!

As recently as last month, no one would’ve thought that anyone would ever say those words. Think about the phrase: “If the Eagles stink, at least we have the Sixers.” That still doesn’t sound right and I can guarantee that there are plenty of you who haven’t bought into this team yet who are saying, “Wow, this guy’s an idiot. The Sixers are NOT contenders.”

Well, I hate to break it to you, but they are. This team can play with anyone simply because they play harder, smarter, and more together than just about any other team in the league. They might not have a superstar but that is not a requirement in this league. People always say that in order to win in the NBA teams need superstars. “It’s a superstar league, you don’t win without superstars,” some say.

What’s wrong with that?

Well, plenty of superstars fall short, some never winning a single title. Why? Because it is the best team, the best collection of pieces that fit together like a puzzle, that wins championships. The most talented teams do not necessarily win in basketball; it’s a fluid game. When the pieces fit together, guys sacrifice their stats, and commit themselves to 48 minutes of togetherness, teams win championships.

The Sixers can match up with any team in the league because, when healthy, they have 9 players[1] who can compete with any other team’s top 9. They have 9 players who can come in and dominate the game for stretches at a time. No other single team in the league has that.

It’s something awesome to watch, which leads me to the 4th reason to look forward to Philadelphia sports…

4.     Claude Giroux

We are watching a top 5 player in the league enjoy an MVP caliber season. Appreciate it. Too often as sports fans we long for the “old days,” while failing to fully recognize the talent before our eyes. People always talk about what LeBron James doesn’t have while neglecting to mention how truly special a 6 foot 9 260 pound wing player with absurd athleticism, soft hands, and the ability to pass as well as anybody in league history is. The same went for Elway, Lindros, Magic Johnson and pretty much any other phenomenal player who spent a majority of his career being critiqued for what he didn’t have. Only when these guys left (or declined a little) did people recognize how amazing they were. It’s cliché but it’s true: you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.

I beg you: do not take Giroux for granted. Enjoy and soak in every moment of him on the ice. I know you all love him. I do, too. We shower him with “GIROUUUUXXX” chants and the beloved adulation that so few Philadelphia

Enjoy him while you can...he's special

athletes receive.

At the same time, I know that you all are really frustrated when the team fails to bring home the Stanley Cup. We are owed one. We really are. But sometimes you just have to sit back and appreciate when you’re watching someone special.

So, forget about the Giants for a second and remember that we are enjoying a really special time in Philadelphia sports. We have the Phillies in the midst of their Golden Era, the Eagles with a talented roster getting ready to play for a desperate coach in a “nowhere to go but up” season, the Sixers emerging as a really fun, capable team, and the Flyers, always a Cup contender, led by a truly special player in Claude Giroux. Enjoy this.

Remember as recently as the late 90s when the Phillies, Eagles, and Sixers all stunk? Remember our only excitement being the Flyers getting swept by Detroit in the 1997 Stanley Cup finals?

This is a special time – appreciate it.

Yup, you never know what you’ve got til it’s gone.

Don’t believe me?

That’s fine. Just don’t scream when they pave paradises and put up parking lots.

[1] Jrue, Iggy, Lou Will, Turner, Thad, Hawes, Brand, Vucevic, and Meeks. All of these guys can take over games for a couple possessions a night. Trust me, I watch them do it all the time. When Meeks gets on a roll, forget it! So that’s 9. And I’m not even counting Philly area native Lavoy “You Voted Me the 500th Best Player in the League So Now I’ve Got a Chip on My Shoulder” Allen, who can also come in and do plenty of damage for 15 or 20 minutes a night. Just ask the Chicago Bulls.

Joe’s Sister’s Extraordinary Picks of the Week! (Playoff Round 2)

By: Joe Gallagher

Does T.J. Yates become a poor man's Tom Brady?

My sister went 3-1 last week. That’s 75 percent. If someone said that 75 percent would be the over/under for readers taking any of my picks seriously, I would say the under. The wayyyyy under.

That said, last week I managed a perfect 4-0. No fear though, that usually means that I’m due for an 0-fer.

I don’t have a lot of time today considering I went to the Sixers’ game last night, yelled at the officials, saw Jodie Meeks rain threes, and enjoyed a free Big Mac courtesy of the 100 points the team scored. Understandably, I’m pooped. I’ll cut right to the chase.

New Orleans at San Francisco

Sis’s pick: 49ers

Okay, I love Drew Brees. You love Drew Brees.

His birthmark looks like a sweet scar. That definitely helps him jump a rung on the awesomeness scale.

He is nothing short of a remarkable quarterback.

That said, is there any coach other than John Harbaugh that you’d pick to motivate a team that hasn’t been getting its due respect all year?

The 49ers lead the league in turnover differential, they run the ball, they control the clock, and they have a top of the line defense.

Harbaugh believes that they were every bit as good as any team in the league and that no one takes them seriously.

I’m willing to bet the 9ers believe it too.

And hell, I did pick T.J. Yates to win a playoff game last week and he came through. Alex Smith? Snake eyes.

Joe’s pick: 49ers

Denver at New England

Sis’s pick: Broncos

Yeah, yeah I know: everything that worked in Denver’s advantage last week has now shifted to benefit New England. Now, New England is the healthier team. Now, New England is home. Yadda, yadda, yadda.

Whatever. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, and I don’t care if they lose by 30 and I lose what little credibility I have: Tim Tebow defies the predictable.

And even if you want to go by the fact that New England beat Denver 41-23 in their previous meeting, recognize this: Denver was beating them 16-7. The Broncos fumbled three, that’s right, three times in the second half. Those costly turnovers allowed New England to pull away.

Look, New England’s pass defense can’t stop anybody. It makes sense to me that you’d have an awful difficult time winning playoff games in a pass oriented league with a bottom of the league pass defense.

Oh but their playing Tebow you say. The Broncos coordinator has no problem ramming Willis McGahee and Tebow into the Pats 11 man box!

To that I say: touché.

I’m basing this pick entirely on that my sister’s boyfriend said he saw Tebow’s face in his pancakes this morning.

Joe’s pick: Broncos

Houston at Baltimore

Sis’s pick: Texans

I’ve wanted to take Houston to be this year’s Super Bowl team all year. I really have. Not even T.J. Yates becoming the starting quarterback could discourage my infatuation with their top flight defense and top ranked rushing attack!

But I also really like the Ravens. They matchup with Houston’s top flight defense and top ranked rushing attack. Baltimore’s Ray Rice is a swiss army knife running back. Then again so is Houston’s Arian Foster.

The difference here: Joe Flacco.

SSB writer Kevin is not a big Flacco guy.

I am.

I like his moxie, his arm, and his quiet leadership.

I think he wins this game.

And if he doesn’t T.J. Yates goes on a run, wins the Super Bowl, begins dating Lisa Kudrow, knocks her up, and moves on to marrying Olivia Wilde.

You heard it here first. Poor man’s Brady? (Not that anything about Olivia Wilde is poor…)

Yeah, right.

Joe’s pick: Ravens

NYG at Green Bay

Sis’s pick: Packers

I really, really want to pick the Giants. They lost by 3 to the Packers the first time they met and their defense has dramatically improved since.

Even as a die-hard Eagles fan, I have to admit Eli Manning is a stud. He’s an elite quarterback. Forget the statistics; living in New York has made me watch him more. He makes all the throws.

Eli’s skills coupled with Green Bay’s historically bad pass defense in a historically good passing league makes the Packers look like a solid pick to be upset.

The problem is Green Bay had an emotional week. Their offensive coordinator tragically lost his 21-year old son. The Pack with be playing for him.

Sometimes something like that distracts a team.

Other times it motivates them.

I think it motivates them this week.

Joe’s pick: Packers

The 1st Ever Joe’s Sister’s Extraordinary Picks of the Week! (Playoff Edition)

By: Joe Gallagher

Can Tebow and the Broncos beat the mighty Steelers? See what Joe thinks.

I hail from a highly competitive family. We make the Baldwins look like losers. (Okay, maybe the Baldwins have some talent. But I’d take the ability of anyone in my family over Stephen? That’s fair, right?)

Every time the family plays Trivial Pursuit, we collectively accuse my brother of studying the answers. Come on, how could anyone else know the answer to: “Now an art museum, the Musee d’Orsay in Paris was formerly what kind of building?”

Answer: Train Station

Also acceptable: Who cares?

Seriously though, the guy transforms a family game of Apples to Apples into a war zone. He regularly has my aunt claiming he’s cheating and my sister accusing the both of us of conspiring against her. (How? I’m not sure. It’s Apples to Apples for heaven’s sake!)

That being said, the youngest of my sisters (one of the ones that doesn’t hate the Eagles because of the Michael Vick signing) seems intent on boasting that she can pick NFL games against the best. Apparently she has beat her boyfriend in her pool a couple of times and now her head has swollen to the size of Kevin Federline’s beer gut. The problem is: we here at Sports Spangled Banter could not acquire the best, so I’ll have to do.

Cinncinnati Bengals at Houston Texans

Sis’s pick: Texans

I agree with her. Listen Bengal/Ginger lovers, I love Andy Dalton. He’s a great leader and he doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would get to caught up in the moment of his first playoff game. He played in some big games at TCU. The problem is neither him, nor stud rookie wideout AJ Green. The problem is the run defense. They yielded 213 yards on the ground last week to Baltimore and the Texans have the 2nd ranked rushing attack in the league. Houston should carve them up like a Gary Coleman Jack O’ Lantern.

I’d watch the game, though. It should be interesting. While the Bengals were 0-7 against playoff teams, 6 of those losses were by fewer than 8 points. This one will probably turn on just one or two plays. Plus, last time these two met, the Bengals led the whole game until Houston quarterback T.J. Yates led a 20-19 comeback victory.

With the run wearing down the Bengals D this time, I think the Texans will come out on top. The scariest part of this is not that I am agreeing with my sister by going with Houston. It’s that I’m picking T.J. Yates to win a playoff game. T.J. Frickin’ Yates!!!!! At least Houston fans have the immortal Jake Delhomme backing him up in case of emergency, right? (Yeah right, no one wants to hear that.)

Joe’s pick: Texans

Detroit at New Orleans

Sis’s pick: New Orleans

Since 1957, Detroit has won as many playoff games as I have taken showers. One. (Just kidding about the showers, I take one every night. I swear.) These are two high powered offenses going at it in a dome. Usually that means whoever has the ball last wins.

The Saints have weapons all over the field with tight end Jimmy Graham and running back Darren Sproles doubling on the “All-Thank God I wasn’t Relying on Mercedes Lewis and Chris Johnson” fantasy team.

The Lions have the only weapon anyone could need in Calvin Johnson. By the way, does anyone else find those Acura commercials kind of odd? Why do they undress Calvin Johnson? Is that making you buy a car?

How effective the two 5,000 yard passers — Detroit’s Matthew Stafford and New Orlean’s Drew Brees — are using those weapons will be the key.

I think they’ll both put up numbers.

In this case though, Brees has a better defense to work with. If Brees makes it to the end of the game without Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh hitting him over the head with a folding chair WWE style, I like the Saints in a shootout.

Joe: Saints

Atlanta at New York Giants

Sis’s pick: Atlanta

Everyone is sold on the Giants not being that good. They might not be, but, honestly, neither are the Falcons. Oftentimes playoff football comes down o quarterback play. Eli Manning is elite. Matt Ryan ended the year very hot, but to me he hasn’t proven he’s quite there yet. I love Ryan, if only because he’s a fellow Philadelphian; but he needs to prove he’s got what it takes to make a prolonged playoff run.

The Giants played last week in what was essentially a playoff game and dominated the Cowboys. The Falcons had already clinched last week when they met the Bucs. The game didn’t matter.

I’ll take the team that already played a must win and proved they could play in the big ones.

Eli Manning should be a sure-fire MVP candidate (though he probably won’t garner many votes). This year he has led 5 fourth quarter comebacks and the Giants as a whole are a team that has shown tremendous resilience. Even at 9-7, they have the look of a team that can go on a run.

Give me the Giants at home, as Jason Garrett wonders what might have been had he decided to ice his own kicker again before Jason Pierre Paul’s blocked kick in December.

Joe’s pick: Giants

Steelers at Broncos

Sis’s pick: Broncos (only, she claims, because “your idol plays for them”)

This is the one that everyone’s curious about. You might be reading this only to see if I’m dumb enough to pick against the Steelers.

The Steelers are always a safe pick come playoff time. They have Ben Roethlisberger! The guy wins.

They run the ball, they control the clock, they play great defense, what’s not to like?

Look I know they’re not without issues. Cornerback Ryan Clark can’t play because of a blood condition. Leading rusher Rashard Mendenhall is out for the playoffs with a torn ligament in his right knee. Big Ben has a serverely sprained ankle.

Still, Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown are great receivers. They will bail Ben out. The Steelers will be fine.

Besides, you mean to tell me that Tim Tebow, who has five fumbles in the last five weeks, will be able to take care of the ball against the vaunted Steelers D? Not a chance! That defies logic.

Well, the Denver Broncos defy logic.

Look at their season so far. They started winning games with Tim Tebow and everyone said, “Oh no this can’t continue. Tebow’s not good. He’s like Macauley Culkin. What he’s doing is real cute and all, but he’ll taste failure, go bat-shit insane, and never be the same. You’ll see.” Then they kept winning and all of a sudden people began to believe. Now they’ve lost three straight and people are back to not believing. If it’s a cycle, doesn’t that mean he’s got to get people to believe again?

Okay, maybe I do not actually believe that the Broncos will win the game (though the turnover argument isn’t flawless: the Steelers forced the lowest in the league this year).

Maybe I do not think Tebow is invincible.

But you know I don’t think it’s impossible. I can totally see Tebow breaking down the Steelers late in the game, scrambling around, and making big plays as Twitter and Facebook collectively explode.

And what’s the big risk of picking the Broncos. If I’m right, then I look like a genius. If I’m wrong, I look like an idiot. That’s not such a big risk for a guy like me now is it?

I like the Broncos. I actually like the Broncos.

Why? Because I’m idiot.

Joe: Broncos

An Ode to the Philadelphia Sports Fan: “We Are Not All Bad”

By: Joe Gallagher

Joe: Don't associate the horrible actions of a few with all of Philadelphia

I realize that I am writing my third post in four days. You might be sitting there thinking, “Come on, Joe, you’re not Vin Deisel or something[1]. People don’t want to read your every thought.”

But, as a proud Philadelphian, I must speak up today. (And I apologize for advance for the lack of humor in this one. It’s not my style, but the gravity of the situation demands a more serious tone.)

This morning Fox News showed video of three Flyers fans beating up two Rangers fans outside of our beloved Geno’s, a cheesesteak hotspot, after Monday’s Winter Classic hockey game.

This post is not trying to defend the actions of those three morons. The actions of those three are inexcusable, stupid, horrific, despicable, and inhumane. No, this post, is simply me defending my city.

We are Philadelphia sports fans.

We are not that idiot that threw up on a little girl at a baseball game. (I’ve been telling people that that idiot was from New Jersey for a solid year anyway!)

We are the fans that come 46,000 strong and wave white towels to support our white knights: our Philadelphia Phillies.

We are not the town that threw batteries at JD Drew. (That was a couple drunks in the 700 level of the Vet.)

We are the town that was named by Travel and Leisure Magazine “The Most Cultured in America” (#1 Sports Crazed, by the way.)

We are not the town that cheered Michael Irvin’s career ending injury[2].

We are the town that cheered the efforts of our service men and women during a nationally televised game against the New York Mets last year.

We are not the place that boos its athletes because we want to kick them while they’re down.

We are the town that boos its athletes because we want them to be the best that they can be[3].

And when they do play better they have our unending support. Ask Mike Schmidt. He was booed mercilessly early in his career. He worked hard, gave it his all, and became the best third baseman of all time. Now? The guy can’t go around the city without someone telling him how great he is.

We pay our hard earned money to go to games, so doesn’t it make sense that we just ask our players to give 100%?

Cliff Lee gives us what we want. He works hard. How do we reward him? With standing ovations after he hits fly balls to the warning track.[4]

For years after Eric Lindros’s messy divorce from the Flyers, we were not too

We love Cliff...

keen on having the guy around town. But, after he retired, we stepped back, remembered him for the good, and said, “Eric Lindros gave us his best. For two or three years he was undisputedly the best hockey player in the world. We respect him for that, and we want to let him know that.” What did Lindros receive at the Flyers alumni hockey game this past Saturday? The loudest and longest ovation of any player there. That list included such beloved legends as Bernie Parent and Bobby Clarke.

That didn’t matter. It was Lindros that earned it.

People from other cities don’t quite understand us. They might think that we’re the awful people who throw snowballs at Santa Claus and would boo Mother Theresa if we got the chance. That’s the Philadelphia that the media says we are.

That’s not us.

We just care. A lot.

The average person around town uses sports to take what has been a crappy day and make it better. Sports are our entertainment. It’s our way to escape. And like a movie, we want our good guys to succeed in the end.

Unfortunately, often, they do not.

Understand: from 1983-2008 we saw no major sports championships. Fans of the MLB’s Chicago Cubs have been tortured with 103 consecutive years without a World Series title.

For 25 years (and when you consider the four major sports teams that we have, that equals 100 straight seasons) we went without seeing our good guys have a happy ending.

Chicago fans had Michael Jordan and the Bulls.

We had Michael McMahon[5] and the ’05 Iggles.

More tortured? I’ll take Philly over Chicago.

Okay sure, we had some good moments in those 25 years. We had the ‘01 Sixers, who took the city by storm and made us fall in love. We had Iverson and Mutombo, McNabb and Dawkins, Lindros and LeClair, Thome and Abreu, etc.

But we did not have that happy ending.

Then, in 2008, we had that happy ending. Chase, Ryan, Jimmy, Shane, Pat, and Cole delivered.

But all that torture made us hungrier. We tasted success and wanted more.

...and we love Rocky

We brought Cliff to town. We fell just short.

We hired the service of the first Roy, supposedly a half man/half cyborg as my buddy Mark likes to say. Then a second Roy – this one a fire-balling southerner.

Still yet, we finished short.

Our Iggles went on a spending spree transforming them from a playoff bound to “dream” team.

They finished 8-8; we lost our patience to wait.

Maybe you’re saying to yourself, “Just how great of a sports town can Philadelphia be if they only appreciate their guys when they win?”

But that’s not how it is. In Philly we are proud of little things our athletes do. Take for instance in 2007, when the groundscrew in Colorado could not get the tarp down in an awful storm. Well, our guys ran out onto the field and helped the groundscrew lay that tarp down. Imagine, million dollar athletes going out in the cold and rain and helping the average guy. That’s who we like to look up to.

Maybe you remember former Sixers coach and point guard Mo Cheeks helping to guide the little girl who couldn’t remember the words to the National Anthem. That’s who we look up.

We love Reggie White for both his football talents and his gentle, good nature.

We loved Rocky even before he beat Apollo! Why? Because he tried, dammit.

These are the guys we look up to.

One day, at an Eagles game in the future, we will show just how much we love and respect Donovan McNabb. We will shower him with the special roar reserved for our finest. He will hear what Lindros heard on Saturday.

Now that doesn’t sound like such a bad place, does it?

Please, if you get anything out of this post, I implore that it is this:

We are not all bad.

We are not that moron who boos cancer treatment ads, or beats up another city’s fan, or pukes on a little girl, or throws batteries at JD Drew.

We are not the drunk, stocky, middle-aged guy throwing curse words around like Ron Jaworski’s spirals.

We are a collection of people who find something that they can agree about in a world that can agree about so little.

We are Philadelphia sports fans.

[1] When Vin Deisel talks, you listen!!!!

[2] I know of plenty of people who were there who’ve told me that they were cheering that he was moving. Were there a few jerks cheering the injury? I don’t know, maybe. But the majority of people at the stadium that day were not. So there.

[3] Kind of like a parent that is strict because they want their kids to be better. Yeah, that’s how it is.

[4] That actually happened. I was at a Phillies game in August against the Mets. The Phils are laying into them and Lee hits one deep, but the Mets leftfielder (can’t think who it was that day) catches it at the wall. After the initial “awwww” from the crowd, the whole place stands and cheers Lee as he jogs back to the dugout. It was awesome. Top 10 Phillies moment I’ve seen just for the sheer adoration that was palpable in the air.

[5] The 2005 regular season fell apart…fast. First the TO thing. Then McNabb went out for the year. Suddenly Mike McMahon was the starting quarterback. He stunk. Seriously, every week my brother, my dad, and I would tune in not to watch the Eagles, but to see what McMahon would do next! I have to say, it was a show.

Albert Pujols: Not Transcendent

Pujols great? Yes. Transcendent? No.

People who know me know that I like to argue sports. Sometimes I don’t even argue for things I believe; I simply argue to antagonize. I like to drum up controversy. To me, a conversation where everyone’s on the same page is a boring one. And what lends a better conversation than sports!

You can be sure though that if I write a post about an argument, it’s about something that I believe in.

On New Year’s Eve I was really getting under my friend Brian’s skin. This is not an unusual occurrence; in the past we had had many arguments about the Phillies trade of Cliff Lee to the Seattle Mariners. Many Phillies fans think that Amaro redeemed that one when he signed Lee back last offseason. I still maintain that he cost us one, maybe two, World Series titles with the way he handled the Halladay/Lee trades.[1] (See the footnote if you really want to know how I feel about that issue.)

The topic of our argument this time? Albert Pujols, and his place in baseball.

I had Brian really pissed – and you can ask my buddies Dylan, Walt, or Mike. I got him to about a 7.5 on the Christian Bale freak-out scale.

Our argument started outside as we enjoyed a New Year’s cigar, with us debating the Angels’s signing of Albert Pujols. I said it was the the dumbest, most ridiculous move by the Angels since announcing that they would now be called the Los Angeles Angels of Anahiem[2]. It was! There’s really no disputing that. Come on, he’s a 32-year old first basemen and you’re paying him like he has his whole career in front of him. I said it late that night, and Brian and my buddy Dylan disagreed, but I would rather pay Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki that same contract than Pujols, the supposed best player in baseball. When examined deeply, I think most people would agree – primarily for these two reasons:

1. Pujols is in decline.

— Look, Tulo tossed up a .302/30/111 line last year in his age 26 season with less talent around him than the Cardinals provided Albert. Let’s review: Pujols produced a .299/37/99. That is great, but look a little deeper. His on base percentage fell 40 points and his line drive, foul ball, and swings on pitches outside of the zone all worsened (stats courtesy of Those numbers indicate a loss of bat speed and a declining eye. If that doesn’t scare you

Rockies fans can finally forget about signings like Denny Neagle...

from investing 250 million dollars in someone whose value is at the plate, I don’t know what (short of that someone being Denny Neagle) will. Remember, the Angels are paying the 32 year old Pujols for the future, not the past[3].

2. Tulo plays shortstop.

— No one can deny that a shortstop does more over the course of the game to influence the defense than a first basemen does. The position requires more range. You can live with a poor first baseman, (as long as he can catch the ball) but it’s a lot harder to deal with a black hole at shortstop (ask anyone who played baseball with me the last three years…wish I were kidding haha).

A great shortstop is an absolute game changer. A great first baseman is a luxury. Think of the teams that have won recent World Series titles and name me one that had a poor fielding shortstop. First base can be a toss-up. According to (and that’s where I got all of my baseball statistics for this post), in 2008, the year the Phillies won the World Series, first baseman Ryan Howard actually cost his team 0.6 runs in the field. In contrast, shortstop Jimmy Rollins had his best year defensively in 2008, when he saved 12.6 runs.

The second piece of the position argument revolves around value. The market for good shortstops is about as thin as Kate Moss.

...Because they now have Troy Tulowitzki

Tulowitzki was far and away the best shortstop according to Frangraph’s wins above the replacement level statistic (WAR). Now, WAR isn’t perfect, but it gives you a good indicator of a player’s value. Pujols was actually behind Prince Fielder who was/is still available…AT HALF THE PRICE. If that doesn’t scream that every Pujols suitor in baseball was spending more time banging seven gram rocks with Charlie Sheen, drinking water through their eyelids, and reading all about how Pujols will be one of the best of all time when he retires, and less time sticking with smart and economically efficient decision making, then I don’t know what would.

From here, we shifted the conversation to the idea that baseball is a business and Pujols would make back what he cost. Now, I’m pretty sure that isn’t true for this reason: the Rangers signed A-Rod to virtually the same contract, and then he was at the peak of his popularity, and entering his prime. People weren’t bitter about the steroid era yet and everyone loved A-Rod. How’d that work out for them? It did not…at all.

People didn’t know A-Rod was on steroids and his status as “biggest jerk” in baseball hadn’t been established yet. Yet, a couple of years later, the Rangers were bankrupt. The fact is: a team will not make money signing that big of a

A-Rod's contract didn't work and people didn't even know about this yet...

contract…even if they win games. Take the Phillies for example. They haven’t signed anyone to anywhere near as large of a contract (but they have spent a lot of money), they sell out every night, jerseys are a really hot commodity, and everyone in Philly is crazy about them, yet they were listed as one of nine franchises in financial trouble. Baseball is not popular enough for teams to profit off of that large of a contract. No sport is. That’s why football, undoubtedly the most popular of the major sports, doesn’t see teams even approaching the financial commitments baseball has. As Stan Lee says at the end of the very underwhelming Superman 3[4], “nuff said.”

Besides, how much money is Pujols really going to make the Angels in jersey sales? Have you ever seen anyone walking around in a Pujols jersey outside of St. Louis? I mean, sure there are Cardinals fans and Angels fans scattered across the country, but it’s not as if Pujols inspires people to drop everything and go out and buy his jersey the way Tim Tebow has.

And here’s where we got to my final point, and the point that shocked and offended Brian and the other guys the most: Albert Pujols is not a transcendent star.

Now let me clarify. I think that Albert Pujols is the greatest hitter I have ever seen, he’s a first ballot Hall of Famer, and deserves to be talked about among the greatest of all time. I will miss going down to the Citizens Bank Park early to see him hit batting practice and watch the ball fly off of his bat a little differently than the rest. (Whether I’ll miss seeing him come up with the bases loaded is another question…)

Yet, he isn’t transcendent.

What do I mean?

Well, transcendent means “going beyond the universe and time.”

It’s a strange topic, and one that Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov might be better suited to talk about, but the question is:

Does Pujols do that? I’d say no.

You say might say, “No crap, Joe, no athlete could ever do that! No one could.”

Well in terms of athletics, I take it to mean this: does this athlete cause everyone to stop what they’re doing, turn on the TV, and watch? And I’m not talking about baseball buffs. I know I stop what I’m doing and watch Pujols, and I’m sure Brian does too. He loves baseball though. I mean does everybody stop what they’re doing and watch? Does the average fan decide, “Oh I have to watch this game today, because Albert Pujols is playing”?

See, Michael Jordan was transcendent. People turned on the game just to see him. They knew they were in for something special. LeBron James is

Michael Jordan: Transcendent

transcendent for another reason. Some people may tune in to see if he will come up short on the big stage; nonetheless, they tune in to see him. Tiger Woods is transcendent. When Tiger took a leave to deal with his divorce and injury a few years ago, ratings fell dramatically. Why? Because people want to see Tiger. He, not golf, is the draw.

In response, Brian said to me, “It’s impossible to be transcendent in baseball. Anyone who you can claim to be transcendent is an old time player. Without TV, legends started and that’s how guys got famous. That’s why there can’t be a transcendent player in baseball!”

But he’s wrong. First, I give you Steven Strasburg. Whether it’s hype induced or not, this guy makes people stop and watch. He sold out every ballpark he played in. Pujols doesn’t do that. He caused ESPN to show Nationals games (NATIONALS GAMES!!!) only during the innings that he pitched. If the Cardinals were in last place, Pujols wouldn’t cause close to that much commotion. He’d be like a version of Jose Bautista that’s been doing it for years: a delight to watch, but not must-see TV.

“But fine,” Brian said, “Strasburg’s a pitcher. Name one position player like that that didn’t play in the non-TV era.”

Okay, fine. How about Ken Griffey Jr., Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa…want me to stop? You don’t like calling those guys transcendent, do you?

Let’s pick them apart:

Griffey, Jr. – My best example for all of those who will not be willing to embrace his steroid era contemporaries. That’s fine. I’ll do my best to argue for them if you stick with me. The case for Griffey though: every kid in America in the 90s wanted to grow up to hit big shots like Jordan and swing a bat like Griffey. People don’t mimic Pujols the way they did Griffey (though maybe they should, because Pujols swing is picture perfect). Griffey had a video game named after him. They

Junior brought fresh air. Everyone was curious. Transcendent.

don’t go handing out stuff like that for nothing. Griffey burst on to the scene, with his backwards hat, lightning speed, raw power, and flashy glove. He made it cool to play baseball again.

Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa we’ll group together as one – Regardless of whether they were cheating, they were more transcendent than Pujols. Why? Tell me, when in Pujols’s career has the whole nation stopped and watched him? Not the Cardinals, not baseball, him. In the Home Run chase of ’98 and Bonds 2001-2006 seasons, all eyes stopped and watched. Would they break the single season home run record? Who would finish with more? Would Bonds break McGwire’s mark? Would Bonds set the career record? Were they doing it legally? People cared. Heck, I can remember going to Phillies-Giants games in the early 2000s, and everyone being there primarily to boo Bonds. Never once, as amazing as Pujols’s career has been, have people given him that much attention to him.

In Philly, we went to let Barry have it.

Okay, okay, you’re still not buying me. Strasburg is a pitcher. He gets more attention. Plus that guy had so much hype around him; it’s not fair for Pujols. Pujols has done it for 10 years, what’d Strasburg do it for? 10 days? Griffey Jr. didn’t have the career Pujols did! Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa cheated! How is it fair that Pujols had to compete with all the attention and speculation caused by the steroid era?

Fair or not, that’s not the argument. The argument is whether or not Pujols is transcendent. I know what I think.

To depart, let me ask you this: Pujols has been great throughout his career, but at any point have you watched him play and said to yourself, “I have never seen this before and I will never see this again” the way people who watched Michael Jordan, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Steven Strasburg, and heck even Tim Tebow, have said multiple times. I know I haven’t.

Albert Pujols: Great Player – one of the best of all time. Unfortunately, not a transcendent one.

But hey, that’s just me. What do you think?

[1] First he could have pulled the trigger on the Halladay trade a few months earlier, during the 2009 season. He could have acquired both Halladay and Lee for the 2009 season and I don’t know about you, but something tells me that Halladay would have helped during the 2009 World Series against the Yankees. Then, who knows, with the way Lee pitched during the 2010 postseason, maybe the Phils would have won that one, too.

Those claims are purely speculative, though. Most horrifying was Amaro’s inability to get anything for Lee when he did trade him in 2009. It’s like having two tickets to the Victoria Secret Fashion Show. Say one ticket is slightly closer to the Alessandra Ambrosio and the rest of the beautiful ladies than the other. You paid 1000 bucks for the slightly closer one, realized you had no reason for the other and sold it for 100 bucks. The point is: you should have either maximized it’s value or kept it and brought someone with you. That’s basically what the Phillies did with Lee. They could have traded Lee for A LOT more, especially coming off of a postseason that he completely dominated. And if he couldn’t get a satisfactory offer? Well, then what’s the harm of keeping both and riding them to a World Series title! – Which, as evidenced by their recent moves, was completely feasible. That isn’t the point of this post, but I felt the need to clarify that it was an incredibly dumb trade and although Amaro has largely done a great job, he is far from perfect (see Howard, Ryan contract).

[2] I mean, really? How can you be Los Angeles in Anaheim and expect to be taken seriously? What’s next, the Harlem Globetrotters of the Bronx?

[3] And that’s important to note, because Brian asked me who’s the better player. I said, in the past it was Pujols. In the future, and in my opinion, the present, it is Tulowitzki. Why it’s Tulo, I’m about to get into. Bare with it.

[4] That movie sucked. The montage of Tobey McGuire dancing after embracing Venom was absolutely ridiculous. Plus they employed Topher Grace. Name me one movie that succeeded with Topher Grace getting major face time. There is none. It’s impossible. That’s like trying to win championships with Stephon Marbury getting playing time. Oh wait, the Celtics and Knicks both tried that…

The New Year’s Eve Theory

By: Joe Gallagher

When my sister, my brother-in-law, and I decided that it was a good idea to overpay to eat popcorn, drink medium sized sodas guaranteed to make our bladders beg for mercy (“PLEASE, JOE: NO MORE SHIRLEY TEMPLES! I’M FULL! SERIOUSLY, YOU ARE AN ADULT!”), and watch a movie, we had to look over our options. There was the comically awesome Sherlock Holmes starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. Downey Jr. has endured a Brett Favre-meets-Mike McCarthy like career renaissance in the last couple of years after battling drug problems. He is at the top of his game –reborn and better than ever.

Then there was the equally awesome, but more suspenseful Girl with the Dragon Tatoo. It looks to me like Daniel Craig is finally playing a part that suits him. As a disturbed brute, trying to act as James Bond, Craig does not capture what Bond is. Seriously, I think Craig and Bond are a worse marriage than Kim and Kris (Before you stop reading: I promise that that will be my only Kim-Kris reference. And if you’re only reading this for the possibility that I talk about Kim/Kris then we can negotiate for the next column.) Now, in Dragon Tatoo Craig can be the disturbed brute without carrying the weight of having to convey the charm and mystery of James Bond. It’s a huge monkey off Craig’s back. It’s kind of like when Sean Payton got hired by the Saints, realized what he had with newly signed quarterback Drew Brees, and said, “You’re a rhythm passer. You hit your short throws and let your receivers make the plays. When you start feeling it, you are completing the short ones. Then the defense inches in and you get them over the top with the deep ball. The Chargers wanted you to be a vertical passer. You’re not. You got injured and now you fell into my lap. Let’s throw the ball almost every down, keep it short, take what the defense gives us, sustain long drives, and win championships. You in?” Of course Brees was in. Immediately, the burden was lifted. Brees was not restricted; he was free to be himself and his overlooked potential was realized and exceeded. Hopefully the same can be said for Craig’s post-Bond career.

Anyway, my sister overlooked the endless potential of Holmes and Dragon Tattoo and instead picked the “sure to be instant classic” flick New Years Eve. I only agreed because I felt like it could make good material for a column. Hopefully it did.

And I’m pretty sure my brother-in-law only agreed because he was looking to score some points with the wife. Here’s hoping he did.

My sister promised it would be good, though. Heck, it starred Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeifer, Ashton Kutcher, Halle Berry, Zac Efron, Hilary Swank, Common, Alyssa Milano, Ludacris, Sofia Vergara, Katherine Heigl, and Josh Duhamel! It couldn’t not be good, right? And who wouldn’t want to see Jon Bon Jovi’s[1]first big acting gig?!?

It's Luda! You would have seen it too!

But it didn’t work. The storyline, the stars, none of it clicked.

From New Years Eve (and the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles) I learned a very valuable lesson: star-power does not mean success.

And sometimes it causes people to want to staple their eyes shut and shove thumbtacks in their ears. The movie sucked. It was so cheesy that at times it felt like I could have written it myself had I done acid and been encouraged to come up with the most ridiculous angles for a love story that I could think of. When they inevitably give it an Oscar for best soundtrack or lighting or something here’s to the possibility that Kanye West bursts onto the stage, interrupts the presentation and says, “Imma letchu finish…but that was the lousiest romantic comedy EVER.”

That’d be my beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy.

And from this failure of a RomCom comes…”The New Year’s Eve Theory.”

The New Year’s Eve Theory: “An outstanding cast of talent does not ensure a quality performance; fluidity and togetherness does.”

Why did you guys do this? WHY????

Take the NBA for instance. It’s shifting more and more towards becoming a league of “super teams.” Teams are regularly convincing stars to join forces in order to win championships.

It started with the Celtics in the summer of 2007. Bringing together Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen, the Celtics were rewarded with a championship in 2008. The Heat continued the trend as LeBron James famously spurned New York City and his own hometown of Cleveland to play with Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami. The result: a trip to the NBA finals in their first year together. Now, most recently, the New York Knicks have brought Carmelo Anthony, Amare Stoudemire, and Tyson “I’m not a star, I’m just paid like one but Knicks fans don’t want to call me a really expensive role player yet” Chandler[2] together.

The Celtics won not because they had the most talent (sure that helped) but because they gelled. Employing the Japanese philosophy “Ubuntu” at the urging of coach Doc Rivers, the Celtics rallied around one another. Ubuntu means “togetherness.” Paul Pierce fit a role, Kevin Garnett fit a role, Ray Allen fit a role, Rajon Rondo fit a role; Kendrick Perkins, James Posey, and heck even Brian Scalabrine[3] fit roles. Everyone had their role, knew it, and accepted it. According to Grantland writer Bill Simmons, before the 2007-2008 season, the Celtics traveled together to Italy without cell phones. There they bonded. After returning to the States they hung out with each other. Instead of two players going to dinner or a movie together, ten guys would go. Through things like that the Celtics became one.


Now, I do not know any stories like that about the Heat, but I do know that they do not exactly fit together skill wise. They don’t. LeBron is better with the ball in his hands. Dwayne Wade is better with the ball in his hands. The problem here?

I’ll let you guess.

Come on you can do it…

Answer: They both can’t have the ball!

Still, they made the NBA finals last year and were within two wins of a championship. You might say that that discounts my argument about togetherness. But just because the skills do not fit together perfectly doesn’t mean that they didn’t gel. You could just see them gelling sometimes. How about that full-length pass Wade sent to LeBron for the layup last year? You know, the one that Sportscenter played 800 times. So far this year, I’ve seen countless no look passes and alley oops between them. They’re good. But it is not those two that will win them the championship. Sure, they’ll have a lot to do with it, but they wouldn’t do it without willing role players around them. What makes the Heat especially scary thus far is players like rookie point guard Norris Cole, 3-point specialist James Jones, and center Udonis Haslem. They’re not called the glue guys for nothing. They make the team stick.

As long as each player knows his role, accepts it, and owns it, the Heat will win championships.

Much has been made about teams needing the guy. You know the guy. He’s the player that has ice in his veins, wants the ball, and takes the big shot. My buddy Walt and I were talking about it the other night. Walt was saying that LeBron isn’t the guy but Wade is. I won’t disagree with that. He went on to say that you need that guy to win championships.

I can agree with that. But, I think too much is made about having that guy being a star. I think a team in every sense of the word beats talent. I think you can win championships without an elite guy.

Look at the 2004 Pistons, or any of the Spurs teams. Who was their guy? Best guess: Chauncey Billups for the Pistons and Manu Ginobli for the Spurs. Why? Because both could create their own shots. Tim Duncan was obviously the star of the Spurs, but he wasn’t taking the last shot unless the defense suffered a serious lapse and gave him something inside.

While both were the guy, neither Billups nor Ginobli was elite. I’m willing to bet that if you were to rank the guy perimeter players on all of the teams in the league during those years, both Billups and Ginobli would be middle of the pack at best. Sure, they were both good but neither was a bona fide “star.”

And here’s where I think the New York Knicks went wrong. After being spurned by LeBron, the Knicks wanted a showstopper perimeter player so bad that they deviated from rationale to get him.

I’ve had many arguments with my Knick fan friends about Carmelo Anthony. Let me clarify: Carmelo is a great offensive player. But I would not want him on my team if I were gunning for championships (particularly against the Heat, Bulls, and Thunder).

Carmelo is probably the best one on one player in the league. His skill is insane. The type of player that can score with as much ease, create his own shot, own as deep of an arsenal both inside and outside moves, and use his size to position himself the way Carmelo can just doesn’t come around very often. (Knicks fans hope he’s a healthier Bernard King.) You’d be crazy not to want him, right?

But Melo’s biggest problem is his biggest strength. He’s the best one on one player in the league. He alienates his teammates through his style of play. Watch tapes of the Knicks offense. When Melo touches the ball, the movement stops.

He’s a good defender when he wants to be, but let’s be serious, anytime you have to say the words “when he wants to be,” you do not have a guy likely to reel off multiple championships.

The problem with the Knicks is not that Melo and Amare do not gel, both are great players and great players adapt. The question is: how willing will Melo be to adapt? A championship team takes players willing to sacrifice. Will Melo sacrifice? That remains to be seen. But, based on his past, it’s no guarantee.

And here’s where the New Year’s Eve Theory comes into play.

Let’s review – the New Year’s Eve Theory: “An outstanding cast of talent does not ensure a quality performance; fluidity and togetherness does.”

To me, and maybe Melo will prove me wrong, the Knicks do not have fluidity and togetherness.  Like I said, the offense stops when Melo touches the ball. There is very little fluidity to the team and if you’re not believing me yet, I’d love to hear you name one championship winning team that had its offense stop 85 percent of the time a player touches the ball.

It’s not that stars can’t work. It’s that selfishness can’t work.

The Departed is the perfect example of a star-studded unit that worked. Why did that one work? Because although there were a lot of stars, (Leonardo Dicaprio,

The Departed worked...How about the Knicks?

Matt Damon, Mark Wahlberg, Jack Nicholson, Martin Sheen, and Alec Baldwin namely)[4] each one read the script, (something the New Years Eve cast couldn’t have done!) believed in it, trusted the director, and bought into each character’s role.

While Melo makes his teammates buy into him, he doesn’t seem to bother to buy into them. You need to give in order to take. There’s the story of last June’s draft when the Knicks picked rookie Iman Shumpert. Melo reacted on Twitter by immediately saying “Goodnight. I’m out.” After realizing how bad this looked he sent a tweet clarifying that he was interested in welcoming Iman to New York.

Melo needs to learn what Jordan did early in his career, what Kobe did a little later, and what any championship winning player eventually learns: that everybody needs to play a role in order to win championships. You have to keep everyone happy and involved. The other team should have to worry about stopping 8 or 9 guys, not 2 or 3.

Basketball teams win because the players like one another, embrace their roles, forget about collecting statistics, and want to win more than anything else.

And until Melo embraces his teammates, and sacrifices his own numbers, the Knicks will remain a more exciting version of New Years Eve: a couple of highly paid, box office drawing stars with no results.

But, as my brother-in-law will vouch, at least the Knicks’ subplots might be better.

P.S. Have a Happy New Year! Hope it’s better than the movie. Also, check out my high school classmate Dan Marcel’s video blog at The guy does it all and will probably do something you’ve never seen before in the video…for better or worse. He was nice enough to promote me last week and I’m returning the favor. Ah, look at that. I’m a better person in the new year. Here’s to the unlikely task of keeping that up…

[1] Curiosity. Seriously. I wasn’t expecting anything. I swear.

[2] Seriously, Tyson Chandler? 56 million over 4 years? Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve just seen the magical phenomenon of an undervalued player on a championship team becoming an overvalued player! O joy!

[3]Even if Scalabrine was the white guy, 12th man that had no lateral quickness but gave emphatic high fives at every time out, he played that role. Hey, come to think of it, I could do that. In fact, I’m starting my campaign right now to be signed by an NBA team as the white guy on the bench. I’ll sign a non-guaranteed contract so that in the event of an injury they can cut me and sign another player. There would have to be incentives, though. I’m thinking they pay me 50 bucks a high five, butt smack, or leap off the bench after a big three. If I’m the first off the bench to chest bump the star, I get 100. What do you say, Sixers?

[4] That’s like having LeBron, Wade, Alex English (Sorry, Mark you’re not quite on the other guys’ level), Magic, Kareem, and Bird on the same team.

A Very Sixers Christmas

I love my Sixers

By: Joe Gallagher

When New York billionaire Joshua Harris bought the Philadelphia 76ers, my excitement was probably a 10 on the Gus Johnson scale. (“OHHHHHHH!!! AS. GOOD. AS. IT. GETS!!!!!!!”)

Finally Ed Snider had sold the team. Look, I love Ed. I understand what he has done for the Flyers. Every year they are a contender to win the Stanley Cup; and that is a testament to his dedication and passion as an owner.

Snider created the Flyers. They got his unparalleled attention, his love, and most importantly, free reign of his wallet. The Flyers received Snider’s Technicolor dream coat. Quick side note: why were Joseph’s brothers SO upset about him getting a Technicolor dream coat? I understand the point of the story, but my brother definitely wouldn’t have been jealous. Instead, he probably would have punched me in the stomach if he saw me wearing that thing. Technicolor dream coat: DEFINITELY not a good look.

The Sixers were Snider’s son from another marriage. They were the son he didn’t really care about. If they were winning — great; if not — no big deal because the Flyers were.

Now the Sixers are someone’s child.

Immediately things began to change. Harris appointed an Abington high school graduate named Adam Aron as the CEO of the franchise. Aron stepped in and implemented some changes. He began by having Sixers fans email him about what they wanted to see change with the organization. Apparently many emails included these words:

“Lose Hip-Hop” – Come on, a du-rag wearing, sunglass flaunting, steroid pumping rabbit? Who decided he was a good idea to begin with? Oh, that’s right: Pat Croce. Considering all Croce did as President of the Sixers in the late 90s and early 2000s (including his placement of the “GO SIXERS, BEAT LA” sign on the top of the Walt Whitman bridge that could be seen from three states), I think he can be forgiven…

Who green lighted this guy?

Well, what did the new ownership do? They got rid of Hip Hop. THAT’S getting the job done. In his place they announced that one of three mascots would take his place: a moose, named Phil E. Moose (not exactly a step up), a dog named Franklin Dogg (uhhhh…), or my personal favorite, Big Ben, a Benjamin Franklin impersonator. It’s fair to say that voting on the new mascot should be a government-funded test to determine the criminally insane. Seriously, anyone who voted for the moose or the dog, for any reason other than having an astute sense of irony should be considered crazy. ***I do have a big qualm with the Benjamin Franklin mascot, though. What would ever make you want to reject the name “Ben Jammin” (It’s all there!!!!!!) and call him “Big Ben” instead? Don’t they realize that they’re likening him to two peaks of absurdity: Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the British?!…Kidding, I love Austin Powers.***

Crappy mascot naming aside, the ownership has definitely shown that they care. They want to get things done and they want the city to fall back in love with the franchise.

Well, the organization took an important step toward that on Tuesday, when they emailed free tickets to the senders of one thousand emails that they found most useful. The sender of one of those emails? Yours truly.

I don't really care about the new mascot to be honest. As long as it isn't the Michelin Man. He creeps me out.

Not living in Philadelphia makes the selection of games that I can redeem my tickets for a little slimmer. Here’s a rundown of all the possibilities:

Milwaukee Bucks: Other than being able to yell LUC RICHARD MBAH A MOUTE 18 times throughout the game, why would I want to watch the Milwaukee Bucks? So I can think of that gruesome Andrew Bogut elbow injury? (The link takes you to an awful, awful injury. If you get sick thinking about 2009 Kirstie Alley on the beach, you probably have too weak of a stomach for it.) At least I can see Brandon Jennings, right? When he was a rookie, I couldn’t wait to see Jennings first hand. While he has shown flashes of his potential as an all-star caliber scorer (he put up 55 in a game his rookie year!), Jennings has largely been a disappointment. I’ve soured on him. Coming into the league, Jennings was compared to a young Allen Iverson. He shoots 38% from the field and averages 4.2 assists per game. He also averages 14 shots a game against 15 points and has shown no signs of making his teammates better. That’s like being an Allen Iverson who shoots entirely from the outside, rarely attacks the rim or gets to the foul line, disappears for large chunks of the game, and lacks the ability to regularly take over the game and make you say “holy crap, he is consistently making plays that I have never seen before. I need to keep watching to see what he will do next”. Do I want to see that much of a distortion of the AI I grew up loving? Bigger question: do I feel ashamed mentioning Jennings in the same breath as Iverson? Yes, yes I do. As for watching the Bucks? No thanks.

Toronto Raptors: Not much here; DeMar DeRozan, an Atlantic Divison matchup, and the singing of “O Canada”. Sounds soooooo appealing, right? At least it marks another homecoming for Reggie Evans. Evans was both my uncle’s and my favorite player during his time here. He was good for three or four RIDICULOUS fouls a game, where he would literally throw the opponent to the ground, get whistled for it, and then turn and look at the ref like “Me? ME? How could you EVER call that?” He’s like that kid you’ve played a pick-up game with who fouls the whole time and you progressively get more and more pissed off at until you realize that he doesn’t know any better and he’s really giving everything on the court. At that point, you begin to respect him a lot. Respect Reggie.

He's Gumby Dammit.

Washington Wizards: I just saw them play a pre-season game on Tuesday. Center Javele McGee was the one I actually most enjoyed watching. The guy is like the basketball version of Gumby, with long arms and the ability to effortlessly snatch the ball out of the air and slam it home. What, surprised I didn’t rave about John Wall? I’m not a huge John Wall fan. Athletic freak? Yes. Able to jump one rung higher on the Awesomeness scale because he has a song named after him? Yep, sure thing. Still, I just do not get the sense that he makes his teammates better. It’s not like he’s a supremely gifted player like Carmelo who can get by on his one-on-one skills alone. John Wall’s advantage is his athleticism and until he attacks the rim more, looking to kick out or get to the line, and becomes a lockdown defender (with his ability, there is no reason he isn’t), he’ll be nothing more than a very good player on a very bad team. Aside from being able to make fun of Rashard Lewis for being the second highest paid player in the NBA and snidely mention how little defense Nick Young plays, there is not a lot encouraging me to double dip on the Wizards.

Indiana Pacers: Danny Granger sounded appealing, but only if there were something else drawing my attention. Granger could be a great number 2 option for a championship team just like I think Andre Igoudala could be. As a three, they could play for dynasties. The problem is, as good as Granger is (he is better offensively than Igoudala by a long shot), he isn’t a superstar and won’t ever be a superstar. The Pacers also have Tyler Hansborough, who actually has showed flashes of being a pretty solid player in the NBA, despite what his critics said. He might be able to find a niche as a Christian Laettner-type player (What, you think that I’m making the lazy parallel between two white, ACC conference superstars whose games did not translate that well in the NBA? You’d be right. Oh well, what’re you going to do?). Anyway, Tyler Hansborough’s not what you make a special trip to see.

Detroit: The home opener includes a dollar dog night this year? Heck, I might actually buy a ticket to go to this game. Aside from Brandon Knight though, whom I actually like better than John Wall[1], there is not much else on the Pistons roster. I can see it now. Arriving at the game… “Starting for the Pistons: Greg Monroe, Austin Daye, Jonas Jerebko…” I’d feel like anyone stuck in the hotel in The Shining: “GET ME OUT OF HERE! GET ME OUT OF HERE! AHHHHHH!!!!!!”

Sacramento: Now here’s a winner. I mean I can see first hand how much weight Demarcus Cousins put on during the lockout as he morphs into the second coming of Eddy Curry. I can make a bevy of JJ Hickson jokes. The Cavs wouldn’t trade this guy for Amare Stoudemire? Heck, I’d trade him for ten minutes of Pau Gasol walking a runaway in a benefit for Ostrich cruelty! (See, too easy.) I could also watch the following interaction between a casual fan and his casual fan friend:

“Hey, Isiah Thomas is back in the league???”

“Nah it’s his son.”

“Oh, the one he accused of overdosing on pills when he was apparently the one rushed to the hospital a couple of years ago after being fired from the Knicks?”

“Nah, another one.”

For those who do not know,  the non-Isiah Thomas’s offspring Isaiah Thomas currently in the NBA has such an underrated story to his name. His father, a huge Lakers fan, apparently bet a friend, a huge Pistons fan, that he’d name his first-born Isaiah Thomas if the Pistons beat his Lakers in the 1989 finals. Sure enough, the Pistons swept the Lakers and the new Isaiah Thomas was born. Hey, better a second Isaiah than Dennis Rodman, right? (Knicks fans squirm uncomfortably, unsure of the answer.)

But wait, the fun doesn’t end there. I get to see John Salmons’s beard back in Philadelphia. Fresh off debuting his clothing line (clothing made entirely from his beard! Just kidding. But, hey, beard clothes. Genius. Call Louie Vuitton. GET IT DONE NOW, JOHNNY.), Salmons will be sure to have my full attention for oh, about the first two minutes of the game.

John Salmons's beard is back and I couldn't be happier!

More importantly than John Salmons’s beard, I get to see Philadelphia area product Tyreke Evans first hand. Evans has a crossover that I’m pretty excited about seeing and he can definitely fill the cup. Hopefully, I get to see Evans at his best. I could enjoy a 27 point, 8 rebound, 6 assist game. Unfortunately, he seems to operate at his best on a game-by-game basis. 50-50 shot I guess!

One thing’s for certain, I will be watching rookie Jimmer Fredette. I’m really pulling for Jimmer. I do think he will succeed offensively in the pros. He can put up points. His jumper and ability to create are too strong to fail from what I’ve seen. I’ll be really watching when he’s on the defensive end. At BYU he seemed allergic to defense at times and that makes Lou Williams a candidate for a monster game. And that’s enough of an attraction for me.

So the Kings it is! Well this has gone on long enough. Who would’ve thought I’d get 2000 words plus, mention the Kings, and not even make a joke about the Maloofs?

Oh well, maybe next time I rant about the Kings…

Merry Christmas!

[1] Knight isn’t the centerpiece that Wall is, but from what I had seen of him at Kentucky, he is a heady, hard worker who spreads the floor with his shooting, and elevates the play of his teammates through passing and effort. You might not build a champion around Knight but he can be a piece of a championship puzzle. I’m not sure the same can be said about Wall. While he might bring more people to the gate, he hasn’t exactly elevated, inspired, or carried his teammates at any point thus far. How could a player that much better than everyone else, with that much talent around him, not have taken his team to the National Championship game, or at least to the Final Four? To me, that’s a sign that he was anointed “great” too early and that he still has A LOT of work to do before reaching his potential. Like I said earlier, a player this talented should be dominating the defensive end and inspiring his teammates to work just as hard. Wall hasn’t done that yet, and if he just isn’t a leader, then it remains to be seen if his ego is such that he would be willing to take a backseat to an actual superstar. Regardless, championship players do not waste as much on D as Wall did last year. Wall still has room to grow though and he was only a rookie, so hopefully he will make strides this year and force me to eat my words.