Archive for January 2009

Big night in Philly college hoops

January 21, 2009

Four Philly teams take the court tonight, with Villanova at UConn highlighting the slate of three games. Saint Joseph’s hosts Duquesne at the Palestra while Penn travels up Broad Street to play La Salle.

 

Here’s a capsule look at the three games:

 

No. 20 Villanova (14-3, 2-2 Big East) at No. 3 UConn (16-1, 5-1), 7 p.m.

 

TV: ESPN

Radio: ESPN-950 AM

Preview: The Wildcats will have their hands full with UConn, which places five players in double figures. The balanced Huskies are led by Jeff Adrien’s 14.5 ppg. Sharpshooter A.J. Price (10.8 ppg) hits 43 percent of his shots from the arc. Dante Cunningham averages 17.4 ppg and 7.4 rpg for the ’Cats, who also get 15.2 ppg from Scottie Reynolds.

Interesting stat: UConn has outrebounded all of its opponents this season.

Prediction: UConn 72, Nova 59

 

Duquesne (12-5, 3-1 Atlantic 10) at St. Joe’s (9-7, 3-0), 7 p.m.

TV: None

Radio: WNTP-990 AM

Preview: The Hawks had a bumpy nonconference record, but have put together four straight wins – including all three in A-10 play. Ahmad Nivins averages a double-double for SJU, with 19.6 ppg and 11.0 rpg. The Hawks have won eight in a row in Philly over the Dukes. DU is improved this year, although the Dukes’ record is a little misleading because they are not in the top 100 in RPI. DU’s leading scorer Aaron Jackson (17.8 ppg) is questionable with a bruised tailbone.

Interesting stat: DU put up 102 points in a 102-88 win over SJU last February.

Prediction: St. Joe’s 65, DU 60

 

Penn at La Salle (9-7), 7 p.m.

TV: None

Radio: WXPN-88.5 FM

Preview: A young Penn squad that has struggled this season travels to Tom Gola Arena. The 4-8 Quakers start two sophs and two frosh, along with senior Brennan Votel. Soph Tyler Bernardini paces the Quakers with 13.8 ppg, while soph Jack Eggleston (10.3 ppg) and Votel (10.7) also top double figures. Rodney Green scores a team-best 15.4 ppg for the athletic Explorers, who trail the all-time series 38-23.

Interesting stat: Penn has had just one game this season where the final margin hasn’t been in double-digits.

Prediction: La Salle 79, Penn 52

 

That’s all for now

-Aaron

phillysportsbeat@gmail.com

http://aaronswritingservice.com/

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A familiar feeling for Birds fans

January 19, 2009

Learning how to deal with disappointment is part of learning how to be an Eagles fan, something my 1-year-old son found out today.

 

(OK, maybe he didn’t know what was going on, but I’ll tell him about it in a few years.)

 

Sunday’s 32-25 loss to Arizona was disappointing, but not surprising.

 

I’m 32 years old and have never seen a title for the Birds. My fondest memories of the Birds growing up are of Buddy Ryan’s Gang Green machine – and they never even won a playoff game despite a defense that always ranked among the NFL’s best.

 

The dominant Eagles teams of the early 2000s under Andy Reid should have won a Super Bowl or two or three, but only played in one and we all know the outcome there.

 

I, like many pundits, figured the Eagles would cakewalk past the Cardinals, not the least of which because they are the, you know, Cardinals.

 

But somehow the men in red managed to disappoint us all again. That’s OK because we know the feeling. It’s part of bleeding green, right?

 

Here are some thoughts on the Eagles’ fourth NFC title loss (frown) in their last five visits:

 

–Donovan McNabb played a decent game at QB, but he continued his frustrating track record of not being able to take the team on a winning (or, in this case, tying) drive. All of the great ones did it (and some not so great, see Eli Manning in 2008 Super Bowl), but McNabb doesn’t come up large in big spots.

 

The Birds trailed by 7 with 2:53 left and needed McNabb to take them 80 yards for the tying score. He got the Cards’ 47, but that was it. Certainly it’s not all on McNabb’s shoulders, but you have to find a way to get it done if you want to be great and he didn’t – and hasn’t in the past.

 

–Did someone forget to tell the Birds’ defense the start time? Brian Dawkins’ bunch didn’t show up until after halftime. By then, it was 24-6 in favor of the hosts. Then, whether it was halftime adjustments or whatever, the Eagles came out flying after the break and shut the Cards down in the second half – until it most mattered.

 

Down 1 with 10:45 left, Cards QB Kurt Warner marched Arizona 72 yards on 14 plays, chewing up 7:52 of the clock to put the hosts back in front. The defense looked like its old, first-half self on that drive.

 

When the Eagles really needed a big play to hold the Cards to a field goal, no one stepped up and Tim Hightower scored on a perfectly executed screen pass from 8 yards out.

 

–The Eagles caught a huge break when the refs ruled that Victor Abiamiri muffed the kickoff and the ball touched out of bounds, giving the Birds the ball on their own 43 with 3:06 left in the first half.

 

The Cards tried to challenge but were denied because the ball was ruled out. Replays showed that the ball never touched the sideline, and also were inconclusive whether Abiamiri even touched the ball.

 

It didn’t end up mattering, but it was a break nonetheless – something you can point out to Birds fans who feel the refs are always against the Eagles.

 

–On that same play, was Troy Aikman saying the Cards intentionally kicked the ball short to attempt to recover it? The noise level in my parents’ house got raised at the time so I didn’t hear him clearly, but I thought that’s what he said.

 

I would guess that the Cards were just trying a pooch kick to prevent any kind of long return.

 

Here are some more random thoughts after watching the game…

 

–DeSean Jackson is good; Greg Lewis is not.

 

–Ridiculous penalty by Quintin Demps. Deserves a fine.

 

–Chris Myers is useless as a sideline reporter. Pam Oliver is OK.

 

–Brian Westbrook looked old and slow. Correll Buckhalter still has some jump.

 

–Hank Baskett can block … but can’t catch.

 

–Kevin Curtis is better than I thought.

 

–Awful hold by Rocca on Akers’ missed extra point.

 

–Larry Fitzgerald is a beast … but Sheldon Brown and Demps need to be better in coverage.

 

–Kurt Warner is tough.

 

–Remember all the talk about the D-line’s resurgence? Maybe it got to their heads.

 

–FOX graphics needs an editor. It’s “McNabb” not “McBabb.”

 

–Brent Celek will soon make us all forget L.J. Smith.

 

Moving on…

 

The Sixers have put together a nice, little streak of seven straight wins – as Elton Brand still sits and watches.

 

I’ll be in the big house Monday to see how they fare against the Mavs.

 

 

That’s all for now.

 

phillysportsbeat@gmail.com

Remembering a special Giants fan

January 14, 2009

(I thought a lot about my late grandfather, a huge Giants fan, this week. It’s been more than six years since he died and I still miss him very much. I am sharing this column that was published in the Courier-Post on Dec. 31, 2002.)

 

For the last two decades, a telephone call always came from Virginia after the Eagles played the Giants.

Sometimes it was to congratulate and other times to console, but never – ever – to boast.

The phone didn’t ring after Saturday’s 10-7 Giants’ overtime win over the Eagles. Even though I knew it wouldn’t, I hoped like heck it would.

My grandfather – the one Giants fan who I considered a friend – died nearly two months ago. This was the first Eagles-Giants game he wasn’t around.

Pop didn’t introduce me to sports, but he helped foster my love for the games. Rarely did a phone call, an e-mail or an in-person visit go by without a discussion about sports. And, usually, the topic was his beloved Giants and my beloved Eagles.

I wonder what he would have said to me after Saturday’s game, a not well-played but nonetheless exciting affair. “That was some ballgame by (Jeremy) Shockey and (Kerry) Collins,” he could have said.

But more likely, “That was an exciting game. That’s some team the Eagles have. I think they’re going to go far in the playoffs.”

That’s the kind of man he was. Not one to gloat, always one to respect the opponent and the game. What beautiful lessons I learned from him.

He was a true fan, one who sticks with his team when they’re winning – and when they’re losing. He told me once, “Aaron, all you can ask for as a fan is for your team to be competitive.”

It wasn’t about winning the Super Bowl to him (although the mounting in his office of the 1986 Giants’ championship team was one of his most prized possessions), it was about having the chance to win it – getting to the playoffs, putting a good team on the field. Not the win-it-all or nothing mentality that grips many of today’s sports fans, especially my colleagues in Philadelphia.

The last time I spoke to him, six days before his death, we talked, of course, about the Giants. He was so sick he could barely speak, but I asked what he thought of the Giants and he managed this: “I wish they would use Ron Dayne more,” he said in slurred speech.

He loved his team, for sure.

I won’t soon forget that conversation, as short as it was. It was my last one with him.

And, I won’t forget one of our last outings together, and the last one before he got really sick.

I called with the excitement of an 8-year-old to tell Pop the great news – I had landed a pair of tickets to the 2001 Eagles-Giants playoff game at Giants Stadium and I wanted him to come up from his home in Fairfax, Va. to attend with me.

“Oh Aaron I wish I could but I’m just not well,” he said, breaking my heart although I understood.

While driving home trying to figure out what to do with the tickets, the phone rang: “Aaron, this is going to be my last hurrah,” said Pop, changing his mind.

I couldn’t have been happier.

We looked into the handicap accommodations at Giants Stadium and found that Pop wouldn’t have to walk to our seats – which were just a few rows from the heavens. We arrived early and waited at the gates patiently, until finally a golf cart drove us to our seats over an hour before kickoff.

It’s a day I’ll never forget. Pop, at 81, acted like he was 7 that day. He was so happy, watching the Giants defeat the Eagles to advance to the NFC Championship Game. Truthfully, I was too. There would be many more games for me – and hopefully more chances for the Eagles – but not many more left for Pop, I knew.

The day was capped off with first-class treatment by the Giants. Not only were we driven to the exits, but the golf cart continued into the parking lot and all the way out to our car. It was first-class treatment by a first-class organization that was only fitting for a first-class fan.

Pop couldn’t have been happier.

As wonderful as the day was, it was frustrating for Pop, at times, because his view often was obstructed as the excited Giants fans in front of him stood and cheered during big plays and key moments. Pop couldn’t get up and down easily and he would ask the people in front of him to sit down so he too could see the action.

I smiled at the thought that he didn’t have to do that this time. He watched last Saturday’s big game unobstructed, just a little higher than before.

This time, from heaven.

 

Post script: After the story was published, I sent a copy to late Giants owner Wellington Mara. I received a very nice, hand-written note back, saying “Dear Aaron, Although I didn’t know your grandfather, I feel as though I did after reading your letter and the article about him. I feel a share in your loss. Sincerely, Well Mara.” Classy. Very classy!

 

 

That’s all for now.

 

phillysportsbeat@gmail.com

Strange turn for Birds

January 13, 2009

We all have had moments in life where we try and try and try to achieve something without success. Weirdly, the moment we stop trying so hard and let go of our expectations is when we finally reach our destination.

 

A little Zen-like, I know. But that kind of sums up how I feel about the Eagles.

 

The Birds looked unbeatable at times earlier this decade and many of us, me included, expected them to win Super Bowls. Then they fell flat in three straight NFC title games – the last two of which you really thought they should have won.

 

They finally made the Super Bowl in the 2004 season, but looked lost in the final five minutes and came up short. So disappointing.

 

This season was mediocre for stretches and awful for others. The Birds never looked like a championship caliber team. I wanted the coach gone and, while I thought he could still play, wanted the same thing for the QB.

 

Then, suddenly, they beat improbable odds and snuck into the playoffs – how could TB possibly lose to Oakland?! – by drumming the Cowboys in the regular-season finale.

 

Wins over Minnesota and the Giants later and all that’s standing in the way of the Super Bowl are the Arizona Cardinals.

 

The Arizona Cardinals.

 

I mean, come on. The Eagles already blew out the Cards this season and Arizona has no business being in the NFC title game, let alone the Super Bowl.

 

It might not be a cakewalk, but the Eagles will topple Arizona and reach the Super Bowl. Write it down – in pen.

 

That doesn’t mean I’m overly impressed with the Birds.

 

Andy Reid’s bunch looked great on defense Sunday. None more so than Brian Dawkins.

 

You saw the game, so you know, but it’s worth repeating that the aging safety was a force, the toughest player on the field. He had the Giants intimidated with his early hits. The D-line played superb and the linebackers were flying into the gaps.

 

But the offense, to me, was just ho-hum. I liked the fact that Reid stuck with the running game, and I was impressed with Donovan McNabb’s toughness in the pocket and some of his big plays on third downs.

 

Overall though, the offense lacked luster and the sharpness that you would expect from a team that will be playing in the Super Bowl in a couple of weeks.

 

I thought it was a game the Giants lost more than the Eagles won. Eli Manning looked lost. I’m still trying to figure out how he’s a Super Bowl winning QB.

 

The funny thing is I don’t even think the Eagles will have to play much better Sunday against the Cards because Arizona isn’t nearly the team the Giants are.

 

All I can say is strange, very strange.

 

(update 11:15 a.m. Tuesday)

Re Chris’ comment on Dawkins’ hit: Chris: You’re probably referring to the hit on Ward. It was borderline. I’m all for sportsmanship, but football’s a violent sport and I think what he did was OK. Of course, I darn sure wouldn’t have wanted to be on the receiving end!

Wing Bowl or Super Bowl? I tuned in to WIP early Monday morning hoping to get the fans’ vibe on Sunday’s game and all I got was talk about wingettes and Wing Bowl. Sigh! Couldn’t click over to 950 fast enough — even if it was Mike & Mike.

Where’s the hoops coverage? Anyone else notice the lack of coverage of college hoops in the Inky this year? I miss the once-a-week full page Mike Jensen used to write.

 

That’s all for now.

 

phillysportsbeat@gmail.com

Phils’ Romero, Lien both to blame

January 7, 2009

Phils’ J.C. Romero came out Tuesday and defended his actions in using an over-the-counter supplement that turned out to contain a banned substance and has resulted in the reliever’s 50-game suspension.

 

The bottom line, based on Romero’s comments to Phil Sheridan in the Inky, is Romero and Phils strength coach Dong Lien erred here.

 

Romero, as can be understood, wasn’t sure if the product contained anything illegal so he took it to Lien. Lien, in turn, said Romero should get a second opinion, so Romero took it to his personal nutrionist. Meantime, Lien sent the product to MLB for testing.

 

Stop right there.

 

Shouldn’t Lien have sent the product to MLB right away and advised Romero to hold off on using it until he got a response? I don’t understand how a strength coach would proceed otherwise. And I don’t understand how Romero, knowing that MLB has cracked down on this whole thing, wouldn’t want to first get the OK from MLB. Forget about his “personal nutrionist.”

 

I’m willing to take Romero at his word that he didn’t know what he was using was illegal. But I’m not willing to relieve, no pun intended, him of blame. This case should be a lesson to all pro athletes – and athletes at every level – to be sure to get proper approval before ingesting anything into their bodies.

 

And of Lien, he should have provided better advice for Romero. I can’t believe that the Phillies (that’s organization and players) can trust him going forward.

 

On another note, the Phils have signed Marcus Giles. The former Atlanta 2B gives the team some insurance should Chase Utley’s recovery from hip surgery linger and should rookie Brad Harman struggle as Utley’s fill-in. Giles’ offensive decline is a concern. He’s a career .277 hitter but here’s a closer look at his average:

 

2003-.316

2004-.311

2005-.291

2006-.262

2007-.229

2008-Out of baseball

 

There could be a reason for the decline. I won’t speculate but I have my own suspicions for the dropoff. I’ll leave it at that. Still, I think it’s a good signing for the Phils.

 

Next up: Spring Training, February

 

Sixers story (14-20): While Tuesday’s 104-96 victory over Houston was encouraging, the Sixers’ 1-5 Western road trip was not. Philly looked much better Tuesday, but not sure what to make of the 21-15 Rockets.

 

The Sixers have major flaws that need to be addressed at the trade deadline, none more glaring than their inability to shoot the 3. They are last in the NBA at a woeful 29.4 percent from the arc. The lack of a 3-point threat hurts the Sixers because teams consistently can play under the pick and roll, which takes away the drive to the basket. Let’s hope Ed Stefanski can add a few pieces at the deadline.

 

So, Tony DiLeo’s record stands at 5-6 after Tuesday and the interim coach says he sees the Sixers going in the right direction. I haven’t seen it. Still, the league – and especially the Eastern Conference – is so mediocre that they still have plenty of time to find a groove and make the playoffs – for whatever that’s worth.

 

Oh, and Elton Brand could be back in two weeks. I’m interested to see if DiLeo’s input will have a positive effect on Brand.

 

Next up: at Milwaukee, 8 p.m., Wednesday.

 

 

That’s all for now.

 

phillysportsbeat@gmail.com