Archive for the ‘Misc.’ category

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.


Back on the beat

December 30, 2008

This blog hasn’t gone away, just been in hibernation for a few weeks thanks to work, fatherhood and the busy time of the holidays. My goal is to post on a more regular basis from this point.


Sixers story: Mo Cheeks might not be Red Auerbach, but Cheeks got a raw deal when he was fired Dec. 13. The Sixers were struggling at the time, but it was expected since they were coming off a tough stretch with games against Cleveland, Detroit and the Lakers.


You want to fire Mo, fine. But you’ve got to give him a chance against teams with which the Sixers can compete. The bottom line with the Sixers is they just don’t have the talent – with or without Elton Brand in the lineup. They don’t have a legitimate 3-point shooter, which is a sin in the NBA (Example: The Sixers didn’t hit their first 3 in Monday’s loss to Utah until there were two minutes left in the game). Shame on Ed Stefanski for not finding one this offseason.


They are athletic, but that athleticism strangely doesn’t translate on the defensive end. This team still can make the playoffs, mainly because the Eastern Conference is so bad. But there’s no chance the Sixers are anything more than a first-round team.


And Tony DiLeo isn’t the answer. I wasn’t surprised to hear the praise heaped on DiLeo after the Sixers started 3-0 under him. But I knew it wouldn’t last since those wins were against Washington (twice) and Milwaukee. Since, the Sixers have dropped four straight against some real competition – vs. Indy and on the road against Boston, Denver and Utah.


Prediction: Jay Wright will be on the sidelines next September.


Next up: At Clippers, 9:30 p.m., tomorrow.



Eagles story: I was as shocked as anyone with Sunday’s 44-6 dismantling of the Cowboys that sent the Eagles to the playoffs. Truth is, I stopped paying close attention to the Eagles a month or so ago, so infuriated with Andy Reid’s coaching style, personality and reluctance to run the ball.


As a fan, I’ll follow the Eagles and root for them to beat the Vikings Sunday. But I can’t say that I think them making the playoffs is the best thing that could’ve happened for the franchise’s long-term success. They might just go out and win the Super Bowl and I could look foolish for writing this, but I truly believe the Eagles need a major overhaul, from the front office, to the coaching staff and, yes, to the quarterback for this organization to take a real step toward contending for a title.


I hoped that a loss to Dallas would signal a time for change. We all know what happened. Now, there’s no chance Lurie and Banner will make any changes – and, honestly, nor should they after what transpired Sunday. Somehow I think Sunday’s victory, while amazing and great for the city, will come back to haunt the Eagles.


Next up: At Minnesota, NFC Divisional playoffs, 4:30 p.m., Sunday.


Phillies story: Not much happening on the Phils front, other than Chase Utley saying he doesn’t regret dropping the F-bomb in the post-victory speech. It must be something in pro athletes’ DNA, that they never regret anything. Remember how Jimmy Rollins didn’t regret calling Philly fans “front-runners?”


Maybe it’s what makes players like Rollins and Utley so great, that they don’t look in the past and have regrets. But, really, would it have killed Utley to say he shouldn’t have used that word in front of so many kids in such a public setting? I’m not his judge or jury and I can handle him dropping the F-bomb, but as a parent I would prefer he would’ve been a bit more careful. That said, he’s not a druggie, a gunnie (a word?) or a womanizer. Bottom line, there are worse things he could’ve done than drop the F-bomb. Just wish he would’ve said he would be more careful next time.


On another note, anyone who’s seen the Phillies DVD probably will agree with me that it’s very well done. Brought back some great memories for me. How about you?


Next up: Spring Training, Februrary, Clearwater, Fla.


Flyers story: Word is that the Flyers are crashing frat parties and getting stalled on runways in Chicago. I also hear Jeff Carter is having a great season. Next up: At Vancouver, 10:30 p.m., tonight.



College hoops report: Here’s a quick look/update at the six Philly D-1 schools:


Drexel (3-6). The Dragons ended a five-game losing streak with Saturday’s 76-70 win over Rider. The victory came just in time, too, as the Dragons had the dubious distinction of landing in Sports Illustrated’s “Not Hot” list. Bruiser Flint, who could be on thin ice on 33rd and Market, didn’t even get to share the sideline with good bud and Memphis coach John Calipari for the Dragons’ game against the Tigers Dec. 22 after getting ejected from Drexel’s loss at Bucknell Dec. 20. Good thing, though, since Memphis buried Drexel, 87-49. Next up: At St. Joe’s (Palestra), 5 p.m., tomorrow.


La Salle (6-5). This team has some serious talent, as I saw first-hand in the Explorers’ 92-75 dismantling of Rider on Dec. 17. And La Salle pushed UConn to the limit in an 89-81 loss Nov. 21. Still, it’s hard to know much about the Explorers because they continue to play nobodies. Too bad. A decent nonconference schedule would get La Salle battle-tested and probably ready to contend in the weak A-10. As it is, the Explorers likely will be a run-of-the-mill conference competitor. Next up: Vs. Manhattan, 4 p.m., tomorrow.


Penn (1-7). The Quakers continued their struggles, getting blown out, 81-64, by Central Florida Monday to drop their fifth straight. Glen Miller’s job was in jeopardy prior to the season and Penn’s shaky start can’t be helping his job security. Miller hasn’t endeared himself to the Penn faithful but, in fairness, he had a very tough act to follow. Next up: Vs. Lafayette, 7 p.m., Jan. 6.


St. Joe’s (5-6). The Hawks inexplicably blew an 18-point, second-half lead at the Palestra Sunday night in a loss to Siena. The Saints are a very good team and a perennial MAAC contender. But the key word there is “MAAC.” If you’re St. Joe’s and you want to be any good, you can’t lose to a MAAC team. The Hawks haven’t had any wins of significance (please don’t give me Indiana, a team of walk-ons) this year, and they haven’t had any really bad losses either. SJU played well in a 59-56 loss at Villanova Dec. 11, but you know what they say about being close…only good in horseshoes and hand grenades. Next up: Vs. Drexel (at Palestra), 5 p.m., tomorrow.


Temple (5-6). The Owls followed their eye-catching 88-72 win over Tennessee on Dec. 13 with three straight losses, at Kansas (71-59), at Long Beach State (76-71) and at Villanova (62-45) Monday night. Fran Dunphy’s squad still looks like an A-10 contender. Next up: Vs. Kent State, 7 p.m., Jan. 5.


Villanova (12-1). Monday’s impressive 62-45 blowout of Temple capped Nova’s nonconference schedule. The Cats played a bunch of patsies. Now they enter the incredibly tough Big East portion of their schedule. No less than seven Big East teams are in the AP Top 25 this week, with Villanova coming in at No. 15. The Wildcats have the talent and are Philly’s best hope to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, but there are a lot of mine fields awaiting in conference play. Next up: At Marquette, 2:30 p.m., Thursday.



That’s all for now.

Time to give thanks to Philly sports figures

November 26, 2008


Now is the time to look around and give thanks for all that we have, time to take a break from the criticism and cynicism that we all get caught up in and spin positive.


So, here are some Philly sports figures for whom I’m thankful:




Charlie Manuel: The manager put aside the criticism and directed the Phils to their second world title, ending the city’s 25-year title drought. Enough said.


Ryan Howard: The big man persevered through an early-season slump and delivered when it mattered, finishing with a league-best 48 homers and 146 RBIs. He came up huge down the stretch, too, hitting .352 with 11 homers and 32 RBIs in September. Worth every penny of that $10 million!


Chase Utley: The epitome of a Philadelphia athlete … tough, clutch, determined, ferocious. Played with an ailing hip for most of the season and still hit .295 with 33 homers and 104 RBIs. More than his numbers, Utley’s intense approach to the game is contagious amongst his teammates.


Cole Hamels: Earned legendary status with his beyond clutch postseason performance, going 4-0 in 5 games with a 1.80 ERA, 30 K’s and 9 BB’s. That’s the definition of an ace.


(Update 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Shame on me for accidentally leaving closer Brad Lidge off this list. Mr. 48-for-48 has to be here.)




Brian Dawkins: Age has slowed Dawkins, but there hasn’t been a better Eagles safety in the team’s modern history (sorry Wes and Andre). He’s still exciting and fearless.


Jon Runyan: Like Dawkins, age has had an effect on him this year. But is there anyone tougher in pro football? Runyan has played in 139 straight games … and counting. Good enough to get him on this list.




Mo Cheeks: He has directed the Sixers with the same class and poise with which he played. Cheeks got through to his young players last season with his upbeat approach, and led the team on an unlikely run into the playoffs.




Paul Holmgren: While hockey isn’t my forte, I’ve always admired the Flyers’ willingness to go for it all year in and year out. In Holmgren, the team has a GM who has been able to get the team back on track after Bob Clarke burned out.


College hoops


Phil Martelli, Jay Wright, Fran Dunphy: Put them all in one category. The coaches of St. Joe’s, Villanova and Temple, respectively, are three of the best in the business. That they all ply their trade within 10 miles of one another is a stroke of luck for Philly.


Media outlets


Comcast SportsNet: CSN has the Philly sports fan covered, whether it’s Daily News Live, Post Game Live or SportsNite. Plus, you go here to watch the Phils, Flyers and Sixers. No Philly sports fan can do without CSN.


950-ESPN and 610-WIP: I’ve heard sports radio criticized as an evil in sports. Perhaps there is some merit there, but I view sports radio as an outlet for fans. When the teams are struggling, the radio gives fans a voice for their displeasure. And when the teams are going well, it’s a place for fans to rejoice.


Note: CSN and 610-WIP both appeared on a similar list in my Courier-Post sports media column on Nov. 24, 2006.


TV/radio personalities


I like media members who are objective, straight with fans and not afraid to ask tough questions and tackle tough issues. These gentlemen embody that for me:


Ray Didinger: Eagles analysis always is on point.


Michael Barkann: Makes Daily News Live what it is.


Jody McDonald: As knowledgeable as anyone.


Mike Missanelli: Entertaining and opinionated.


Glen Macnow: On the fans’ side.


Anthony Gargano: Like listening to your friend.


Angelo Cataldi: Over the top at times, but holds people/teams accountable.


And here are the announcers I most enjoy in Philly:


Harry Kalas: Nothing like his voice on a warm, summer night.


Scott Franzke: Never thought Kalas would have an equal in the radio booth – until now.


Merrill Reese: No home team announcer is more objective.


Note: Barkann, Didinger, Kalas and McDonald appeared on a similar list in my Courier-Post sports media column on Nov. 24, 2006.



Who are you thankful for? Tell me.



Sixers tonight: I’ll be at the Sixers-Magic game Wednesday night. I’ll give my thoughts about the game here Thursday. Speaking of the Sixers, two new gigs for ex-analyst Steve Mix.



Wednesday sked



Orlando at Sixers, 7:30


Flyers at Carolina, 7

College hoops

Saint Joseph’s vs. Alabama in Maui, 2










Defending Philly sports fans

November 25, 2008

It’s a tired argument when you hear over and over again how Philadelphia athletes’ undoing are a result of the town’s “tough” sports fans.


I buy tickets and sit in the stands next to those so-called “tough” fans. I’ve been going to sporting events my entire life in this town, listening to sports radio, reading the papers and have worked in the media business here.


My take on Philly sports fans: They demand effort, they want a winner and they care about their sports as much as anyone in the country.


If anything, that makes them the best fans in the country – not the worst. Just ask the teams’ owners, who get rich based on the interest of the fans.


Do Philly fans boo? Absolutely. But so do fans in every other city in the country (OK, maybe not St. Louis!HaHa!). The bottom line is there are a few jerks in the crowd at every game, most of the time helped out by an adult beverage (or two, three, four or five).


But Philly fans are great fans and it’s bothersome to constantly hear them derided by people who don’t know what the heck they’re talking about…


Like some blogger named Tom Peters, who rips Philly fans on PCP Sports.


Here’s some of what Peters says:


“You’ve made (Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb) more unpopular than the current President”


“You don’t need a quarterback taking you to four straight NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl.”


My take: As for the first argument, fans have not made Reid and McNabb unpopular. Fans have questioned Reid’s coaching and McNabb’s play, especially lately, when they deserved to be questioned.


Have Reid and McNabb ever really been embraced in this town? No. Why? Because Reid and McNabb, through their press conferences, have made themselves very difficult to embrace. Reid comes across as arrogant and McNabb as aloof, making it hard for fans to like their personalities. Regardless of that, Philly fans would love the duo if they ever brought the town a championship (see Charlie Manuel).


As for the second argument, this is something you hear all the time. The Super Bowl was four years ago and those NFC Championships were four-to-seven years ago. That’s an eternity, especially in NFL years.


Sure, those guys have had success but you can’t base your present judgment on past success. That goes for anything, especially professional sports.


Moving on…



Sal Pal on Eagles: Sal Paolantonio, one of the best ESPN reporters, said on Mike Miss’s 950-ESPN radio show Monday that the Eagles’ decision to start McNabb Thursday is all about money.


He said management wants McNabb to start Thursday to ensure that fans will show up, reasoning that Kevin Kolb in the starting lineup will make the game seem like an exhibition and, thus, fans would stay home – especially given that it’s Thanksgiving.


And he felt the team needed McNabb to play to improve his trade value in the offseason.


My take: I like Paolantonio, but I think this is a stretch. I believe Reid is starting McNabb because he thinks it’s the best way to win. It probably is but, as I’ve said, I think the best thing for the organization is to end the Reid/McNabb era and see what Kolb can do.



(Update, 10:30 a.m. Tuesday)


FredEx delivers bashing: Ex-Eagle Freddie Mitchell criticized Donovan McNabb yesterday on 950-ESPN. I missed the interview but you can read about it here or listen here.



(Update 1 p.m. Tuesday)


Who are you thankful for? I’m going to do a Thanksgiving bit on Philly sports people I’m thankful for. Let me know who you are thankful for and I’ll include yours.

(update 4 p.m. Tuesday)

College hoops news: Darrin Govens hit a career-high seven 3s to lead St. Joe’s over Indiana today. Of course, it’s Indiana in name only this season.

Also, the A-10 has made some changes to its postseason tourney starting in 2010, with the big news being the final will be broadcast on CBS.



Tuesday sked


College hoops

Monmouth at Villanova, 7:30

Penn State at Penn, 7:30

Saint Joseph’s vs. Indiana in Maui, 1:30

Ranking the city’s radio pxp announcers

November 13, 2008

I had to turn off the radio while listening to the Sixers’ Tom McGinnis tonight.


I like McGinnis’ enthusiasm, but he too often goes over the top and his call becomes one big shouting match. The whole broadcast becomes a blur. That’s what happened during his call of the Sixers-Raptors game tonight.


It got me thinking about the city’s play-by-play announcers and how I’d rank them.


Here’s No. 4 through 1 and pros and cons about each:


4: Tim Saunders, Flyers.


Pros: Saunders gives you a solid call and clearly paints a picture of the action. It’s easy to feel like you’re sitting rinkside and watching the game.


Cons: His high-pitched squeal on every scoring opportunity can get annoying. … And his between-period interviews are tough on the ears.


Thought: Analyst Brian Propp’s departure should make Saunders and the overall broadcast better.


3. McGinnis, Sixers.


Pros: Brings excitement and his catchphrase, “Are you kidding me?!”, is top-notch. … Gives solid analysis as well as play-by-play.


Cons: Loses control and broadcast too often becomes shouting match. … Compromises calling the action on the floor while getting overexcited about a previous play.


Thought: Broadcast is better with McGinnis running solo. Former partner Todd MacCulloch was far too monotone for my liking.


2. Merrill Reese, Eagles.


Pros: What a voice! … The most honest of the city’s radio announcers, Reese won’t pull punches if the Eagles are stinking up the Linc. … TD calls are spine-tingling.


Cons: Reese has an odd tendency to constantly repeat himself. … Suffers from a poor analyst in Mike Quick and a broadcast inundated with commercials and other unnecessary interruptions.


Thought: I miss Reese and Stan Walters minus all of the in-game interruptions that mar today’s broadcast.


1. Scott Franzke, Phillies.


Pros: Easygoing style perfect for a warm, summer evening. … Has quickly developed a chemistry with partner Larry Andersen and, maybe more importantly, Philly fans.


Cons: Sometimes gets too caught up in the back-and-forth with Andersen. … Maybe this only bothers me, but it seems like it’s a real annoyance for him to read names of the Daily News Home Run Payoff contest. That’s a contest that I think fans really enjoy and look forward to and it shouldn’t be treated with such disdain.


Thought: I hope my grandkids will be listening to Franzke calling Phillies games.



Solid win by the 76ers tonight, defeating Toronto 106-96. I watched the middle two quarters and listened (to some of it, anyway) the fourth quarter in the car.


Seems like that half-court offense clicked tonight, and Philly also found a way to integrate some running.


Was very impressed with rookie Marreese Speights, who had 12 points and seven rebounds while playing some strong defense in 20 excellent minutes. Looks like a keeper.



Speaking of the Sixers, I hopped on Kate Fagan’s live chat on this afternoon. Fagan was surprised Kyle Korver was booed Tuesday night, but I wasn’t.


I replied that the reason Korver was booed was because he wasn’t wearing a Sixers jersey. Should Philly fans cheer opponents?


In truth, I think the booing was good-natured. I missed the introductions, but thought I heard on radio that he received a warm welcome.



Donovan McNabb missed Wednesday’s walkthrough due to personal reasons. There’s no truth to the rumor (which I’m making up) that he was scouring the local high schools for some better receivers.


Seriously, hope everything’s OK with McNabb and his family.


On a side note, ESPN 950’s Brian Seltzer says on his blog that Kevin Kolb is “very close” to having the entire playbook down.


Two problems: First, it’s ridiculous that he doesn’t have the entire playbook down by now. Second, it’s ridiculous that the playbook is that big and complicated.


I’d suggest Andy Reid do some research on Vince Lombardi. I’ve read several books on Lombardi and the great coach only had a few plays in his playbook, but required perfection from the few he had.


It’s not how many plays you have, but how well you execute the ones you have.



Thursday sked


Flyers at Pittsburgh, 7:30

What Philly sports icons would do as President

November 5, 2008

With the Presidential race nearing its completion, I thought it would be fun to look at some Philadelphia sports icons, past and present, and take a look at what their first actions might be as Commander in Chief.



Joe Banner: Raise ticket prices on all federal museums by 50 percent and cut federal salaries by 25 percent.

Rich Kotite: Hire aide whose job it is to make sure the teleprompter for his speeches never gets wet.

Donovan McNabb: Shorten the Super Bowl by five minutes.

Andy Reid: Hire Howard Eskin as his press secretary and forbid running in the White House.

Buddy Ryan: Quadruple the defense budget.

Dick Vermeil: After announcing reducing the work week to 38 hours, Vermeil cuts short his first press conference after crying uncontrollably.



Darren Daulton: Charter a trip to Mars to test out his new theories.

Jim Fregosi: Seeing how it helped the ’93 Phils, promote drinking and smoking.

Ryan Howard: Eliminate the shift in baseball.

Jamie Moyer: Propose Constitutional amendment to ban term limits on the Presidency.

Pete Rose: Legalize betting on baseball.

Mike Schmidt: Build a golf course outside of the White House and hire Eskin as his full-time caddie.

Chase Utley: Implement seven-second TV/radio delay for all live press conferences.



Charles Barkley: Build a casino in the White House and add Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan to his cabinet.

Larry Brown: Inform citizens that he will not stay in the White House full-time because he doesn’t like to remain in one place for too long.

Wilt Chamberlain: Declare that the First Lady will be a revolving 24-hour position.



Bob Clarke: Forbid Bonnie and Carl Lindros from crossing into the U.S.

Ed Snider: Make Bob Clarke vice president for life.



Phil Martelli: Hold all important galas at the Palestra and excommunicate Lute Olson and Billy Packer.