2016 Eagles: Patience Required

doug-pederson-eagles

By GORDON GLANTZ

Gordonglantz50@gmail.com

@Managing2Edit

GORDONVILLE — In many ways, the 2016 Philadelphia Eagles are like a marriage ceremony – with a shotgun included with the rice.

As the invited guests gather around, there is a sense of a beginning taking place.

And, unlike the coordinators – Frank Reich with the offense, Jim Schwartz with the defense and Dave Fipp with special teams – head coach Doug Pederson and starting quarterback Carson Wentz are rookies. When the bell rings this Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field – ironically against the Cleveland Browns team that will get the Eagles’ first-round pick in exchange for the chance to draft Wentz – it will be their first rodeo.

There will be ups and downs, but all we can do is send them off on their mystery ride with the type of warm wishes reserved for wedding videos.

There is the question of whether the Eagles, searching for their first championship since before The Beatles appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show, will finish at or around .500 and are good enough to contend in a weak division or are so bad that the Browns draft in the top 5 right here in Philly. But the 2016 season, the first year of the union, should not be judged in a vacuum.

With that said, Eagles Nation, boo now or forever hold your peace.

And do so knowing that the history of the combination of a first-year head coach and rookie quarterback is not going to put you line to order playoff tickets.

But also do so knowing that a strategic step back could mean the necessary steps forward that the franchise has been unable to make since 1960.

In the meantime, and despite the frustration, try to keep the proper perspective.

And don’t wave the white flag just yet.

There are reasons for optimism:

  • The Eagles, according many outlets that tabulate such things – knowing, full-well, that fortunes rise and fall on a weekly basis – have one of the easier schedules around. Not only in the NFC, but in the entire NFL. The slate begins with two winnable games, even with a rookie with one preseason outing under his belt under center. Week 3 is home against Pittsburgh. Although the Steelers are clearly the more powerful squad, they will be without suspended running back Le’Veon Bell. Next is a bye week. A 2-1 record would set the right tone. And while 1-2 wouldn’t be disastrous, an 0-3 start would only make talk-radio trolls happy.
  • When Schwartz was hired as the defensive coordinator, there were deserved cold sweats and flashbacks to 2012. That’s when Jim Washburn was running a Wide-9 in the trenches while overmatched defensive coordinator Juan Castillo had linebackers on a different wavelength and secondary coach Todd Bowles had the secondary on another. However, if the 4-0 preseason is any guide, dysfunction is not going to be an issue. A strength of the team is its Eagles-Cox with footballdefensive line, with Fletcher Cox (left) almost unblockable inside and a trio of defensive ends – Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham and Vinny Curry – buying into the scheme that seems ideal for their skill sets. The key to the scheme is a middle linebacker who won’t become roadkill the way that Casey Matthews did in 2012 as a rookie thrown to the wolves. Jordan Hicks, on his way to possibly being the league’s top defensive rookie last year before an injury, moves from inside in a 3-4 to the middle in the 4-3. There may be a learning curve, but he has veteran assistance in Stephen Tulloch – the best at running Schwartz’s defense while in his prime – as a mentor. The talented, but oft-injured Mychal Kendricks is on the weak side and Nigel Bradham, a Schwartz disciple, is on the strong side. While the cornerback position is in question, and will rely heavily on the consistency of the pass rush (more so than the raw sack total), the safety tandem of Malcom Jenkins and free agent Rodney McLeod is one of the better combinations in the league.
  • Fipp’s special teams units not only have the chance to be special – pun intended – they are going to need to be among the league’s best if some games are to be stolen. There was some overall slippage last season, but it was hard to match the 2014 campaign when special teams accounted for seven touchdowns (three on blocked punts, two on kickoff returns and two on punt returns) and played a key role in Chip Kelly’s second edition matching the 10-6 mark of the first, despite lacking the same cohesion on offense and defense as 2013. Cody Parkey was a Pro Bowl kicker in 2014 as a rookie, and Darren Sproles made his first Pro Bowl as a return man in 2014 and earned another trip last season. With special teams-first players like Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman leading the way, there is almost no reason not to expect more of the same. Hiring Fipp was one of Kelly’s best moves, and retaining him was equally worthy of plaudits.

But before you start getting delusions of grandeur, consider the following:

  • Wentz may have all the requisite tools of a franchise quarterback – size, smarts, a cannon for an arm, running ability and leadership skills – but he is still a rookie from the Division I-AA level. Yes, North Dakota State is a powerhouse there. Yes, he won two championships there. But he didn’t even grab the starting job until his junior season and missed part of last season with an injury. Even big-time BCS-level quarterbacks with more experience sit for a year, sometimes longer, before taking over the reins of their offenses. What does this mean? He will have moments where natural ability takes over, and an overall strategy tailored for him to manage the game will limit mistakes. Still, there will come times – times late in games and chances need to be taken – when he will need to sink or swim on his own. He will likely swim sometimes, but he will also need a lifeline others. There are also has Eagles-Ertzto be concern that some of the teams better targets, like receiver Jason Matthews and tight end Zach Ertz (left), will get frustrated. There will be weeks where Wentz just won’t get them the ball as much as they want it. All of us – teammates, coaches, front office, media and fans – need to be willing to show patience for not only this season, but into the next. Case in point, there is the groundswell of hope that receiver Dorial Green-Beckham becomes a beast at some point this season. That transformation from raw talent to polished product would have had a better chance of happening with Sam Bradford, or even Chase Daniel, running the offense. Additionally, the downside of starting Wentz from Week 1 will be that will be hard to give him the hook without risking a regression.
  • Even before the trade of Bradford, the Eagles looked to be a ball-control offense without an inside-out passing attack (working the tight ends, the running backs on screens and quick hitches to the receivers). Ryan Mathews will be featured in the running game. While talented enough to be an elite back, he has a long history of injuries. Behind him is Kenjon Barner, who has proven to be the Brian Westbrook of preseason but the Robert Drummond of the regular season. Rookie Wendell Smallwood barely played in the preseason, and enters the opening game coming off a concussion protocol. Ideally, the coaches would rather use Sproles as a Swiss Army Knife more than as a pure running back, but may end up having no choice.
  • The league did the Eagles zero favors by giving no firm answer on the fate of right tackle Lane Johnson, who was presumed suspended for PED use but the punishment never came. The waiting period caused a lot of shuffling of the first-unit line in the preseason in search of the right Plan B. Now, it’s back to Plan A – at least until they hear otherwise. While no team can win anything of consequence without a solid offensive line, it is even more imperative with Wentz under center and the need to run the ball consistently. The Eagles will be predictable; that much is certain. When a line dominates, it generally doesn’t matter much. That chance to do so, at least early on, may have been lost.
  • While the linebackers are talented, depth is a concern. Kendricks is no stranger to the training table. Hicks, while having the talent to be drafted as early as the late first round, lasted until the late third because he missed two full seasons in college. On the north side of 30, Tulloch was on the open market until August. He could have a season left in his tank, but that would pretty much be it. The Eagles signed Kamu Grugier-Hill after final cuts but he is 215 pounds and is considered a linebacker-safety hybrid who mostly will be asked to excel on special teams.

Every season is full of surprises. When it is the first year of a marriage, anything and everything could happen. Don’t be shocked if:

  • The much-maligned Josh Huff finally becomes at least semi-productive, at least enough to not be everyone’s least favorite player. Judging from how he was used in the preseason, Pederson will try to manufacture touches to Huff – screens, quick hitches, reverses – much in the way that the Rams do for Tavon Austin.
  • Sproles and Ertz – or Ertz and then Sproles – are the team’s leaders in receptions. Matthews is likely to top the charts in yards (although getting to 1,000 after just falling short last year might be tough) and also touchdowns, but Wentz will likely rely on security blankets out of the backfield and at tight end.
  • Speaking of tight end, also look for Trey Burton to play a larger role in the offense – finally – after being treated like the ugly girl at the dance by Kelly. It won’t be uncommon for three tight ends to be on the field, and Burton is athletic enough (he’s the emergency QB) to line up in the slot and in the backfield. We saw hints of this in the preseason.
  • The play from the cornerbacks, buoyed by the front seven, may be at least adequate. Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks are Schwartz guys and, if nothing else, are not shy about coming up and making a hit in the running game. There are whispers among the players who survived the purge of Kelly’s roster that Nolan Carroll is the most improved player on the squad and ready for a breakout year.
  • General Manager Howie Roseman will continue to be aggressive in shaping the roster, whether it is deals right up to trade deadline or installing a revolving door around the room where the practice squad players hang out.

And now our train has pulled into our final stop, Prediction City:

  • The formula is simple. While the defensive and special teams units hold down the fort and keep games close, the offense will need to worry as much about first downs as touchdowns and complement the other two units by maintaining the field-position edge. Expect games to be scoreless well into the second quarter and still up for grabs into the fourth. It will come down to who does or doesn’t step up to make the key play when it matters. The offense will need to convert in the red zone, especially when set up there by the defense/special teams with turnovers. This is where Wentz needs to develop chemistry with Green-Beckham and Ertz.
  • The division is weak, and weaker with Tony Romo’s career in limbo and the Eagles turning to Wentz a season or two earlier than expected. The main benefactor, though, will be the returning NFC East-champion Redskins, who may go 10-6. Look for the Giants, who are lethal on offense and porous on defense, to go 9-7. The Eagles will be third at 7-9, followed by the Cowboys at 6-10.

Now please return to your tables. We are ready for the first dance.

This preview also appeared at http://www.phillyphanatics.com

 

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow

NFL: Preseason-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles

Aug 11, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz (11) calls a play at the line of scrimmage against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lincoln Financial Field. The Philadelphia Eagles won 17-9. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

By GORDON GLANTZ

Gordonglantz50@gmail.com

@Managing2Edit

GORDONVILLE — To evaluate the 2016 Philadelphia Eagles, we may need a bit of historical perspective, so let’s take a trip back in time to 1977.

A peanut farmer had just become your president, your choices at the movies included “Star Wars” and “Annie Hall” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” was the top-selling album – yes, on vinyl – for just about the while year.

Roy Halladay and Juan “Pepe” Sanchez were born, while Joan Crawford and Bing Crosby died.

The Eagles were in Year 2 of the Dick Vermeil era. The team celebrated the Bicentennial by going 4-10. In 1977, they weren’t much better – in terms of won-loss record – at 5-9.

And with the sound of Fleetwood Mac’s Lindsey Buckingham leading his brooding band mates singing “don’t stop thinking about tomorrow” (the chorus of the song “Don’t Stop) blaring from AM radios, a future was coming into view.

The Eagles were getting better – even if it wasn’t reflected in the oft-unforgiving bottom line at the bottom of the standings.

Despite not having a draft pick in the first four rounds, due to short-sighted trades of the prior regime, lemonade was made out of lemons. The draft yielded one of the franchise’s all-time great running backs, Wilbert Montgomery, in the sixth round and future Pro Bowler – and anchor of the 3-4 defense – in nose tackle Charlie Johnson in the seventh. Meanwhile, long-time corner – and future NFL coach – Herman Edwards was the most significant of the undrafted free agents signed.

While only improving by one win, the Eagles were significantly more competitive than the previous season. Despite going 5-9, in what was the final NFL season in which teams played 14 games, the Eagles scored more points (220) than they gave up (207, five fewer than the 12-2 Dallas Cowboys).

They won a few games by wide margins – 28-10 over the New York Giants, 28-7 over the New Orleans Saints and 27-0 over the New York Jets – while only one of their nine setbacks (20-0 against the Los Angeles Rams in the second week of the season) was by more than 10 points, and six were by a touchdown or less.

Many of the games were decided in the fourth quarter, and often by one key play – either by opposition playmakers the Eagles didn’t yet have or by an Eagle making a well-intentioned, but costly, miscue.

It was frustrating, and not for the faint-hearted, but a change was taking place. It was a season of necessary growing pains that, even cast in the context of this current era of quick-fix free agent signings, you still can’t navigate around it and expect to reach the desired destination.

Much like the 1977 Eagles, the 1999 version, which went 5-11 in the first year of the Andy Reid era, stayed competitive with special teams and defense. Both teams featured young quarterbacks (Ron Jaworski in his second year as a starter in 1977 after being plucked from the Rams and rookie Donovan McNabb taking over halfway through the 1999 season) worked through their mistakes.

In 2016, we have prized rookie Carson Wentz slated to start the season opener – in a drastic turn of events after slated starter Sam Bradford was sent packing to Minnesota for first- and fourth-round picks on the eve of the season – so there is reason for guarded optimism about the long-term.

From their humble and character-building beginnings, Vermeil’s and Reid’s Eagles got to Super Bowls.

They lost, yes, but they were there. One undeniable law of the sports universe is that you can’t win a championship unless you are in it.

What seems to be in place are the support systems – the front offices able to see far and wide, as opposed to having the tunnel vision that dooms sports franchises to eternal damnation.

Vermeil had the combination of Jim Murray and Carl Peterson to lean on in the front office. Reid had Tom Modrak. Pederson seems in safe hands with Howie Roseman, who has come back from the wilderness to earn the adoration of the faithful by undoing all that Chip Kelly did went he sent Roseman into exile (while doing his best to fulfill that whole “eternal damnation” prophecy).

If they are to eventually climb that mountain again with new head coach Doug Pederson, who started at quarterback in the first part of 1999 and turned up on Reid’s staff as the quarterbacks coach before moving with him to Kansas City, the coming season could very well be the launching pad.

The parallels are there. Vermeil had Marion Campbell as his defensive coordinator in what was, at the time, an innovative mode of attack with a 3-4 defense. Reid had Jim Johnson and his masked strategies of dictating to the offense, as opposed to letting the offense dictate to him. Pederson has Jim Schwartz and his attacking Wide-9 scheme (a far cry from the disjointed Wide-9 mess in Reid’s final season of 2012).

Special teams? Vermeil needed to come around on the importance of a placekicker (lest we summon the image of Mike Michel’s misses when the Eagles made the playoffs in 1978, a year after the 1977 signs of sunlight through the clouds). However, as evidenced by Vince Papale making the team 1976, the tie-breaker in the battle for backup roster spots was almost always based on kick/punt coverage skills.

While Ken Iman handled both special teams and the offensive line on the staff, it needs to be mentioned that Vermeil was hands-on in that area. He holds the distinction of being the league’s first full-time special teams coach under George Allen with the Rams.

Reid had John Harbaugh, who went to eventually become a head coach and lead the Baltimore Ravens to a championship. And Pederson has wisely retained Dave Fipp from Chip Kelly’s staff.

In conjunction with Schwartz’s take-no-prisoners defense, the special teams could make enough plays – forcing turnovers, blocking punts, setting up long returns, etc. – to make up for an offense that will be driving in the right lane of the highway for long stretches of its 2016 road trip.

Enough so that maybe we could get 1977 all over again. So break out the old turntable, crank up the Fleetwood Mac and don’t stop thinking about tomorrow.

This column also appeared at Phillyphanatics.com

 

First Cut Is The Deepest

Pence

By GORDON GLANTZ

Gordonglantz50@gmail.com

@Managing2Edit

GORDONVILLE – A vice presidential candidate walks into a barbershop …

If this sounds like the start of a bad joke, you are picking up on the right scent.

Such was the scene recently in Norristown, when GOP vice presidential candidate Mike Pence, was paired up on an awkward blind date in the inner sanctum of any black community – the barbershop.

Followed by CNN cameras – not like there were any surreal floods or forest fires going on, so why not? – the barber in question had to quell chuckles from the cheap seats as he had to fight through the layers of Brylcreem to kinda sorta cut and style hair that was, literally and figuratively, as white as you could get.

When the dog-and-pony haircut came to its merciful end, the CNN crew accidentally stumbled upon actually “news.”

Turned out the barber was not quite sure who Pence even was, having to ask his name, and then being somewhat taken aback when he learned he was on the same ticket with a candidate who secured his nomination by stoking racial prejudice in what we hope is a vocal minority of mostly angry white males who started demanding their country back a split-second after Barack Obama was elected the first president of color in 2008.

Spin Central tried to sell us that Pence was chosen for the bottom half the GOP ticket to make it look respectable.

Good luck with that.

The choice of Pence as VP wannabe, as exhibited by his track record, was merely an act of doubling down on the Make America Great (i.e. White) Again platform that bullied its away to the nomination.

Pence’s addition to the ticket only underscores the Molotov cocktail of ignorance and arrogance that is a self-imploding campaign that is sagging in the polls against a flawed, and beatable, candidate in Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The barber is not alone in not really knowing Pence.

Criticize him for that if you must, but why should he bother?

The nation has become so turned off by partisan politics that exist and subsist by and for the special interests and big corporations, that it is not too hard to tune it all out.

Fortunately, the information still exists for any who seek it. We may not know what goes on behind closed doors in Mike Pence’s world, but we know the basics from his actions.

For all those like the barber, who don’t really know who he is, considering the following a PSA (public service announcement) from GNN (Gordonville News Network).

Pence is the governor of Indiana. Nothing wrong with that, at least at face value. For those of us who have been there, the people are quite nice – well, up to a point.

John Mellencamp is a native son, as is Larry Bird.

But Indiana is also home to some of the most ridiculously soft gun laws in the country. When they talk about loopholes, put the Hoosier state’s logo on the poster (believe it or not, blind people can even own guns there).

The GOP presidential nominee is touting himself as a “law and order” candidate who will end violence – mostly in America’s urban kill zones (conservative code for where non-whites run amok) – about 12.2 seconds after stepping into office. The city often cited in these disjointed diatribes is Chicago, and it always mentioned how the Windy City has some of the toughest gun laws in the country but still has a mounting body count.

What isn’t mentioned? An estimated twenty percent of the guns used on the streets of Chicago are purchased in nearby Indiana, where Pence is the governor and vice presidential candidate on ticket vowing to save Chicago from its evil ways.

For that many guns — one in five –to come from just one outside state is downright obnoxious.

The blind shooters is only the tip of the gun-nut iceberg that is the Hoosier state. In 2014, Pence spurned state school organizations and signed a bill to allow guns to be allowed in cars on school property. He recruited the NRA to train the National Guard on concealed carry techniques (even when the National Guard questioned why they were being trained by a private agency, as if they couldn’t connect the dots there).

He also signed a bill in which lawsuits against gun manufacturers in Indiana – and sellers of ammunition and firearms – became almost impossible. It also retroactively terminated a lawsuit from the mostly-black city of Gary, Ind., where one would guess he would not be welcomed in many barbershops.

But what did he care? It was designed for the gun industry to view Indiana as gun-dealer friendly. He surely got his cut.

Now, while we know more about this guy with an A grade from the NRA, let’s look at how he came into our orbit in the county seat.

After losing bids for Congress in 1988 and 1990, the historically homophobic Pence built his brand with one of those slanted talk-conservative radio shows — the creatively named “Mike Pence Show” – where pro-gun rhetoric is like a stretching exercise before yoga class.

He billed himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf,” which is kind of like being a Dead Head on hashish.

Pence was elected to the House in 2000, sweeping in on the coattails of George W. Bush’s stolen win over Al Gore in the presidential election and the fact that his perpetually gerrymandered district was vacated when the incumbent ran for governor.

Pence stayed in the House until 2012, earning a battlefield promotion to Republican Conference Chairman (a thrown bone after losing to John Boehner by a country mile for Republican minority leader).

Pence then ran for governor of Indiana in 2012 (the outgoing GOP governor was “term-limited,” so it was not that much of a bold move to walk away from his Tea Party friends in D.C.).

To be fair, Pence made himself fairly visible as a “values” Republican while in the House.

As such, his views are out there. You need not be a political junkie to shoot his poison into your veins.

And these “values” would likely not make him welcome in too many black barbershops — let alone Mexican restaurants (opposed birthright citizenship) or places where women dare think to do anything but cook and clean and bring their husbands martinis (strongly advocated defunding planned parenthood).

If the Tea Party had the guts to set the rest of the GOP free from bondage and form their own party, Pence would be right there with Sarah Palin as a leader.

Consider the following:

-Pence declared that “freedom won today” when the Supreme Court took the people out of the political process with its Citizen’s United ruling in 2010.

-He voted against raising the minimum wage in 2007 because a hike from $5.15 to $7.25 would “hurt the working poor.”

-He was all in, from the jump, on Bush’s war of folly in Iraq that created thousands of American casualties, with a disproportionate number being black or Hispanic, and opposed withdrawal.

-As the GOP stance on immigration mysteriously softens, consider that Pence – as far back as 2006 – proudly put forward an immigration policy he dubbed “No Amnesty Immigration Reform.” Right on cue, he didn’t need more than a split-second to vote down the DREAM act to give children of undocumented workers non-immigration status.

Had enough?

We’ll send you away with these fun facts:

-He denies climate change, as he is still waiting on the facts not presented by 99 percent of scientists (whisper: he also claims that the full effects of tobacco use are not yet known).

-He opposes embryonic stem cell research, claiming those breakthroughs are “obsolete.”

-He believes in evolution.

Impressed when he showed up for a photo opp recently in Louisiana after horrific flooding, were we? Consider that he wanted to limit funding for Hurricane Katrina relief in 2005.

So, people, that’s Mike Pence.

And the first time he ever went against his own party’s playbook may have been when he walked into a black barbershop in Norristown.

And the barber didn’t know his name.

That was a well-deserved slap in the face.

 

Olympic Shakedown

Handshake

By GORDON GLANTZ

Gordonglantz50@gmail.com

@Managing2Edit

GORDONVILLE — In a perfect world, the now-completed 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio should have been a rallying point in Casa de Glantz.

No more fighting for the remote when it is time to decide between “The Bachelor” or a sporting event. No more zoning out when an obscure topic comes up at the dinner table.

With Sofia now 9, these were to be the first Olympics when she really could fully comprehend what was happening up there on our new 60-inch screen.

And even though I’ve gained the smarts to work the Smart TV, I figured Netflix would have to take a break for the Olympics.

But something happened on the road to Rio (yes, I’m aware of the movie by that name).

HBO’s “Real Sports” kept it “real” and shed light on the dark underbelly that is the whole Olympic syndrome we buy into every two years (Winter Olympics come two years after the summer these days, so that we stay nice and inundated with the concept of good will through sport).

Exposing the exploitation tactics of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), Real Sports confirmed a semi-quelled inkling that sports journalism may now be the standard-bearer of the once great fourth estate.

And it turned me off, just about completely, to any interest in the Rio games, while serving as a stark reminder that an event designed to make the world seem perfect is a delusion.

But then I had to consider my 9-year-old ultra-precocious daughter, Sofia, who was going into the Games buoyed by a Lifetime movie on Gabby Douglas she had seen on Netflix after a long détente over what to watch once the Smart TV riddle rhymed.

She was deeply interested, and asking a lot of questions. When it comes to all things sports, whether I know or not, I’m the Answer Man around here.

As it was, the two most televised sports in the first week were gymnastics and swimming. Sofia, inbound for fourth grade, has been taking gymnastics since the summer after Kindergarten and has been taking more serious 1-on-1 swimming lessons this summer.

She was doing her own “routines” in front to the TV, and pretending to swim back and forth. It was too cute, and too reminiscent of what I used to do – often in full costume – when I watched sports. (Confession: I still watch the Eagles in a jersey and hold a now half-deflated football as a comfort toy.)

So I put all disgust from the “Real Sports” segment on the shelf and watched with her, even when Mommy and Nana slithered away from the scene.

This is what we Dads do.

Sofia was cheering for Douglas, after seeing the aforementioned movie, but I reminded my half-Jewish daughter that she needed to hold a warm thought for team captain Aly Raisman. We also cheered for Michael Phelps to make history, were amazed by Katie Ledecky and couldn’t understand how and why Sweden would be formidable in swimming when the other more “winter” countries (Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Austria, Finland, etc.) were struggling to get on the radar in any event.

It brought back memories of my first real Olympics experience: the Munich Games of 1972.

I was 7, and my whole world was sports. I remember watching from the couch for much of Mark Spitz’s exploits. I also remember being on “vacation” in Washington, D.C. for the end of the Games, and trying to understand – as much as I could at that age – what was going on when the Israeli athletes were taken hostage and murdered by Palestinian terrorists.

At the time, I thought the subsequent theft of the basketball gold medal from the U.S. men’s basketball team was more egregious, but I soon came to learn that it paled in comparison. It came full-circle when I read a Doug Collins interview stating that what had happened to the Israelis pretty much dampened the spirits of the team and that they “just wanted to go home” as much as play that gold medal game against the former Soviet Union.

Olympic officials tried to separate sports from politics, but they were proven – just as Hitler’s Berlin Games of 1936 and the black power salute of Tommie Smith and John Carlos on a Mexico City medal stand in 1968 or the mass boycott of the Moscow Games of 1980 did – to be impossibly intertwined.

That’s the one aspect of the modern Olympic Games in which the spirit of the ancient Greek Olympiad cannot be recaptured. In those days of yore, with the likes of Plato and Socrates among the honored spectators, there was a mandatory cessation of regional hostilities to allow for safe passage of soldiers to travel and be able to compete.

How and why could that have been the case in a supposedly less-evolved time in history? Maybe because the ancient Olympics also had a spiritual side.

They believed the Gods were watching.

These Gods probably looked away in disgust sometime between the full-time modern revival in Athens in 1896 and the stripping of Jim Thorpe’s 1912 gold medals in 1913.

Although smoke-and-mirror productions – like the grandiose opening ceremony in Rio –  can put a proverbial bandage on a gunshot wound, the internal bleeding had already begun behind the scenes.

And it was clear there was no cessation of regional hostilities to allow safe passage – even to the opening extravaganza.

That night in Rio, members of the Lebanese delegation refused to share a bus with the Israeli team.

And so it began.

And continued.

A female representing Saudia Arabia, which has a poor record on women’s rights, withdrew from the judo competition rather than risk having to compete in the second round against an Israeli, Gili Cohen. (If the Saudi didn’t want to compete, her name doesn’t deserve to be mentioned.)

On the men’s side, in judo, Israel’s Or Sasson was graced in competition by Egypt’s Islam El-Shehaby. After Sasson scored what is the sport’s version of a knockout (or pin), Sasson’s fervent attempt at a handshake was rebuffed. While the crowd jeered, the referee ordered Shehaby to take the customary bow and eventually got a feeble nod.

The action was a post-script in most places. Given the volatile nature of the Middle East, who wants to take sides, right? Decried in the Israeli press and met with passing disgust in the U.S., excuses were initially made by officials (the IOC has a history of anti-Semitism going back to Hitler’s games).

In a delayed move, El Shehaby was sent home by his own country – likely to a hero’s welcome, which he will need to avoid the shame of losing to a Jew.

And make no mistake about it, this is what this all about.

Recognition, and treatment of the Palestinians, are just easy excuses. It is the same reason Israel has a harder time qualifying for the World Cup in soccer or the Olympics in basketball. Instead of competing against nations from its own region, it has to compete against European nations because neighboring countries refuse to compete.

Meanwhile, the “Real Sports” report delved into safety in Rio. During the games, there have been incidents, up to and including U.S. swimmer Ryan Lochte and teammates half-concocted their story about being held up at gunpoint (it was kinda sorta true, but not really, and yet another controversy that got a ridiculous amount of mainstream media coverage while Louisiana literally floated away).

According to Associated Press, these other incidents include the following:

  • An Olympic security officer was fatally shot after he and two others got lost near a slum near the airport.
  • A pair of Australian rowing coaches were robbed at knifepoint Friday in Ipanema. A day later, also in Ipanema, Portugal’s education minister was robbed at knifepoint.
  • Stray bullets have twice flown into the Olympic sports complex in Deodoro.
  • Two windows were shattered on a bus carrying journalists (local official say rocks, but those on the bus think bullets).
  • Bomb squads have set off several controlled explosions after finding unattended items such as the backpack near the basketball arena. Detonations also have happened near the finish line of a cycling race and of a Copacabana Palace hotel.

While all these actions pale in comparison to what happened in Munich, just think of the mileage – the positive international press – that would be generated if the animosity was dropped, like when there was a cessation in battle in the ancient games, if something as simple as a shared bus ride and a handshake and man-hug occurred.

We know that would play well in, say, the UK or Canada or Australia or the Netherlands. But it would be seen as a national disgrace in places like Lebanon and Saudi Araba and, yes, Egypt (treaty or not).

How do I explain all of this to Sofia, when she is watching with the same wide eyes I once had?

I want to tell her all, and one day I will, but Olympic moments – like the so-called 1980 Miracle on Ice (I personally don’t think it was quite the miracle it was made out to be) – should be coveted before her innocence is lost.

For now, I suppose I’ll keep it simple.

And do what we Dads sometimes have to do.

I’ll lie.

I’ll say the Gods are watching.

Hitchin’ A Ride On Route 53

 

doug-pederson-eagles

By GORDON GLANTZ

Gordonglantz50@gmail.com

@Managing2Edit

GORDONVILLE — The NBA and NHL drafts are in the books. The Phillies, well, maybe next year – or the year after that.

What does all this mean? Football, baby, football.

And in Philly, with all due respect to the Temple Owls, their landlords at Lincoln Financial Field – the Eagles – are emerging as the talk of the town again.

With a new coach, Doug Pederson, there will be a new scheme and a fair share of new faces to go along with some familiar ones.

We are still in the getting-to-know-you phase with Pederson, but early indications are that he is a fairly forthright dude.

Ask him a question and, while not divulging any state secrets and fulfilling his requirement for coachspeak, he will give a straight answer.

He admitted that he has a continual 53-man roster in his cranium that, depending on training camp and preseason and unforeseen injuries and players popping free from other rosters, he is ready to lead into battle.

The preseason will be the best chance to cast our eyes upon that countenance that is Carson Wentz, the quarterback for whom the ranch and most of the usable cattle and acreage was swapped, getting extended snaps in an offense that is vastly different than the one that was often too frenetic for its own good under previous coach Chip Kelly.

If it is true that Pederson pretty much has a 53-man roster that he is comfortable with, and we have no reason yet to believe he has a touch of Pinocchio in him, then we can at least fast forward through the preseason – and the highly unlikely event that injuries won’t wreak at least minor havoc with the best-laid plans – and take an educated guess at your 2016 Philadelphia Eagles.

(Starters designated with an asterisk, jobs up for grabs designated with a “u”)

OFFENSE

Quarterback (3): *Sam Bradford, Chase Daniel and Wentz.

Summary: This was rather easy, since only three quarterbacks are on the roster, meaning there isn’t even a fourth guinea pig for mop-up duty in the early preseason games. All that time will go to Wentz, so you better run your DVRs then. If the prized rookie – drafted second overall out of North Dakota State – plays any snaps outside of the fourth quarter of a blowout, something has gone horribly wrong. The reason the Eagles wanted Bradford back is because they believed he can at least get them in that 7-9 to 9-7 range and have a fighting chance in a mediocre NFC East. If – or maybe when – he goes down to injury, Daniel will be next in line. There is zero benefit to “tanking,” as the Cleveland Browns own the Eagles’ first-round pick.

Running Back (4): *Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner, Wendell Smallwood

Summary: Mathews is Bradford Lite. He hasn’t been hurt as much, or as severely, but has had a hard time finishing a season intact. Like Bradford, the former first-round pick of the San Diego Chargers is a skilled player and fingers Eagles-Sprolesare crossed he can be the main ball-carrier. Barner was the star of last year’s preseason, earning a roster spot. He seemed to play well enough, albeit in limited snaps, to stake a claim to replace Sproles (left) as the third-down back/return man of the future. But the Eagles doubled down in both the draft, and post-draft free agency, with West Virginia scatback Wendell Smallwood in the fifth round and Oregon’s Byron Marshall as a priority free agent. Marshall had a 1,000-yard season at Oregon as a running back and a 1,000-yard season as a receiver. It remains unclear which position, or both, he will be tried at in the preseason. A dark horse could be Cedric O’Neal, who shattered records at Valdosta State, although a solid preseason could land him on the practice squad.

Fullback/H-Back (1): Trey Burton

Summary: Pederson has let it be known that Burton is learning multiple positions, which will best utilize a skill set for a guy is too small (6-foot-2½-inches, 235 pounds) to play tight end and too slow (approximately 4.65 in the 40) to play outside receiver, but too versatile and athletic to not keep in permanent moth balls as a special teams guy. It remains to be seen how much a fullback will be used, but one snap will be one snap more than Kelly used one in nearly three seasons. Burton can also line up in the slot and as a motion tight end (and also serving as the emergency quarterback). While he won’t be the second coming of Keith Byars, expect him to be matched up against a linebacker from time to time.

Tight End (2): Brent Celek, Zach Ertz

Summary: The snaps will be split, and both will likely be on the field a lot at the same time, especially if Ertz gets time in the slot while Celek stays in as a blocker. If Pederson’s offense is going to reflect that of his mentor, Andy Reid, then take this moment to recall how overachiever Chad Lewis and underachiever L.J. Smith were equally integral in the “time’s yours” era. Chris Pantale, on the practice squad last year, has reportedly impressed in two-hand touch part of the offseason, so he could at least make a case for himself – or not be a reason for total panic if Ertz or Celek are injured.

Wide Receiver (5): *Jordan Matthews, *Rueben Randle, *Nelson Agholor, Josh Huff and Chris Givens.

Summary: Only five? Well, without a receiver drafted, there is no major investment in anyone else. And Pederson will not want upset the apple cart and force defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz into keeping only 24 players on his side of the ball. The presumption here is that Pederson will want to keep 10 offensive linemen, so five receivers – at least on the opening-day active roster – it is. And remember, Burton and Ertz will likely be used in the slot. In addition to Marshall, whose role remains nebulous, the Eagles harvested some potential diamonds in the rough after the draft. That group includes Cayleb Jones (Arizona) and Hunter Sharp (Utah State). Jonathan Krause, who was activated off the practice squad at the end of the last season (1 catch, 4 yards), is also still in the mix.

Still, this is about production at the top. Matthews will move from strictly in the slot and be moved all around as the clear-cut No. 1. Randle, while a bit of an underachiever – given his pedigree – with the rival Giants, will be an upgrade over the dearly departed Riley Cooper. This will be particularly true in the place where games are won and lost – the red zone. Agholor had a dismal rookie season after being selected in the first round last year, but there is still hope he can achieve the potential the last regime saw in him. Huff has a chance to make his mark in the slot and as a return man while Givens is the best deep threat of this group – making him the prettiest girl in Boys Town – and had a bit of good thing going with Bradford when both were with the Rams.

Offensive Line (10): *Jason Peters, u-Allen Barbre, *Jason Kelce, *Brandon Brooks, *Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo, Halapoulivanti Vatai, Stefen Wisniewski, Darrell Greene, Matt Tobin.

Summary: With the massive Brooks (6-5, 346) in the fold via free agency, and Peters purportedly eager to play in a more traditional offense, four jobs are set. Barbre’s left guard spot is his to lose, but the likely five backup jobs are up for grabs. While 10 will likely be kept (an Andy Reid staple for a final roster), Pederson would love to only dress eight – or even seven – on game day to free up another spry body for special teams. This is where versatility comes into play. Seumalo (third round) and Vaitai (fifth) are locks because they are draft picks, but being game-day guys may not be immediate roles for them. Seumalo missed the mini-camps to finish school at Oregon State, but he has played all three positions on the line and projects as the left guard in the long-term picture. In the short term, Wisniewski – a grizzled veteran – is likely to push Barbre at left guard and even get consideration at center if Kelce doesn’t get back into Pro Bowl form. Vaitai plays both tackle positions but his likely more raw than some roster holdovers.

That means the likes of tackle-guards Andrew Gardner, Dennis Kelly and Tobin are likely battling for one spot. Greene was a hot commodity – as far as undrafted players are “hot” – after the draft, and the Eagles had to outbid other teams to get him. Placing him on the practice squad would likely mean him being poached by one of those other teams they out-bid. Still, the San Diego State product may be too raw to count on for game days. He will also have to distinguish himself from the likes of Malcom Bunche (last year’s version of Greene) and Josh Andrews (the 2014 version of Greene). Andrews can play guard and center, but so can Rimington Trophy winner Barrett Jones, who played for offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland at Alabama. The fact that Stoutland remains from Kelly’s coaching staff is significant is that a lot of the backup candidates, not counting the two rookies and Wisniewski, have been his pet projects for several years and his opinion may be valued when it comes to the last spot or two.

DEFENSE

Defensive Line (10): *Connor Barwin, *Bennie Logan, *Fletcher Cox, *Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, Mike Martin, Alex McAlister, Bryan Braman, Travis Long, Marcus Smith.

Summary: This will be an interesting spot to watch, and a lot remains unclear as to how Schwartz will make all the pieces fit. Curry may not start but could wind up playing the second-most snaps – behind Cox, who is considered one of the league’s best inside forces – as he can rotate with Barwin and Graham at end and slide inside next to Cox on passing downs. The last time Graham played in a Wide-9 front, it was the tail-end of the ill-fated 2012 season and he Eagles-Barwin excitedproved to be a lone highlight. He moved to outside linebacker in Billy Davis’ 3-4 defense, and did well enough, but he will be most at home again now at defensive end. Barwin (left), an assignment-sound OLB, has bulked up in preparation to playing defensive end, but remains an option to play linebacker again if there are injuries, as the depth there (see below) is rail thin. Martin, a third-round pick of the Tennessee Titans in 2012, was a quiet free agent signing. He is familiar to Schwartz, and fits the system better than 2014 draft picks Beau Allen and Taylor Hart, neither of whom is likely to stick. While Allen has always given good effort as a backup nose tackle, he is a pure nose tackle. Hart lacks the girth for inside and quicks for outside in an attacking 4-3 alignment.

McAlister, the seventh-round pick out of Florida, comes in with more potential than production. He will likely make the team but not the game-day roster. With Dave Fipp staying on to coach special teams, it is unlikely Braman goes. He is getting a shot to play defensive end, his college position, but could end up at linebacker. Long, who has had nothing but hard luck with serious injuries, has shown enough to never be an injury buyout and could be if the feel-good story of the preseason – if he stays healthy. He – and 2014 first-round pick Marcus Smith, who may be riding in his last rodeo before being branded as a complete bust – add the theoretical ability to swing between defensive end and linebacker. There are three undrafted defensive tackles – Aziz Shittu (Stanford), Connor Wujciak (Boston College) and Destiny Veao (Washington State) – who can either make a case to keep one less DE/OLB on the active roster or to land on the practice squad.

Linebacker (5): *Nigel Bradham, *Jordan Hicks, *Mychal Kendricks, Najee Goode, Joe Walker

Summary: Bradham is one of several players hand-picked by Schwartz and should fit in well alongside rising stars Kendricks and Hicks, who was in line to win Defensive Rookie of the Year last year before a season-ending pectoral injury. Hicks’ loss was a contributing factor in the team’s downward spiral as last season progressed, and he moves the epicenter of the defense now as the middle linebacker. Kendricks’ kryptonite has been nagging injuries. Otherwise, he is another playmaker likely to thrive with Schwartz calling the shots. The issue is depth, as Goode is the only other linebacker currently on the roster who has stepped on a NFL field. Joe Walker was drafted in the seventh round and should earn a one-year draftee pass onto the roster. A three-down inside linebacker at Oregon, he is likely to be worked in at all three spots. Unless someone like undrafted rookie Myke Tavarres – after putting up surreal numbers at a school called Incarnate Wood – makes the team, expect the depth to come from either a veteran castoff yet to be revealed or one of the several projected defensive ends mention above (Barwin, Long, Smith, Braman).

Defensive Back (10): *Nolan Carroll, u-Eric Rowe, *Malcolm Jenkins, *Rodney McLeod, Leodis McKelvin, Ron Brooks, Jalen Mills, Chris Maragos, Blake Countess, Ed Reynolds

Summary: The Achilles Heel of the defense for what seems like an eternity is hopefully about to get a boost from a consistent pass rush, linebackers who excel in coverage and the combination of substantive veteran additions and the natural growth of roster holdovers. There will be fierce competition here, not only for roster spots, but for a starting job at outside corner and at slot corner. Rowe, a second-round pick last year, seemed to play well enough as the world around him fell apart last season to solidify a starting job. However, nothing is being handed to him. As it stands now, “Schwartz guys” – McKelvin and Brooks – are listed ahead of him at both outside and the slot, but that may be just to get Rowe in synch with the new defense. Carroll will have to hang onto his job as well. On the back end, the signing of McLeod in free agency and placing him alongside Jenkins may give the Eagles one of the better safety tandems they have had in years. Meanwhile, seventh-round pick, Mills, has been the darling of the coaching staff and is getting long looks at corner, slot corner and safety.

Beyond those seven, the other three jobs are up for grabs. Maragos, like Braman and Burton, is a special teams standout. He had a shot to be the third safety last year, but was replaced in the second half of the season by the more athletic – but less physical – Reynolds. Countess is tough and versatile, and the fact that he is an incoming sixth-round pick helps his chances. For now, we’ll give the final three slots to Maragos, Reynolds and Countess but the situation remains fluid. A year ago, the coaches were so enthralled by sixth-round pick JaCorey Shepherd that they handed him the slot corner job and traded away Brandon Boykin. Right on cue, Shepherd tore his ACL, and the Eagles lost games because they were badly exploited in the slot. Randall Evans was also a 2015 sixth-round pick who didn’t elevate himself to active roster until the last game of the season. Denzel Rice was the only undrafted rookie to make the team last year, but was rarely used after a strong preseason. Another player in the mix is Jaylen Watkins, formerly a fourth-round pick of the Eagles who was cut and then re-signed off of Buffalo’s practice squad. He was forced into emergency duty last year at corner and held his own. He is getting a look at safety this year, which could put heat on either Maragos or Reynolds.

Longsnapper (1): u-Jon Dorenbos

Summary: If the new coaching staff wanted to hand the job to the tenured Dorenbos, who is nearly flawless on snaps but may be losing a step getting downfield in coverage, then why would they have undrafted rookie Chris DePalma on the roster?

Punter (1): Donnie Jones.

Summary: Jones may not be Ray Guy, or even Sean Landeta, but he is a steady pro. He is also the holder, although Daniel can handle those chores as well.

Kicker (1): u-Cody Parkey.

Summary: Who would have thought that Parkey, a Pro Bowl kicker as a rookie in 2014, would be locked in a battle for his job with the guy who replaced him when went down for the count early in the season? That guy would be Caleb Sturgis, whose college resume at Florida was impressive enough for the Miami Dolphins to invest a fifth-round pick in him in 2013. His inconsistency forced them to release him last preseason, but he found his form with the Eagles – after some early shakiness – and is now being given a chance to unseat Parkey. Based on the eye test, and the presumption he is healthy, the nod goes to Parkey. This will be one of the more interesting sub-plots – along with analyzing every breath Wentz takes and watching 6-4, 295-pound undrafted Dillon Gordon (LSU) play tight end – during the preseason.

This analysis also appeared at http://www.phillyphanatics.com

Long Walk Home

MacLeish

By GORDON GLANTZ

Gordonglantz50@gmail.com

@Managing2Edit

Been giving a lot of thought lately to what it means to grow old.

Being on the north side of 50, if only by a year, will do that to a guy.

More or less, I still love – or at least like, or am bemused by – the same music and television shows from my youth (while picking up some strays along the road of life).

I am still given to bouts of unabashed to immaturity, often manifested by practical jokes with Sofia serving as my assistant.

And that little girl, sometimes 9 going on 19 and sometimes 9 going on 19 months, keeps me young in so many ways.

Yeah, there are the physical reminders – less hair up top and more girth in the gut.

And I am mastering the art of small talk. I can do the wave and nod thing and the final plunge of discussing the weather and traffic patterns.

But I think we age as we lose drip on our youth.

Listening to Bruce Springsteen 24/7 won’t halt that that inevitability.

No one gets out of here alive.

We lose our grandparents, our parents, our aunts and uncles and we age with each loss.

By the time we lose our friends, well, you don’t need a calendar to tell you how old you are.

Rick MacLeish was not a personal friend of mine. I met the man twice. Once, I wait in long line at car dealership – Matt Slapp Something or Other (I think Chevrolet, but don’t hold me to that) in the Northeast – but they hustled us all through the line pretty quickly.

My heart pounded as I approached. He quietly asked my name and I stammered with a response. He proceeded to spell it incorrectly – G-O-R-D-E-N – which is actually amazing, considering the number of people named Gordon, like Gordon Lightfoot, from his native Canada.

Because of the length of the line, my impatient stepfather told me he would be back to pick me up. Because of the precision of the movement of the line, he was nowhere to be found when I was done. So, I did what any stupid 9-year-old would do.

I walked home.

By the time I got there, the late autumn chill had taken its toll and my mother put me in a warm a tub. I didn’t quite understand my stepfather’s panic when he got back to Matt Slapp, but I can only imagine how I would feel – actually I can’t – if the same thing happened with Sofia if she were waiting in line for an autograph from Becky G (her second-favorite teen idol behind Sabrina Carpenter).

When he saw me in the tub, he couldn’t get too mad. I was home. And, really, he should have waited and he knew it.

But this was 1974. Parents didn’t see child abductors lurking on every corner. We played, out of view, until dark.

My favorite sport to play was street hockey, pretending to be like guys like Rick MacLeish.

All was forgotten and I went to bed happy, despite any panic I caused. I had interfaced with my second-favorite Flyer – Bobby Clarke was like Secretariat pulling away from Sham in the Belmont Stakes – and I had his autograph (I had Clarke’s too, but it was not from a personal encounter).

The second meeting with MacLeish was a bit different. I was acting in a professional manner as working member of the press at the Philadelphia Sports Writer’s dinner in Cherry Hill. I walked out of the press room to look for Tommy Lasorda (I worked for the Norristown paper, and we were required to write about Lasorda whenever he passed gas) and almost collided with someone around my own size.

He politely said “excuse me” and timidly stepped aside. His face, like any of the Broad Street Bullies, was unmistakable.

“Rick MacLeish,” I pronounced, much more confident than when I was nine, introducing myself as he shifted his beer to his left hand and shook mine.

We spoke for about five minutes, tops, during which I did most of the talking in a quiet corner where there were so many other Philadelphia sports icons walking around that no one would have even noticed.  I told him he was my second-favorite Flyer, about the Matt Slapp incident and how I spent hours in my garage trying to replicate the quickness and power of his surreal wrist shot.

I also told MacLeish that whenever my father manage to get tickets for a game – no easy task in that time frame –  he always scored a goal, and that I even saw a hat trick or two.

He quipped that he would have gotten me season tickets if he had known.

We also talked about the goal he scored against the Boston Bruins in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, which held up for the duration in a 1-0 win. He explained that the deflection was not an accident. He explained that he and Andre “Moose” Dupont tirelessly worked on it in practice. Dupont would shoot it about an inch off the ice and he would deflect it. By the time the situation arose in the game, it was like second nature. For the first time in a game situation, it worked.

He joked that the other power-play point men, Bill Barber and Tom Bladon, shot too hard to spend time on it with them but that “Moose shot it nice and slow, but accurately, and could only get it as high as around the ankles anyway.”

I saw Lasorda – actually, I heard him, too – from the corner of my eye. I was promised five minutes to do a power interview, so I had to excuse myself. MacLeish shook my hand again (hockey players were always gentlemen) and blended back into the crowd from which he came.

I spotted him again, alone in a corner of the VIP area, and thought about resuming the conversation. But I had a story to write, and wanted it out of the way before the dinner, and I didn’t want the man to think I was some sort of a stalker.

So, those are my Rick MacLeish stories. It might be a sign of age, but neither is ever told that often.

From time to time, I would run into someone from overnight camp or somewhere else in my youth, and they would luckily remember me more for my wrist shot than by buck teeth and Jewfro.

My response would be that “I got it from watching MacLeish.”

And I starting watching MacLeish again.

Part of staying young, I suppose, has been some small semblance of computer literacy. The Flyers’ first of two cups is recalled most by the final series, with Clarke winning Game 2 in overtime and MacLeish’s tally in Game 6 that goalie Bernie Parent would preserve, but they got there by edging past a New Rangers team in seven games that was probably better than Boston.

I found Game 7 of the Ranger series on You Tube and what immediately struck me was how dominant MacLeish was in that decisive contest.

And after he passed away this past week at age 66, I watched it again. The whole thing.

It made me feel young.

It made me feel old.

Most of all, it made me feel he was worth that long walk home.

 

 

 

Ring of Fire

Wentz4

By GORDON GLANTZ

Gordonglantz50@gmail.com

@Managing2Edit

GORDONVILLE — I like Carson Wentz.

Maybe not as much as I like Bernie Sanders or Bruce Springsteen, but I like him enough.

And what’s not to the like about the young man the Eagles have christened their quarterback of the future after trading away a treasure trove of prime draft picks to the draft pick-hoarding Cleveland Browns for the right to select the North Dakota State product with the second overall in the 2016 NFL Draft?

Wentz has all the physical attributes – the size, the arm, the athleticism – to go along with enough intangibles, such as polite and down-to-earth manner, to fill open spaces in both of the Dakotas.

He was valedictorian of his senior class in high school, graduated college with a 4.0 grade-point average and scored a near-perfect 40 on the Wonderlic intelligence test at the NFL scouting combine.

Wentz, who quarterbacked the Bison to a pair of FCS (Division I-AA to us old-heads) titles, endeared himself to coach Doug Pederson and his staff by mastering parts of the team’s intended offensive scheme with a near-photographic memory that may prove to be more of a secret weapon on frosty Linc Sundays in December than a rifle arm that cuts through the wind.

But with all there is to like, let’s not fall in love just yet.

We need to go through a bit of a courtship, maybe even holding off on kissing on the first date. Doing so may give both us and Wentz a bad rep.

And we want this marriage to last.

If all goes according to the best-laid plans – which, in the NFL, often have the lifespan of homes in tornado alley – Wentz will come of age and take the full-time reins sometime in the middle of next season or at the beginning of 2018.

At that point, the rival Cowboys and Giants will be either bathing Tony Romo and Eli Manning in the fountain of youth or bidding them adieu.

With all due respect to Kirk Cousins in Washington, Wentz and his elite skill set – hopefully fine-tuned by coaches like Pederson, offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo – should put the Eagles a step ahead of the division.

That should, with the operative word being “should,”  mean free passes to the playoffs, and a path – dare we dream – to not only making the Super Bowl a time or two in his decade-plus under center, but actually winning.

I don’t know about you, but that occurrence would mean I could die – no, not literally – and go to sports-fan heaven.

Anything less, and it is the same purgatory we are in.

Anything less, and the steep bounty paid to Cleveland in draft choices – and you have to attach real names to the players lost in exchange to gain full perspective – was a deal with the devil that set the organization and its tortured fans back for an insurmountable time.

It will likely costly general manager (or whatever he calls himself) Howie Roseman his job, as well as Pederson.

Wentz could be OK, like current place-holder quarterback Sam Bradford (assuming his hissy fit ends before he starts costing himself money), or he could make Pro Bowls and re-write the team’s record books, like another No. 2 overall pick, Donovan McNabb.

It still would not matter.

The NFL graveyard is full of first-round quarterbacks who were either all-out busts (Tim Couch, Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf, David Carr, etc.) who had can’t-miss attributes as well. But there are rare exceptions – Tom Brady (sixth round) and Joe Montana (third) – where a Super Bowl winning quarterback was not of that pedigree.

It was a big step to go there, and it went against the comfort zones of many in the Eagles Nation – myself included – to pull the trigger on Wentz.

By doing so, the stakes were raised to all-or-nothing status.

When you consider the average price of a house in 1960 – the year of the last Eagles championship – was less than $13,000, maybe it was a move that had to be made.

Ironically, Wentz will don uniform No. 11 – forcing Chris Givens to No. 19 after Givens sent Josh Huff to the equipment manager for No. 13 – and there is some symbolism beyond that it is his number of choice.

In 1960, the quarterback, Norm Van Brocklin, wore No. 11. The two titles before that were in 1948 and 1949. The quarterback was Tommy Thompson. Guess what number he wore on his jersey?

So, there it is.

A career that mirrors that of McNabb, who went 1-for-5 in NFC Championship games and 0-for-1 in his one Super Bowl against Brady and the Patriots, is not good enough.

Sorry, but it’s not.

We like Carson Wentz now, and there is no reason not to like him.

In order to fall in love, and get married to his legacy, there needs to be a ring on his finger.

This column originally appeared at http://www.phillyphanatics.com