Category Archives: Sports

Missing My Missed Opportunities

SingleBullet

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — And there I was, in the VIP Room at Presidential Caterers, acting like a 12-year-old kid in the presence of Dick Vermeil.

The guest speaker for the 17th Annual Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame banquet was holding court with many willing sycophants, and I was among the jesters hanging on every word and hoping my laugh track was synched up with the guy talk that strayed into activities that are against the law in Gordonville: Hunting, golfing and feeling sorrowful if Penn State chokes away a game.

I never got Vermeil alone – except briefly by the cheese and crackers to tell him that John Pergine gives his regards – but I had ample opportunities to let him know I was no ersatz Eagles fan.

And I refrained from saying two words that may have sent him on an infamous tirade and out the door.

Those words: Mike Michel.

Who? Sigh, let’s go through the past darkly.

While the Eagles steadily improved through the 1970s, particularly with Vermeil’s arrival, their kicking game remained atrocious.

Until it was solidified by drafting a kicker (Tony Franklin) and a punter (Max Runager) after the 1978 season, one which saw Vermeil guide the Birds to the playoffs for the first time since their championship season of 1960, it was a litany of no-leg names: Kickers like Happy Feller (no lie), Horst Muhlmann (as awful as his name) and Ove Johansson (made a 69-yarder in college and couldn’t make a 69-footer in the pros) and punters like Spike Jones (the band leader would have been an upgrade) and Rick Engles.

After Engles proved no better than Jones, Michel was brought off the street corner halfway through the 1978 season to take his place.

He had been a draft pick of the Dolphins, and punters aren’t drafted that often, so there was anticipation in the air when Michel dropped back for his first punt at the Vet.

Whiff City.

I don’t mean shank.

I mean whiff.

He did something we were beyond as young teens in the schoolyard. He missed the ball altogether.

At that point, you could even boo – or look for Santa Claus to accost with snowballs or beer bottles. We just laughed as Michel averaged 3 yards on his first three punts.

He became mediocre enough as a punter to ride out the season, but Vermeil made the fateful choice to have Michel – an OK college kicker at Stanford — also serve as a placekicker when Nick Mick-Mayer was injured.

In the playoffs against Atlanta, the Eagles built a 13-0 lead – despite a missed extra-point and field goal by Michel that would have made it 17-0 – and fell behind, 14-13, before Ron Jaworski drove them into field goal range (and some guy named Oren Middelbrook almost made a diving one-handed catch for a touchdown). With time running out, Michel missed a 34-yarder that would have made everyone’s Christmas merry (the game was played on Christmas Eve).

Not asking Vermeil about Michel was not the first time I chose discretion over valor, and it put me in mind of my handful of chances with Sen. Arlen Specter, as it just so happened that two days after the banquet, Nov. 22, was the 55th anniversary of the assassination of then-President John F. Kennedy Jr. in Dealey Plaza in Dallas.

In a past lifetime, in the more isolated atmosphere of editorial board meetings, I had more than one chance to go a few rounds with the late – and occasionally great – Specter.

We talked current events, and he decried gridlock inside the beltway and gerrymandering, but we kept the past buried.

Here in Gordonville, it was only fitting that a turkey shoot on Nov. 22, 1963 took place on Turkey Day 55 years later.

While we only display Festivus poles in public, it is taught in our schools that the assassination remains unsolved.

The official story – one that Specter, then an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia with wide-eyed ambitions, helped sell for the Warren Report — is that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone by hitting JFK with pinpoint accuracy with two shots after missing the car with the first.

Instead of Mike Michel, I could have gone with “single bullet.”

The problem with the theory was that one of the two connecting bullets zigzagged up and down and in and out and all around in order to do all the damage it did – all while emerging in nearly pristine condition on a stretcher at the hospital.

With witnesses hearing shots fired from other directions, including the grassy knoll that would have provided ideal cover for a gunman to fire the kill shot, there had to be an explanation to tie it all up in a neat little bow.

And as the years passed, and in spite of a multiplicity of theories that get shut down, the damage to the truth was permanent.

Specter was able to carve a solid career for himself as a politician – Philadelphia DA from 1966-74 and US Senator from 1981-2011 — and was one of the few Republicans, which he was for most of his career, I voted for on a regular basis.

But he still lost points for being a willing participant in this trail gone as a cold as the current president’s heart.

Football coaches, like Vermeil, can learn as they go about saving a roster spot and hoping to get by with a punter as a placekicker, as he never treated the kicking game as an afterthought again.

There appears to be no such contrition from Specter, who passed away in the fall of 2012.

If I had questioned him on it, my only satisfaction would be to have a story to tell while in my rocking chair.

While Specter would have reverted to the form that made him captain of the Yale Law School debating team, I would have reverted to the form that made me an oft-penalized captain of my street hockey team.

But that wouldn’t have made him right, or me wrong.

It would just make me part of the 61 percent of Americans, as compared to 33 percent, who believe “others were involved” in the assassination.

The explanation from those who don’t want us to believe it in a conspiracy is that we can’t handle the truth, with that truth being that a loser and loner like Oswald could kill such a powerful and wonderful man.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m not even living in that galaxy, let alone zip code.

If a total dingbat can become president – witness Exhibit A on the news every day – it is more than conceivable that a doofus like Oswald could kill the president in a time when security was a lot more lackadaisical.

The problem is that the evidence, despite the efforts of the likes of Specter, is as shaky as a kick off the foot of Mike Michel.

This column originally ran in The Times Herald on Dec. 2

Finland Is A Fine Land

Norther_lights_Konsta_Punkka_VisitFinland-1524828443696

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — I’m all for challenging myself and going after that Holy Grail.

But, sometimes, you just have to grab the low-hanging fruit and gorge upon it.

Such was the case a few days – and 1,606 news cycles — ago when your president (#notmypresident) decided to pull the toilet paper off his shoe and visit the devastation caused by wildfires in his least favorite state, California, for a photo op of feigned caring.

But it was just more bungle in the jungle for your president (I’m going to act like an 8-year-old on this name thing for as long as he does on his Twitter feed) tried to do two things that are out his wheelhouse: He tried sounding both empathetic (an impossible task for a sociopath), and intelligent.

Pres. Bone Spurs (as so dubbed by presidential candidate Richard Ojeda) pulled Finland out of his baseball cap, citing it as a shining example of wildfire management because of something to do with leaves – raking too much, not enough, whatever.

And Mr. Science attributed the source of this knowledge to Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto.

The response from Finland was quick.

Amid a flurry of #RakeAmericaGreatAgain hashtags – along with some hilarious pictures — from the small Nordic beacon of light that plays some big-time ice hockey, Niinisto made no mention of “raking” anything in a brief generic conversation on the topic.

Somebody is fibbing, and I don’t need to wait on the fact-checkers to know who.

Without getting too in depth here, let’s just say that Finland and the US, especially California, are vastly different climates.

You may as well compare Hawaii and the North Pole, or Earth and Vulcan.

Chalk it up to yet another in an assembly line of ignorant statements, any of which would have had White Nationalists surrounding the White House if said by Barrack Obama.

But since Pres. Bone Spurs went there, comparing the U.S. to Finland, let’s stay there.

Please.

This is low-hanging fruit at its sweetest (well, maybe second to the first daughter using private e-mails, Hillary-style).

If Pres. Bone Spurs wants to rip pages out of the Finnish playbook, instead of that of Vladimir Putin and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, consider the following as we move from gibberish about Finland’s raking acumen to its actual world rankings, which include No. 7 in Quality of Life Index (U.S. News & World Report) as compared to No. 17 for us in U.S.

Here is a good one, considering the constant labeling of the free press as the “enemy of the people.” Finland is currently No. 4 in the world (Reporters Without Borders’ Worldwide Freedom of the Press Index). This means the Finns are doing the First Amendment thing better than we are, as the same index has the US ranked a pathetic 45th (behind the likes of Jamaica, Uruguay, Trinidad and Tobego and Taiwan).

What’s next? Countries beating us at our games, like baseball and basketball? Oh, wait, never mind.

Had enough? No? Good. In the immortal words of Clubber Lang in Rocky III (one movie before the series jumped the shark), “I got a lotta more.”

Here we go. Finland has these notches in its belt:

-Best environmental performance (Environmental Performance Index) and cleanest environment (World Health Organization).

-Most Technologically advanced (UN’s Technology Achievement Index). Funny how that works, while not selling their souls in terms of being environmentally conscious.

-Most Olympic medals per capita (population is only 5.5 million, and yet they whip our butts).

If you recall the mumbo jumbo from the campaign season, Pres. Bone Spurs talked a lot about “law and order.” Guess he meant the TV show.

So far, we have averaged about a mass shooting per game since his reign of error began.

Finland? Thanks for asking.

Consider the following:

-Finland is the safest country in the world (Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report) and ranks a second in police and internal security (World Internal Security and Police Index).

Pres. Bone Spurs might be enlightened to learn that Finland is second to only Denmark in free and most reliable elections (Electoral Integrity Project of the University of Sydney and our own Harvard), and has the third least corruption in the world (Corruption Perceptions Index).

And before you start with the typical angry white male responses of “if you like Finland so much, go move there, you Commie-Pinko,” consider that one of Finland’s most powerful political parties is the Democratic Socialist party.

What does that type of Bernie Sanders governance do to the economy?

Well, Finland, with the soundest banks in the world (Global Competiveness Report), has one of the best performing economies in the EU.

And yet, it blows us away more than the Saints did to the Eagles in terms of health and wellness rankings across the board.

Publicly funded, with universal healthcare available to all, Finland ranks in the top five in the world in satisfaction.

So, why don’t I move there? Aside from not enough Bruce Springsteen on the radio (or Taylor Swift for Sofia) and “real” football on TV (assuming the Eagles ever play “real football” again), Finland leads the world in milk and coffee consumption (my sensitive liberal system can’t handle either).

Besides, it’s not a question of loving it or leaving it, is it?

I don’t want to move to New Orleans just because the Eagles got destroyed, do I?

In order to be heartbroken by something, you have to love it. I love my country, which is why I’m so heartbroken by it right now.

As for those leaves, Pres. Bone Spurs, I have an idea. There are some Honduran refugees who would be willing to rake them – probably while the embers are still burning — in exchange for asylum.

I’m sure Finland would approve.

This column first appeared in The Times Herald

Vermeil Had Long Reach

Vermeil

 

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — When you’re born in 1965, you really can’t say you were at Woodstock hearing Jimi Hendrix play the national anthem or protesting the 1968 Democratic Convention alongside Abbie Hoffman and keep a straight face.

I am, for better or worse, a Brady Bunch-watching child of the 1970s.

As a sign of the times, my relationship with my dad – who I saw only on weekends as an interloper with his new family (the anti-Brady Bunch) — was a bit … odd.

Even though we shared the same birthday (March 23), we did not share the same wavelength.

Some of it was gender-related, as fathers and sons kept those stiff upper lips and “acted like men.” Some of it was just because, I don’t know, it was just … odd.

English was our second language. To really communicate, we had to press 1 for sports.

And if something was on my mind, or his, it was woven into a sports-related conversation.

Better than nothing, as far as conversation starters go, but there was still an issue not even a family counselor could solve.

The decade began with the Philadelphia teams we both loved so deeply were all pretty much pitiful, meaning most conversations were in the context of sub-.500 teams.

Yeah, by the middle of the decade, the Flyers were the talk of the town – and in my dad’s car when he would pick me up on Friday after school for the weekend – but he really wasn’t a hockey guy (even though it was, far and away, my best sport).

“I don’t give a damn about Rick MacLeish,” I remember him bellowing, while almost getting into an accident (a common occurrence, as he was the world’s worst driver).

The reality is that the sun rose and set with the Eagles.

For most of the 1970s, the NFL season was just 14 games (as opposed to 16 now). That was a lot of excitement for just a few Sundays of the 52 in a year.

There were some exciting moments, like when my father jumped up and banged his head on the ceiling of our den when Roman Gabriel found Don Zimmerman for a game-winning touchdown, but it was mostly as painful to watch as it was to listen to us try to talk to each like normal people (for example, that pass was the first win of a 1973 season that began 0-4).

Our relationship improved through the latter part of the 1970s and we able to connect better – not perfectly, but better – as the 70s morphed into the 1980s and beyond.

I can credit a lot of people for that, including myself for learning how to make use of defense mechanisms and to sometimes just be the bigger person.

The list of those who unknowingly helped would include Dick Vermeil, who Bridgeport’s Leonard Tose took a gamble on – pun intended – and hired in 1976 after Vermeil led UCLA to a 23-10 upset win over Ohio State in the Rose Bowl (future Eagle John Sciarra was the MVP of the game, throwing two touchdown passes to another future Eagle, Wally Henry).

Vermeil’s Eagles were not better right away, going 4-10 that first season, but there was a totally different vibe.

By 1977, the Vermeil’s Birds were more competitive than their 5-9 record indicated, as they scored more total points for the season than they gave up while enduring agonizing losses to the kind of teams that used to blow them away. They made the playoffs in 1978 and won a playoff game in 1979, both firsts since the NFL championship of 1960.

And we all know – or should – about the 1980 season, when the Eagles won the NFC title (only to lose in the Super Bowl, during which I saw my father drink a beer for the first – and last — time ever).

During that stretch of glory years, we cheered more than jeered and a lot of tension was lifted. While the other Philadelphia teams matched the pace (the Phillies won it all in 1980 and the Sixers in 1983), the Eagles were the main course.

We enjoyed each other’s company, laughed and shared inside jokes.

And English – not sports – became our first language.

Being in Veterans Stadium with my father on Jan. 11, 1981 – the 20-7 dismantling of the same Dallas team we had watch annihilate us so many times (like the fist-ever game there, a 42-6 shellacking) — was one of the best father-son experiences of my lifetime.

It was 17 degrees – with a wind-chill factor of about minus-114 — that day at the Vet, but hearts were permanently warmed.

That’s the kind of ripple effect a perfectionist/workaholic football coach, who came here with no draft picks and coached who he had until he cultivated some tangible talent to coach, can have on complete strangers.

And, with all due respect to Doug Pederson, Vermeil will always be the “coach” of the Eagles in Gordonville.

A young boy – broken home or not — only has one set of formative years, and Vermeil was the coach who showed us that Sundays don’t have to be as bitter as the weather.

What brings me back here from exile to share this? Well, it just so happens Vermeil will be at Presidential Caterers Nov. 20 for the 17th Annual Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame banquet (call 610-279-9220 for tickets) as the guest speaker.

As a longtime board member and chairman of the selection committee, I may have some access to Vermeil, but not as much as one would think. I certainly won’t be able to tell him all he did for me. At best, I’ll get in a handshake and a quick selfie (and I take the world’s worst selfies, so it will probably be of our shoes).

So, I’m saying what I have to say now.

Thank you, coach.

From both of us.

This column first appeared in The Times Herald on Nov. 4.

Our Five: Rare Birds with Wings

Sullivan

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — It happens every August.

Eagles fans – even in the afterglow of the ultimate prize – are ready for some football, even if it comes in the form of a messy version of the real thing that is preseason.

Excitement often turns to disappointment, as starters – and even familiar names further down the depth chart – don’t get much meaningful playing time.

But before you threw up your hands during Thursday’s preseason opener (7 p.m.) against the Steelers and send your bowl of pretzel sticks tumbling to the floor, wondering who these guys are up on your TV screens, take it from this guy that all is not lost.

In the midst of the madness and chaos, where yellow penalty flags go flying by like beach chairs in a tornado, there are some players in Eagle green who are not just dressed up for Halloween.

You need not re-watch the movie “Invincible” about the ultimate story of an undrafted free agent, Vince Papale, for inspiration. As recently as 2014, I picked an undrafted free agent – an undersized tight end from Florida named Trey Burton – out of the chorus and predicted he would be pegged for a solo. With the “Philly Special” – and a lot of other clutch catches and special teams efforts – in our heads, we know how that worked out. Burton has parlayed that success into greener pastures – literally and figuratively – as he signed with the Chicago Bears in the offseason to a contract that will made him the eighth highest paid tight end in the league.

Last year, as a public service, I provided a list of five players to watch in preseason. My only mistake – one that will not be repeated – was not doing it alphabetically, as Corey Clement would have been listed first instead of fourth (behind David Watford, Aaron Grymes and Joe Walker and in front of Randall Goforth).

A year later, Walker is still on the team as a backup middle linebacker after starting a handful a games last year. Goforth was released just before training camp began.

Clement, meanwhile, was a vital role player in the offense all season and saved his best for last, with four catches out of the backfield for 100 yards and a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

A good portion of the 53-man roster seems locked down with returnees, offseason signees and draft picks. Still, there a spots – even of the developmental variety on the practice squad – to be had.

Let’s take a look – in alphabetical look – at some candidates to catch your wandering August eye:

Josh Adams, RB: The Eagles have a crowded backfield picture, and the top three – Jay Ajayi, Clement and Darren Sproles – are roster locks who are likely to see much action. For what may be just one active roster spot behind them, there is a posse of Wendell Smallwood, Matt Jones and last year’s draft bust, Donnel Pumphrey. Adams, as an undrafted free agent (despite being considered a mid-round pick going into the annual cattle call), would seem to be fodder. However, the Bucks County native has some pedigree. He had a strong senior year at Notre Dame (1,430 yards to give him a fifth-best of 3,198 for his Irish career) and, at 6-foot-2, 213 pounds, strikes a noticeable pose. While he may have to wait it out a year on the practice squad, the Central Bucks South grad will get plenty of touches in the first two preseason games.

Rashard Davis, WR: After posting insane punt return numbers at FCS James Madison as a senior, the diminutive Davis (5-9, 175) was waiting tables in Charlottesville, Va. – right before the tragedy there – when the Eagles called after Sproles went down for the year. He was on and off the practice squad, but will get plenty of chances to field punts – and turn heads – while Sproles sits out the preseason. His time on the back end of the roster likely means Davis was schooled on the nuances of playing the slot, so he could make inroads as the fifth or sixth receiver there. A lot a guys – from last year’s fifth-round pick Shelton Gibson to converted quarterback Greg Ward Jr. to frequent Eagle Bryce Treggs – will be battling for one or two spots behind a locked in top four (Alshon Jeffery, Nelson Agholor, Mike Wallace and Mack Hollins) and maybe another one or two on the practice squad. Don’t be surprised if the shortest guy is left standing.

Joe Ostman , DE: It is not an exaggeration to say that Ostman, despite not having projectable NFL athleticism, was one of the best defensive players in college football. Just last year, Ostman (6-3, 255) had 19½ tackles for a loss (45½ for his career) and 13 sacks (26 career). He was considered a Day 3 pick who might be best suited as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 alignment. Here, with a wide-9 attack, he is a low-risk/high-reward longshot for the active roster at one of team’s deepest positions, but he will get a long look and could earn training time on the practice squad (and a second I-told-you-so mentioned here next year). Without much raw athletic ability, his high motor clearly runs on a lot of fuel, and Philly rightfully loves that as much as mustard on a soft pretzel.

Tre Sullivan, S: Even with Corey Graham back in the fold and Chris Maragos returning from injury, don’t be surprised if a safety you never heard of before lands on the final 53-man roster and another on the practice squad. Despite playing at Division III Shepherd, Sullivan was in camp last year, hit everything that moved and was promptly brought back for another chance to refine his game. Two other rookie free agent safeties – Jeremy Reaves and Stephen Roberts – are in the mix, but Sullivan may have an edge in his second camp.

Toby Weathersby, OT: Two guarantees. One, the media focus will be on seventh-round pick Jordan Mailata, who never played a snap of football before being drafted. Two, the more prepared player for right now will be Weathersby (6-4, 317), who played big-time college football at LSU. What that will mean when the final cuts come is hard to say, but if you look who is plowing holes for the likes of Adams to run through, it just might be No. 74.

This article originally appeared at phillyphanatics.com.

Part of a Bigger Situation

trump-james

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — Everything is a situation.

That phrase comes up from time to time during NYPD Blue, an all-time favorite television program of mine that was the subject of a recent binge-watching session.

And my life experience is that the phrase holds true to form – certainly much better that what it is or is not the hard truth or who is or is not right or wrong at any given moment.

In an interview on CNN, LeBron James accused Pres. David Dennison – aka John Barron, aka John Miller — of trying to use sports to divide the country, and Mr. Thin Skin couldn’t help but respond.

In a hissy-fit response on Twitter (yeah, that’s what we’ve come to in this ongoing situation in our broken nation) stating that James is wrong – kind of like how he rudely bellowed wrong, repeatedly, when Hillary Clinton was trying to speak in a debate – he is not wrong.

Not 100 percent anyway.

Everything is a situation.

And in this situation – sadly – it seems like it was a much larger umbrella under which sports falls.

It is joined there with other forms of red meat that Dennison/Barron/Miller throws to his rabid base – from supporting the Second Amendment to saying “Merry Christmas” is vital to combat a contrived war on Christianity to being inhumane to other humans seeking asylum here (just like so many of our ancestors did back in the days of alleged greatness).

Dennison/Barron/Miller pulls out this well-worn stunt when putting himself on tour in friendly Deplorable terrain in a blatant — and pathetic — act of self-affirmation.

This is all coded language, and it’s meant to divide – not unite – at its rotted core.

The sports part of it predates the regrettable results of election, where the perfect storm of the arcane Electoral College and an uninspiring Democratic candidate with a virtual mannequin as her running mate led to the surprising outcome, as it goes to back to the summer of 2016, back when his election seemed unthinkable. That’s when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began not standing (he sat the first time and then kneeled, out of respect to veterans) for the national anthem.

My personal feeling — other than that “This Land Is Your Land” should be the national anthem — was that Kaepernick was probably protesting the fact that then-49er coach Chip Kelly was starting a middling white quarterback, Blaine Gabbert, over him for the third preseason game (a sign that Gabbert had won the job) than he was any major injustice to people of his race. (Kaepernick is actually biracial and was raised, middle class, by white adoptive parents).

But everything is a situation.

And, whether intended for not, the situation turned into something bigger than what it was probably intended, which was the way people of color are treated by police and the criminal justice system as a whole.

For a while, it caught on. The louder the outcry, the more other players knelt.

And then, like a dance craze, it seemed to fade.

While the issue at hand became more enmeshed into the national debate, NFL players either moved on or – like Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins – took it to another level, being constructive in addressing the issue instead of symbolic.

So when Pres. Dennison/Barron/Miller stood up in front of a crowd of trained seals in Alabama (where else?) during the heart of last football season and talked about players (“sons of bitches”) not standing for the national anthem, he was a day late and a dollar short.

It was, for all intents and purposes, a dead issue.

But what’s the difference when tossing chum to chumps, right?

And when you need to pump up those approval ratings and divert attention away from the crisis du jour, well, everything is a situation.

There were an estimated 10-15 players – league-wide – still kneeling at the time of the Alabama diatribe. Kaepernick, no longer in the NFL, was not even among them.

The next Sunday, approximately 250 players of the nearly 1,500 in uniform engaged in forms of protest that including kneeling.

They made it clear why they were kneeling, and it had nothing to do with disrespecting the flag or the troops (that job is left to White House policies that send home spouses of servicemen because they are not “legal” immigrants).

In addition to criminal justice reform and how they perceive racial bias by police in the streets, they were protesting the occupant of the highest office for dealing low blows and saying they were “sons of bitches” (meaning he was, technically, referring to all their mothers as “bitches”) who should be “fired” from the profession that they scratched and clawed to buck extreme odds to join just for choosing a form of legal free speech during the national anthem.

Turns out, just for a point of reference, that the national anthem was never a big show that required players on the field until after the NFL and the military struck a deal on a mutually lucrative ad campaign in 2009.

From my experience of going to NFL games since 1970, most people pay little to no attention during the national anthem. They are late to stand, and early to sit. They continue to talk, take gulps from their warm overpriced beers and struggle to pull up their pants to cover the cracks of their asses. If I had to guess how much thought was going into the meaning of the national anthem and the flag, I’d say very little – certainly as compared to the players who followed Kaepernick’s lead and protested.

Some may argue it’s a respectful protest; others the opposite. A healthy debate would be welcomed, but that can’t happen without leadership, both from inside the Beltway and in NFL owner’s boxes, can it?

Since 2009, we see a bit more of a dog-and-pony show – complete with military jet flyovers to elicit “U-S-A, U-S-A” chants before games — after which players of multiple races and creeds bleed side by side for fans who are not divided.

If only it could last beyond the end of the game, huh?

Instead, the players shake hands and kneel together in prayer. Everyone else goes back to their little corners in this ongoing battle.

Everything is a situation.

A regrettable one.

In this ongoing situation, which has grown to include teams in those sports dominated by players of color exercising their rights as free citizens and not accepting invitations to the White House after winning championships, the broader national divide continues.

Is it just sports? No.

Are sports part of it? Yes, they are.

It has led to many of the president’s supporters going to the old fallback of saying James should just “shut up and dribble.” They may not realize that when they are going on record with such bombastic commentary, they are opening themselves up to anyone saying to them “just shut up and adjust insurance policies” or “just shut up and change the oil in that car,” etc.

We are divided – perhaps to the point of a cold Civil War – because it is beneficial for a president elected by virtue of self-made division and who will only get re-elected if he can keep it that way.

The list of divisive acts include funding the “birther” movement to prove previous president, Barack Obama, was not born in the United States (to be fair, Dennison/Barron/Miller may not have realized that Hawaii is part of the U.S.) and to saying there are “fine people on both sides” after the national disgrace that was Charlottesville.

How much more divisive can you get than that?

James, on the other hand, has the following quote attributed to him: “You have to accept failure to get better.”

That’s certainly a major difference between these two, as the one charged with the task of acting presidential never accepts failure for anything. Instead, he doubles down on it.

Hence, the lashing out at James (no comment on CNN host Don Lemon).

Fair? Let’s take a closer look, shall we?

In addition to being mentioned in the same breath as Michael Jordan and Wilt Chamberlain as the greatest basketball player of all time, James came off the streets of Akron and went straight from high school to the NBA to be paid more than $400K per week at the age of 18.

He was clearly born with amazing natural talent, but we all know – or should know – how the “Bronx Tale” axiom about the saddest thing in life being wasted talent. City playgrounds are full of guys in pickup games who were born with NBA talent who are not earning a paycheck to put a ball through a hoop.

James worked for everything he got.

But there is more.

James, who has been with the same woman for 15 years, has always been a solid citizen. He doesn’t even have a parking ticket on his record.

It would have been nice if he came to the 76ers as a free agent, positioning our hometown team for a title run, but this situation is bigger than that.

He wields as much, if not more, sway in this country as the president.

There is one difference, though. James has sent more than 1,100 kids to college. The president was busted for starting a university that proved to be, like many of his other ventures, a sham.

Yes, we are divided. Yes, sports is a part of it. Hard for anything not to be a part of it these days. Just the way you cut and chew your food or walk your dog is part of it.

Guess we just have to pick a side and ride the storm out until we’re rescued by the return of sanity.

While I personally would not kneel during the national anthem, I know which side I’m on.

Everything is a situation.

This column also appeared at phillyphanatics.com

 

 

 

Champ Camp: Digging the Depth

NFL: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Philadelphia Eagles

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — Is there a downside to being the defending Super Bowl champions?

Since no team has repeated in 13 tries, overcoming the odds would be one negative, but not on a par with trading it away for experiencing the ultimate thrill of victory.

A related downside is that most defending champions, even during the salary cap era of more turnover, head into that repeat season without a whole lot of healthy roster competition – or intriguing storylines – when the training wheels come off for training camp.

Nonetheless, while starting jobs may not be at stake, there will be roster battles for the world-champion Birds when the blocking sleds and Gatorade bottles come out.

In the case of the Eagles, some intrigue involves key players returning from injuries that kept them on the sidelines while earning rings for the run to glory.

Is that enough to make the 2018 preseason read like more of a page-turning mystery?

Let’s take our annual position-by-position look and search for clues:

OFFENSE

Quarterback: Still not sure why Carson Wentz missing the final three games of the regular season – especially when the final game meant nothing – disqualified him from MVP consideration, especially when it would not have if he missed the first three games and then came on strong, but that’s just a quirk in the system. The truth, while not getting too biblical here, is that Wentz was like Moses, leading us to the precipice of The Promised Land, while Nick Foles – Super Bowl MVP – was Joshua, who led the people there (after Moses died). The good news for the Eagles is that, while some trade offers for Foles were entertained, the trigger was not pulled. They have the best insurance policy this side of Lloyd’s of London. Nate Sudfeld, who some dumb-dumbs out there wanted to start in the playoffs after an OK performance in the regular-season finale, returns in an apprentice role while some guy named Joe – Joe Callahan – is the fourth arm with a ceiling of maybe sticking on the practice squad.

Running Back: This is the most crowded picture heading into camp and an area of the most intrigue. Counting on the healthy return of Darren Sproles, the Eagles will have a three-headed backfield of Jay Ajayi as the main ballcarrier and Corey Clement as the do-it-all No. 2 and Sproles hoping to reprise his role as the quintessential third-down back. How many backs will be carried is the main question? The choices range from dinged-but-talented Wendell Smallwood, last year’s fourth-round disappointment Donnel Pumphrey, journeyman Matt Jones and undrafted rookie out of Notre Dame – by way of CB South High School – Josh Adams. Sproles never played much in preseason before, so it’s doubtful he will this year. Ajayi has a bad wheel, so he won’t see the field much, either. The coaching staff will likely not want Clement, last year’s feel-good story out of camp who ended up with 100 receiving yards and a touchdown catch in the Super Bowl, carrying too much of the preseason load. That leaves the others with plenty of touches to separate the contenders from the pretenders for what could be one roster spot.

Smallwood

Wide Receiver: Because of the nature of preseason, where defensive units are usually hodge-podge messes playing vanilla coverage, this is often a time when no-name wideouts get a little bit of love – especially from those who can’t count up to 53 and don’t realize that eight receivers can’t make a roster. This year, with the Eagles, the main four spots are set with Alshon Jeffery and newcomer Mike Wallace outside, Nelson Agholor in the slot and emerging second-year man Mack Hollins, a special teams standout, all mortal locks. The question then becomes how many more receivers are kept? The answer may hinge, in part, on how many running backs are kept and/or how much the coaching staff plans to use tight ends in non-traditional ways. The next group of choices include another well-traveled veteran in Markus Wheaton, last year’s fifth-round pick Shelton Gibson and 49er-turned-Eagle-turned-Brown-turned-Eagle Bryce Treggs. Greg Ward Jr., who was on the practice squad last year as a converted quarterback, is a sleeper to back up Agholor in the slot while Rashard Davis could make a name for himself as a return man. There will be a lot of interest in a local player, Tim Wilson, who played at East Stroudsburg, but the beat writers would be best served to get their mandatory feature stories filed on him before the first cuts are made.

Tight End: The Eagles didn’t bring back Brent Celek and had no choice but to let Trey Burton walk in free agency, where the Bears made him the eighth-best paid tight end in the league. Behind emerging superstar Zach Ertz (left), veteran Richard Rodgers was signed from the Packers to ostensibly replace Celek while Dallas Goedert was drafted in the second round to replace Burton. That leaves little roster space for a plethora of tight ends in camp. Billy Brown was a record-setting possession wide receiver in college, albeit at Division III Shepherd, and spent last season learning the tight end trade while on the practice squad. Adam Zaruba is a total project as a Canadian rugby player, while Joshua Perkins is a hybrid tight end/receiver who has been on the practice squad of the Falcons.

Offensive Line: If the Eagles don’t have the best offensive line in football, the unit is pretty close. Pending Hall of Famer Jason Peters returns at left tackle after missing more than half the season with what was presumed to be a career-ending knee injury. On the other side, Lane Johnson, is widely considered the best right tackle in the league. In addition to his speech for the ages at the Super Bowl parade, center Jason Kelce had an All-Pro season while guard Brandon Brooks – playing between Kelce and Johnson, earned a Pro Bowl nod. Stefen Wisniewski settled the unit down when he became the starter at left guard. Locks to make the team are third-year man Halapoulivaati Vatai, who will go from starting at left tackle on a Super Bowl winner to the bench as the third tackle, and versatile third-year man Isaac Seumalo. It will then come down to how many more linemen the Eagles feel they need to keep, which may also be about how heavy they want to go at other spots. Likely to see plenty of preseason snaps, along with returnee at guard Chance Warmack and tackle Taylor Hart, are rookie sixth-round pick Matt Pryor, a guard-tackle, and seventh-round Jordan Mailata. Measuring in at 6-8 and 345 pounds, Mailata is an Australian rugby player learning football. Others to watch are Darrell Greene, a pure guard who has been close to making the team and has instead been on and off the practice squad since 2016, and center Jon Toth, who was added to the practice squad last season.

web_mailata.0

Smelling Salt Alert: The Eagles are to be commended for going out of the box in selecting Mailata. However, reality sets in. No way he’s ready to play this year, but there is no way he won’t draw interest from another team if placed on the practice squad. They could concoct an injury and place him on IR or PUP (Physically Unable to Perform) or they could make him the 53rd player on a 53- man roster. That would mean going light another position, and that could take a bite out of the skill positions. If Goedert is all he is made out to be, Rodgers could be axed and two of the “other” tight ends could be stashed on the practice squad to supplement. Same thing at receiver. Beyond Hollins, there really is no reason to keep more than four on the 53-man roster – especially if Ertz, Goedert and Sproles line up outside – and don’t be shocked if Pumphrey is made into a hybrid running back/slot receiver and no other backs make the team beyond Ajayi, Clement and Sproles. Any combination of these scenarios would allow for 10 – or even 11 – offensive linemen.

NFL: Miami Dolphins at Philadelphia Eagles

DEFENSE

Defensive End: Brandon Graham, after his crucial strip sack of Tom Brady in the Super Bowl, should probably be signed to a lifetime contract. Not realistic, but it’s a thought. As it is, while never having to pay for a meal in this town again, he returns at defensive end while the guy who recovered Brady’s fumble, then-rookie Derek Barnett, moves into the starting lineup in place of Vinny Curry (now with the Buccaneers). Perennial Pro Bowler Michael Bennett comes in from Seattle and will likely line up a lot inside, as did Curry, on passing downs. Chris Long, coming off of back-to-back Super Bowl rings with the Patriots and Eagles, decided to play one more year. That was enough to keep deep reserve Steven Means in the house while drafting Josh Sweat in the fourth round and signing Joe Ostman as a priority undrafted free agent.

Defensive Tackle: As healthy as the end position looks, the inside is in a bit of a state of flux. Starter Timmy Jernigan is going to miss training camp and the start of the season with a herniated disc in his back. Meanwhile, Beau Allen has moved on to line up alongside Curry with the Bucs. That appears to leave less support for All-World tackle Fletcher Cox. Massive veteran Haloti Ngata (6-4, 340) was signed from Detroit to ostensibly fill the role of place of playing 15-20 snaps per game left by Allen’s departure. In the short-term, Ngata may even be an upgrade. However, even with Bennett and Graham able to slide inside on passing downs, a temporary starter will need to be found from a secondary group of guys who have only shown brief flashes – Destiny Vaeao, Elijah Qualls and Aziz Shittu. A dark horse, with a strong camp, could be Winston Craig.

Linebacker: A year ago, Mychal Kendricks asked to be traded. His wish wasn’t granted, and he ended up playing extra snaps after talented-but-brittle middle linebacker Jordan Hicks suffered yet another season-ending injury. This year, with Hicks reportedly well again and Nigel Bradham remaining in the fold, Kendricks was released outright. In his place will be either Corey Nelson, a free agent from the Broncos, second-year man Nathan Gerry or third-year man Kamu Grugier-Hill. Meanwhile, another player with injury issues – but effective when healthy – is Joe Walker, who will play behind Hicks in the middle. If all stay healthy, we are looking at a young and talented group with Bradham as the veteran anchor. Even Nelson, after four years in Denver, is just 26.

nate_gerry

Cornerback: This is the year it goes completely over to the younger players to sink or swim. Ronald Darby, acquired from Buffalo last year – ostensibly to be the No. 1 corner – was a 2015 draft pick by the Bills. Jalen Mills, in his third year, returns on the outside while the slot corner job will go to either Sidney Jones, who was drafted in the second round last year despite a torn Achilles, or one of the following: offseason standout De’Vante Busby, fourth-round pick Avonte Maddox or street free agent DJ Killings. Rasul Douglas, who held his own as a spot starter after being drafted in the third-round last year, is more likely be a sub outside or get a look as a hybrid corner/safety to take advantage of his size (6-2, 209).

Safety: While set with starters Malcolm Jenkins (left) and Rodney McLeod, some of the most compelling intrigue, in terms of competition, may come behind them – not only in who makes the team but in terms of how many safeties are kept. Will it be four? Will it be five? It’s up to the players themselves. The Eagles are reportedly infatuated with hard-hitting Tre Sullivan, who made an impression last preseason by knocking a Green Bay Packer out of a game with a lethal hit. Meanwhile, Jeremy Reaves and Stephen Roberts were both aggressively pursued and signed after going undrafted and should be getting long looks. A year ago, it was corner-safety hybrid Randall Goforth, who spent the year on IR and who will also be in the mix. What will this mean for Chris Maragos, the veteran special teams demon who was sidelined with a knee injury, remains to be seen.

Smelling Salt Alert: Ever since rosters have been at 53 players, there have been handshake agreements between offensive and defensive coordinators to each get 25 slots, with the other three going to special teams for a kicker, a punter and a long snapper. However, there are some extenuating circumstances going on. In addition to the self-created Mailata conundrum, it remains to be seen what will happen with Bennett after allegations surfaced over a strange off-field situation at Super Bowl before last. On top of that, there is the scenario with Jernigan. This all could mean the season starting with 26 defensive players and 24 on offense. At linebacker, expect Nate Gerry – drafted to be converted to linebacker after playing safety at Nebraska – to be one of the most improved players on the team. However, don’t be surprised if there is a revolving door of veteran linebackers coming through after they are released by other teams. After losing free agent Paul Worrilow for the season, the Eagles already grabbed the well-traveled LaRoy Reynolds for a look. While a defensive tackle job is up for grabs, expect the Eagles to take advantage of their depth at defensive end and keep six (Graham, Barnett, Bennett, Long, Sweat and Means). The secondary, particularly safety, will be intriguing. Do they play it safe and keep Maragos, and maybe even bring back Corey Graham, or do they open it up some younger guys (Sullivan, Reaves, Roberts). And be prepared to be a bit disappointed in Jones, as he is ostensibly still a rookie, while Darby may turn some heads after playing on one leg down the stretch last season.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker: Jake Elliott

Punter: Cameron Johnston

Long Snapper: Rick Lovato

Smelling Salt Alert: There is no competition for any of these guys, and there probably won’t be. This doesn’t mean all is well in the land of specialists. As stoic as Elliott was a year ago as a rookie, second-year kickers have often struggled. One bad kick leads to another bad kick and, suddenly, there is an issue from the shoulders up. And while Johnston – a 26-year-old from Ohio State by way of Australia – showed a strong enough leg last preseason to get an invite back to replace Donnie Jones, he and Elliott will need to develop a rapport as holder and kicker. Lovato, on the other hand, was just about flawless as year ago.

This analysis originally appeared at phillyphanatics.com

 

DRAFT 2018 REVIEW: Benefit of the Doubt

Draft Picks

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — How do we evaluate the 2018 draft of the Super Bowl champions – yeah, that’s right, I said it – Philadelphia Eagles? There are multiple lenses through which to view it.

Given the Carson Wentz trade, and those used for others of the title puzzle, this year’s crop is small.

Do we factor in last year, when Sidney Jones was taken in the second round with a mind toward red-shirting while rehabbing his shredded Achilles as part of this year’s class? Do we include corner Ronald Darby (acquired for a third from Buffalo) and running back Jay Ajayi (fourth from Miami) as classmates of Jones?

That’s certainly what de fact general manager Howie Roseman would like for us to do.

Do we wait another year, to see who is selected in picks bartered for – including a second next year for moving out of the first round this year – before we take a full snapshot?

Roseman wouldn’t mind that either, and this might be the right offseason to sell it.

While the big picture is generally the best picture when evaluating drafts, there is really no way to look at the 2018 Class but within a vacuum – at least until further notice.

So, let’s get to it:

SECOND ROUND (49th Overall)

DALLAS GOEDERT, TE, SOUTH DAKOTA STATE

Why They Did It: Twin reasons. With Trey Burton moving on to the Chicago Bears, any and all plays and formations involving him in the existing playbook were in jeopardy of gathering dust – even though Burton was somewhat underutilized (60 grabs over the span of the last two seasons) and undersized (6-foot-3, 235 pounds). Goedert (6-5, 256), who draws comparisons to starting Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz and Kansas City Pro Bowler Travis Kelce, perhaps with a touch of Carolina’s Greg Olsen thrown in, has the potential to line up in various spots – similar to Ertz – and create match-up nightmares for opposing defenses. Just like a year ago, when the Eagles were correctly fixated on defensive end Derek Barnett, they played their hand perfectly in landing Goedert. Roseman traded out of the first round, picking up an extra second-rounder next year, and then moved in front of the Dallas Cowboys to select him.

What Would I Have Done? Same thing.

On Notice: Hard to say what the Eagles do, roster-wise, at tight end now. They could carry only two on the active roster. That would be good news for the likes of Billy Brown and Adam Zaruba, who could be warehoused on the practice squad, but bad news for veteran Richard Rodgers. Rodgers is playing at the veteran’s minimum on a one-year deal, so it would be neither a major cost to keep him for insurance nor to cut him loose and deploy a reserve offensive lineman in blocking situations.

FOURTH ROUND (125th Overall)

AVONTE MADDOX, CB, PITTSBURGH

Why They Did It: Even though the Eagles are awash in young corners (Darby, Jones, Jalen Mills and Rasul Douglas), none are proven in the slot. Last year’s slot corner, Patrick Robinson, was stoic in the role (until seemingly getting amnesia on how to play the position in the Super Bowl), but has moved back to his original team, the Saints, after one year here. The Eagles acquired Daryl Worley in exchange for Torrey Smith, but he was released after a bizarre brush with the law. Meanwhile, another possible stopgap inside, Jaylen Watkins, signed with the Chargers. Maddox was far from a desperation pick, though. He was generally rated right around where he was picked, with his size (5-9, 184) being the main reason for the slide out of Day 2 (second and third rounds). Although he was dinged up at times in college, Maddox never shied away from contact and gained a reputation as a sure tackler in the open field. He brings unteachable traits – 4.34 speed in the 40, natural ball skills and high character marks. While Mills or safety Malcolm Jenkins may work in the slot early in the season, Maddox could find his place by either season’s end – or 2019 – while contributing on special teams (even as a kick returner). Because he is quick-twitch type of player, Maddox might have been circled by the Eagles because they have six guaranteed games against three division rivals with smallish-pain-in-the-butt slot receivers – Sterling Shepard (Giants), Jamison Crowder (Redskins) and Cole Beasley/Ryan Switzer (Cowboys).

What Would I Have Done? Since they went the tight end route in the second round, I would have been all over Southern Mississippi running back Ito Smith, who ended up going one pick later to the Atlanta Falcons. Yes, they re-signed Darren Sproles to reprise his scatback role, but one must consider the future.

On Notice: Any of the corners – DJ. Killings, De’Vante Busby and undersized converted safety Randall Goforth – hanging on the back end of the expanded roster hoping to secure a spot were dealt a blow in their hopes of staying employed after the summer.

FOURTH ROUND (130th Overall)

JOSH SWEAT, DE, FLORIDA STATE

Why They Did It: Sweat is a talented player that could have easily gone on Day 2. He doesn’t fit every system, but is ideal for Jim Schwartz’s Wide-9 look and would be a difficult blocking assignment for most tight ends. Despite this exciting possibility, Sweat had a serious knee injury in high school and was never 100 percent throughout his college career before foregoing his final season. There are also lingering questions about his motor that scared some teams away.

What Would I Have Done? I guess this championship has made me too giddy to be too critical – at least for a year – so this choice of a player with Sweat’s long-term upside seems logical enough to make Mr. Spock blush.

On Notice: The social media trolls immediately starting punching bus tickets out of town for Brandon Graham and Michael Bennett. But Graham, pretty much the only defensive hero of the Super Bowl, isn’t going anywhere just yet. Bennett, though facing some legal issues of his own – not to mention possible consequences from the league – was brought in more to kick inside on passing downs, which is not what Sweat does at 251 pounds. The more likely candidate to be pushed off the roster – unless Sweat is stashed on IR to get bigger and a bit healthier – is underused Steven Means, who is a better player than most realize. With Chris Long earmarked to retire after this season, Sweat could be pegged to eventually assume his role as a stand-up rusher on passing downs before eventually replacing Graham 16 football lifetimes from now.

SIXTH ROUND (206thth Overall)

MATT PRYOR, OT, TCU

Why They Did It: Because you can’t get enough offensive lineman into the stable for a master trainer like offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland to work with. Stoutland has enough sway to pick and choose who he wants and why, and few questions are asked beyond that. He saw something he liked in Pryor, who once weighed nearly 400 pounds and has a rap for getting lazy at times, and that was good enough for the trigger to be pulled. At the end of the day, the got guard-tackle versatility in a big body (6-7, 332) who is surprisingly athletic.

What Would I Have Done? With Notre Dame running back Josh Adams on the board, I would have bolted to the podium so fast that, well, I probably would have fallen on my face (that still has a smile etched on it from Super Bowl Sunday). Turns out, Roseman still corralled Adams after the draft anyway.

On Notice: Well, it seems like Halapoulivaati Vatai is not on permanent notice as the heir apparent to Jason Peters for reasons I can’t explain. However, Roseman spoke glowing of Pryor’s inside-out versatility – mostly on the right side of the line. To my ears, that sounds like Isaac Seumalo better step up his game to the height of his hairdo in his third year. Seumalo started last year at left guard and struggled. So far, his best work has been as an emergency fill-in at tackle and as a blocking tight end. Still not sure how and why guard Chance Warmack is on the team to begin with, so Pryor could conceivably take his paycheck as well. Also, with Will Beatty (talk about stealing a paycheck, along with a Super Bowl ring) no longer in the mix, there is one less veteran body in the way. And then there is converted defensive lineman Taylor Hart. LOL! Never mind.

SEVENTH ROUND (233rd Overall)

JORDAN MAILATA, OT, AUSTRALIA

Why They Did It: Why not? Hate to answer a question – especially my own – with a question, but low-risk/high-reward is part of the afterglow of being Super Bowl champions.

What Would I Have Done? I would have drafted Adams, but it’s all good.

On Notice: The Eagles will certainly do whatever it takes to keep this multi-year project off the 53-man roster but out of the grasp of other teams by leaving him on the practice squad. That means we’ll need to break out the medical dictionary for hard-to-prove ailments – like back strains – until the time, if it ever arrives, that his man-child (6-8, 346) is ready to suit up. Therefore, while  Mailata (pictured below with Stoutland during rookie mini-camp) is likely already better than Hart, it would be a shock if a roster spot were burned on him this year. More of a shock, though, would be if they cut him this year.

Mailata

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS

Although they have an apparent blind spot for the only Division I football team in the city, the Eagles are always aggressive after the draft ends and are willing to spend – and spend wisely – to get who they want from those left undrafted.

The above paragraph is from last year’s draft review. With no Temple players signed (the last might actually be quarterback Adam DiMichele in 2009), the Eagles still busted some interesting post-draft moves – highlighted by the aforementioned Adams (pictured below), a native of Warrington – that could make training camp interesting.

Those who will have chips on their shoulder pads after not being drafted, despite being generally given grades that would have and could have had their names called on Day 3 include a trio of safeties – Jeremy Reaves (South Alabama), Dominick Sanders (Georgia) and Stephen Roberts (Auburn) – and two corners Chandon Sullivan (Georgia State) and Jordan Thomas (Oklahoma), whose fall from grace was so precipitous that he went from being considered a potential first-round pick two years to an oft-burnt undrafted type when his career ended.

An intriguing signee is Central Michigan defensive end Joe Ostman (6-3, 255), whose productive mid-major career belies his perceived lack of NFL athleticism to continue the production that saw the high-motored former scholastic wrestling standout rank in the top five in the nation last year in sacks (14) and tackles for loss (20.5).

On the offensive side of the ball, perhaps LSU tackle Toby Weatersby (6-4, 317) can make enough noise to be put into Stoutland’s long-term trainee program with Pryor and Mailata.

This column/analysis originally appeared at PhillyPhanatics.com

North Carolina State v Notre Dame