Athlete Of The Decade – #1 Ryan Howard

Harry Kalas called him “The Big Man” because of his big frame or perhaps because of his penchant for hitting home runs when they mattered.  Bill Conlin of the Daily News dubbed him “Ryno-Mite” because you never know when that swing will produce a thunderous shot that will either explode off the outfield wall or somewhere in the upper deck.  No matter what you may call him, Ryan Howard is #1 in this poll of the best Philadelphia athletes of the past decade.

The competition was indeed tough.  Guys like McNabb, Rollins, Utley, Iverson, Rolen, Abreu, Trotter, Gagne all toiled during the past decade, however none made as immediate an impact on both his team and the sports landscape of Philadelphia more than Ryan Howard.  Sure, McNabb carried the Eagles offense for those first couple years and got the Eagles to the NFC Title game in just his third year, but they came up short year after year until 2004.   Also, McNabb has never put up lofty numbers in his sport like Ryan Howard has done in his 4 full seasons for the Phillies including being a key part on two NL Pennant Winners and one World Champion, ending the 25 year Championship drought in Philadelphia.   No Phillies player has had the impact that Howard had since Richie Allen joined the club in 1964 and won the Rookie Of The Year award in the NL.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Howard was drafted by the Phillies and moved through the system before having a monster year in the Minors in 2004 which earned him a late season callup to the big club.   Former GM Ed Wade tried unsuccessfully to deal Howard to the Pirates that year for starting pitcher Kris Benson (Benson went to the Mets instead for Ty Wigginton), and after new manager Charlie Manuel tried Howard in left field in Spring Training in 2005 it was decided that Howard would be sent down to start the season, a decision which did not sit well with the big man.   So much in fact, that his agent asked the Phillies to trade Howard.  One rumor had Ryan going to the Tampa Bay Rays.  The Phillies wanted Howard to play everyday rather than sit on the bench behind Jim Thome even though Howard had nothing left to prove at the Minor League level.  As fate would have it, Thome got hurt and Howard received his shot – and he failed miserably and was sent back down once Thome was healthy.   Thome wouldn’t stay healthy for long, and Howard got another shot and this time he produced.   Wearing a new number, #6 instead of the #12 he had previously, Howard also had a new attitude at the plate.  Anyone remember the shot he hit at Dodger Stadium off Yhency Brazobon that year? Howard finished the year with 22 homers in just 88 games while hitting .288 – good enough to win the 2005 National League Rookie Of The Year.   The Phillies finished just a game out of the Wild Card and fired GM Ed Wade and replaced him with Pat Gillick.

Gillick’s first real move was to trade Jim Thome to the White Sox so that Howard could play everyday, and Howard rewarded the Phillies and the fans with a  year for the ages – .313 average, 58 homers, 149 runs batted in and the NL MVP award to make him the first player since Cal Ripken in 1982-83 to win Rookie Of The Year and MVP honors in back-to-back seasons.   Howard also broke Mike Schmidt’s season record for homers (48) which has stood since 1980.  Howard was so impressive that teams would walk him intentionally even to lead off an inning of tie games.   I was at a game against the Giants on my 40th birthday that season where he hit two homers.    He also won the homerun hitting contest at the All-Star Game, his final blast hitting the MasterCard sign on the way out of the ballpark in Pittsburgh.

Despite missing 18 games to injury in 2007, Howard still blasted 47 homers and finished the season one rbi behind Matt Holliday for the NL lead.  Holliday passed Howard during the one-game playoff against San Diego.  Howard led the NL in homers in 2008 with 48 and in rbi with 146 and in 2009 led the NL in rbi with 141.  He is the only player since Babe Ruth and Ken Griffey Jr to average over 50 homers and 140 rbi in a three year period.   Some say he strikes out too much, but how can you argue with that kind of production?

To put Howard in perspective, Mike Schmidt didn’t win an MVP award until his 8th season – the same year he won his only World Championship.  Howard was an MVP his first full season and a World Champion by the end of his third full season.  

 Even after winning the World Series, Howard worked hard on his defense (he committed a league high 20 errors in 2008) and came to camp lighter and showed far more range at the position than he had previously.   His performance during the 2009 NLCS earned him the NLCS MVP as he helped carry the Phillies back to the World Series.   Say all you want about Jimmy Rollins, but any opposing manager knows that to beat the Phillies means you keep Ryan Howard in the ballpark, plain and simple.  He’s like a snake in the grass waiting to strike.  Make a mistake, and to quote Harry Kalas – “That Ball’s Outta Here!”.

Here is what Howard has accomplished in just 4 full seasons and 88 games of another:

2005 National League Rookie Of The Year

2006 National League MVP, Hank Aaron Award and Silver Slugger

2009 NLCS MVP

Congratulations to the Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard on being the number one Philadelphia athlete of the decade.  He certainly earned it.



Athlete of the Decade #2 Donovan McNabb

Donovan McNabb was not a popular choice when he was selected in the 1999 draft with the #2 overall pick.  He played in nearby Syracuse, but for some reason Eagles fans had their hearts set on Ricky Williams.  It is somehow fitting that since that critical pick, the Eagles have ranked near the bottom of the league in average rush attempts per game, but have also been one of the most successful franchises in the league, largely in part to McNabb’s efforts from the quarterback position.

Andy Reid made no secret of the fact that he preferred a passing offense, as was evidenced when he introduced the West Coast Offense to this traditionally smash mouth, run it up the middle NFC East brawler of a franchise that had limited success under Rhodes, Kotite, Ryan, Campbell, Vermiel, and so forth, with the normal claim to fame being a dominant defense.  This was a team that was in the top ten in scoring only 6 times over the thirty years prior to McNabb, but has been in the top ten in scoring 6 times in the 10 years WITH McNabb, including setting new records for point production in 2002, 2008 and 2009.   Reid, with the help of  defensive guru Jim Johnson did not abandon the teams defensive roots, and has ranked in the top 5 league wide in points allowed five of the past ten seasons as well while making this upgrade to the offense.

McNabb has become the franchise leader in career wins, pass attempts, pass completions, passing yards, and passing touchdowns, passing notables such as Ron Jaworski and Randall Cunningham in the process.  Still, in this city, the toughest place on the planet to play professional sports, and being a starter at the toughest position, McNabb has never gotten the respect I feel he deserves.   This year may be the year he gets his revenge as he has led the Eagles to a mid season 6 game winning streak and now holds the chance to win at Dallas this wekeend and clinch the 6th NFC East division title in his 10 years behind center.

Ricky Williams ?  11,000 yards and 69 touchdowns, in 114 games rushing and receiving, certainly not bad for a running back in this league.

But McNabb ??  32,000+ yards passing with 240 touchdowns including passing and rushing, and the owner of the all time lowest interception ratio in league history. Even at 6’2″ and 240+ pounds, McNabb has been somewhat injury prone, only starting every game in 5 of his ten+ seasons, but this is not a conditioning issue, more his style of play. Simply put, McNabb leaves it all on the field.

Remember also, McNabb for the majority of his career has had little support. Until this year.  Only Terrell Owens in 2004 and Kevin Curtis in 2007, have reached 1,000 yards in a season, and only Owens had more than 10 touchdowns in a single year.  But McNabb still holds the yardage and touchdown records here.  In his draft class, he is third best behind Manning and Brady who had top receivers like Marvin Harrison and Randy Moss to throw to for years.

He rushes less now but still has over 3,000 career rushing yards and 25 touchdowns which ranks him in the top ten of quarterbacks all time.  More importantly, he led the team to 4 consecutive NFC East Championships and a Super Bowl.

He also created some of the most famous plays in Philadelphia sports history, including the now infamous 4th and 26 play against the Packers with 1:12 to play in the 2003 NFC championship game and no timeouts, when he scrambled for nearly 6 seconds before converting on a pass to Freddie Mitchell, and the nearly as famous 2002 game against the Cardinals that he finished with a broken leg and a 103.8 QB rating completing 20 of 25 for 255 yards and 4 touchdowns in the win.

McNabb has long been known to be as dangerous a passer when flushed from the pocket as anyone to play the game, and may actually be a better quarterback once he leaves the pocket, a fact that has frustrated and stymied many defenses since he arrived in the league.   He also seems to possess a 6th sense that tells him at times when a defender is appproaching, allowing him to create plays outside of the regular playbook.

Even if he never wins a Super Bowl, he will leave the team as the leader in nearly every statistic possible.

This may be the year for McNabb to finally get his ring.    He has 4 of the best recievers he has ever had playing at one time, DeSean Jackson has surpassed 1000 yards, has a league leading yards per catch average and could break the 10 touchdown barrier with one more long catch, Brent Celek is nearly as good with 875 yards and 8 touchdowns, and Jeremy Maclin and Jason Avant and Reggie Brown round out a very strong recieving corps.  McNabb also has the best support on the line of scrimmage he has seen in his career, with Westbrook, McCoy and Weaver combining for a powerful 1-2-3 punch the likes of which the team has never seen.  All three backs are also available for screens, which constitutes a large part of the Eagles playbook.

If the Eagles beat the Cowboys next week, they may carry the two seed in the NFC into the playoffs, get a bye, and a home game, and have only one real contest that will challenge them before going to the Super Bowl.   This may be McNabb’s best shot to get it done.  He is sore and has some hamstring pain and tightness, but overall, he is in the best shape of his career at this stage of a season with the strongest supporting cast behind him I can remember.

One thing is certain, if McNabb acheives the ultimate, bringing a Super Bowl trophy to Philadephia, the fans will have to finally accept his greatness and give him that respect he has sought since he entered the league.  And maybe then we can forget about Ricky Williams, and Michael Vick and the wildcat, and all the other distractions, and just enjoy a great champion quarterback for a change !



Six Eagles headed to Pro Bowl

The NFL released the Pro Bowl rosters today and the Eagles had six players selected to the NFC team.  Defensive end Trent Cole, receiver DeSean Jackson, tackle Jason Peters, cornerback Asante Samuel, fullback Leonard Weaver and kicker David Akers were all selected to the game which will be played in Miami this season.

Despite a strong season, Donovan McNabb was left off of the team, in large part to the success of Brett Favre, Drew Brees Aaron Rodgers.

With the Pro Bowl being played the week before the Super Bowl this year, there will be more spots turned down than usual as the two teams playing in the Super Bowl will not send participants to the game. This means even more Eagles could be added at a later date.

Or even better, those six Eagles could have to turn down their chance to play in the Pro Bowl — they would have a bigger game to worry about.

You can view the complete roster on www.nfl.com.



Athlete of the Decade #3 Allen Iverson

For many Philadelphia fans Allen Iverson is Sixers basketball. When Iverson left, the Sixers left with him. And in a way that is true because when Iverson was traded to Denver Nuggets during the 2006-07 season any chance of the Sixers being relevant in the city or the NBA also left.

Then after a sudden twist – or stop in Memphis – ”The Answer” was back in Philadelphia and all was right in the NBA-world again.

Love him or hate him, Allen Iverson – who is our No. 3 Philly Athlete of the Decade – will always be remembered as a Sixer. From his rookie year, to the crossover he put on Michael Jordan, to putting the team on his back and leading them to the 2001 NBA finals, Iverson has provided more highlights than any fan could ask for. Here are a few of the accomplishments:

 *   Iverson has averaged over 30 points in a season five times this decade, four with the Sixers.

*    While Iverson takes a lot of heat for throwing up every shot he gets his hands on, he has also been a good facilitator. Following the 2001 season, Iverson has averaged over 5.0 assists every season. His highest output came in 04-05 when he recorded 7.8 dimes a game.

*  Three times this decade Iverson has won a scoring title, the only player in the NBA that can make that claim.

*  Representing the Sixers as an All-star, Iverson was the game’s MVP twice this decade.

*  Sixers fans can thank Matt Geiger for keeping the Superstar in town for so long

 For anyone who is confused by the Geiger reference, let me explain: Prior to the start of the 2000-01 season the Sixers were looking to shop Iverson, who was in the process of creating his first rap CD, which included controversial lyrics. It was also thought at the time that he and Larry Brown could not co-exist.

In what was a multi-layered trade, the Sixers would have shipped away Iverson and Geiger and brought in Eddie Jones, Glen Rice, and Jerome Williams. The trade fel apart in the last minute, though as Geiger would not forfeit a trade kicker in his contract that was worth $5 million.

It was after that offseason that the old school school coach (Brown) and the new-school, hip-hop guard put their differences aside and formed a bond that remains strong today.

It is unknown if this will be Iverson’s final year in the NBA. If it is, it is fitting that he is back home, even if it may not make sense from an organizational standpoint.

Allen Iverson was and is the Sixers.

 Oh, and we didn’t forget about the 2003-04 season which brought ou the infamous “practice” press conference. No iverson tribute will ever be complete without this gem:



Monday Night Wow!

nfl_a_chester_576

After tonight’s game I can tell you who could possibly be the Eagles MVP for the 2009 season.  McNabb, you say? Nice year, but its not him.  Its also not DeShaun Jackson or Brent Celek.  Ready, here it is:

Devin Aromashodu – that’s right, learn how to spell that guy’s name because his catch in overtime gave the Bears a huge win over the Vikings 36-30 in a game that the Bears led 16-0 at halftime and by as much as 23-6 in the second half before watching the Vikings offense, led by Brett Favre and Adrian Peterson suddenly spring to life and tie the game twice in the fourth quarter to force overtime, the last coming on a 4th and goal Faver to Rice touchdown with just seconds to play.   It was his catch that may just give the Eagles the second seed in the NFC Playoffs, but more on that in a minute.

Aromashodu caught 7 passes for 150 yards and his first catch of the overtime setup Robbie Gould for a shot at winning the game from 45 yards out, but his kick pushed right and never hooked back, keeping the game tied at 30-30.   Aromashodu’s winning catch was setup by a great defensive play by the Bears Hunter Hillenmeyer on Adrian Peterson as the ball was knocked loose just before Peterson hit the ground and recovered by the Bears.  The play wasn’t reviewed and in overtime coaches aren’t allowed to challenge calls on the field.   Just a couple plays later Cutler faded back and hit Aromashodu for the touchdown, Cutler’s 4th of the game against just one interception.

With the Bears win, the Eagles now control their own destiny not only  to win the NFC East, but with a win at Dallas on Sunday they become the number two team in the NFC and would have a first round bye along with New Orleans, who clinched home field throughout the playoffs by virtue of the Vikings loss.

The Vikings are suddenly reeling – their second half performance not withstanding, they looked terrible for much of the game.  Favre had just 36 yards passing in the first half, and the Vikings special teams allowed more than 200 yards on kickoff returns, including a 60 yarder to Manning right after Peterson had tied the score at 23-23.   The return setup a Cutler to Bennett touchdown pass on a beautiful post pattern ran by Bennett and a Bears 30-23 lead.   The loss is the Vikings second in a row and third in four weeks, not the time of the season for this type of losing streak.

So there you have it, Eagles fans.  Win on Sunday against the Cowboys and your team is 12-4 – NFC East Champions and gets a week off during the playoffs.  Please, someone tell me you saw this coming at 5-4 because I know I sure didn’t.   All together now:

A R O M A S H O D U

Learn how to spell that one because if the Eagles beat the Cowboys, then they have him to thank in part for that nice off week they will enjoy the following week.



Athlete of the Decade #4 James Calvin “JRoll” Rollins

Jimmy Rollins arrives at number four, having had the benefit of playing his entire career and a complete decade here in Philly for the world champion Philadelphia Phillies at shortstop.   His entire family was athletic, from his mother playing softpitch softball, to his brother who played for the Rangers and Expos, to his sister who started for the University of San Francisco basketball team.

He was drafted by the Phillies in 1996, debuted in 2000 and was third in rookie of the year voting in 2001 and the only representative sent to the All Star game that season.   Rollins was named the 2007 National League Most Valuable Player, and has been named to the National League All-Star team three times (2001, 2002, 2005). He also became the first player in the history of Major League Baseball to collect at least 200 hits, 15 triples, 25 homers, and 25 stolen bases in one season, and holds the record for most at bats in a season with 716.

He became what the Phillies had lacked for so many years, a true leadoff hitter.  A guy who could get on base, then steal a base; provoke pitchers into making mistakes and losing their concentration on the mound worrying about his presence on the basepaths, and give all those who batted behind him an advantage at the plate.

Jimmy also owns the longest hitting streak in Phillies history at 38 games over 2 seasons, from the end of 2005 to the start of 2006.    He has led the league in triples 4 times, plate appearances three times, and stolen bases once.

All in all, he has quietly compiled a career that has shown the most consistant production at the lead off spot, at the same time carrying a career fielding percentage of .985 and on base percentage of .330.  His childhood hero was Rickey Henderson, and he started his career emulating the great one with 46 steals, but has never been able to have the kind of breakout season that may have been expected of him, given the hype surrounding him and his world class speed.

He has however never had a real tail off in production until early in 2009, when he started the season struggling to hit .200 and was actually benched for 4 games in an effort to get him focused back on his game. He closed the season in typically strong JRoll fashion, ending with 21 homeruns and 31 stolen bases, marking the 8th time in his 9 full time seasons where he has swiped 30 bases or more.

The Phillies recently exercised their club option on the star shortstop for the 2011 season, thereby guaranteeing they keep the strong infield nucleus of this team together for at least an additional 2 years.  Rollins has 1 MVP and World Series ring and may earn more before he is done, but the real reason he is ranked so high is a combination of what he has done to attract fans and solidify the club house of this team.  As he has matured, the Phillies have brought in a lot of younger players making more money, swinging for long balls and high RBI and runs totals, and what many may fail to realize, is without the presence of a strong, dependable lead off man to get things started, these other players would not have the opportunities they do.

The best way to measure the strength of Rollins and the importance of his lead off role is to look at the actual results.  Consider his effect just in one postseason situation, where one could argue he was the difference in the team winning it all, versus not being in contention whatsoever.  Note: Game 5 of the 2008 National League Championship Series. He led off the game with a homer.  That gets noticed.  But more importantly, in the third inning, he also drew a one-out walk, stole second and scored the second run of the game – the difference, as it turned out.  Without both those contributions, the Phillies may never have made the World Series.  Had the Dodgers won, it would have been a 3-2 NLDS with the pitching and schedule favoring LA.  Instead, the Phillies clinched, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Yes this team has 5 guys that can hit 40 out and drive 120 in, but they only have one Rollins who can carve a run out of nothing, jumpstart the offense, and when a scoring chance is needed, create at least the potential for a scoring opportunity.    And he is also the only player you can count on to produce 150 starts, 600 at bats, 90 runs, 160 hits, 40 doubles, 10 triples, 15 homeruns, 60 RBI and 30 stolen bases.   That line for many players would represent a career year, for Rollins it is slightly under his CAREER averages for an entire decade.  Batting leadoff.   And helping to turn an average team, that prior to his signing was frequently viewed as a laughingstock, that had one truly great year, (1980),  into the team to beat, of champion caliber that should compete for baseballs biggest prize for at least 4-5 years to come.



After Further Review Eagles Win 30-27

The Eagles had one play review that went against them early, but a review that overturned what was called an incomplete pass to Jeremy Maclin late in the 4th quarter gave the Eagles the ball at the Broncos 13 ultimately leading to a David Akers 28 yard field goal to lift the Eagles to 11-4 in a game they once led 27-10.

The review that went against the Eagles was on the Broncos first drive as on third down Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton threw what appeared to be a backwards pass that Wil Patterson scooped up off the turf and returned for a touchdown.  The Broncos challenged the ruling on the field and it was ruled that the ball had traveled forward, thus making it an incomplete pass and nullifying the touchdown.

The Eagles marched up and down the field during the first half as the Broncos offense struggled, not even getting a first down until the second quarter.   The Eagles got first half touchdowns on a 2-yard jump pass from McNabb to Jackson and a 47-yard Celek rumble into the endzone.  David Akers added two field goals and the Eagles were in control 20-7 at halftime in what looked to be a laugher.

The Broncos had other ideas as Champ Bailey intercepted a McNabb pass on the Eagles first posession of the second half and the Broncos marched down the field and Prater kicked a 33 yard field goal to make it 20-10.    The Eagles subsequent posession led to an unbelievable Jason Avant catch from 15 yards out to give the Eagles a 27-10 lead.  Unfortunately the Broncos struck quick as they scored a touchdown on a 7 yard Jabar Gaffney catch and run through missed tackles and after Macho Harris fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the Broncos scored again on a Knowshon Moreno catch and run for 16 yards to get the Broncos to within 27-24 as the third quarter wound down.

The Eagles offense, which looked almost unstoppable during the first half, was just about non existant in the second half as the Birds blew a 17 point lead as Prater kicked a field goal from 46 yards to tie the score at 27-27 with just 6:05 to play.  The Eagles stalled again, coming up just short on a third down pass to Jeremy Maclin, and Andy Reid decided to punt the ball away to the Broncos.  The Eagles defense held and they got the ball back with just under 2:00 to play as they setup what would be the game-winning drive as Akers kick sailed through the uprights with just four seconds to play in the game.

This game marked the return of former Eagle Brian Dawkins who received a rousing ovation when he came out on the field.  Dawkins made some nice plays against his former teammates, including a nice tackle on Brian Westbrook from behind.  Speaking of Westbrook, he saw his first game action and tallied 32 yards on 9 attempts.  McNabb went 20 for 35 for 322 yards and three touchdowns.  His lone interception to start the second half helped start the Broncos comeback.   He also fumbled the ball on the Eagles first drive of the game as he was sacked from behind as Jason Peters missed a block.  Brent Celek led the Eagles in receiving with 121 yards and one touchdown on 4 catches.

The Eagles can clinch the NFC East either with a Cowboys loss tonight to the Redskins or by beating the Cowboys next week at Dallas.  They can also clinch the 2nd seed in the NFC by beating the Cowboys next week combined with one Minnesota loss.  The Eagles would hold the tiebreaker over the Vikings by virtue of a better conference record.  The Eagles are now riding a six game winning streak, their longest since rolling off five in a row to end the 2006 season.

For the third straight week the Eagles took a double digit lead early only to either fall behind (Giants) allow the team to get close (49ers) or allow their opponent to tie the score as the Broncos did today.  Sure, they managed to win each of those games, but for whatever reason the Eagles lack the killer instinct of a championship caliber team and that could come back to bite them in the playoffs against a team like the Saints, or even the Vikings or Cardinals.  If you take a big lead on those teams, you have to keep coming at them both offensively and defensively.   CBS announce Phil Simms used the term coasting to describe the Eagles effort in the second half.   Andy Reid and his staff must find a way to correct this if the Eagles are to advance deep into the playoffs.



Athlete Of The Decade #5 – Brian Dawkins

How fitting is it that on the day of his first game as a visiting player Brian Dawkins is unveiled as the #5 athlete in our poll.   “B-Dawk”, as he was known for his thirteen seasons for the Eagles was the unquestioned leader of Jim Johnson’s defense until signing with the Broncos at the conclusion of the 2008 season.  Coming into today’s game against the Eagles, Dawkins is enjoying a fine season with Denver having already amassed a career high 100 tackles, eclipsing his previous best of 98 back in 2006.

One of just a few holdovers from the Ray Rhodes era, Dawkins became a feared hitter and tackler in Jim Johnson’s agressive, blitzing take no prisoners defense.  Not since the days of Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters have Eagles fans seen someone play the Safety position with the tenacity that Brian Dawkins brought to the field every Sunday.

Even though Dawkins; the previous longest tenured Philadelphia athlete, has left; he is not forgotten by the Philadelphia fans because Eagles fans love players who go out and leave everything they have on the field and  Dawkins certainly did that.  He is also not forgotten by a long line of players who wished they had not crossed his path on the way down the field.   His presence has certainly been felt on his new team, as they are third in the NFL this season in yards allowed and sixth in points allowed.  Last season while Dawkins was toiling in the Eagles defensive backfield the Broncos defense was 29th in yards allowed and 30th in points allowed.  I don’t think its any accident that Dawkins arrival has something to do with the improvement.

I’m sure we all have some great memory of Brian Dawkins.  Maybe its the Cowboys game last year as he forced fumbles and was very emotional as he walked off the field.  Maybe its a memory of him sacking a quarterback on a safety blitz or knocking the daylights out of some poor receiver or running back who got past the linebackers.  My memory is his interception of Brett Favre in the 2003 playoffs in overtime at Lambeau Field that led to David Akers winning field goal.   Nobody wanted to win more than Dawkins, and nobody wanted to win a Super Bowl more than he did.  Unfortuntely, he and that defense didn’t get the job done on four occasions in the NFC Championship game and nor could it contain Tom Brady and his offense in the Super Bowl following the 2004 season.

It was vintage Dawkins, finding a way to be in the right place at the right time to make the big play when the Eagles needed one.   Here’s hoping that when his new team, the Broncos, take on the Eagles later today he is not a factor on defense as that could spell trouble for the Eagles.



Athlete of the Decade #6 Chase Utley

Chase was one of the few athletes that made it on to all the Phillysportsblogs writers ballots at about the same spot, and he arrives at number 6 after playing 7 seasons in the past ten years with the Philadelphia Phillies, only 5 of those years as a starter.  He was signed as a first rounder in 2000 as the 15th overall pick, and made an impact in his first game in 2003 by getting his first hit, which happened to be a grand slam !

At first, his path to success seemed blocked by the recently re acquired Placido Polanco but by 2005, the Phillies had traded Polanco and Utley became the second baseman of the future.  Since that time, he has been a four time All Star, four time Silver Slugger, and was a large piece of the puzzle that got the Phillies their first world championship since 1980, and second in team history.

An obvious fan favorite, Chase holds the second longest hitting streak in team history at 35 games,  behind only Jimmy Rollins (who will be profiled as well on the “Philadelphia Athlete of the Decade” series) who holds the team record with a 38 game hitting streak.  This hitting streak of 35 games ties for tenth best in Major League Baseball history and is the longest recorded streak by a full time second baseman. The fans loved him for this moment after the World Series, as well (note: language may not be safe for work).

Utley is probably most noted for the fact that very little is published about him except his on field performance.    He was a star first at Long Beach Polytech, and then UCLA before being drafted by the Phillies in 2000, and he has always been a stand up guy and leader among leaders on this team, even at a relatively young age.

This year, even though the Phillies lost in the World Series while attempting to defend their championship, Utley still shone out as a star.  He broke a record that had stood since 1971 by reaching base on a walk against CC Sabathia to break Boog Powells record of 25 straight postseason games with a base appearance.  Then he matched “The Babe” by hitting two homeruns off the lefthander, the first Sabathia had allowed at new Yankees Stadium, and the first time since Ruth in 1928 that a lefthanded batter hit more than one homerun off a left handed pitcher in a single game of World Series play.  (Ruth had three total in that game, two off Bill Sherdel, the last off legendary right hander Grover Alexander.)

Even more impressive, Utley tied the record set for career homers in World Series game one history with 3, matching Elston Howard and Joe Collins who both achieved their mark with the dominant Yankees teams of the 1950′s.   The Phillies won this game 6-1 before eventually losing to the perennial champion Yankees, but it is obvious that Utley can more than hold his own, no matter who he is playing against.

The Phillies obviously can also see his potential.  They signed Chase to a 7 year $85 million extension after Utley became the 15th player in major league history — and second on the Phillies — to hit .300, record 200 hits, 30 home runs, 100 RBIs, 40 doubles and 130 runs in one season in 2006.   He and Hall of Famer Chuck Klein (1930 and 1932) are the only Phillies to accomplish the feat.

Chase has stated he was signed as a Phillie and wants to retire as one.  I think most the fans would agree they want this too !  For now, I think it speaks volumes that Utley, who has appeared on some of the top 100 baseball players lists of all time after only 5 years as a starter, comes in on our list at #6.  What this means is that we are living in a historically rich time in Philadelphia sports history with plenty of other athletes contending for spots on our list.

Utley may well show up on the next top ten athletes of the decade list for his efforts from 2010 to 2020.  And my guess is that he will eventually end up on a top ten list of Philadelphia athletes of all time.  He is after all only 31, and  I expect a breakout season even better than what he has showed us so far; probably when he is 33 or 34, and then 5-6 more years of productivity before he retires.   My prediction is he will beat his own record hitting streak for 2nd basemen as he matures, and even make a run at, in this writer’s opinion,  the most unobtainable record in all of sports; the great Joe D’s 56 consecutive game hitting streak. Utley won’t break that mark, but he will come close enough that all sports fans countrywide will remember his name long after he retires, I hope sometime around 2016 or so !



Athlete of the Decade #7 Simon Gagne

There have been some great players to don a Flyers uniform over the past 10 years. From Peter Forsberg to Keith Primeau, there has been no shortage of stars. Only one, however, has contributed to the team year after year for an entire decade.

That man, of course, is Simon Gagne.

Gagne was called up by the Flyers prior to the 1999-2000 season and wasted no time making an impact, scoring 20 goals and dishing out 28 assists in his first pro season. He made the All-Rookie team that year and had the fan base in his back pocket.

One of the biggest goals of his career came in the 2003-04 Eastern Conference finals.

With the Flyers trailing three-games-to-two against the Tampa Bay Lightning, Gagne scored an overtime goal to send the series on to a seventh game. The Flyers lost that seventh game, but Gagne’s contributions were not soon forgotten. His best goal came earlier in the series, along with a great – although cheesy – piece of commentary by Bill Clement, seen here:

As great as Gagne was in the first few years of his career, it wasn’t until the 2005-06 season that he became a star around the NHL.

Paired on the same line with Forsberg and Mike Knuble, Gagne exploded with a 79 point season that included a career-high 47 goals. Gagne followed that up with a 41-goal effort the following season.

Unfortunately injuries have kept Gagne from reaching his full potential the last few years.

In 2007-08 Gagne appeared in only 25 games and has played in only 12 this season due to various injuries, including suffering serious concussions.

While he is remembered here for his decade-long success with the Flyers, Gagne has also been a very good international play, skating for Team Canada in two Olympics.

Skilled and speedy, Gagne provided must-watch hockey before he was beseeched by injuries. Though he can still deliver on the ice and is just 29, Gagne’s best hockey appears to be behind him. How long he will remain a Flyer is unknown, as the five-year contract he signed in 2006 will expire next season and his injury problems could cause the team to go in a different direction.

Regardless of how the rest of his career turns out, Gagne will be forever remembered as a Flyer – and a really good one.



Major retooling needed at Wachovia center

The Flyers started the season strong, but since the week before Thanksgiving they have posted a 4-13-1 record and dropped to next to last in the entire Eastern Conference.

With nearly 50 games to go, it is too early to say their season and playoff hopes are over, but it is getting close.  Tomorrow they play the Carolina Hurricanes, the only eastern team with a more pathetic record and a team the Flyers beat in their season opener.  I think it is fair to say they need to beat this team.  Consider it a late Christmas present.  Combined with their last game, a 5-2 win over Tampa Bay, it will constitute a modest two game winning streak.  Early in the year, one would have thought 2 in a row was no big deal, but after the last month plus of play, I have to say that 2 in a row will be a marked improvement.

No one seems to be able to put their finger on why this team went from being a potential contender to almost an also ran so quick.  It seems like the transition occurred in a flash.   The entire roster seemed to lose skill points, speed, and attitude overnight. The goaltending tandem of Brian Boucher and Ray Emery, has been average at best, and horrible at times with Emery’s GAA rising from 2.1 to 2.83 with his last game consisting of a shellacking by Washington when he allowed 5 goals on 17 shots in 31 minutes before being injured and replaced by Boucher.

Emery had lost 6 of 7 prior to that game and since his injury,  his replacement has come in to lose 8 of the next 10.  Although to be fair to Boucher, he had only one terrible game, against the Penguins on December 15th when he allowed 6 goals on 35 shots.  The remainder of his losses are more directly the result of a team that is offensively flatlining.  Normally when a goalie allows 3 goals or less through a fifteen start stretch, one would expect him to win more than 2 of those games.  The Flyers just plain stink, on both sides of the ice.  Something has got to give.

With the return of Simon Gagne the Flyers have to be hoping to generate some momentum, and one rumor has them resigning goalie Martin Biron.   The problem there is that the Flyers likely can not afford his nearly 4 million dollar salary without making some other roster moves.   And given that they are on pace to score a paltry 212 goals this season, a ludicrous figure given their lineup, it is uncertain whether spending that kind of money will really do much to resolve the situation anyway.  Yes, Emery has been a washout so far, either due to injury or poor conditioning, or age, or loss of skills, but Boucher is a decent goalie, and without goal support is not going to win more than a dozen games the rest of the year.

With the exception of Mike Richards and his 15 goals, there is not a single Flyer in the top 40 in offensive categories including goals, assists, points,  and plus/minus.  If it were not for the Flyers power play, one feels they may have no offense at all !  So the bottom line is that more than just needing a goalie, the Flyers are in need of major reinforcements in nearly all aspects of their game right now.   If they do not get them, they are in jeopardy of  having a worse season than their 2005-2006 campaign when they only managed 22 wins and 56 points as they were never in contention.

Here is hoping they can pull out a win, gain some momentum, and have a positive trend heading into the new year.  They really need to make the adjustments quick and get back to their winning ways if they are to have a chance at salvaging the season.  At this point, achieving the playoffs will likely be the best they can manage and a trip deep into the playoffs is not a serious possibility in 2010.  Unless they get a multitude of gifts from Santa and a whole new attitude going into next year.



Athlete of the Decade #8 Brian Westbrook

Westbrook hits our list at #8.  He would be much higher but for one thing.  The guy can not stay healthy.  He was born in 1979 and came from one of my favorite local colleges, the Villanova Wildcats.   He still owns 37 school records at Villanova.

Early on in his career he got the reputation for being injury prone.  He has lived into this reputation.  In his 8 NFL seasons, he has NEVER started every game for the team.  McNabb got the reputation after getting hurt for the second time in his career, despite playing an entire game on a broken leg.  What chance does Brian have of overcoming the same rap ?

Never mind that he has 420 receptions for 3765 yards and 29 touchdowns, with 40 receptions over 20 yards and 10 over 40 yards in an 8 year career as a running back.   Forget his nearly 6000 yards rushing with a 4.6 yard average and 37 touchdowns.   Just scoring a touchdown every other game you start is not enough to endear you to Philadelphia fans.  Being the most versatile running back and leading the team in receptions 2 years, and leading the league in receptions for a running back on 4 occasions won’t do it either.  These fans want a Super Bowl and they want it bad !!

But, Westbrook is frequently mentioned as one of the top ten utility backs of all time, let alone of the past decade.    In 2007 he led all players in yards from scrimmage, first downs, and yards per touch.  He holds records too numerous to categorize in this post.

I will try to do him justice here.  Brian Westbrook IS:

the only active NFL player with 20-or-more TDs both rushing and receiving (27 rush, 23 rec.)

the owner of 52 career TDs (27 rush, 23 rec., 2 PR) 8th on the Eagles all-time list, 4th among RBs

the franchise leader in yards/carry (4.7) ,2nd in yards/touch (5.9  – min. 750 touches), yards from scrimmage (7,992) and receiving TDs (23)

the Eagles all-time single-season record holder in yards from scrimmage (2,104) and receptions (90), both set in 2007

the first Eagle to lead the league since RB Ricky Watters, who registered 1,855 yards in 1996.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the 4th-fastest player in NFL history to record 20 rushing TDs and 20 receiving TDs (76 games) behind Lenny Moore (46), Chuck Foreman (55), Timmy Brown (65) and tied with John David Crow (76)

Since 2003, leads all NFL RBs in yards/touch with a 5.9 avg. on 1,306 touches (min. 500 touches)

Since 2003, leads NFL RBs in receptions(338), receiving yards (3,121) and receiving TDs (23)

Since becoming a full-time starter in 2004, has amassed 6,768 yards from scrimmage in just 55 games, the 2nd-highest total in the NFL

With 17 career 100-yd. rushing games (regular and postseason), ranks 3rd in team history behind Wilbert Montgomery (26) and Steve Van Buren (19)

The average length of his 52 career regular season TDs is 20.1 yards

In seven career playoff games, ranks 2nd in team history in career rushing yards (472), t-2nd in career rushing TDs (3), t-3rd in career total TDs (5), and 4th in career rushing attempts (79)

Owns the two longest rushing TDs in Eagles playoff history (62 at NO 1/13/07, NFC-D; 49 vs. NYG 1/7/07, NFC-WC)

Has posted 12 TDs and 1,165 total yards from scrimmage in his last 9 games against the Giants

That last one may be the most important to the Eagles fan base as Westbrook has become the Amani Toomer of the Eagles when playing NFC East competitors.   If only he could suit up and play every game of the year for three or four years and achieve the desired results, I believe Westbrook could crack the top three on this list, and the top ten of all time in Philadelphia sports history.  Unfortunately, after a concussion early this season, Westbrook has been largely absent, and his replacement, the running back of the future, LeSean McCoy has performed so well that many have written the star off.  But now he looks to return next week against the Broncos and the return of Brian Dawkins (Think he is on this list further up somewhere ??)   Unfortunately, it is possible that Westbrook’s legacy in this city may very well come down to the last few games he plays here and the result of those contests, when in reality, he should be revered for what he has been able to do in his tenure here.   No matter what, it is hard to deny what he accomplished in the last eight years regarding overall productivity and it is also hard to deny the raw talent he possesses and the exuberance and sheer love for the game he displays on the field every week he suits up.  I hope the rumors are not true and his time playing is not over, but no matter what, he will always be on my list of players that were fun to watch and beneficial to my team.   When he does retire, he is sure to be missed.



A Philly Sports Christmas List – If You Believe In Santa

Well, its just about time for Christmas and I thought it would be nice to come up with some Holiday wishes for the Philly Sports fans who believe in Santa Claus.

So, If You Still Believe In Santa, Then………

You believe that Andy Reid is a Super Bowl winning coach, and Donovan McNabb is that games MVP

You believe that Alan Iverson is not only teaching the young 76ers how to be unselfish on the court, but also about the virtues of practice.

You believe that the Mariners would’ve taken Joe Blanton off the Phillies hands instead of Cliff Lee.

You believe that the Flyers will do like the Penguins and sneak into the playoffs, get hot and win the Stanley Cup this season.

You believe that Ryan Howard is practicing his bunting skills so he can beat the shift in 2010 by laying one down the third base line.

You believe that the Phillies should’ve exercised the option on Pedro Feliz rather than sign Placido Polanco.

You believe that the Cowboys will beat the Eagles on January 3rd and win the NFC East.

You believe that the Mets will stay healthy enough to overtake the Phillies for the NL East.

 

So, there they are, just a few little tidbits that Santa could be bringing if you still believe in Santa.   If you don’t , then I hope you got a little chuckle out of them.  At any rate – Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.



Athlete of the Decade #9 Bernard Hopkins

From “The Axeman” to The Executioner.”

When people think back at the list of dominant athlete’s this city has seen over the last 10 years, the likes of Donovan McNabb, Chase Utley and Allen Iverson (who you will see later) come to mind. Rarely does that name Bernard Hopkins ever get mentioned.

It should.

Make no mistake Hopkins’ best decade came in the 90’s, but what he has been able to do at an older age, for a dying sport, is something that can’t be overlooked.

For his career, Hopkins – a Philadelphia native – is a ridiculous 55-5 with a no decision and 32 knockouts. Known as the greatest middleweight fighter ever, Hopkins had a streak of 20 successful title defenses. He is the only fighter to ever defend four of boxing’s major belts in one fight.

But we are not handing out Lifetime Achievement Awards so let’s get into his highlights from the last 10 years.

  • On Sept. 21, 2001 Hopkins defeated Felix Trinidad in New York, by a TKO in the 12th round. During that much anticipated fight Hopkins successfully retained the WBC and IBF middleweight titles while claiming the WBA middleweight belt.
  • After winning his next four fights, Hopkins met Oscar De La Hoya on Sept. 18, 2004. It was the fight everyone wanted to see, but did it live up to the hype?  Some believe De La Hoya took a dive in the 9th round. You be the judge:

  • 2005 was a bad year for Hopkins as he lost twice to Jermain Taylor, leaving many to think he would be gone from the sport for good.
  • On June 10, 2006 Hopkins silenced all of his doubters, winning a 12 round decision over Antonio Tarver in another marquee fight.

Hopkins has since won three of his last four fights, with the biggest being a decision over Kelly Pavlik.

While Hopkins doesn’t have the great knockout ability he had in his prime, his abilities and charisma still attract people to the sport – and that is something it so desperately needs. With MMA taking over the television sets and Pay Per View dollars, boxing has been on a steep downward slide.

Few things slow that slide and a Hopkins fight is one of them. Like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, people still care about Hopkins. They want to see him fight. Heck, people still want to see him face Roy Jones Jr. in a rematch of a 1993 fight. When the sport of boxing has been at its worst The Executioner has continue to perform at, or near, his best.

Just ask these guys:

Back to #10 Jeremiah Trotter



Sewage leak fitting for stinky Flyers

You can’t make stuff like this up.

The Flyers had their Tuesday afternoon practice in Tampa Bay canceled because of sewage leak in the locker room.

It makes sense considering how much crap the Flyers have put forth over the last two months.

Once picked as the Stanley Cup Favorites, the Flyers have sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic – and for that matter the NHL. Only the Carolina Panthers have fewer points than the Flyers’ 32.

Things have been nothing short of awful. The team has lost 14 of its last 17 games and has scored just 18 goals in the 10 games since John Stevens was fired. Against the Panthers on Tuesday, Chris Pronger, who was signed to help keep pucks out of the net, was on the ice for all four Florida goals. The Flyers are not exactly getting their bang for the buck there.

The good news for the Orange and Black is that they are just seven points behind the Panthers for the 8th seed in the East and have three games in hand. The reality of the NHL is that home ice advantage means next-to nothing in the playoffs. It is all about going in on a hot streak with a hot goaltender.

The Flyers have plenty of time to turn things around. Getting Ray Emery back will help. Remembering how to score will help more.

Hopefully Wednesday’s incident got rid of all the backed up crap the Flyers have been laying out on the ice.

I’m tired of the stink.