Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Devon Still: Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year

In this tumultuous, inconsistent 9-3 season for Penn State, one player stood out above the rest and consistently performed at an elite level. That player was senior defensive tackle Devon Still, a man who was arguably the best player on the field in every single game the Nittany Lions played until the season finale at Wisconsin.

Those efforts have not gone unnoticed. First, Still was named as a finalist for the Nagursky Trophy and Bednarik Award, given to the nation's top defensive player, and the Outland Trophy, given to the nation's best lineman. And now, he's been named the 2011 Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, bringing home the Smith-Brown Award named after Penn State's Courtney Brown and Michigan State's Bubba Smith.

Still absolutely dominated this season and was without question the driving force behind Penn State's dominant defense. There is no question he was the team's best player, and his development into one of the nation's best defensive players puts another notch in Larry Johnson Sr.'s impressive coaching belt.

Every year, Johnson seems to have someone (or someones) who emerges to take the Big Ten by storm. This year it was Still, who joins Courtney Brown, Jimmy Kennedy, Tamba Hali and Jared Odrick as Penn Staters coached up by LJ to win Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year, and that's not even mentioning players like Anthony Adams, Michael Haynes, Jay Alford, Ed Johnson and Ollie Ogbu, to name a few. Larry Johnson Sr. is a treasure, and if anyone on this coaching staff can survive and stick around, I hope it's him.

Congrats to Still, who was an absolute stud this year.

Gerald Hodges was also named First Team All Big Ten by the coaches, while Silas Redd, Jack Crawford, Nick Sukay and Anthony Fera were named second team.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Anatomy of an Eagles Fan: Andy Reid and Us

After yesterday's predictable dismantling at the hands of the New England Patriots, the Eagles sit at a dismal 4-7 on the season, and the hot seat has never been hotter for Andy Reid.

While I'm completely on board with the "time for Andy to go" crowd — for myriad reasons — I've always been enamored with the mind-set of Eagles fans in regard to people like Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb in relation to people like Buddy Ryan and Randall Cunningham.

It's a fascinating dichotomy to me and always has been.

Think about it: Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb are inarguably the most successful head coach-quarterback duo for Philadelphia in the Super Bowl era. Together, they went to five NFC championship games, a Super Bowl and turned the Eagles into a perennial NFC power and class of the NFC East. And yet, McNabb and Reid are almost universally disliked by Eagles fans — not necessarily unappreciated, but disliked.

Conversely, Buddy Ryan and Randall Cunningham are the epitome of untapped potential at best, incredible underachievement at worst. Despite having some of the most talented defenses in the history of the NFL and a quarterback with otherworldly athletic ability, Ryan and Cunningham never won a single playoff game together in Philadelphia. Whether it was Randall's injury, offensive ineptitude or flat-out disappointing showings, Ryan and Randall never even sniffed an ounce of the success McNabb and Reid had for the Eagles. And yet, Ryan and Randall are mostly revered and loved here in Philadelphia.

The reasons most often cited are that Buddy and Cunningham were "more Philadelphia" than Reid and McNabb. Ryan was an aggressive, brash head coach who had snarl and bite. He was a defense-first guy, one who would tell you how he was feeling and never pull punches. Oh, and he made it a point to beat up on Dallas. That never hurts.

And Randall was another brash, talented star who wowed and excited the crowd with his insane running ability, huge arm and penchant for big plays. Nevermind that he never really developed into a full-fledged quarterback who could decipher a defense or his often questionable decision-making — Randall was fun to watch.

On the flip side, Reid is a stubborn, tight-lipped, offense-first guy who prefers the finesse passing game over hard-nosed, "Philadelphia" football. He never tells anyone anything of any consequence, won't create any bulletin board material and never lets anyone in to his rationale behind his (sometimes puzzling) decisions. Beyond that, he often seems to be out to prove a point with his play-calling or personnel decisions, putting off an air of superiority to anyone who dares to question him.

And McNabb was a thin-skinned "yes man" to the front office, a guy who was always quick to point out his critics before addressing any of his own flaws. He wasn't mentally tough enough for Philadelphia.

Those are the perceptions anyway, all with validity. But what I've always found interesting is that while these characterizations very well may be true, at the end of the day, people like Reid and McNabb have had infinitely more success than guys like Ryan and Cunningham — albeit never getting us to the ultimate goal.

So what it all boils down to is that it seems it's better to have a "Philadelphia attitude" than it is to necessarily have success. I'll concede that these two aren't mutually exclusive. It's not as if the Buddy Ryan era was without its high points, and it's not as if the Reid era has been without its lows. But taken at face value, it's always been kind of funny to me how popular Ryan and Randall seem to be and how unpopular Reid and McNabb seem to be here in the City of Brotherly Love.

I'll admit that I'm guilty of it myself at times. While I was a McNabb guy, I've never really fully embraced Reid. I respect what he's done and am not so foolish to think he's a terrible coach. The man has simply had too much success to say otherwise, and I'm most definitely grateful for what he's helped transform this franchise into the past decade-plus.

But I feel it's time to go. He's been here 13 years and hasn't delivered on his quest to get this city its long-awaited Lombardi Trophy. His team looks to be finally tuning him out honestly for the first time. It just simply feels like he has run his course, kind of like Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay or Jim Mora in Indianapolis. Andy Reid rebuilt the franchise into a remarkably successful one, but now it's time to find someone who can get this team over the hump.

I just hope that if Jeffrey Lurie and Joe Banner do decide it's time for a change, the next guy has a "Philadelphia attitude" for his sake. Because like him or not, Andy Reid's shoes won't be easy to fill … partly because of us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Best Holidays for Sports and the Sports Days that Should Be Holidays

The Best Holidays for Sports and the Sports Days that Should Be Holidays

Also, does this rule make any sense whatsoever to anyone? On that DeSean Jackson taunting penalty, the 50-yard catch was wiped out due to offsetting fouls even though DeSean's was a dead ball foul. Had the Giants not committed a penalty, the play would have stood, and then the penalty enforced. But because the Giants committed a penalty during the play, it was offsetting. So essentially, the offense gets more penalized for the defense committing a penalty than it would have if the defense didn't commit a penalty. How does that make any sense at all? It doesn't. Horrible rule.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Matt Read and Sean Couturier Don't Play Like Rookies

Rookies in the NHL, and in every sport for that matter, are prone to mistakes, thus they are usually not tasked with carrying more responsibility than adjusting to the league and beginning to establish themselves. There are the rare exceptions, like the much anticipated debuts of Eric Lindros, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, but for the most part, rookies don't harbor the same responsibilities as veterans.

Rookies in the NHL don't kill penalties in key situations. Rookies in the NHL don't play the point on the power play. Rookies in the NHL don't lead the team in plus-minus rating, score last-second, game-winning goals, and play responsibly in their own zone. Rookies in the NHL don't play generally mistake-free hockey.

Rookies in the NHL not named Matt Read and Sean Couturier anyway.

Since day one of this NHL season, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette has entrusted rookies Matt Read and Sean Couturier with more responsibility than most coaches would. The 25-year-old Read and 18-year-old Couturier have not only been on the active roster since the puck first dropped on the season, but they've been two of the team's top four penalty-killing forwards. Think about that for a minute. Peter Laviolette has had two rookies playing on the PK all season long.

And that duo has been so impressive that Laviolette has actually put them together on the penalty kill. That's right, the Flyers have two rookies on the same PK unit. Did I mention that the Flyers are in the top 10 in PK percentage at 87.2 percent, and that it keeps getting better? Yeah, well it is, thanks in large part to Couturier and Read.

But these two are so much more than scrappy penalty killers. They are both all-around impressive hockey players, guys who have remarkable ice awareness and who rarely make mistakes. The numbers back that up.

Right now, Read is fourth in the NHL for points by a rookie with 11 — just three behind Nashville's Craig Smith and Edmonton's Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for the NHL rookie lead. When you factor in that Read missed a few games to injury, it's all the more impressive.

Even more impressive is that Couturier is right there with Read among points for NHL rookies. The 18-year-old is sitting with the 8th most points for rookies thus far with five goals and three assists, making the Flyers the only team in the NHL with two rookies in the top 10 in rookie scoring.

Oh, and they just so happen to go 1-2 in plus-minus rating among rookies as well. Couturier leads all rookies with a plus-9 rating, which is actually tied with Scott Hartnell for the Flyers' team lead, while Read is right behind him at plus-6. That is truly remarkable given that these two kill penalties all the time — the Flyers lead the NHL in minors.

The reason these two are so damn good is because they just don't play like rookies. They are responsible defensively, always seem to make the right play and never seem overwhelmed.

Read is a dynamic skater who uses his speed on both ends of the ice. He's quick to recover defensively and always working hard on his backcheck, making him an extremely good defensive player. And on the offensive end, he uses his speed to put pressure on the defensemen and create a ton of scoring chances. He also is so responsible and trusted with the puck that he often mans the point on the power play, unheard of for any rookie, let alone an undrafted one.

I have to admit I thought Pierre McGuire was overstating things in the first game of the year when he said Matt Read was his preseason pick for Rookie of the Year, but now it's pretty clear to see why.

As for Couturier, I just can't fathom that he's only 18 years old (turns 19 in a couple weeks). He quite honestly may be the most fundamentally sound forward on this entire team. He just never seems to be out of position, never gets outmuscled, always has his man marked and makes fewer mistakes than just about anyone else on the roster. It's uncanny what he's doing.

He honestly has become my new favorite player. If you had no inclination beforehand, you'd never guess he was an 18-year-old rookie if you watched him play. I can't say enough about the kid.

And last night, Read and Couturier had a huge hand in the 2-1 victory over Ilya Bryzgalov's former team.

In the first period, Danny Briere was called for unlucky high sticking penalty that drew blood, meaning the Flyers had to kill off a 4-minute penalty early on. Not only did they kill it off, but they dominated those four minutes, led by Read and Couturier. Those two were everywhere on that PK, forcing Phoenix and controlling the puck more than the Coyotes did. On one awesome heads up play, Read used his speed to pounce on a loose puck and dart toward goal. His intention was to try and create a scoring chance, but as he saw the chance close, he skated behind the Phoenix net, lugged the puck a bit, then banked it back out of the zone and all the way back to his defenseman, Andrej Meszaros, who skated it back into his own end, killed more time and then finally fired it down. Just a great play.

Thanks to the rookies' great work, the Coyotes were 0-for-4 on the power play.

Then of course Read won the game in dramatic fashion, scoring the game-winning goal with just 18.6 seconds left.

It was the Flyers' third straight win and the eighth straight game they've earned at least one point. In fact, the Flyers have gained at least one point in every game this month.

A large reason for this tremendous early-season success has been the play of Matt Read and Sean Couturier, two first-year players who don't play anything like rookies.

It's Friday, Time to Dance

I've never been less excited for an Ohio State-Penn State, Eagles-Giants weekend. That's how bad things have gotten. So here's footage of Led Zeppelin at the Spectrum because that show is something I would have been extremely excited to see — you know, if I was alive in 1975 and all.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr Are Ridiculous

I have watched Flyers hockey my entire life. I've seen greatness in Eric Lindros in his prime, brute strength and consistency in John LeClair, tenacity and leadership in Keith Primeau and understated excellence in Kimmo Timonen. I've seen Mike Richards do everything, Rod Brind'Amour outwork everyone, and unheralded guys like Shjon Podein and Jody Hull kill penalties with the best of them.

What I've never seen before this year is two Flyers with the chemistry Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr have on the ice. Last night, it was on perfect display, as Jagr sprung Giroux on a breakaway to open up the scoring and assisted on his second goal as well, as Claude did otherworldly things on the ice, elevating his game to another level now that this is indisputably his team.

Now centering the top line on a nightly basis, Giroux has flourished with Jagr at his side, as the 23-year-old Canadian and the 39-year-old Czech work off each others' strengths night in and night out. Claude has 11 goals in 17 games following his two-goal effort last night, tying him for second in the NHL behind only Phil Kessel. Jagr has 11 assists in 17 games, many of those finished off by the stick of Giroux. As it stands, they are the Flyers' two leading scorers, with Giroux tied for second in NHL with his 22 points, again only trailing Kessel's 24, while Jagr is not far behind, adding 6 goals to his impressive assist total for 17 points. And combined, the duo is skating to an impressive plus-10 rating, made even more impressive given Claude's responsibility on the penalty kill.

But numbers can only tell you so much. What they fail to show is just how in tune these two are with seemingly every motion they make on the ice. Jagr, with his deliberate, controlled strides, is always in sync with Giroux's more aggressive approach. And their shared creativity has meant a continuous string of scoring no matter if it's James van Riemsdyk, Scott Hartnell or anyone else joining them.

I have to admit that I was skeptical about signing a 39-year-old player who hadn't been in the NHL in three years, even if that man is one of the greatest hockey players to ever roam the earth. But good god has Jagr been impressive, and he's a big reason why Giroux is continuing his ascent to full-on superstardom. Watching them work together in the early season has been one of the most enjoyable aspects of an otherwise bleak autumn.

Another one has been the play of Max Talbot.

To be perfectly honest with you, I'm not sure there was another player in the NHL I hated more than Max Talbot prior to this season. He just got under my skin each and every shift he took as a Pittsburgh Penguin. So when I found out the Flyers had signed him, I was not to pleased that I'd have to start rooting for him.

Then he donned the Orange and Black and did what he does, and I can't help but love his game.

For starters, Talbot is one of the best penalty-killing forwards I've seen in a Flyers uniform, and I've seen a ton of them. Mike Richards was great and easily the best at attacking and scoring shorthanded goals, while players like Blair Betts, Darroll Powe, the aforementioned Jody Hull and Shjon Podein, Rod Brind'Amour, Eric Lindros, Joel Otto, Keith Primeau and Ian Laperriere played so sound on the PK. So far this season, Talbot has been as impressive as any of them, and he's needed to be.

As the Flyers continue to take far too many penalties, Talbot continues to shine on the disadvantage. He just never seems out of position and never misses a chance to clear the puck, block a pass or shot and get his team out of trouble. The guy is a warrior out there, and he's as big a reason as any that the Flyers have been climbing up the ranks in penalty kill percentage.

Oh, and he also happens to have six goals already on this young season, scoring last night thanks to a great play by Jakub Voracek.

The only aspect of Talbot's game that's left more to be desired this year is in the face-off circle, but that can be said for every center on this roster. Otherwise, Talbot has been fantastic, and my hate for him has completely vanished.

By the way, I would be remiss if I didn't mention a little more about the man who assisted on Talbot's goal last night. Jakub Voracek was really impressive in Carolina, playing the best game I've seen out of him yet for the Flyers. When Giroux and Talbot weren't the ones jumping off the television making things happen, Voracek was, using his size, reach, speed and strength to create chances all night. He finished with two assists and just played a tremendous game.

Though Claude was the standout, hands down. And watching him work with Jagr has been the best thing in Philadelphia sports this fall.

Monday, November 14, 2011

When the Outcome Truly Doesn't Matter

With all due respect to Herm Edwards, who won and who lost on Saturday in Beaver Stadium didn't matter all that much. It wasn't about Nebraska winning or Penn State losing 17-14, wasn't about the Big Ten championship game race, wasn't about Joe Paterno or a scandal or even really a football game.

Saturday wasn't about any of that. No, Saturday was about a community of devastated people coming together to honor victims, raise awareness and start the healing process for all those affected by this inconceivable tragedy.

Many people thought Penn State should cancel the game and perhaps the remainder of its season. I'm glad my alma mater didn't, because then I would have never experienced one of the most touching demonstrations I've ever been a part of.

When I arrived in State College with a longtime friend and college roommate and my father, I had no idea what to expect. As it turned out, the tailgaters were still there, the fans still wearing their Penn State colors, and it looked like any other Penn State home game from the past six decades. But it didn't feel the same, because it wasn't the same.

There was almost an eery silence — a remarkably subdued atmosphere. I've been going to games at Beaver Stadium since I was 6 years old, and it's never been quieter or more reserved outside, especially on such an unseasonably gorgeous November afternoon in the middle of Pennsylvania.

And yet, the people did not stay away. In fact, I met up with several friends I had not even seen since college and did not even know would be there, embracing each other with hugs and well wishes. It has been a difficult week for those of us in the Penn State family — a difficulty that pales in comparison to the difficulties the victims have faced. We needed the support and the love of each other to confront it and begin the healing process.

That's exactly what happened. It didn't matter that Penn State missed opportunities and fell behind 17-0. It didn't matter that Matt McGloin couldn't get anything going through the air or that Penn State lost its first conference game. All that mattered is that for four hours, the individuals who make up the university — along with the countless Nebraska supporters who were nothing but respectful all game long — came together to show we are not shying away from our community.

The student section has never been fuller from kickoff to well after the final seconds had ticked off the clock, and a stadium has never been more emotional. The chants were chilling, louder than I've ever heard them. And I'd be lying if I said I've ever been more emotional during a game.

Sure, there were the expected yet nevertheless disappointing chants for the beleaguered coach by students, but they were few and far between. The biggest, most uproarious chants were us alumni and students proclaiming "We Are, Penn State" and we are still standing. Beaver Stadium was packed, and not a soul left early. The players were greeted with a rousing standing ovation before and especially after the game. And the community came together for itself and especially for the victims.

The stadium was filled with blue to raise awareness, and to date, nearly a half million dollars has been raised by students, alumni and supporters and awarded to child protection and rape prevention charities. Now more than ever, Penn State is determined to do good.

It was cathartic. It was touching. And while it will never begin to make up for all the horrors that took place, it was a step in the right direction. No one will ever look at Penn State the same again. We are not asking anyone to.

What we are asking is that everyone, everywhere joins in helping us all move forward and do everything in our power to make the world a better and safer place. This was bigger than the outcome of a game. Truth is, it's bigger than Penn State. It's about humanity demanding better from itself. And there's no better way than coming together to work toward that goal.

That happened Saturday afternoon in Beaver Stadium, and I hope and pray it happens again and again and again all across the world.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Sports Fan Journal

For a while now, I've been honored to be a part of Ed the Sports Fan. As the relationship has flourished, Ed and Kenny came up with a crazy idea to build a network of writers and start an evolution called The Sports Fan Journal.

Today is the official launch of the new site, and I am honored to be a part of it along with some of the most talented and original people out there:

Phillip Barnett – The California writer is a contributor to ESPN’s Truehoop Network and Ed The Sports Fan.

Bryan Crawford - The Chicago scribe is a contributor to SLAM Magazine and the accompanying website,

Syreeta Hubbard - Editor of The NFL Chick, a popular football blog from a knowledgeable female’s perspective. She’s also the co-founder of Gridiron Gals.

Joslin Lofton - Founder and editor of Pigskin Loving Lady, which delivers “Hot off the Wire” daily content about the National Football League.

Joe Simmons - He is the founder and CEO of Bull City State Of Mind and works as a color analyst for North Carolina Central University Sports Network. Simmons is also a member of the NCCU Hall-of-Fame.

Justin Tinsley - Tinsley is the Associate Editor at The Smoking Section, with a focus on hard-hitting sports insight and music commentary.

Mark Trible - Trible works as the Sports Editor at, an analyst at Inside Hockey, and a co-host at Flyers Corner Radio.

I'm very excited about the site, and my first post can be found here. Hope you enjoy it.

Walking Into the Lion's Den

Right now, there are a whole lot of people out there, many of them with absolutely no other affiliation with the university than what happens on Saturdays in the fall, who seem to feel they know what's best for Pennsylvania State University. "Blow up" the school, they say. Cancel tomorrow's game. Make everyone pay.

To that I ask, what good would any of that do? Contrary to what many ignorant people seem to believe, 99.999999999999999999999999 percent of Penn State students, alumni, administrators, faculty and staff knew absolutely nothing about the horror that was taking place, and 100 percent of those people are as outraged and upset and embarrassed — and I can go on and on with the emotions — as everyone else. To paint the entirety of the university as culpable is irresponsible and unfair. And again, I ask, what good does it do?

Moving forward, the goal should be to make the necessary changes in leadership and in the culture around Penn State, not to destroy a university that has helped generations do good — just as every university in the world has. Dismantling and punishing the hundreds of thousands of people associated with the university who had absolutely nothing to do with this scandal is the equivalent of telling everyone to run and hide.

We as a university must face this head on, not put our heads in the sand. We must learn from it, not run from it. We must do everything in our power to create change and make the campus and the world a safer and better place. Scores of people affiliated with Penn State are already doing that. Scores more will.

No matter how high-profile, how visible, how powerful certain individuals may be, no one man — no five men — make up an institution. Penn State is made up 46,000-plus students, hundreds of faculty and staff, and hundreds of thousands of alumni. We are the majority of the university, and the majority wants nothing more than to do its best to help in whatever small way we can to right the terrible wrongs people in our family have committed.

Running and hiding isn't the answer. Punishing an innocent majority isn't the answer. That does no one any good. And more than ever, this community and this world as a whole needs more good. Evil was among out midst, and negligence that harbored that evil. It's now our job, the countless Penn Staters who are outraged by the entire situation, to remove that evil and regain the ideals the university was built on.

I'm going to the Penn State-Nebraska game tomorrow. I'm walking right into the lion's den. Sure, I have reservations, and I'd be lying if I said I'm enthused to go. But I, and thousands of others, will show up not to show solidarity for one individual or another, but to show the world we aren't hiding. We're here to face this matter head on.

I have no doubt there will be things I see and hear that will make me shameful. There already has been. I'm also sure there will be displays of humanity that give me hope and perhaps even help me regain a little bit of that pride that was so quickly and suddenly snatched away.

It's a tragedy, a sickening ordeal. If you think by trying to go on, trying to build a reputation back up, trying to do right by the people who make up this tarnished university and trying to do some good out of all this bad somehow comes across as being in favor of these disheartening, disgusting, unforgivable acts, then feel free. I choose not to look at that way, because I don't see the good in that.

And now more than ever, Penn State and the entire world could use some good.

It's Friday, Time to Dance

Holy shit this is awesome. How old is this guy? How drunk is he? How have I never seen him before? I will definitely seek him out next Eagles game I go to. Enjoy.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

I've Got Nothing to Say

I've spoken my peace here and here. I really have nothing to add other than I stand behind the Penn State board's decision and hope Mike McQueary takes the initiative to resign. He simply cannot be allowed around this program or this school any longer.

Saturday is going to be surreal. This whole thing is surreal.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Smokin Joe Frazier Never Let Us Down

Fuck Rocky, build the Joe Frazier statue he so rightly deserves.

Rest in peace, Smokin Joe.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

What a Difference a Week Makes

A week ago, I was on a sports high: the Flyers won in impressive fashion, Penn State remained undefeated in conference play despite its offense and the Eagles put it on the Cowboys, finally looking like the team everyone expected them to be.

Heading into the NHL season, I had my reservations about the Flyers after overhauling the roster. Penn State has been so hard to watch that I had to believe they'd lose some game they shouldn't. And the Eagles were so dreadful early on that it was hard to fathom them turning it around. Last weekend helped me reverse my thinking a bit, with the Flyers playing pretty good hockey early in the season, Penn State still finding ways to win, and the Eagles looking poised for their annual late-season run thanks to that demolition of the Cowboys following the bye week.

Things were finally starting to look up. There Penn State sat as the only undefeated team in Big Ten play, and the Eagles pulled themselves right back into the thick of the NFC East race.

One week later, and the doubt has crept back in. The entire university is in shock for Penn State, and you can't help but wonder if these damning allegations will derail the Nittany Lions' run toward the first ever Big Ten Championship Game. And the Eagles just put forth a sloppy, undisciplined game against a Bears team that tried to give the game away, losing 30-24 at home on Monday night.

What a difference a week makes.

Against the Cowboys, the Eagles dominated every facet of the game. Offensively, Michael Vick was as sharp as he's ever been, the receivers were making plays and LeSean McCoy continued to establish himself as one of the best running backs in the league. Defensively, Juan Castillo let his cornerbacks loose, completely shutting down Dallas' passing attack, and the rest of the unit followed suit. Nothing could go wrong.

Last night, none of that was the case. There wasn't a single player on defense who had a good game, and the only guy who even looked competent was Kurt Coleman. The defensive line didn't get any pressure on Jay Cutler despite going against a line that has let its quarterback get killed all season long. In fact, the only time they even touched Cutler, Jason Babin was called for a questionable roughing the passer penalty.

A week after putting forth their best effort of the year, the linebackers reverted to their previous ways, getting run through by Matt Forte and getting burnt in coverage against the do-it-all back. On the opening drive, the Bears just ran it right down Philadelphia's throat. And the corners played awful all damn night.

To be fair, Asante Samuel was having a strong game most of the night. Jay Cutler spent a lot of the game going to Asante's man, and for the most part, he did an excellent job in coverage. But on the Bears' go-ahead touchdown in the 4th quarter, Asante got burnt badly, and I'm not even sure what the hell he was doing. However, at least Asante was fired up and into the game. The same cannot be said about Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

I keep hearing about how DRC is perhaps the best athlete on the team, how his defensive teammates are in awe of his natural ability. But you know what? None of that matters one bit if you don't give a damn, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie does not give two shits about playing football this season. Maybe he isn't happy being a nickel corner and can't get comfortable in his role here, but that doesn't excuse his complete indifference on the field. Watch any game except last week, and it's clear he isn't coming close to giving his full effort out on the field. Last night, he gave up on at least 6 plays, once letting a guy completely go and not even remotely trying to make a tackle after giving up a reception.

It's reached the point where he shouldn't even be allowed on the field with that type of pathetic effort. He's insulting his teammates and the fans with what he's doing out there. I mean, it really does look like he's not even trying. He should be ashamed of himself.

And Nnamdi, well, he just hasn't been what we expected. Against Dallas, he was awesome. And last night, he generally took away Devin Hester or whoever else he was covering, as Cutler avoided throwing his way for the most part. But when the Eagles really needed him to make a play, just to not give up a play actually, he got called for a pass interference penalty against Johnny Knox on a 3rd-and-11 with 5 minutes left, allowing the Bears to milk more clock before kicking the field goal that put them 7.

That was a theme for the night, the Eagles not getting off the field on third down.

On offense, it was LeSean McCoy and Brent Celek but no one else. The receivers were terrible all night, with DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin dropping balls the entire game. Vick played about as stupid as you can, literally throwing balls right to Chicago defenders. He's lucky as hell he only got picked off once, a terrible throw that looked like Lance Briggs actually was his intended target. There was a stretch of games last year where Vick really looked like an evolved quarterback, but he's back to playing stupid football with boneheaded decisions excluding last week's game.

Then there was all the normal high jinks we've come to expect. DeSean Jackson fumbled a punt with a minute left in the half, leading to a Chicago touchdown. After taking a 24-17 lead on a 33-yard run by LeSean McCoy with 5:521 remaining in the third quarter, Shady only touched the ball three more times all game. Three. Your best player only got the ball three times in the final 20 minutes of the game even though the Eagles had a lead heading into the 4th quarter. Following a field goal by Robbie Gould that made it 24-20, the Eagles came out and called three straight passing plays before punting. They were winning. In the 4th quarter. With their best player being their running back. And they didn't run the ball once with that lead in the final quarter. That's what you call terrible coaching.

Then there was the Eagles using a timeout with the clock stopped after an incomplete pass, trailing with four minutes left. And who can forget Chas Henry's laughable pass attempt on that fake field goal?

Colt Anderson was wide open. No one covered him as the Eagles lined up for the punt. All Henry had to do was get the ball to him and it was a sure first down to continue the drive with a chance to tie the game. But he underthrew him by at least 5 yards, and the game was over. Unreal.

It looked just like the Eagles prior to the Washington game. The Bears were literally trying to give the game away. Matt Forte, who did gash the Birds for 133 yards on the ground, fumbled twice. He never fumbles, yet he did twice. Still the Eagles couldn't win.

Last week, they could do no wrong. Last night, they couldn't do anything right.

Just a week ago, hell just a few days ago, Penn State and the Eagles looked to be in good position. Now they're both scrambling in one form or another.

What a difference a week makes.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Saddened, Disgusted, Heartbroken and Distraught

That's how I feel about my university right now. I've spent my entire life admiring Pennsylvania State University for its integrity, loyalty and dedication to molding young adults into leaders, an ideal encapsulated by head football coach Joe Paterno.

I've never honestly felt anything but pride for my alma mater — before, during and after I was a student there. It's the only school I applied to, the only place I wanted to go. Sure, there were times I was angry with some policies, disappointed with athletic results and frustrated with administrators, but I always could take pride in the way the university went about its business.

Now that entire feeling has been shattered. One disturbing, disgusting old man betrayed the trust of children under the guise of help, and the actions of this one horrible human being — and no matter how great of a coach Jerry Sandusky was, anyone who disagrees that he is an absolute monster is as sick as he is — have snowballed into a complete catastrophe.

Right now, people want heads to roll, and rightfully so. I am as big of a Penn State supporter as there's ever been, but I just cannot fathom anyone surviving this. Forget whether the allegations are true or false for a minute, as hard as that is to do. Just think of the simple fact that not a single one of these men named in the investigation reported potential child abuse to police. That is despicable and unforgivable.

Tim Curley and Gary Schultz should have been fired immediately. Joe Paterno and Mike McQueary should be the next ones to step down. And frankly, Graham Spanier should not be far behind, not after declaring his unwavering support for those indicted on perjury charges.

Forget what the minimum legal guidelines are. By all accounts, Paterno and McQueary met those standards, for which they should be credited. But the fact of the matter is everyone involved knew something inappropriate occurred between Sandusky and a minor, and none of them went to the police. Neither McQueary nor Paterno ever followed up with Curley and Schultz after essentially nothing was done. You can provide lip service all you want to protecting children is of utmost importance, but the fact of the matter is it wasn't to any of these men in this case. If it was, all of them would have went police immediately — not just one of them, but all of them. Yet no one did.

I can't even begin to tell you how heartbroken I am for the children and families that have had to go through this. They are the most important entities here, the people my university completely and utterly failed to protect. They must live with the deplorable events for the rest of their lives.

Selfishly, I'm also heartbroken for Penn State and its countless alumni all over the world. Everything we have been led to believe has now been irreversibly tarnished. Pride is no longer the first thing we think of when we think about our university.

I have tickets to senior day against Nebraska, a huge game between two ranked teams with giant conference implications. Just a few days ago, I couldn't have been more excited to go. Now I don't even want to make the trip because I'm so ashamed of the actions from high-ranking officials at my alma mater, members of the coaching staff included. It just feels wrong to support anything Penn State right now, a sad reaction indeed.

No one is without guilt here if any ounce of this is true, and it seems pretty clear that's the case. After 50-plus years of the "success with honor" motto being a staple of Penn State football and the university as a whole, it's all come crashing down.

There is no honor to be had here, and there won't be for some time. This won't be going away anytime soon. And as a once-proud alum, I am saddened, disgusted, heartbroken and distraught. Imagine how those innocent young boys and their families must feel.

Friday, November 4, 2011

It's Friday, Time to Dance

The Eagles play the Bears on Monday, so there's a good chance that former Penn State standout Anthony Adams will do his awesome pregame dance to fire up his Chicago teammates.

And just for good measure, here he is as a 49er at some sort of pep rally.

There you have it. Even on Penn State's bye week, we get some Penn State flavor. Enjoy the weekend.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Face-offs, Penalties and the VCVR Line

Throughout the first month of this young NHL season, the talk around the Flyers has largely been about Ilya Bryzgalov and the Claude Giroux-Jaromir Jagr-(and recently) Scott Hartnell line, and rightfully so. Bryzgalov was the high-priced, high-profile offseason acquisition, finally giving the Flyers the elite netminder they've been lacking ever since Bernie Parent was hoisting two Stanley Cups — or possibly young Ron Hextall and his incredible Conn Smythe run in 1987.

Naturally, he's going to generate a ton of attention all year, whether it's praise like he received through the first few games or criticism following a recent slump in play.

And of course no one can stop talking about the Jagr-Giroux connection and how incredibly awesome that line has been, especially since Scott Hartnell was inserted on the wing.

And while that trio did connect for what turned out to be the game-winning goal — an absolute laser of a shot by Hartnell, assisted by both Jagr and Giroux, that chased Ryan Miller from the game — it was another line that stood out on the night, a newly formed line due to the injuries to Brayden Schenn, Danny Briere and Matt Read.

With Schenn, Briere and Read out of the lineup, Peter Laviolette devised a trio of two 22-year-olds and an 18-year-old: rookie Sean Couturier centering James van Riemsdyk and Jakub Voracek. That line got the Flyers out to a fast start as Couturier calmly gathered a fat rebound kicked out by Miller and deposited it in the back of the empty net just 1:43 into the game, and 13 seconds later JVR ripped an unstoppable shot past Miller, sniping the top right corner.

A seemingly makeshift line of youngsters scored twice in the first two minutes of the game and set the tone for the first period. And while the Sabres eventually got their bearings at intermission and gave the Flyers a fight to the end, that line continued to be the most impressive all night long. The chemistry between Voracek, Couturier and JVR was instant and just kept getting stronger. Every time those three were on the ice together, it seemed as though they had the Sabres on their heels and pinned deep in their own zone. They cycled the puck well, won battles along the boards and created chances time and time again.

It was such an impressive performance that I wouldn't be surprised if Laviolette keeps them together for a little while, even if Briere and Read come back relatively soon. I mean, for the first time perhaps all season someone other than the top line looked like the best line for the Flyers. So perhaps this is the birth of the VCVR line.

Of course, we all know how fickle line combinations can be in the NHL, and this line may not be what it was last night as time goes on. But I was so impressed with the way they played last night that I couldn't help myself from giving it a name, especially since it's so easy to come up with. The VCVR line. I like it.

What I do not like, however, is this team's continued propensity to lose face-offs and take penalties. No matter how much talent and how good your lines and defense pairings are clicking, a team that takes a lot of penalties and that cannot win face-offs will struggle to be a true Cup contender.

As you probably know, I'm a huge face-off guy. Hockey is a possession game, and winning face-offs is a huge part of gaining possession. An offensive zone draw can be the difference between a great scoring chance and shift or a missed opportunity. And defensive zone draws are so vital to keep the other team out of your zone and relieve the pressure, especially on the penalty kill and in the 3rd period.

Prior to the lockout, the Flyers always had a stable of centers who were elite face-off guys: Rod Brind'Amour, Eric Lindros, Joel Otto, Keith Primeau, etc. It was a major reason the Flyers of the 90s and early 2000s were always among the elite, always great defensively and always strong on the penalty kill. They won important draws all the time.

But since the lockout, despite always having a glut of centers, the Flyers have not been able to find a dominant guy in the circle. As a result, it's been one of the franchise's achilles heels and led to entirely too many goals by the opposition and missed opportunities to set up in the offensive zone.

Despite my urging, the team continually fails to address the problem, and lost face-offs continue to harm the Flyers.

Last night, they won just 35 percent of the draws, and it was a huge reason that the Sabres were able to get back in the game and control large chunks of the 2nd and 3rd periods. And it's been a huge problem all season long. In fact, the Flyers are dead last in the NHL in face-off percentage, sitting at a paltry 45.5 percent. That's embarrassingly low and something the team has to address at some point. It's honestly like the Eagles with linebackers. For whatever reason, the Flyers turn a blind eye to face-offs despite face-offs being a huge part of the game. It drives me nuts.

Just as the constant penalties drive me nuts. The other reason Buffalo was able to steadily get back in the game after digging itself a 3-0 hole in the first 6 and half minutes is because the Flyers kept taking penalty after penalty, another recipe for disaster and another bad habit this team can't seem to break.

Through 12 games, the Flyers are second in the NHL in penalties minutes with 205, trailing only Ottawa's 224. Last night, they had 31 penalty minutes compared to just 17 by the Sabres. And while Buffalo failed to convert on any of its five power plays last night, they were able to build momentum and sustain pressure to get back into the game due in part to the Flyers being shorthanded so often.

Thankfully, the Flyers' penalty kill has been pretty good this year, and I cannot say enough about Max Talbot on the PK. The guy really is one of the game's best. Last night, he was a monster on the penalty kill, doing everything you can ask and always making the right, smart decision. I hated it when I heard the Flyers signed arguably the former Pittsburgh Penguin I despised the most, but now I absolutely love it.

Now if he could just win some damn face-offs with the rest of the centers and have his teammates stop taking so many penalties, the Flyers could really have something special.

Oh, and I'd be remiss without mentioning Ilya Bryzgalov's enormous save at the end of the game on Thomas Vanek all alone in front of the net to preserve the 3-2 victory. Bryz was really good last night when he needed to be, and he seems to have his confidence back after that dreadful 9-8 loss against the Jets. And thank goodness for that.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

NBA Lockout Blues

Over the course of my life, I've watched countless NBA games. When I was in junior high and high school, I began to fall asleep damn near every night to a 10:30 tip-off between the Suns and Blazers or Sonics and Warriors or whatever the West Coast TNT game was that night, and that habit has stayed with me to this day.

However, with baseball just wrapping up, the NFL regular season at the midway point and the NHL underway — not to mention being older and getting tired much easier these days — I didn't think I'd be too bummed out about the NBA lockout delaying the start of the season.

But then last night I was on a conference call headed by my man Ed when NBA fanatic Justin Tinsely shared the emptiness he's feeling without the NBA. Then I started to recall all the great moments from the 2010-11 NBA season and that void Tinsley described began to unveil itself.

Last season was one of the more remarkable and exciting seasons in a long time. Of course, the headline was LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh teaming up and becoming the NBA's version of a soap opera. But there was plenty more beyond that. Derek Rose emerging as an unquestioned superstar en route to the MVP. Amare Stoudemire fleeing to the bright lights of New York City, later joined by Carmelo Anthony in a blockbuster trade. The emergence of the Oklahoma City Thunder, intensified by the perceived power struggle between Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook that came to a head in the postseason … not to mention the surprising Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins trade.

Father Time looked like it finally was creeping up on mainstays like the Spurs, Lakers and Celtics. At the same time, rookies showed the league is in good hands moving forward, as Blake Griffin fulfilled all the promise and potential and more … as did John Wall.

Dwight Howard quietly had an MVP-caliber season. Kevin Love got nothing but love. Jerry Sloan surprisingly retired midseason, followed by Deron Williams being traded to the Nets.

And who can forget the awesome NBA playoffs? Not only did Dirk Nowitzki shed the label of soft and playoff underachiever on his way to leading the Mavericks to the title, but our very own 76ers gave the seemingly invincible Miami Heat all it could handle, including an exhilarating last-second win on Easter Sunday.

Being at that game was one of the most exciting spectacles I've taken in in recent memory. It was a great way to help build excitement for Doug Collins and the Sixers heading into the 2011-12 season, with another year under Collins to grow, Jrue Holiday turning into the real deal and Elton Brand bringing a toughness this team has lacked ever since Allen Iverson was shipped to Denver. Add in the new ownership slashing ticket prices, gathering fan feedback and planning to make the Sixers a hot ticket again, and this year was bound to be fun.

But alas, here we sit with no NBA action. The season was supposed to tip off last night with a slew of exciting games, and the Sixers were supposed begin their journey tonight in Toronto. Some people may not care. Hell, I thought I'd be one of those people to tell you the truth, at least until Christmas. But it turns out I do care, I do miss the early NBA action, and if you care about the NBA and basketball you should too.

Say what you want about the league's image and the players wielding the power. There is no substitute for the NBA. The level play is so far superior to anything else that's out there, and the stars in the league are the best on the planet. Last season, that was all on full display.

Sadly, we have no idea when we'll get to see our favorite players and favorite teams on the hardwood again. I definitely have the NBA lockout blues.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

An Interlude on My Life