(The Fish ‘n Chips column is sponsored by Legal Sea Foods – Gourmet Gift Division … so much more than Fish ‘n Chips … “If it isn’t fresh, it isn’t Legal!”)
Nnamdi Asomugha. Hunter Pence. Ilya Bryzgalov.
Philly teams wanted them. Philly teams went out and got them.
This is a wonderful time to be a Philadelphia sports fan. All of our teams in the four major sports leagues display a commitment to winning. The most recent evidence is the acquisitions of Asomugha and Pence within a few hours on Friday.
It wasn’t always this way. The Phillies used to be skewered, and deservedly so, for not doing what is necessary to win. The Eagles were criticized for appearing more interested in winning the “salary cap championship” than winning the real championship.
If we go back even further in time, it gets even worse. I watched a rerun of HBO’s outstanding “Broad Street Bullies” documentary a few nights ago. The point was made that one of the reasons those Bullies became so popular was that they were perceived as saviors of Philadelphia’s awful sports scene.
In the early 1970s, the Phillies were terrible. How bad? They won just 59 games in 1972 despite future Hall of Famer Steve Carlton winning 27 times. The 76ers finished the 1972-73 season with a 9-73 record, which still stands as the worst in NBA history. The Eagles had fallen on hard times, and their 1960 NFL Championship was quickly becoming a distant memory.
The Flyers’ back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and ’75 ushered in a golden era in Philadelphia sports. Beginning in 1976, the Phillies became perennial contenders, experiencing some playoff heartbreak before winning the franchise’s first World Series title in 1980. The Eagles hired a young coach out of UCLA named Dick Vermeil, who, with very few high draft picks, turned the Eagles into contenders, eventually reaching the Super Bowl in the 1980 season.
The Sixers acquired Dr. J, Julius Erving and reached the finals in 1977. It took a few more trips to the finals, but the Sixers finally broke through and won an NBA title in 1983. A huge factor in winning the championship was the trade for center Moses Malone.
Will the signing of Asomugha, the trade for Pence or the trade for Bryzgalov lead to championships? We don’t know the answer. But we do know that our teams are trying to win championships.
Because of the commitment to winning, we may be in the midst of another golden era in Philadelphia sports. When the Phillies won the World Series, I wondered if it could have the same effect as the Flyers’ Stanley Cups.
During the decade that started with the Flyers’ first Stanley Cup-winning season, the Phillies went to the playoffs six times, reached two World Series and won one championship. The 76ers reached the NBA finals four times during this period, winning one championship. The Eagles reached the Super Bowl and the Flyers returned to the Stanley Cup finals twice.
The high point of the era was 1980, when the Sixers, Flyers and Phillies and Eagles all reached the finals within one calendar year (technically, the Eagles’ Super Bowl appearance came in January of 1981).
Are we on the verge of a similar occurrence? I’m not sure. But if a similar scenario doesn’t unfold, it won’t be due to a lack of commitment.
That is why this is a wonderful time to be a Philadelphia sports fan. Enjoy the ride and, hopefully, a parade or two.
MY TWO CENTS ON PENCE: I’ve liked Hunter Pence from the first time I saw him play. He’s a talented player with versatile skills, but that’s not what first caught my eye.
What caught my eye the first time I watched Pence was the way he plays the game. He hustles without showboating. He plays hard and does everything it takes to win. He doesn’t have tremendous power or speed, but he gets the most out of his skills in every area, turning himself into a well-rounded player who excels at the plate, on the bases and in the field.
Pence’s best asset is his attitude. That’s why Phillies fans are going to love him.
TURNING THE CORNER: There is no debate about the Eagles’ signing of Nnamdi Asomugha. He is, without a doubt, one of the elite cornerbacks in the NFL. Many observers consider Asomugha the best cornerback in the NFL.
Signing Asomugha makes the Eagles much better. Combined with the acquisition of cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie through the Kevin Kolb trade and the signing of defensive end Jason Babin, the Eagles have made great strides to improve their porous pass defense.
The question is whether the Eagles will keep all their cornerbacks. Samuel and Asomugha may be the Eagles’ best potential combination, but that ties up a lot of money in one position. Furthermore, I don’t believe they acquired Rodgers-Cromartie to be a backup. That means one of the cornerbacks may be traded, and the logical choice is Asante Samuel.
Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie would be a formidable tandem. Asomugha is a shutdown corner. That will force opposing quarterbacks to throw to the other side, where the ball-hawking Rodgers-Cromartie, with a penchant for returning interceptions for touchdowns, should have ample opportunities to make game-changing plays.
By the way, did anyone notice that Asomugha is 30 years old? The Eagles, obviously, are willing to make an exception to their 30-and-older pattern when it makes sense.
DOUBLE AGENT? What are the Phillies going to do when Ed Wade gets fired as general manager of the Astros? Since the former Phillies GM has joined the Astros, he has traded Brad Lidge, Roy Oswalt and Hunter Pence to the Phillies. Wade has, arguably, done more to help the Phillies win World Series since he left Philadelphia than when he was here.
FOREVER YOUNG: In case you missed it, Joe Paterno told the media at the Big Ten preseason news conference that he plans to coach four or five more years. That wasn’t news in the past. As long ago as the 1980s, Paterno would periodically state that he plans to coach at least four or five more years in order to counter rumors – often repeated to recruits by unscrupulous coaches from other teams – that Paterno was going to retire soon.
These days, however, when Paterno says he plans to coach four or five more years, it’s big news. Paterno, who will turn 85 in December, says he’s recovered from the health problems that affected him down the past few years. If he remains relatively healthy, don’t be surprised if Paterno coaches into his 90s.
HALL OF FILM: Congratulations to NFL Films founder Ed Sabol, who will be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame next weekend. You can’t quantify how much NFL Films has done to increase the NFL’s popularity. That is why it is so sad that NFL Films has fallen on hard times.
As Paul Domowitch detailed in an excellent article in Friday’s Daily News, the NFL doesn’t seem to value the excellence of NFL Films, which has led to layoffs and buyouts, not to mention a reduction in quality. At the same time that the NFL is recognizing Sabol’s contributions to the NFL’s popularity through his innovative company, the NFL is failing to recognize the value of NFL Films. That simply doesn’t make any sense.
The budgets say that NFL Films loses money. But I don’t know how you can put a price on the head of every fan (and all the tickets and merchandise those fans buy) who got turned on to the NFL through Game of the Week and other NFL Films productions.
INDEPENDENCE DAYS: The final two chances to see the Philadelphia Independence during the regular season are Sunday against Atlanta and next Sunday (Aug. 7) against Sky Blue FC. The Independence are battling for first place and preparing for the playoffs, so soccer fans should take advantage of the final few opportunities to see the Independence this season.
LOST SOULS: The entire coaching staff of the Philadelphia Soul is gone, a casualty of the Soul’s 6-12 record in their return to Arena Football. Failure isn’t tolerated in Philadelphia, where championships are the goal.
And, no, I don’t think it was the Soul’s 2008 AFL championship, rather than the Phillies’ World Series title, that ushered in this golden era in Philadelphia sports. But we certainly should include the Soul’s title in the city’s current wave of sports success.
Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for nearly 23 years, believes it is only a matter of time until we have another parade – or should that be parades?