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Goals in Flyers’ last 2 preseason games for defenseman Travis Sanheim

Fish ‘n Chips

Posted by Eric Fisher On December 29

(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!”)
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The impact of the loss to the Redskins was devastating.

The 27-24 loss virtually assured that the Eagles wouldn’t qualify for the playoffs. (Actually, the Eagles wouldn’t have qualified for the playoffs if they had won that game, but we didn’t know that at the time.)

Why did the realization the Eagles would miss the playoffs hit Philly sports fans like a runaway locomotive?

Perhaps the impact was so powerful because three weeks earlier, after the Birds dominated the Cowboys on Thanksgiving, Eagles fans were figuring out whether the Eagles would earn a first-round bye. Remember? Mark Sanchez had found redemption for the butt fumble, the offensive line regained last season’s form and Dez Bryant and Jason Witten were making more noise on the sideline than on the field.

To lose three games in a row, including two at home – with one against the same Cowboys whom the Eagles dominated on Thanksgiving – was a shock to the system. The anger immediately following the loss to the Redskins seems to have been replaced by numbness, the kind that often occurs when people receive awful news. It’s as if the emotional system, unable to deal with the bad news, simply shuts down.

Another reason for shock is the belief and trust most of the fan base has placed in Chip Kelly. After all, he stormed onto the season last year and led the Eagles to a surprising NFC East title and playoff appearance. Taking a step backward, which is one the Eagles did this season, seemed almost inconceivable (despite voices – like mine – lost in the wilderness warning that not making the playoffs was a distinct possibility).

The major reason for the seismic impact, however, may be that the Eagles were our only hope.

To describe the current Philadelphia sports landscape as barren is akin to describing the relationship between President Obama and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives (and soon to be the Senate as well) as rocky.

The 76ers aren’t even trying to be good. Head coach Brett Brown and the players are trying, but the organization has its sights set on improving its odds of getting the top pick in the 2015 NBA Draft rather than winning games.

The Sixers are 4-25 (through Saturday). The worst record for a full season in NBA history is a realistic possibility. Even if everything goes according to plan, the Sixers won’t be a winning team for another 2-3 years.

The Phillies, after a second straight dismal season, finally admitted it’s time to “turn the page.” They came to the turn-the-page realization long after many fans had stopped reading. Interim president Pat Gillick says the Phillies probably won’t be good until at least 2017.

Unlike the Sixers and Phillies, the Flyers haven’t thrown in the towel. They are battling back from yet another poor start. But their upside is an upset win in the first round of the playoffs. They aren’t Stanley Cup contenders.

The Flyers, with a relatively young roster and several promising defensemen in the pipeline, have hope for the future. But contending for a Stanley Cup appears to be a few years down the road.

Even the Union failed to uplift fans’ spirits. A bad start, a fired coach and a disappointing finish were lowlights from the Union’s season. They are left with three first-string goalies, which makes some question whether the organization knows how to build a successful team.

With so little to look forward to, no wonder fans gravitated to a Little League team last summer. No wonder the city held a parade for the Taney Dragons after the Little League World Series – even though the Dragons didn’t come close to winning the championship.

And it’s no wonder fans put all their eggs in the Eagles’ basket. They were our hope. They were our salvation.

Maybe it’s unfair for the Eagles to carry the burden of the other sports franchises’ failures, but that is the reality. The Eagles were the Philadelphia team capable of winning right now. A championship was a long shot, but fans would have settled for a division title and a playoff win. Compared to the rest of the professional sports teams in Philadelphia, an Eagles playoff win would have been pretty darn sweet.

Instead of experiencing the sweetness of playoff success, we tasted the bitterness of being eliminated from the playoffs with a week left in the regular season.

It wasn’t what we expected.

It certainly wasn’t what we needed.

*****

DUCK DYNASTY: Chip Kelly’s current team isn’t in the playoffs, but his former team, the Oregon Ducks, qualified for the inaugural college football playoffs for the top level of competition. The Ducks play Florida State in one semifinal (Sugar Bowl) on New Year’s Day, with Alabama taking on Ohio State in the other semifinal (Rose Bowl).

*****

LIONS’ PRIDE: Other than when I’m making fun of their names – Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl, Popeyes Bahamas Bowl, Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl, Duck Commander Independence Bowl, etc. – I largely ignore the vast majority of the 39 college football bowl games. I am not exaggerating; 39 is an accurate number.

But Saturday’s New Era Pinstripe Bowl was an exception. Not only did the game, which ended in overtime, produce a dramatic finish, as did the Hyundai Sun Bowl earlier Saturday, but it marked the return of Penn State to postseason play.

I won’t use this space to expound upon my often-stated views of the NCAA sanctions against Penn State. Instead, I’ll focus on the sheer joy the Nittany Lions displayed when Sam Ficken’s extra point provided the winning margin during Penn State’s 31-30 overtime triumph. The emotion, both on the field, and in sold-out Yankee Stadium, is what college football should be all about.

*****

LIONS’ SHAME: Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh finds himself in a familiar situation: embroiled in controversy. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who had returned to Sunday’s battle for the NFC North division crown after leaving in the first half with a left calf injury, was on the ground after being knocked over. Suh backed up after being bumped by an offensive lineman and, with his back to Rodgers, stepped on his injured leg.

And then he stepped on his leg again, appearing to put more weight on Rodgers’ injured leg.

Suh will dismiss both as accidents, but, given his past transgressions and well-deserved reputation, Suh shouldn’t receive the benefit of the doubt, especially for the second step on Rodgers’ lower leg.

*****

MANZIEL’S MATURITY: Another player who can’t seem to escape his past reputation is Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel. There were numerous examples of Johnny Football appearing to spend too much time being Johnny Party while at Texas A&M. Maturity issues surfaced during the preseason when Manziel flashed the middle finger at the Redskins bench.

After sustaining a hamstring injury during his first NFL start, Manziel missed Sunday’s season finale. Those who questioned the severity of Manziel’s injury were bolstered in their belief when Manziel was late to a treatment session Saturday.

Receiver Josh Gordon skipped the Saturday walkthrough. According to reports, the two incidents may be related. Manziel reportedly hosted a party Friday night. Gordon reportedly attended the party. Manziel is already finding out it’s difficult to play quarterback when you don’t have the full respect of your teammates. He’s about to find out how organizations react when your poor behavior is perceived as having a negative influence on your teammates.

*****

SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE: The Cowboys, Lions and Panthers were three of the most surprising teams in the NFL during the regular season. The Cowboys and Panthers won division titles. The Lions finished second in the NFC North, losing to the Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday in a battle for the division title.

The Panthers had a poor record (7-8-1), but they are still a surprise division champion. Maybe that’s more a reflection of the disappointing seasons turned in by the Saints (7-9) and Falcons (6-10). The 49eers (8-8) also deserve a mention as being among the most disappointing teams.

*****

COSTLY VICTORY: By winning Sunday’s season finale against the Giants, the Eagles avoided ending the season with a four-game losing streak. But they also dropped to 20th in the NFL Draft, the worst drafting position a team can have without making the playoffs. Four AFC teams (the Bills, Texans, Chiefs and Chargers) finished 9-7.

*****

HALL DEBATE: The results of the Baseball Hall of Fame balloting will be announced on Jan. 6. The voting sparks the annual debate over players such as Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, two of the central figures in the performance-enhancing drugs scandal.

The scandal even hurts the case of players such as former Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell, who has had suspicions cast upon his production even though evidence has never been presented regarding any use of PEDs by Bagwell.

Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for nearly 26 years, has never used performance-enhancing drugs.

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R.I.P. Bobby "The Brain" Heenan