Barely one week after the NFL season ends, baseball season begins. The Phillies’ pitchers and catchers must report to spring training by Monday. The first workout is Tuesday.
The offseason seems to get shorter and shorter each year. With free agency, the hot stove league and the Hall of Fame announcement, there barely is an offseason in baseball. The same is true, perhaps even more so, with the NFL, which never seems to take a week off.
The leagues obviously want fans to be engaged all year long. They don’t want fans to go away. The fear is that some of them won’t come back.
There is a cost, however, to the 12-months-a-year news cycle. The countdown to spring training used to mean something. Fans were legitimately excited about the start to spring training. They missed baseball.
But you can’t miss something when it’s never gone. As the old adage goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Maybe the feeling is different in Chicago, where the excitement from the Cubs winning their first World Series in 108 years carries over to spring training. But that isn’t the case here in the Delaware Valley.
The circumstances are fairly good for a resurgence of Phillies interest. The Sixers’ best player mysteriously remains sidelined with what must be the worst knee contusion in history while the team goes on an extended losing streak. The Flyers have been shut out in two straight games and seem to be in their annual battle for the final wild card berth. The Eagles news centers – no pun intended, Jason Kelce – around which players they are jettisoning off the roster.
The stage is set for the Phillies to inject a healthy dose of optimism into the local sports scene. But let’s face it. Optimism means hoping the Phillies can win almost as many games as they lose this season. That’s not much to hang your hat on.
Yes, the young pitchers are worth watching. The Phillies have also added some major league-quality outfielders. But excitement? I’m not feeling it.
Perhaps there would be more excitement surrounding the start of spring training if baseball ever truly went away.
After destroying the Steelers, the Eagles only won two of their next 11 games. One of those wins was against the Falcons, the Eagles’ lone victory during a nearly two-month span from late October to late December. Yes, the Eagles were terrific against the Steelers and Falcons. But it’s disingenuous to cherry-pick that date and ignore all the defeats.
HALL OF SHAME: There was some local outrage at the failure of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee to choose former Eagles safety Brian Dawkins or short-time Eagles wide receiver Terrell Owens for inductions this year. Given the circumstances, outrage might be a little strong. But disappointment is certainly merited.
The players selected for induction were running back LaDainian Tomlinson; quarterback Kurt Warner; running back Terrell Davis; kicker Morten Andersen; defensive end Jason Taylor; and safety Kenny Easley. Cowboys owner, president and general manager Jerry Jones was selected in the contributors category.
Easley was selected by the Seniors Committee. Although it’s a different vote, perhaps the selection of Easley hurt Dawkins’ chances. Safety is an underrepresented position in the Hall of Fame. Dawkins already had competition from fellow safety John Lynch, who was recently hired as general manager of the 49ers. There was a danger of Lynch and Dawkins splitting the safety vote. With Easley already selected for induction – the Senior finalist was voted upon before discussion of the 15 “regular” finalists – perhaps the committee was reluctant to induct a second safety in the same year. Dawkins belongs in the Hall of Fame, but it’s not outrageous that he wasn’t selected for induction in his first year of eligibility.
Owens has more justification for being upset. He certainly ranks higher among receivers all-time than Warner does among quarterbacks, Taylor does among defensive ends, and Davis does among running backs. One could argue that he ranks higher among receivers than Tomlinson does among running backs. Taylor and Davis are two I would not have selected for induction this year. Owens’ “me first” attitude should detract from his qualifications, but that attitude never seemed to manifest itself on the field, as it did with Randy Moss, a likely first-year inductee in 2018.
Owens and Dawkins may find themselves on the outside looking in against next year. In addition to Moss, players eligible for the Hall of Fame for the first time include linebackers Ray Lewis and Brian Urlacher, both of whom will likely be selected. A maximum of five players can be selected, so that reduces Dawkins’ chances and makes the selections of Owens, who didn’t even make the cut for the final 10, very unlikely. Owens didn’t help his chances by blasting the Hall of Fame committee after this year’s voting.
NO DOUBT ABOUT IT: As I wrote in “The Greatest,” my game story on Super Bowl LI, Tom Brady may have put to rest any debate about who is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Not only does Brady have five Super Bowl rings, one more than former greatest-quarterback-of-all-time Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw, but he wins titles without great receivers.
Bradshaw had Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. Montana had Jerry Rice, John Taylor and Dwight Clark. Brady has Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman. Amendola was cut by several teams and spent less than a year on the Eagles’ practice squad. Edelman was a college quarterback – at Kent State – before being converted to receiver with the Patriots. Hogan excelled at Penn State as a lacrosse player before playing one season at college powerhouse Monmouth. Hogan was signed, without much competition for his services, as a free agent by the Patriots.
There used to be more legitimacy to those who argued that Montana or Peyton Manning was the greatest quarterback in NFL history. With two Super Bowl victories during the past three seasons, including the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history last Sunday, Brady has effectively ended that debate.
THE WRITE STUFF: For those who think that terrific sports writing is a dying art, Inquirer columnist Mike Sielski provides us with evidence that it’s still alive and kicking. First, he wrote an awesome story about an annual road trip that Saint Joseph’s radio broadcaster Matt Martucci takes with his father, a tradition that has continued even though Bill Martucci has Parkinson’s disease.
Sielski followed that moving story one day later with an emotional tribute to former Inquirer sports columnist Bill Lyon, who received the Most Courageous Award from the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association.
In both stories Sielski writes about people who happen to be involved in sports rather than the games themselves. His ability to find the human element in sports is one reason Sielski was selected sports columnist of the year by the Associated Press Sports Editors in 2015. It’s still early February, but Sielski should already be a prime contender for that award again this year.
(In the interests of full disclosure, Mike Sielski is a friend of mine and was my intern at The Record when he was just beginning his journalism career. But I would have written this item, and written it exactly the same way, even if I had never met Mike.)
DESERVING WINNERS: In addition to Bill Lyon winning the Most Courageous Award, the Philadelphia Sports Writers Association honored Villanova’s national championship men’s basketball team as the team of the year. Eric Lindros received the Living Legend Award, Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli received the Good Guy Award and Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere received the Pro Athlete of the Year Award. In a perfect and appropriate choice, the Flyers Wives won the Ed Snider Lifetime Humanitarian Award.
BROADSIDE HIT: Last Friday was the final episode of “Breakfast on Broad,” which aired live on CN8 on weekday mornings and would be rebroadcast on Comcast SportsNet. The show lasted less than two years.
Breakfast on Broad was a noble effort, but I never thought enough fans would have the time to watch a two-hour sports talk show in the morning. A sports talk radio show works because people generally listen while driving or while performing other tasks. Television requires more attention. How many people have two hours in the morning to sit around and watch a sports talk show?
UNION RUMBLINGS: The Union have added some new pieces in recent weeks, but that’s not enough to get me excited about the start of their preseason, which kicks off on Feb. 18 with a preseason game against Tampa Bay. If I’m not excited about Phillies spring training, then you know I’m not excited about soccer preseason. My perspective might change, though, if I were in Florida.
FINAL WING BOWL? Was Wing Bowl 25, which was won last Friday by Notorious B.O.B., the final Wing Bowl? With Angelo Cataldi entering the final year of his contract, there are rumblings that last Friday’s extravaganza could be the final chapter in what’s become a Philadelphia institution.
Eric Fisher, who has been covering sports for more than 28 years, ate 20-25 chicken wings during Super Bowl LI.