By Bill Campbell
When Roy Halladay announced his retirement from baseball in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, this week his wife, Brandy, delivered a memorable comment. "I feel like the baseball world got the best of him but I feel like there is enough of him left for us too." We baseball fans in Philadelphia, as well as those in Toronto, know that we surely got something special from "Doc".
If 203 victories, 2 Cy Young Awards and over 2,000 strike-outs aren't enough for entrance into the Hall of Fame, I'm not sure what is. The most recent Cy Young plaque was earned in 2010 when Halladay pitched for the Phillies and did, indeed, make anything look possible when he was on the mound. Who will forget Halladay's perfect game in May, when he was in complete sync with catcher Carolos Ruiz through the last out? Who could forget his equally thrilling no-hitter in October, after he had waited so long to make a playoff debut? After the perfect game, Halladay bought every team mate, trainer and locker room staffer a watch commemorating the perfect game and thanking them for their support of him on that day. That's the kind of guy he is. Who does that these days? Phillies' General Manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. put it almost as well as Brandy Halladay when he said simply, "I was blessed" to have acquired Halladay from Toronto for 3 prospects. The fans were too. Roy Oswalt, Halladay's former team mate, was right when he said, "Hands down, he was the best pitcher of this era and a first-ballot Hall of Famer." He'll get no argument from this writer.
When he could no longer pitch to his own exacting standards, when age and injury had taken their toll, when it was no longer fun, Roy Halladay was as honest with himself as he always had been with others. When he could no longer pitch the way he wanted to, it just became an exercise in frustration -- not only personally but generally. That's how strong his sense of responsibility to his team mates, the owner, the fans is. So at age 34, Doc called it a career. Despite the 203 wins, Cy Young awards and thousands of strike-outs, Halladay did not make a single World Series appearance in 16 seasons, which has to be a singular disappointment to him. But his work ethic, dedication and just plain love of the game of baseball stand out for those of us who were lucky enough to see him walk up to the pitcher's mound and launch one across the plate.
The Phillies and their fans have seen the likes of Brad Lidge and Pat Burrell, major contributors whose time for retirement finally came. Sooner than we think it will arrive for Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Cliff Lee and Carlos Ruiz. Cole Hamels turns 30 in less than 2 weeks. Nothing is more inevitable than the ticking of the clock. Doc heard it and knew it was time. Roy Halladay won at least 20 games in a season 3 times. He was named to 8 All Star teams, 2 in Philadelphia, 6 while in Toronto. He was the leader in consecutive games 7 times and in innings pitched and shut-outs, 4 times. Roy Halladay always wanted the ball. He will be missed every fifth day for a very long time. Thanks, Doc.
Birds in First Place
When Chip Kelly assembled his first Eagles practice sessions, he talked a lot about personal habits, getting to practice, staying in shape, conditioning the body, getting enough sleep, eating the right foods and their relationship to winning football games. Apparently, even though there may have been some initial resistance, his team has bought in. The Eagles suffered some early physical setbacks and some early season losses but, over time, the players came to live by Kelly's program. Its benefits have been apparent in the lack of serious injuries suffered by the team as well as their increased stamina and strength in the final weeks of the regular season. This week, after winning the Snow Bowl, they went to practice in preparation for their next test: the Minnesota Vikings. The Birds are alone in first place in the NFC East for the first time under their new coach. The program and the practices have paid off.
As quarterback Nick Foles put it recently, "We have the fans excited, which is good, and we are of the same mindset. [T]he coach is keeping us excited. He won't let us get complacent. He holds us accountable and continues to push us. We practice hard and try to follow his rules and what allows us to work hard in this, the latter stages of the season, is the physical condition we're in. We have to continue to pay attention to the minor details which include our personal physical conditioning. He has the same mindset every week and continues to hold us accountable." If Foles is just one example of the success to be gained by adopting Coach Kelly's philosophy, Philly football fans are grateful. If the team reflects that approach overall, they're more than impressed.
As you look around the league, you see some teams riddled by injuries to some significant players. Like Packers' QB Aaron Rodgers, who was injured two weeks ago. The Lions' Reggie Bush was hurt last week. Minnesota's Adrian Peterson may miss this weekend's game as well. Meanwhile, the Eagles lost Jeremy Maclin in training camp and Michael Vick to a hamstring in the first month of the season. Other than that, the team has stayed healthy, which is so important in December as the season winds down.
Even if Dallas had beaten the Chicago Bears on Monday night, it wouldn't have changed the fact that the Eagles still have to play the Vikings away, the Bears at home and then the Cowboys in Dallas to round out the regular season. But as Chip Kelly says, it's a one-week-at-a-time approach that works here. Don't spend time looking further down the road. The players seem to agree. When asked if he watched the Bears blow out the Cowboys 45-28, Eagles center Jason Kelce replied, "I watched the first half, went to bed at halftime because that's what my coach wants me to do." Asked if he felt different now that the team was in first place, Kelce said, "As long as we take care of business in our last 3 games, it doesn't matter what Dallas does." Can't argue with that. Kelce, by the way, was named recipient of the Ed Black Courage Award for his comeback from 2012 ACL and MCL tears. Tight end Brent Celek didn't watch the Dallas-Chicago game either. "If Dallas had won, what changes? We've still got to beat Minnesota, we've still got to beat Chicago, we've still got to go beat Dallas." No distractions for him either. At this writing, the Eagles have a one-game divisional lead at 8-5. Not bad for a coach still in his first year, selling his team on good rest, healthy food, clean habits -- and accountability.
Playing in Prime Time
After Sunday's incredible win over the Lions in the snow, Chip Kelly was heard to quote Winston Churchill who said, "The problems of victory are more agreeable than those of defeat, but they are no less difficult." Kelly is cautioning against complacency after such a win. Defensive Coordinator Bill Davis considered the quote for a moment and said, "It was a message all about today. It was a good win against a good opponent. Finding a way to win from a 14-point deficit. There were lead changes galore to battle through," he noted, but the team made it happen. Now they can't get caught up in the win or lighten up. Offensive coordinator, Pat Shurmer, added after the Lions game, "Things we were surprised at, we put to bed and now we move forward." The final home game against the Bears (7-6) on December 22nd has been changed from 1:00 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The Eagles haven't played in prime time since Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs came to town 3 months ago. They weren't on the prime time schedule again this season until this week, when the network bosses made the switch. So mark your calendars. The NFC East heads into the home stretch with its teams' records as follows: Eagles 8-5, Dallas 7-6, Giants 5-8, and Redskins 3-10.
Just to refresh the memory, Michael Vick has been on the injury list for the last 6 games. Jeremy Maclin, the team's Number One receiver, has been gone for the year since an injury in training camp. Nick Foles and Riley Cooper have been more than adequate replacements. The Green Bay Packers are 1-4-1 since star quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, fractured his collarbone in early November. The Eagles have played Green Bay without Rodgers, Detroit without the injured Reggie Bush; it's likely they will face the Vikings without Adrian Peterson. Minnesota has only 3 wins, which means they have no chance to make the playoffs, but they don't appear to have cashed it in for the year. Peterson, 28, is in the third year of a 7-year, $100 million contract. There is no logical reason to rush his return and risk his health except that he's only 29 yards shy of hitting his $11 million performance bonus for 2013. Toby Gerhart was set to replace the injured Peterson, however, he strained his hamstring last Sunday. So we'll see who the Vikings will send on to the field on Sunday.
From Snow Bowl to Dome
In beating the Detroit Lions on Sunday at The Linc, the Eagles tied a franchise record by scoring 28 points in the fourth quarter. That mark had been previously set in December 2010 when the Birds beat the New York Giants, 38-31, in the game we will always call the "Miracle of the Meadowlands II". The team's 28-point explosion was topped off by a game-winning punt return by DeSean Jackson on the final play of the game -- an unforgettable moment in sports history. Sunday's story was another kind of miracle.
Detroit wide receiver, Jeremy Ross, returned both a kick-off and a punt as the Eagles' special teams gave up 202 yards on kick returns and 71 on punts. Ross earned those 273 yards and was the Lions' brightest star that day. In fact, he was one of the reasons why Coach Kelly adjusted his game plan to turn things around. The most significant play was turned in by running back, LeSean McCoy, who tuned in a scintillating performance in the snow on Sunday. The offensive line deserves praise for its contribution to that feat but it was "Shady" who rushed for 217 yards, a franchise record, scoring TD's of 40 and 57 yards. Until then, the record had been held by Steve Van Buren who had rushed for 205 yards in a game in 1949. On Sunday, McCoy averaged 7.5 yards per carry. Through 3 periods, he had 69 yards on 18 carries. In the fourth he broke loose, racking up 148 yards on 11 carries. In the second half, it seemed like McCoy's feet had caught fire in the snow and his line enabled him to weave around or jump over defensive players with abandon. His effort is one for the record books. McCoy, who came to Philly by way of Pittsburgh in the second round of the 2009 draft (53rd overall pick), has 5,171 career yards in the NFL. Before Sunday, he had ranked 4th among active running backs with 40 TD's. If he keeps it up, he has a good chance to break the Eagles' record of 1,512 yards set in 1999 by Wilbert Montgomery.
This coming Sunday, the Eagles face the 3-9-1 Vikings. On a dry field, their special team will face Viking kick returner Corraderrelle Patterson, who averages 33 yards per attempt and has scored 2 touchdowns on kick returns this season. He's always a threat. The Birds can't take this game for granted: despite all its problems, Minnesota beat the formidable Bears 23-20 on December 1st. Stay tuned.
Flyers and Sixers
The Flyers' latest was a recent 5-4 shut-out loss in Ottawa, in which they battled back from a deficit in the 3rd period to, at least, grab a point in the standings. As Luke Schenn put it, "When you give up 2 goals in the third period, it's tough to bounce back. You've got to give the guys some credit for getting the point." Possibly true but the object in the game is to win. However, it must be said that the Flyers never should have blown their 3-2 third period lead to begin with, especially against a team that was just 2-12 this season starting the final period. Ottawa got the win, 5-4, and Flyers' left winger Michael Raffl said, "We sat back a little too much in the third period and they were flying." That was the Flyers' most winnable game in their long 13-day road trip. Ottawa was the only team on the trip with an under-500 record. After going the first 27 games of his Flyer career without allowing 4 or more goals in a game, Steve Mason did it for the second straight game.
Over in the Wells Fargo Center on Monday night, the Sixers lost to the LA Clippers, 94-83. The Sixers fell for the 7th time in 8 games, 11 in 13, to the Clippers who are in the middle of a 7-game road trip. The 76ers converted only 36% of their shots (33 of 92) in that effort. The visitors weren't much better (35 of 82, 42.7), but they had a 32-point third quarter which helped them coast to victory. Blake Griffin scored a game high 25 and DeAndrea Jordan scored 11 points, 21 rebounds for the Californians. "You give the ball to a leader like Chris Paul and he's hard to guard," said Coach Brett Brown after the loss. Can't add much to that.
Three days after learning it was one of 7 sports programs being cut by Temple University's Board of Directors, the Temple Owls' baseball team voted unanimously to play its final season in spring 2014. Since there was a concern that many of the 34 players on the roster would transfer, head coach Ryan Wheeler called a meeting and the team responded as one. Captain Matt Hockenberry, a senior pitcher, said that the team is angry about the Board's decision and determined to make a statement with its season. He said, "We're all in. We're all pretty pumped. It's phenomenal. Let's just say there's a fire that's been started, and it's not going to die any time soon." The team christened itself the "Band of Brothers" last year, not knowing what it would be facing before even starting to play this season. Since they have no home field, the Owls' home games will be played at the Camden Riversharks' Campbell Field, right under the Jersey side of the Ben Franklin Bridge on the water front. It's a great place to watch a game. I don't know about you, but I hope to go see at least one of those games this spring. These kids deserve it.
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