Category Archives: FOOTBALL

Can the 2018 Eagles do what the 2009 Phillies could not?

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Despite Utley’s heroics the Phillies fell just short in repeat world title attempt

Tonight is the 2018 NFL season opener between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons. That would be the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, by the way. Those words still look and sound so glorious, do they not?

The Birds and their fans will celebrate their title one final time with the raising of the first-ever Super Bowl banner at Lincoln Financial Field this evening. But after that, the game will begin. The football calendar will officially turn to a new season.
In that new 2018 season the Eagles will be defending an NFL championship for the fourth time in franchise history. It marks just the second time in the last 35 years that a Philadelphia major pro sports team will attempt to repeat as a champion.
Philly fans remember well the last time it happened Just nine years ago the Philadelphia Phillies played the 2009 season as defending champions of Major League Baseball.
The long playoff run and Fall Classic triumph had been punctuated by a Halloween parade around City Hall and down Broad Street to Citizens Bank Park.
The Eagles experienced pretty much the same thing. A long playoff run, early February Super Bowl, parade this time up Broad Street from the stadium area and out the Ben Franklin Parkway to the Art Museum.
There was a shorter than normal off-season as the Phillies did the banquet and awards circuit that winter and then returned to Clearwater for spring training in February 2009. The Eagles had a month shorter off-season as well. While the Birds and their coaching staff were prepping for the Patriots, the rest of the NFL was already getting a jump on 2018 preparations.
As far as personnel were concerned, the 2009 Phillies returned largely the same cast of lead characters who had won the crown. The only change among starting position players came with Raul Ibanez replacing Pat Burrell as the left fielder.
On the mound, the biggest change at the start was that young lefty J.A. Happ stepped into the starting rotation in place of the Kyle Kendrick and Adam Eaton combination from the previous year.
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Lee arrived at the July 2009 trade deadline to provide a needed shot in the arm.
Those Phillies had to make a big injury adjustment when Brett Myers hit the DL for three months in late May. You probably won’t recall that they gave Antonio Bastardo five June starts, or that they signed Rodrigo Lopez and plugged him in for five July starts. But you will recall that they traded for Cliff Lee and signed Pedro Martinez in July, bolstering the rotation for August and beyond.
There was a World Series hangover at the beginning of the season. Six weeks in, the Phillies went through a stretch in which they lost six of eight games. On Friday, May 15, the 2009 Phillies woke up with a 16-16 record. And then it all changed.
Following that mid-May rough stretch, the Phillies went on a five-game winning streak. It began a stretch that saw the club capture 19 of their next 26, moving them to a season-best twelve games over the .500 mark and to a four-game lead in the NL East.
And then the bottom seemed to again drop out. A loss on Friday, June 12 began a horrendous stretch in which the club dropped 11 of 13 games. Despite falling to just three games over .500 they remained atop the division, but barely. With just a half-game lead, they once again turned things around.
From June 27 to the MLB All-Star Game break the Phillies went 11-4, hitting the break with their lead back up to four games. They didn’t let up when play resumed, winning their first five. It kicked off a 10-2 run that pushed their record overall to 58-40 and stretched their division lead out to seven games.

Though the team would drop eight of the next 11 contests, Lee had arrived to inject some life – not to mention a stopper to the rotation. He got the win in two of the three victories during that rough stretch.
The rest of the way, those 2009 Phillies were never seriously challenged within the division. Charlie Manuel‘s squad clinched a third straight NL East crown with a 10-3 romp over the Houston Astros at Citizens Bank Park on September 30 and then coasted through the final four games.
In the NLDS the Phillies faced a real challenge from the Colorado Rockies but fought them off in four tough games. Then for a second straight season, the club overcame the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS in five games.
For the first time in history the Phillies returned to the World Series for a second consecutive year. That is exactly what the Eagles will be trying to accomplish. It’s a tough road. There were ups and downs along the way. But the Phillies had the best team in the NL, and they proved it over the course of the long season and two tough playoff series.
The 2018 Philadelphia Eagles look very similar. The Birds are again one of the strongest teams in football, but there will be challenges along the way. They will take some hard shots. They might even go into a losing stretch of games.
But given health from most of the key players, there is no reason that in the end their talent cannot take them back for a shot at a repeat. The Phillies had that shot and came up just short.
In that 2009 World Series the Phillies ran into a talented and experienced New York Yankees squad. They even handed the Yanks a 6-1 thrashing in the opener at Yankee Stadium.
But New York got a gutsy performance from A.J. Burnett in Game Two to even the series, then out-slugged the Phillies to take two of three at Citizens Bank Park. Up by three games to two, the Yankees put the series away with a convincing 7-3 victory in Game Six back in the Bronx.
Thinking back on it, that World Series defeat was disheartening. The Phillies were no longer the world champions. But they were still a strong ball club. They would get a couple more serious shots at another ring. Though they came up short, it was a magnificent run.
This is what looms ahead for these Philadelphia Eagles. They are the champions, but there are other talented teams out there. The Eagles look right now to be the best team in the NFC East. Get into the playoffs, have Carson Wentz and most of the supporting cast healthy, and anything can happen.
The 2009 Philadelphia Phillies showed that repeating as a champion is not an easy task, even for a supremely talented team. But just because those Phillies came up short doesn’t mean this Eagles team will. It’s about fighting through a long season and earning a shot in the playoffs.
That’s all these Birds and the fans should be looking at right now. The game in front of them. The season ahead of them. Get that playoff spot and take a shot in January at the repeat. Fly Eagles, fly!

Finally Eagles, Finally!

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“Fly Eagles, Fly!” is the official fight song for the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League.

After winning the first Super Bowl championship in franchise history last night, we can at least temporarily change those first three words of the song to “Finally Eagles, Finally!

The Eagles and New England Patriots threw haymakers at one another all night long on Sunday night during Super Bowl LII in Minnesota in a game that was reminiscent of the climactic fight of the film “Rocky II“.

In that epic slugfest, Philly’s favorite fictional underdog fighter, Rocky Balboa, traded big blows with and ultimately defeated a legendary unbeatable champion named Apollo Creed.

Last night it was a real, live legendary champion named Tom Brady who was throwing bombs at the Eagles. For most of the night, Brady found the Birds weak spots, landing punishing shot after punishing shot.

But the Eagles kept taking those shots and answering back with big shots of their own. Leading the way was a man every bit the underdog that the fictional Rocky had been in that film series.

Nick Foles has had big moments as an NFL quarterback before, including in an Eagles uniform. But his career had gone a bit off the rails over the last couple of years to the point where he was ready to retire from the game.

Given another shot at NFL life, Foles was signed by the Eagles for the 2018 season. Brought in to serve as a backup to rising stud Carson Wentz, most Eagles fans thought – in fact hoped – that Foles would never see the field.

As everyone now knows, the unthinkable happened. Wentz led the Eagles to the NFL’s best record and was the leading NFL MVP candidate. But it all seemed to evaporate when Wentz suffered a debilitating knee injury, ending his season in a Week #14 victory in Los Angeles.

In stepped a cold Foles. With no training camp, having taken no game snaps all year long, the 28-year old in his sixth season was suddenly put under center for the NFC’s top team.

It was a no-win situation for Foles. If the Eagles collapsed at that point, blame would all go to the Wentz injury. If they lost at any point in the playoffs, there would always be those who would wonder “what if Carson” had stayed healthy?

In retrospect – if it had to happen at all – the timing of Wentz’ injury could not have been better. His great play had been the biggest key in the Eagles having clinched a playoff berth. He put the team in position to finish as the top overall seed in the NFC playoffs.

That timing allowed Foles to come in and play in two full games and parts of two others before the playoffs would begin. It was just enough time to get him up to game speed and ready to perform once again on the big stage.

Perform he would. Foles threw for 246 yards and managed the game well as the Eagles held off the tough defending NFC champion Atlanta Falcons by 15-10 in the Divisional Round.

Taking it up a notch, Foles put on a show in throwing for 352 yards and three touchdowns as the Eagles crushed the Minnesota Vikings dreams of hosting the Super Bowl in their home town with a 38-7 victory in the NFC Championship Game.

That all led to last night, and the battle with Brady and his Patriots. Brady threw for an unreal Super Bowl record 505 yards and three touchdowns.

But for nearly every Brady drive of excellence, Foles had an answer. He threw for 373 yards himself, and matched the great Brady with three touchdown passes of his own.

He also did Brady one better. While Brady dropped a possible TD reception on a second quarter trick play, Foles caught one tossed by tight end Trey Burton. Foles thus became the first player in NFL history to both pass for and catch a touchdown in the Super Bowl.

The game itself was much like those fictional Balboa-Creed battles. Big shots. Back and forth action. When each seemed within a blow of landing a knockout punch, the other would come roaring back to life.

After the two teams traded early field goals, Foles was first to put his team into the end zone when he connected with wide receiver Alshon Jeffery on a 34-yard TD pass with 2:41 to play in the first quarter.

Halfway through the second quarter, former Patriots’ running back LeGarrette Blount bulled his way in from 21 yards away with the help of strong blocking from his teammates to give the Birds a 15-3 lead.

That lead nearly got even bigger. On their next possession from the New England 43-yard line, Foles tried to connect with Jeffery down along the sideline at the eight-yard line.

The receiver nearly made a tremendous one-hand catch. But the ball somehow flipped out of his hand, and popped directly to Duron Harmon for the only interception that Foles would throw in the entirety of this postseason run.

At this point, I was feeling a bit cocky that my pregame 41-10 prediction in favor of the Eagles was going to materialize. I would turn out to be only halfway correct.

Brady became nearly unstoppable for much of the rest of the contest. He started by leading New England on an eight-play, 90-yard drive, aided along by a key defensive holding call. When James White rolled in from 26-yards out, the Pats had cut their deficit to just 15-12.

However, Foles answered right back, leading the Eagles down to the Patriots one-yard line with just :38 seconds remaining in the first half. The key play of the drive was a 55-yard catch and run by rookie RB Corey Clement, who had a tremendous game in all phases.

On fourth-and-one, coach Doug Pederson could have kicked a field goal, putting points on the board for his team as they entered halftime. But Pederson showed all night long that he wasn’t playing it safe. His team was going to play to win.

Pederson called for a schoolyard trick play, and his players ran it to perfection. Clement would find himself right in the middle of things once again.

Foles lined up in the shotgun to take the snap, but then suddenly split out to the right as a receiver. The direct snap went to Clement, who started to his left, then pitched the ball off to backup tight end Trey Burton, who was moving right.

While all this misdirection was happening, Foles had slipped off unseen into the right side of the end zone. Burton threw a perfect strike while on the run to Foles, who cradled the TD reception into his arms. The Eagles thus took a 22-12 lead into the locker room.

After a lengthy halftime break in which Justin Timberlake put on quite a song and dance show, the action continued with Brady remaining hot.

Leading the Patriots on an eight-play, 75-yard drive, Brady found his favorite target on half of those plays. Rob Gronkowski had receptions of 25, 24, and 14 yards. Then he snared a 5-yard TD catch, and just a couple minutes into the second half, it was again a three-point game.

Not to be outdone, Foles again drove the Eagles back right away. An 11-play, 85-yard drive culminated with a 22-yard TD pass to Clement, and the Eagles were back up by 10 again at 29-19.

And then Brady got the ball back, and guess what happened? Yup. Eight-play, 75-yard drive resulting in a 26-yard TD pass to Chris Hogan making it a 29-26 game. That was how the third quarter would end.

Early in the fourth, a 42-yard field goal by Jake Elliott pushed the Eagles lead out to 32-26. That gave Brady the ball back, and he remained unstoppable.

A 10-play, 75-yard drive led to a four-yard pass to Gronkowski for the touchdown. When Stephen Gostkowski booted the extra-point, New England had their first lead of the night at 33-32.

With 9:22 to play, Foles got the ball back, trailing for the first time. On a third and six play from his own 29-yard line he found TE Zach Ertz for seven and a first down. But three plays later, with the clock showing under six minutes to play, the Eagles faced a fourth down.

On fourth and one from their own 45-yard line, Pederson faced another key decision. The odds said to punt, try to pin the Patriots deep, have the defense hold Brady, and get the ball back in better field position.

But as I said earlier, Pederson didn’t come to U.S. Bank Stadium to play it safe. He came to win. And so he rolled the dice again, going for it on fourth down. Foles came through once again. A quick hit to Ertz over the middle resulted in a two-yard gain and another first down.

Seven plays and three more minutes off the clock later, Foles again found Ertz, this time streaking towards the end zone. Foles hit his tight end in stride at the five. Ertz turned up field, took a couple of strides, and dove into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown.

With just over two minutes remaining and holding a five-point lead, Pederson called for a two-point conversion attempt. For the second time in the game, the Birds failed to convert, and the Eagles held a 38-33 lead.
Brady would get the ball back with one timeout and the two minute warning in his pocket. This was way too much time and opportunity for any Eagles coach, player, or fan to feel anything but uncomfortable.
The Eagles clearly needed someone on the defense to step up with a big play, which really hadn’t happened the entire game. Now, at the biggest moment, that big play would finally come.
Brady began at his own 25, and immediately completed a pass to Gronkowski for an eight-yard gain. It looked to all the world as if he was ready to begin yet another late-game drive to victory.
On second down and two, Brady again dropped back to pass. But this time, the Eagles defense charged through the Patriots line.
Brandon Graham reached Brady, bursting the football from his hands. Derek Barnett pounced on the loose ball, recovering a fumble that now stands as the single most important defensive play in Eagles history.
Foles took over and drove the offense back down the field once more. That drive resulted in key points put up on the scoreboard in the form of a clutch 46-yard field goal from Elliott. The Eagles now had a 41-33 lead. But Brady would get the ball back with just over a minute to play.
On the ensuing kickoff return, Patriots coach Bill Belichik showed that he wasn’t going down without a fight, calling for a reverse. Once again it would be Clement who would come up big, this time on special teams. The first man down field on the kickoff coverage, he disrupted the return enough that the Eagles were able to pin the Patriots deep.
Brady was forced to begin at his own nine-yard line. He had no time outs, and just :58 seconds to drive his team to a touchdown. He would then still need to be successful on a two-point conversion just to force a tie and send the Super Bowl to overtime.

The Eagles defense stiffened, and the pass rush put relentless pressure on him. Three plays later the Patriots faced fourth and ten, still at that nine-yard line. And then Brady tried to miraculously raise his team from the canvas one last time.

Completing passes to his two favorite targets, Danny Amendola and Gronkowski, Brady got the first down and then drove the Patriots out to midfield with nine seconds remaining. There was enough time for one last-gasp ‘Hail Mary’ play.

The plan was for Brady to throw up the ball in the end zone, hoping that the massive Gronkowski could out-leap and out-fight the Eagles defensive backs. That, or have him tip the ball to Amendola or one of the other receivers.

As Brady dropped back to pass, the Eagles put on another strong rush. Graham nearly got him again, but the New England QB slipped away and stepped up for one final heave.

He couldn’t have made a better throw. Brady’s long pass was on the money. The ball came down just inside the end zone, and Gronkowski was right there, leaping to make the catch. However, he was swarmed upon by a gaggle of Eagles defensive backs.

The ball was swatted around, appearing to bounce off two or three players before finally falling harmlessly to the turf. There were no flags, the clock was at 0:00, and the Philadelphia Eagles were finally world champions.

13 years ago, Brady and the Patriots had defeated the Eagles in the Super Bowl. Now in a rematch of sorts, the greatest quarterback in NFL history had done battle with one of the biggest underdogs in NFL history.

Like that showdown fight in “Rocky II, the underdog had defeated the defending champion.

All of that tells you the story of the game. But it fails to convey the emotion that comes with being a fan of that underdog. I have been such a fan for something like 47 years.

My earliest memories of the Eagles are from the opening of Veteran’s Stadium for the 1971 season. My age peers and I lived through mostly losing teams in those early Vet years with quarterbacks named Pete Liske, John Reaves, Roman Gabriel, and Mike Boryla.

Finally, an energetic young coach named Dick Vermeil arrived, and we began to believe that we could join the NFL’s elite. Though we had many great moments and great players over the next four decades, even reached the Super Bowl twice, we could never claim the ultimate victory.

There were no guarantees that it would ever come either. Just ask fans of the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, both with loyal and passionate fan bases.

For 86 years in the Bosox case, and for 108 years in the Cubbies case, generations of fans were born, lived a full life, rooted on their teams for decades, and died never experiencing a World Series victory.

No, there was no guarantee that any of us would ever live to see the Eagles win a Super Bowl. But last night put an end to all of the frustration.

When Graham knocked the ball from Brady’s hands and Barnett recovered it, a realization hit me that I would not allow myself to feel all night. The Eagles were about to win the Super Bowl. Seriously, tears began to well up in my eyes.

Those emotions remained exactly that raw for the next 15 minutes or so of real time, the final two minutes of the game time. Could the Eagles pick up the one more first down that they needed to drive the stake through Brady’s heart? No. Could the defense stop him on fourth down at his own nine, driving that stake through his heart? No.

But could the greatest quarterback in the history of the National Football League pull one final miracle out of his bag? Could he add one more unbelievable last-second play to his personal highlight reel? No as well.

What Vermeil, Ron Jaworski, and Bill Bergey were unable to do, these Eagles finally did. What Buddy Ryan, Randall Cunningham, and Reggie White were never able to do, these Eagles finally did. What Andy Reid, Donovan McNabb, and Brian Dawkins were never able to do, these Eagles finally did.

As the Eagles players, coaches, and families began to celebrate on the field nearly a thousand miles away, at my house, with those tears now fully in my eyes, my wife and I embraced. Out on the streets of Philadelphia, tens of thousands poured out onto Broad Street from north to south to celebrate.

The Philadelphia Eagles had finally won the Super Bowl. And like our fictional hero decades ago, they did it as underdogs. It only made the victory that much sweeter.

Team owner Jeffrey Lurie took to the stage to accept the Super Bowl trophy. GM Howie Roseman, for whom this victory must be justifiably ridiculously sweet, took part in the trophy celebration.

Foles was honored as the Super Bowl MVP, joined on stage by his quarterback brother Wentz, who will now hope to one day lead the team back to this moment.

There will be a parade here in Philly on Thursday. Millions are expected. It will be a street party like none this town has ever seen, and with the Flyers of the 1970’s and the 1980 and 2008 Phillies, I’ve seen some pretty big ones.

Finally, Eagles fans, it was our turn to see our heroes on the stage accepting the Lombardi Trophy, green and white confetti pouring down on them. It was our turn to party late into the night. It was our turn to know that championship feeling. Finally, Eagles fans. Finally!

Can Eagles fly without Carson Wentz?

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Nick Foles takes over as Eagles QB after injury to Carson Wentz

This afternoon for the first time since the 2013 season the Philadelphia Eagles will take part in an NFL playoff game.

For my fellow Eagles fans, if it seems that we’ve suffered through a long drought without a postseason appearance, that’s because we have.

In the last 30 years there has only been one other stretch, from 1997-99 prior to the Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb era, where the Eagles missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons.

The turnaround from the recent downturn for the franchise can easily be traced to one event, and basically to one person. That would be the selection of quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Wentz somewhat unexpectedly became the starting quarterback immediately. He led the Eagles to a 3-0 start as a rookie that fall, demonstrating the talent and leadership that had inspired team management to make him such a high draft selection.

After the defense collapsed during a five-game late season losing streak, Wentz orchestrated a pair of 2016 season-closing victories over the division rival New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.

Those late wins and his overall play buoyed the hopes and dreams of the Eagles rabid fan base for the 2017 season. Wentz and the team did not disappoint. He passed for over 3,200 yards and 33 touchdowns in leading the team to an 11-2 record this fall.

But the 13th game would prove to be unlucky in the extreme. Wentz was matched up against the quarterback chosen ahead of him with the top pick in that 2016 NFL Draft, Jared Goff, as the Eagles visited the Los Angeles Rams.

Wentz would throw four touchdown passes to out-duel Goff at the Los Angeles Colosseum in a 43-35 thrilling shootout. With four minutes to go in the third quarter, Wentz was hit awkwardly as he tried to score on a keeper from the Rams two-yard line.

Four plays later, Wentz passed to Alshon Jeffery to put the Eagles up by 31-28. However, on that earlier keeper play, Wentz had injured his leg. He would leave the game following the TD pass, replaced by backup Nick Foles for the first time all season.

A rusty Foles would go just 6-10 for 42 yards, but the Eagles defense took over. The ‘D’ forced a pair of fumbles, one setting up a Jake Elliott field goal and another returned for a touchdown by Brandon Graham.

It was learned following the game that Wentz had suffered major injuries. He would require surgery to repair a torn ACL and a partially torn IT band, as well as some meniscus damage. Not only would Wentz miss the rest of the 2017 season, but he is likely to miss much of the 2018 season as well.

With their NFL MVP candidate leader out, the Eagles turned the reigns of a playoff team over to Foles. The team won their first two games with the backup under center, but those victories over the Giants and the LA Raiders were marked by inconsistent play against inferior opponents.

Those two victories did allow the Eagles to clinch the top overall record in the NFC, and thus home field advantage for however long they last in the playoffs.

A season-closing 6-0 loss to the hated rival Cowboys continued the inconsistent play, with Foles seeing just limited action. Coach Doug Pederson took the meaningless contest as a chance to rest his regulars and get some game action for the new backup quarterback, Nate Sudfeld.

As the Eagles have waited for an opponent to be determined and then began to prep for their NFC Divisional Playoff game, there has been a lot of tough talk.

But any honest fan of the team has to admit that without Wentz, this has simply not been the same team that built most of the record which put them in this position.

The playoff opponent turns out to be the Falcons, the defending NFC champions. Last February, Atlanta built a 25-3 lead in dominating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LI. But the Falcons then infamously collapsed, with Tom Brady orchestrating one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history for a 34-28 overtime Patriots victory.

This year, Atlanta suffered a roller-coast season early on. They were just 4-4 after an early November defeat at Carolina. The Falcons then went on a roll, winning six of their last eight. Their defense has led the way, allowing an average of just under 17 points per game over the last seven weeks.

A week ago, the Falcons shut down Goff and the Rams in a 26-13 road victory. They are a dangerous team once again. Led by a local boy quarterback, 32-year old Matt Ryan out of Penn Charter HS, the Falcons are a 2.5-point road betting line favorite over the Eagles on game day.

So the question is completely legitimate: can the Eagles win with Nick Foles as their quarterback? The simplest answer is that yes, of course they can win.

But now things are more complicated than they would have been had Wentz not gotten hurt. With Wentz leading the team, the uber-confident Eagles were on a roll. They were clearly a Super Bowl contender, the best team in the NFC.

The Eagles team that has been on display over the last month has not been a Super Bowl contender, and are clearly not the best team in the NFC.

In order to win in these playoffs, the Eagles are going to have to have three things happen. If any of the three fail to emerge, it will take something miraculous to fashion a victory.

First, the Eagles need their defense to play strong, emotional, inspired football. A half-dozen times this year, that ‘D’ has surrendered just 10 points or less. But for much of the year, the team won thanks to Wentz and an emerging high-octane offensive attack.

That leads to the second thing that must happen. In two stints with the Eagles, fans have found that there are two different versions of Nick Foles. There is the ‘Good Nick’, like the one who tossed four TD’s in beating the Giants. And there is the ‘Bad Nick’, represented by his horrible performance a week later against the Raiders.

For the Eagles to win against quality opponents in the playoffs, they need ‘Good Nick’ to show up. If ‘Good Nick’ shows up for three weeks, the Eagles can win the Super Bowl. If ‘Bad Nick’ makes even one appearance, they are likely done.

The final thing that must happen for the Eagles to win in these playoffs is that Pederson needs to emphasize his rushing attack, even more than he did in the regular season.

The Birds have three highly effective running backs in Jay Ajayi (5.8), LeGarrette Blount (4.4), and Corey Clement (4.3) who each averaged more than four yards per carry this season.

The Eagles must be able to run the ball successfully. This will keep the defense off the field, allowing that unit to remain fresh. It will also allow Foles to manage the game much more effectively, giving him time to find someone open among the vastly improved receiving corps of Jeffery, Zach Ertz, Trey Burton, Torrey Smith, and Nelson Agholor.

One factor outside the control of the players is the weather. The extreme cold was obviously a factor for both the Birds and their opponents in the last two games. Against the Raiders and Cowboys, just 35 total points were scored, and a number of passes were dropped by each of the teams.

By game time this afternoon, the temperatures are again expected to be below freezing, with wind chills in the teens. Theoretically, this should benefit the Eagles. They have been playing games in the cold for weeks. The Falcons play their home games in a domed stadium, and have not played a single game in those kinds of conditions all season long.

“Fly Eagles, Fly!” is the team fight song and the fans rallying cry. But can the Eagles fly without Carson Wentz? Yes, they can. But it will take a strong defense, an effective running game, a well-managed game from Nick Foles, good play calling and time management from Pederson, and maybe even an assist from the weather.

That sounds like a lot of things that have to go right for the Eagles to win. That’s only because this is the NFL playoffs. Every team still playing is a quality team. You want to win, you have to bring your best. That goes as much for the Falcons, and any other opponent, as it does for the Eagles.

Kickoff is scheduled for 4:35pm at Lincoln Financial Field. The game will be televised by NBC nationally. Radio coverage is provided locally by SportsRadio WIP (94.1 FM) with national radio coverage via Westwood One.

My Experience at the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia

Working the 2017 NFL Draft in Philadelphia

To say that the 2017 NFL Draft, held in my hometown of Philadelphia over the last three days, was a major success would be an understatement.

I got to experience this signature event of the National Football League up close and in person as a Sergeant with the Philadelphia Police Department. It was just the latest in a number of high profile events that I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy while on-duty during my career.

Assigned to take charge of a group of police officers, we spent both days on the south side of the 2400 block of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

It was a slight surprise to me when my group actually took that position and found that we were at the very front lines of the stage and seating arena area. It turned out to be an exciting and rewarding assignment.

The crowd was massive, but Philly-friendly and cooperative. As far as their interactions with myself and my officers, I couldn’t have asked for a more positive reception. Everyone was friendly to us and appreciative of our efforts, and quite a few let us know that fact.

One thing that none of us knew, from the top brass on down to rookie police officers, was exactly what kind of crowd we would be met with. It was the first time that the NFL had put on their annual Draft of college players in that big of a show.

Philly can be notorious at times for our fan reactions, especially where Eagles fans are concerned. You also had to add in the factor that this was a free event. Would the crowd turn surly at any point? Sometimes it only takes a few bad apples to spoil things for the whole bunch. If any officials held any concerns of a worst-case scenario, those never materialized. In fact, just the opposite.

Even when faced with moments involving the hated, rival Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, or Washington Redskins, the Philly faithful responded with spirited but controlled reactions.

The biggest target of the ‘Boo Birds’ over the first couple of days was easily the Commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell. Yet even with the Commish, I witnessed first-hand a somewhat different reaction from the crowds.

On Thursday, before the actual player selection process got underway, Goodell came out and greeted fans along the very front of the crowd at the sturdy barricades which separated the street from the arena section. As he emerged, there were boisterous boos.

Goodell approached and then walked down the entirety of that front line. He reached across the barricades to shake hands, fist-bump, and even take selfies with those in front, all of whom looked star-struck. The crowd returned his outreach with smiles and handshakes. There were no boos at that point.

Yours truly with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

As the Commissioner made his way back towards the actual arena, he walked straight at me and shook my hand. I took the opportunity to ask if he minded a quick photo, and in a friendly tone he responded: “For you? Absolutely!” He then thanked me for the work we were doing. Great stuff!

As all cops do, I’ve worked many of these high profile details over the years. I’ve been within interaction distance of numerous famous folks including U.S. President Bill Clinton, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, and South African President Nelson Mandela. I certainly could have tried to insinuate myself with any of them at some point, but always held off.

I’ve gotten to shake hands and exchange quick pleasantries with folks such as Flyers legend Bernie Parent and numerous other musicians, athletes, politicians, and celebrities. Goodell was the first time that I asked for a photo. Strange choice, no?

As the time came for the Draft ceremonies to begin, the event was kicked off with a beautiful rendition of our National Anthem, “The Star-Spangled Banner“, by Chloe and Hallie Bailey.

Standing at attention, facing the stage and flag, I threw up the customary respectful salute. As I held my salute through the anthem and the girls wound towards the end, two cameramen suddenly charged me. Next thing I knew, there I was, flashing a salute (1:39 into below video) on national television for the NFL Network audience.

As the Draft itself unfolded, the crowd grew massive at the front of the stage area. They roared with approval whenever a local favorite such as Ron ‘Jaws’ Jaworski appeared, and booed lustily when some rival legend showed up. The best was former Cowboys wide receiver Drew Pearson, whose boisterous pro-Dallas rant was met by an equally vibrant reaction from Birds’ fans.

Early on Thursday, prior to starting my work assignment, I had visited the 2100 block of the Parkway. There I got to view some of the other attractions which I would end up missing while working up at the arena area.

I also ran into my cousin, Philly police officer Bob Veasey, who was working the daywork shift in that 2100 block of the Parkway. Bob told me that he had a great day, even getting a picture with the Vince Lombardi Trophy awarded to the Super Bowl winners.

Philadelphia looked fantastic. The mid-spring green colors in the trees were highlighted by unseasonably warm temperatures. It was as though three early-summer days had decided to invade the springtime, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time for the city.

Part of the crowd near the front of the general public staging area for the 2017 NFL Draft

A chilly rain had fallen for days prior to the start of the NFL Draft. With the event over now, Sunday is cloudy with a chance of rain. So it turned out that even Mother Nature was on Philadelphia’s side this week.

The Parkway itself was fully decorated in NFL Draft paraphernalia. Numerous tents and attractions drew fan participation and photo opportunities.

There was plenty of opportunity to purchase food and beverages. If you bought a bottle of water, you could refill it for free at a handful of kiosks scattered around the event. Porta Potty’s were aplenty.

From a concession stand set up next to the famed “Rocky” statue, I got to enjoy a delicious hot sausage on day one, a jumbo hotdog on day two, both washed down by a nice, cold bottle of H2O. The sausage, I waited in a short line and purchased by myself. The hotdog was a treat from a couple of my officers.

Speaking of those police officers, I couldn’t have asked for a better crew. I had the same group of cops under me on both days. Only one of the officers had any time on the job, the others were all rookies.

All of the officers comported themselves with professionalism. They basically held to my directives: “I need to see you around regularly, keep an eye out for problems while enjoying the event and the people, and don’t do anything to get yourselves on TV.” I was ribbed by a couple of them on that last one after my salute appearance.

While visiting with that Rocky statue, waiting on my first-day hot sausage, I ran into an old classmate from my Police Academy class 289. Newly minted Philly PD Deputy Commissioner Dennis Wilson has always been a great guy, and hasn’t let the new rank change him at all. My only problem with him? The man looks like he hasn’t aged a day in 27 years.

People in the area where I was assigned from outside of the Philadelphia Police Department were extremely cooperative and friendly. Fire Department paramedics on their Segways were everywhere. The event security personnel, federal law enforcement, the NFL staff, and employees of the various networks providing TV coverage all worked together well.

One member of that NFL staff gets particular thanks from me, and I’m sorry that I never got his name. The situation went like this: on Thursday night, after taking a few opportunities to capture some of the pageantry by taking a few pictures and videos, my cellphone died.

Still having a few hours to go on the work detail, I realized that I had left my portable charger back in my car. Overhearing me mention this in a conversation with my officers, a member of the NFL Network technical crew offered to charge my phone. I took him up on the offer, and a half hour later had a half-charge and was back in business.

Near the end of Thursday night’s first round, I got to meet and speak for a few minutes with the woman who was in charge of the actual arena structure. If you didn’t get to see it in person or on TV, the NFL Draft arena was an amazing piece of temporary architecture.

Flanked by Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders

She said that her company goes from town to town, event to event, pulling off similar amazing feats. For instance, this summer they will be handling the huge Lollapalooza concert in Chicago in August. Her folks did a phenomenal job putting that structure in place.

On Friday, newly-promoted Philly PD Deputy Commissioner Joe Sullivan stopped through my area and mentioned that “we haven’t even had to handle a fight.” We both knocked wood, hoping it would stay that way.

Stay that way it would. No fights, no major disputes. I saw one protest sign the entire time (“Investigate Pizzagate – it’s real!“) which garnered zero attention for the guy trying hard to get some. He left the front after about two minutes and no crowd response.

There were a couple of lost children, ultimately returned to their families. And there was one other incident that was handled by myself and my crew with the help of Chief Inspector Frank Vanore and the PPD Bomb Squad.

A non-thinking member of the stage crew had left a backpack leaning unattended against a tree for a length of time near a side stage entrance. The bag was reported to us as a concern by the NFL Network folks.

This was ultimately great work performed by the brave Bomb Squaders, who thankfully got to deal with a bag full of clothing this time. After the 2013 Boston Marathon attack, unattended backpacks are a no-no at major public events, people. Something to keep in mind.

It was this spirit of cooperation and friendship that was on display everywhere you looked this week which truly stood out. Whether it was with internal PPD ranks, or with security staff.

Especially with the crowds. Philly fans were outstanding, even from or towards rival Cowboys and Giants fans. A couple of Baltimore Ravens cheerleaders humored me with the above photo. Everyone was in it together, and in it for the right reasons – a peaceful good time.

Congratulations to everyone associated with bringing this showcase to Philly, and with organizing, managing, and running the event itself. The 2017 NFL Draft was a major success story, one of the nicest events that I’ve had the pleasure to work over a law enforcement career that is now in the middle of its 28th and final year.

NFL Playoff Predictions

There is really only one way to make predictions on the outcome of some game or tournament and have yourself taken seriously, and that is to make them before even a single moment has been played.

So here we are, just moments away from the kickoff of the first game of the NFL playoffs, and that makes it time for my personal predictions on how this month-long tournament will play out.

Let’s start at home with our Philadelphia Eagles. What a tremendous, in some ways over-achieving season it has been for the Birds. When the team left training camp in early September, most fans were planning on a rebuilding year as Kevin Kolb took over at quarterback after a decade behind Donovan McNabb. An 8-8 finish that showed positive signs for 2011 would probably have been considered a success at that point.

But in the opening game against Green Bay, Kolb was injured. In stepped Michael Vick. The rest, as they say, is history. Vick emerged as an uncommon weapon, and an NFL MVP candidate. The team took off behind his acrobatics, bolted to the front of the NFC East, and then capped it all with a rally for the ages in a late December game against the rival New York Giants to take the division crown.

That the team faltered in it’s final two regular season games should not be as much cause for concern as it seems to have become for some fans and members of the media. The team was obviously thrown off by the sudden switch of the Vikings game from Sunday night to Tuesday night due to snow a couple of weeks ago.

That surprising defeat led to the full-scale benching of regulars for the finale against Dallas, as Andy Reid basically gave them a bye week. The result was a close, last-minute loss by the Eagles subs to the Cowboys regulars.

The more important factors for the Eagles entering the opening week matchup are their opponents, and the condition of their own players. The Eagles have lost key contributors in the past couple of weeks, while the Packers have played extremely well since the return to health of their outstanding quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

I want the Eagles to win. I will be rooting hard for it to happen.
I want to be wrong. Because putting a gun to my head, which is what you basically do when you come out in public with predictions, and I will pick the Packers to advance.

Most of Eagles Nation cannot be upset with me, because they feel the same way. In a poll taken at Philly.com, a full 50% of fans believe “The Pack will prevail”, while 38% said the Eagles will “win – barely” and another 12% said “The Birds will win big.”

Let’s call the final score something along the lines of 27-20, Green Bay. The Eagles best chance will be for a beat-up offensive line to find a way to give Vick enough time to make a handful of big plays and have the Eagles win a high-scoring affair. I see the banged-up offensive line and a defense that still needs 1-2 more playmakers falling just a bit short. I hope I am wrong.

So with the Eagles fate out of the way with, time to turn attention to the rest of the tournament. In the rest of the opening weekend, I am looking for wins from Baltimore over Kansas City, New Orleans over Seattle, and Indianapolis over the New York Jets.

I think the Ravens are just physical enough to edge out KC on the road. The defending Super Bowl champion Saints are back, are hot, and are much better than the host Seahawks. And I am going to always find it hard to bet against Peyton Manning at home.

This means that my 2nd round matchups will have New England beating Baltimore, Pittsburgh beating Indianapolis, Atlanta beating Green Bay, and New Orleans beating Chicago. The Pats are just too good right now for anyone.

The Steelers get Manning in wintry western Pennsylvania. The Falcons have too much offense, especially inside their dome. And the defending champs are just better than Da Bears, even outside on the road in winter.

In the respective conference title tilts, I will go with the Pats over the Steelers and the Saints over the Falcons. Again, until someone shows me that I am wrong, New England looks like the best team in football right now. And heading back indoors for the NFC Championship, I will pick Drew Brees over Matt Ryan in what should be an epic title game.

That brings us to the Big Game, the NFL Championship at Super Bowl XLV in Dallas, Texas. With the Cowboys thankfully not in attendance, I am looking for Tom Brady to lead the Patriots to the title for the fourth time in 10 years. This will put the New England Patriots franchise behind only the Steelers (6), Cowboys (5) and 49ers (5) for all-time Super Bowl victories. Brady should be the MVP.

There ya have it. Let the games begin. Again, I would absolutely love for Michael Vick to become a true miracle worker and lead the Eagles to their first-ever Super Bowl title. The team certainly has some of the top offensive weapons, has the 2nd best head coach, and has a rabid fan base. But it will again be the Patriots year come February 6th, 2011 in ‘Big D’.