Sunday, April 30, 2006

Bunkley and Justice? Giggitty...

By Steven Lienert

One or the other would have been enough for me. But both?

The Eagles are well on their way back to prominence, my friends.

Yes, the Birds didn't land Jevon Walker. Bummer. But they'll survive. Why?

Minus Terrell Owens -- which is a pretty large minus -- name a better receiving corps under Andy Reid than the Eagles currently have now?

Jabar Gaffney, Reggie Brown, Todd Pinkston, Greg Lewis and Darnerien McCants are an upgrade over the James Thrash, Charles Johnson and Torrence Small days. Add in Justin Jenkins and/or Billy McMullen -- whomever makes the team this summer-- and the receivers aren't great, but they are adequate. Perhaps Gaffney thrives in this offense. Perhaps Brown improves. Perhaps Pinkston returns to, um, er, what he was before???...

The defense, though, was significantly improved on Saturday. Brodrick Bunkley was my ideal choice -- I wanted to trade up as high as No. 8 to get him -- but he fell to No. 14. Buffalo, Denver and Cleveland all had to make bad draft decisions for this to occur -- yet they did.

The front four is as solid as it has been in years. Jevon Kearse, Mike Patterson, Bunkley and Darren Howard? I'm quite pleased with that. Jeremiah Trotter is a stalwart at linebacker and will benefit from Bunkley's presence; Dhani Jones/Matt McCoy -- hopefully, one of them will come into training camp improved enough to earn the starting job on one side.

The other side, however, is third-round draft choice Chris Gocong's job to lose. He was listed as a defensive end, but he will be the Eagles de facto outside linebacker come Opening Day. Gocong, out of Cal Poly, won the Buck Buchanan Award as the top defensive player in Division 1-AA and had 23 1/2 sacks last season alone. This guy is a pass-rushing fiend. Fans at the Linc will love both Bunkley and Gocong. Drew Bledsoe, Mark Brunell and Eli Manning, however, will not.

On the defensive front, who do you double team? Kearse? That frees up Howard and Gocong. Do you double the middle or take away one of the ends? And let's not forget about Trent Cole... Defensive coordinator Jim Johnson has to be salivating tonight. And that's not mentioning subs Hollis Thomas, Darwin Walker, Paul Grasmanis, Ed Jasper, Jerome McDougle or Sam Rayburn. That's silly depth.

But the real steal of this draft was Winston Justice falling to No. 39. The Eagles probably would have taken Justice at No. 14 had Bunkley been gone, mostly because Haloti Ngata and Ernie Sims were taken well before the Eagles chose.

Now, if Tra Thomas gets hurt, the Eagles have a suitable substitute waiting in the wings. Think about it: Thomas, Justice, Jon Runyan, Todd Herremans, Shawn Andrews, Artis Hicks, Trey Darilek, Jamaal Jackson and Hank Fraley. That's two offensive-line's worth of NFL starting-caliber players.

At worst, the Eagles have tremendous depth on both lines for the first time in years.

As for Sunday, I'd like to see the Eagles take a receiver and a big running back. If there is somebody they like, they have the flexibility to trade up. At this point, though, it's all icing on the cake.

I'd would also still like the Birds to sign Stephen Davis to play in a Dorsey Levens-type roll. Even without that, I'll go out on this limb after the first day of the draft...

The Eagles will win the NFC East in 2006.

Disagree with Lienert? Call him crazy at

Friday, April 28, 2006

Stop mocking me

By Steven Lienert

Ah, the proverbial war room. Grown men poked and prodded like pieces of meat and herded through the combine like cattle. Now, it's decision time. Although I wasn't invited into the Eagles' war room for some strange reason, that doesn't mean I haven't gotten a milk crate to prop myself up to sneak a peek at their strategy through a window at the Nova Care Complex.

PLAN A: Word on the street is that the Eagles are looking to trade up to No. 8 (Buffalo's pick) to get Brodrick Bunkley, the defensive tackle from Florida State. That's the ideal situation. If the Birds land Bunkley, they can focus on linebacker and receiver in their next two picks. Bunkley is athletic, plays on the other side of the line of scrimmage, is solid against the run and is the space-eater Jeremiah Trotter needs to be more successful than last season. This pick, along with a solid outside linebacker, would complete the defense.

PLAN B: If a deal can't be worked out, the Eagles will try to trade down, somewhere between 20-25, to select Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter or Ohio State receiver Santonio Holmes. If this happens, the Birds will receive an extra second-round pick to help fill their needs at receiver, linebacker or defensive tackle later in the draft.

Another Ohio State product, center Nick Mangold, has moved up into the late first round, where he almost certainly will be selected with the Jets' second first-round pick. Adding D'Brickashaw Ferguson (whom the Jets should trade up to take at No. 2) and Mangold will do wonders for New York's depleted offensive line. But Mangold is also on the Eagles' radar, so the Jets should be nervous if the Eagles trade down and both Carpenter and Holmes are gone.

PLAN C: Let's say the Eagles are forced to stay at No. 14, which means Bunkley and Oregon defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, the top two defensive tackles in the draft, will be gone. Florida State linebacker Ernie Sims, who might still be on the board, would fit Jim Johnson's blitzing style perfectly. If the Eagles stand pat and Sims is there, the Eagles have to go with him. I realize they just don't draft linebackers in the first round -- the last one being Jerry Robinson in 1979 -- but this guy is too talented to pass up at that pick.

USC offensive tackle Winston Justice might slide to No. 14 as well, but how many times can the Birds afford to take an offensive lineman with the first selection? Especially with Tre Thomas and Jon Runyan in the fold. Still, he would be a better choice than Florida receiver Chad Jackson.

My opinion of Jackson is that he's not a seasoned as Holmes, who is much more explosive and is a constant big-play threat. Jackson caught 88 balls for 900 yards and nine touchdowns last season, which are some pretty gaudy stats. Upon further review, however, Holmes caught just 53 balls, but he gained 977 yards and scored 11 TD's. I'd rather have Holmes, frankly. Besides, the Eagles have their quota of Florida receivers already (see Gaffney, Jabar).

SECOND ROUND PLAN: The Eagles may get lucky in the second round, especially if they trade down. Let's say they land Holmes. Miami defensive tackle Orien Harris should still be on the board at No. 45 and, if they traded into the 20-25 range, the other second-round pick could yield players like Penn State defensive end Tamba Hali or offensive tackles Chris Chester (Oklahoma) or Marcus McNeil (Auburn).

An intriguing selection in the late second or third round is Colorado receiver/kick returner Jeremy Bloom, who would fill a major need at the kick and punt return positions for Philadelphia. If nothing else, Bloom, an ex-Olympic skier, knows how to go downhill.

For the Birds, this is a pivotal draft.They are in position to get an impact player or two to fill major needs if they choose correctly. If they choose poorly, however, Eagles fans may sentenced to a few more years of crushing seasons like 2005.

Steve Lienert can be reached at

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Steelers vs. Eagles: Just the facts ma'am

By Tim McManus

The last thing I feel like doing is defending the Eagles right now.

They’re coming off a 6-10 campaign, one which ignorance and deplorable decision-making factored into the falter as much as T.O. and injuries did.

I am bitter, a bit depressed and have created a bald spot from all the head-scratching over the past several months.

That said, I can’t just let a Stiller fan use the Lombardi Trophy for a soap box as he spews his holier-than-thou (and largely misinformed) opinions about our organization.

(See Jared Trexler's article: 'Steeling players in the draft' below before reading any further).

I didn’t want to do it JT, but you have forced my hand.

First off, if you wanted to say simply that the Steelers have created one of the best franchises in football because they haven’t strayed from their identity, and enforce that persona through quality draft choices, I couldn’t agree more. If you wanted to suggest that most organizations (i.e. Washington, Dallas) focus more on acquiring talent than figuring out how that talent will mesh, I agree.

To say that Philly operates in this matter, however, is an erroneous argument.

Andy Reid is the most stubborn, set-in-his-ways coach in the NFL. He created a blue print the day he was hired, and has followed it so religiously throughout the majority of his tenure that it often got in the way of better judgment.

Namely, he put such an emphasis on the quality of a man’s character that he would choose better guys over better players, and disenfranchised anyone who caused the slightest ripple. As a result, the Eagles were always just a body or two short of a championship team. He had the right idea of filling the club with team-oriented individuals, but took the concept a step too far.

Fortunately for Eagles fans, the rest of Reid’s vision had a great deal of merit to it.

He chose to employ a West Coast offense predicated on spreading the ball around to all of the skill position players. The first necessary ingredient was a stable offensive line and a top-notch signal-caller, so he wisely selected Donovan McNabb and then filled out the line via draft choices and free agency.

Reid wanted running backs who he could use as weapons in the passing game, so he used Duce Staley and drafted Brian Westbrook.

Like Pittsburgh, the Eagles defense is based upon getting pressure on the quarterback, so he signed Kearse and put an emphasis on the secondary in the draft for the times that the blitz didn’t make it to the quarterback. (Say what you want about the money that they shelled out for Kearse, but they still wound up under the cap).

With this system and appropriate parts in place, Philadelphia has gone 65-31 since 2000, has made the playoffs in five of those six years, got to the NFC Championship four times and to the Super Bowl once.

Pittsburgh, in comparison, has gone 64-31-1 in that same time frame, made the playoffs four times, and made it to three conference championships and one Super Bowl (which it obviously won).

So I guess what I’m asking is, where’s this disparity that you speak of? Because you won your Super Bowl, whereas the Eagles fell three points shy to a modern-day dynasty?

Aside from that game, the Eagles have actually had more success than Pittsburgh this decade, using a similar approach of establishing an identity and using the draft and free agency to fill out the missing parts.

The Owens adventure clearly went away from that, as it ignored Reid’s character-first mantra and de-emphasized a balanced passing game. The result was a short-term boost to the big dance, followed by a turbulent 2005.

The weed has been sprayed, however, and now the team is back to its old form. The rift is beginning to mend; the offense will return to its natural style (with perhaps the most complete receiving corps since Reid has been here, especially if Javon Walker comes in as projected) and the defense will rebound from an injury-riddled year.

And come draft day, the Eagles will do what they always do – select the players that they believe will blend in fluidly with their vision.

Yes, an offensive lineman will be part of that equation. Believe it or not, they are a vital part of pass-oriented teams as well (see the Houston Texans versus the Indianapolis Colts).

To say that the Eagles will “banter about a player’s name value” in the war room is to disregard the thorough character analysis that all Philadelphia prospects undergo, and ignores the fact that the Eagles have built one of the most successful franchises in football via the draft.

With a Lombardi Trophy securely under your arm and a horrific Eagles season still clearly in memory, I understand that the two franchises appear to be on different planes.

But if you step off that high horse for a moment, you’ll see they’re actually side-by-side.


By Jared Trexler

Kevin Colbert finally smiled. Bill Cowher raised his arms and looked to the heavens. With Pittsburgh's Immaculate Road Trip through a gauntlet of AFC juggernauts and an equally talented Seattle squad complete, the stiff-jawed, spirited and spitting coach finally touched the trophy that had eluded him so many times in the past.

Colbert and Cowher are the ultimate professionals. They have a system that works -- aggressive, blitzing defense and an offense built around a punishing offensive line and an equally physical running game. Add to that a locker room molded by mutual respect, and Pittsburgh has the NFL's most stable franchise.

The Steelers have quietly and successfully gone about their business for years, playing in six AFC Championship games under Cowher's direction. Pittsburgh never makes a free-agent splash. While your Philadelphia Eagles bring in the Jevon Kearse's and Terrell Owens' of the world, the Steelers usher in Cedric Wilson. James Farrior. Quincy Morgan. Mike Logan.

The result: World Champions.

The method to the pigskin madness is simple -- draft to the system, shy away from egos and agendas and add spare parts during free agency. Pittsburgh knows something that every team south of Foxboro has yet to figure out in the new NFL.

The big splash doesn't occur with a seven-year, $75 million contract handed out to football's next egomaniac. The tidal wave mounts on Draft Day, eventually crashing to the shore after a season's success.

Looking at Pittsburgh's Super Bowl starters, the evidence to support my claim is clear.

QB: Ben Roethlisberger (First Round Selection, 2004)
FB: Dan Kreider (Undrafted Rookie, 2000)
RB: Jerome Bettis (Draft Day Trade with Rams, 1996)
WR: Hines Ward (Third Round Selection, 1998)
WR: Antwaan Randle El (Second Round Selection, 2002)
TE: Heath Miller (First Round Selection, 2005)
OT: Marvel Smith (Second Round Selection, 2000)
OT: Max Starks (Third Round Selection, 2004)
OG: Alan Faneca (First Round Selection, 1998)
OG: Kendall Simmons (First Round Selection, 2002)
C: Jeff Hartings (Free Agent from Detroit, 2001)
DE: Aaron Smith (Fourth Round Selection, 1999)
DT: Casey Hampton (First Round Selection, 2001)
DE: Kimo von Oelhoffen (Free Agent from Cincinnati, 2000)
LB: Clark Haggans (Fifth Round Selection, 2000)
LB: Larry Foote (Fourth Round Selection, 2002)
LB: James Farrior (Free Agent from Jets, 2002)
LB: Joey Porter (Third Round Selection, 1999)
CB: Ike Taylor (Fourth Round Selection, 2003)
CB: Bryant McFadden (Second Round Selection, 2005)
SS: Troy Polamalu (First Round Selection, 2003)
FS: Chris Hope (Third Round Selection, 2002)

Breakdown of the Super Bowl Champions: (starters)

First Round Selections: 6
Second Round Selections: 3
Third Round Selections: 4
Fourth Round Selections: 3
Fifth Round Selections: 1
Undrafted Rookie/FA: 1
Draft Day Trade: 1
Free Agents: 3

Only five of Pittsburgh's 22 starters in Super Bowl XL were not drafted by the club. Pittsburgh has also found late-draft steals -- eight starters were selected between the third and fifth rounds. Bettis was acquired via a trade(looking back at the trade, Pittsburgh basically stole the bruising back) on draft day. Willie Parker, who galloped for 1,202 yards last season, was an undrafted free agent.

Cowher loves to draft collegiate rush ends -- Porter and Haggans are prime examples -- and convert them into Blitzburgh outside linebackers in the 3-4 defensive scheme. He loves to draft offensive lineman -- first-round picks spent on Faneca and Simmons are an indication of that. More than anything, Cowher and Colbert draft to the system. Polamalu is an undersized safety who plays recklessly and is one of the quicker last lines of defense in the league-- a perfect fit for defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's confusion-causing defense.

One of the few times Cowher deviated from the smash-mouth plan was the selection of Roethlisberger, and even that worked out. If Pittsburgh would have had the first pick in the draft, its choice would have been the same. Roethlisberger was the top quarterback on the Steelers' draft board. Eli Manning and Philip Rivers were the two signal-callers taken ahead of Big Ben.

Manning struggled in his first season and hasn't won a single playoff game during his brief two-year career. Rivers has barely seen the field, finally getting the San Diego starting job for the upcoming season.

Big Ben won his first 15 starts. He set almost every rookie quarterback record. And to back it up, his arm led Pittsburgh to victories over Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver in this year's playoffs. He also has this fairly coveted ring.

Always a step ahead, Cowher realized an important security blanket for a young quarterback is a pass-catching tight end. So when teams passed on Virginia's Miller, Cowher eagerly grabbed him. Miller recorded 39 catches for 459 yardsand six touchdowns during his rookie campaign.

How does this relate to Philadelphia sports? Because the Eagles will never get over the hump until they become what the Steelers have been for over three decades.

A team that embraces its identity and drafts players that fit its mold. Pittsburgh will always be a franchise built around a fast, blitzing defense (Porter, Haggans, Polamalu) that needs a run-clogging defensive tackle(Hampton) with an offense geared toward a run-oriented attack (Parker, Staley) with a fantastic offensive line (Faneca, Smith, Hartings) and a quarterback that understands his role (Roethlisberger).

Eagles head coach Andy Reid loves to pass the football. Fine (though I believe a team can't win in the NFL without a running game). Then why do the Eagles draft interior lineman on such a consistent basis? Teams that grab linemen with first-round selections are teams that want to run the football. Reid would rather chuck the pigskin around the field 50 times a game.

As you watch the draft this weekend, remember that the quality personnel departments in this league (New England, Denver, Pittsburgh to name a few) draft to a mentality, a team persona.

When war rooms like Philadelphia's banter about a player's name value, Pittsburgh and New England will be wondering how that player would fit in the team's current system.

And on Draft Day it will again be evidently clear. I'll listen to my trusted colleague -- shut up, turn around and look at my Lombardi Trophy. I don't need to say a word.

The Draft will speak for me.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Oh, what could have been

By Steven Lienert

After watching Peter Forsberg put the entire Philadelphia Flyers franchise on his back and drag it kicking and screaming across the finish line in Game 3 versus the Sabres on Wednesday night, a thought popped into my head.

What if arbitrator Larry Bertuzzi ruled the other way on June 30, 1992?

Flyers fans have that date etched in their minds for several reasons. It used to be known as the day Philadelphia's hockey team was awarded Eric Lindros.

After last night's game, it should be remembered as the day the Flyers lost Forsberg.

Philadelphia paid the now-defunct Quebec Nordiques a handsome sum for the rights to a player that was supposed to be the Next One. But instead, it shipped the real Next One out of town.

What would have happened if Lindros was awarded to the Rangers? Sure, New York would have more than zero playoff wins over the past decade, but there was, nor is, any Cup in Lindros' future.

Forsberg did what Lindros was promised to do: Deliver a Cup (albeit with the Colorado Avalanche). Have the ability to put a team on his back and carry them when its needed most. To be the X factor on the ice to distract the opposition so that players like Simon Gagne can get free for a quick one-timer.

But what impressed me the most about Forsberg in Game 3 was how he changed the complexion of the contest. Down by a goal less than three minutes into the game, the Flyers' season was teetering on the edge of oblivion.

One more Sabres' goal, and the Fly-boys were done.

Forsberg not only delivered a crushing check in the left corner, but when the Sabres rushed him, he got a big-time swipe in on one of them to boot. Obviously, he had had enough.

Sure, he took a penalty, which is something the Flyers can ill afford to do in this series. But when a great player has had enough, he imposes his will. That's what Forsberg did. It's also what Lindros rarely could do.

My magic eight-ball is broken, so I couldn't tell you if Philly would have won the Cup if the Lindros trade never happened. But I can tell you that Lindros was falsely advertised while Forsberg represents the real deal.

Perhaps the Flyers would have been better off holding on to Ron Hextall, Steve Duchesne, Kerry Huffman, Mike Ricci, Forsberg, Chris Simon, first round picks in the 1993 and 1994 NHL Entry Drafts and the $15 million they gave to the Quebec Nordiques in exchange for the rights to Lindros.

But here's hoping that Forsberg has enough years left in the tank to help Philadelphia get its mission accomplished.

One win down, 15 to go.

You can reach Steve Lienert at


By Jared Trexler

This Saturday I will be playing in my first charity golf tournament of the season. For all five of you that care, the results of the Bangor Area Operation Graduation Golf Scramble will be published in next week's installment.

Now, on to the world of more important matters (i.e. the Zurich Classic in reconstructed New Orleans).

1. The Top Five list starts in The Big Easy, where tournament officials should be saluted. New Orleans was under water after Hurricane Katrina ravaged the beautiful port city. Tournament director John Subers and his staff were certain that there WOULD BE a Zurich Classic in 2006. The tournament returns to English Turn, where the event was held from 1989-2004, after the TPC of Louisiana was severely damaged following the natural disaster. Many volunteers should also be praised for their hard work. The 2006 Zurich Classic is a testament to the people's determination. Where there is a will there is a PGA Tour event.

2. Speaking of a tour event, the PGA Tour has been witness to the Australian invasion over the past two weeks. Stuart Appleby cruised wire-to-wire in Houston, a week after fellow countryman Aaron Baddeley took home the plaid jacket at Harbour Town. Appleby has tremendous talent, can win prestigious events (look at his track record at the winners-only Mercedes Championship)and has spent the last several years on the cusp of stardom. While a win is a win, Appleby needs to contend in majors more often in order to take the next step in his golf career.

3. Speaking of careers, Jay Haas is certainly extending his on the Champions Tour. Haas won at the Liberty Mutual Legends of Golf in Georgia over the weekend -- but no one noticed. Haas is a quality player who is still competitive on the big tour, as is over-50 putting guru Loren Roberts. However, neither player is sexy. That is why the Champions Tour needed Greg Norman, but because of injuries and a lack of desire to duel down the stretch with Jim Thorpe, Norman has balked at an extensive senior schedule. The tour will welcome Nick Faldo, Jeff Sluman, Nick Price and Mark O'Meara in next several years. A U.S. Senior Open that includes Faldo, Price, O'Meara and Norman in contention will be great theater. Until then, while the quality of play is still solid, the tour will take a hit in the television ratings.

4. Speaking of ratings, the tour's weekly television numbers will suffer with Tiger Woods on hiatus. Woods was racing stock cars and jumping out of airplanes last week and will be spending time with his sick father until the United States Open in late June. I'm confident Woods could take an extended break from competitive golf and still stay sharp, but when will Woods find time to practice? Winged Foot is tailor made for a sharp Tiger, but The Phanatic says the game will show rust and the mind will be elsewhere when Woods tees it up in upstate New York.

5. Speaking of New Y....I mean Orleans, it is time to pick a winner for this week's Zurich Classic. Scott McCarron's final round 76 kept me from a Top-20 finish in my first event of the year. However, I am 1-for-1 in cuts made. I'm going safe this week with Retief Goosen, but will also be monitoring the progress of David Duval. Duval seemed to have made strides in his game prior to an embarrassing first 27 holes at Augusta National. Then, the former world number one proceeded to move through Amen Corner in sterling fashion and carded a 32 on his final nine holes of the week.

Enjoy the sun-splashed weekend in the Northeast and never leave a three-foot putt short.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Yeah, but they're OUR idiots

By Steven Lienert

Here's hoping somebody at the Flyers' public relations office was listening to last night's post-game press conference following the 8-2 loss to Buffalo.

There's a gold mine in them there quotations.

The team has given out orange T-shirts to fans during the 2003 playoffs and on Opening Night this season, each emblazoned with a different slogan. Well, there's a new slogan to put on this year's shirts: We root for Idiots.

The Flyers were about as embarrassed as a team can be on Monday night, and it was compounded by the fact that the Sabres just smiled at them, blew them kisses and retaliated by scoring goal after goal.

There was nothing the Flyers could do about it.

In their 3-2 double-overtime loss in Game 1, the Flyers were sacrificing the body by blocking several shots at the point of impact. In Game 2, the Flyers were trying to be just as valiant; only Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff made some adjustments, told his players to fake some shots, hold on to the puck longer and look to pass first.

So, in Game 2, when the Fly-boys dropped to the ice, nothing hit them. The Sabres skated circles around the Flyers the entire game. With Donald Brashear as a healthy scratch, only Ben Eager could play the role as goon.

But he wasn't fast enough to catch any of the Sabres to talk one of them into a fight. None of the Flyers were. Derian Hatcher, Denis Gauthier, Eric Desjardins, Mike Rathje and Freddie Meyer, which accounts for five of the Flyers' six defensemen on the roster, took nine penalties between them on Monday. That's mostly because they couldn't catch the faster Sabres and had to hook them to prevent further damage.

Robert Esche had to skate out to the blue line to go after a Sabre that took an uncalled cheap shot on Peter Forsberg. The final numbers say it all: The Sabres were awarded 12 power plays to the Flyers' three.

There was less carnage in the Passion of the Christ.

After the game, Ruff called the Flyers "idiots" for the way they played. In essence, he gave an excuse for his squad to run up the score.

Flyers head coach Ken Hitchcock, when told of Ruff's comments, replied, "Tell Lindy to fuck off. To mind his own fucking business."

Thems fightin' words.

So now the series switches to the Wachovia Center for Games 3 and 4. Granted, the Sabres have a 2-0 lead, but hockey coaches (and some fans) are quick to point out that a series doesn't start until one of the teams loses a game at home.

If the Sabres take Game 3 Wednesday night, this series is, indeed, over.

The Sabres are faster. So now it's up to Hitch to come up with some adjustments to help Ruff mind his own business, like switching Sami Kapanen to defense like he did against the a faster Toronto team in the 2003 playoffs. Or switching up the penalty kill, especially since the Sabres seem to have found the key to scoring at will on the power play.

But if the Flyers can feed off the crowd and put out their best effort of the season, this series should be 2-1 heading into Friday night's tilt. That's at the Wachovia Center, too, so maybe, just maybe, the Flyers can dig themselves out of this hole.

Perhaps being idiots can work in the Flyers favor. Perhaps they're too ignorant to know they can't come back and beat Buffalo.

Steve Lienert can be reached at

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Drawing first blood

By Steven Lienert

With just over eight minutes left in in last night's Flyers-Sabres playoff game, Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell delivered a crushing -- and legal -- shoulder check on Flyers center R.J. Umberger.

Umberger was left in a Lindros-like heap at the blue line. The trainer came out, sat him up -- and blood began to pour from both nostrils.

Meanwhile, the fans at HSBC Arena let out one blood-thirsty "oooooohhhhh" after another while the jumbotron hanging high above center ice replayed the hit over and over again. Each time, you could feel the fans' bloodlust elevate.

Umberger could not leave the ice under his own power, but that didn't stop two teammates from helping him off as quickly as possible. Some replays showed Umberger spit out one of his teeth just before going into the tunnel.
Buffalo fans, meanwhile, had morphed into a gaggle of Romans after a day at the Coliseum.

Yeah, if that had happened in Philadelphia, it would have made national news. But I'm not here to wag my finger at Sabres' fans.

If that happened in Philly, I would have loved it. Furthermore, the only down side that I saw was that it happened to a Flyer. Other than that, it was awesome.

This is what the quest for Lord Stanley's Cup is all about.

It's a war. It's a fight. Players get knocked unconscious. They lose teeth. They bleed from the nose. Teams don't disclose specifics on injuries. Intensity, adrenalin and testosterone levels are off the charts. Players get cut, go to the dressing room, get stitched up and come back to play in the same game.

What other sport brings this kind of stuff to television?

The NBA? Puh-leeze. They whine if the ref doesn't award them two shots for getting touched on the forearm.

Baseball? They lose teeth and get knocked unconscious -- only in a comical way. Like when two outfielders don't call each other off a pop fly and they slam their heads together like Moe would do to Larry and Shemp. And don't tell me about a catcher getting railroaded by a baserunner. The last catcher to get hurt that way was Ray Fosse in the 1970 all-star game.

The NFL? While concussions abound, bleeding from the nose is very rare and I haven't seen anybody spitting out their teeth after a vicious over-the-middle hit recently. What a shame -- but there's potential there.

The rules are different when it comes to the NHL Playoffs. Not just for the players, either. For the fans, too.

It's okay to cheer if someone on the other team just got destroyed. Furthermore, they should show that hit on the jumbotron for years to come.

All you'll have to say is, 'Do you remember that hit on Umberger?' and Buffalo fans will recite 'Brian Campbell, 8:34 left in regulation, left him for dead at the blue line. We won in double-OT. Great game."

The Sabres have drawn first blood.

And hockey has officially returned.

Steve Lienert can be reached at

Friday, April 21, 2006

Can't a brother get a table dance?

By John McMullen

I always snicker when celebrities like Barbara Streisand or Alec Baldwin threaten to move out of the country because they don't like the way things are going.

I mean I don't think there are a lot of other options for self-important, talentless clods - at least options that will pay seven figures.

In America, that's a cottage industry.

But, after reading about what happened to Moe Williams, I'm starting to think about heading north of the border myself.

In case you missed it, the former Minnesota Vikings running back was found guilty of disorderly conduct on Thursday.

For what?........Touching the breasts of a dancer in a public space during the infamous "Love Boat" cruise on Lake Minnetonka.

Now granted, a jury found him not guilty of two other misdemeanors -- indecent conduct and lewd or lascivious behavior -- but I don't want to live in a country where I can't fondle a stripper.

Isn't that what you are supposed to do?

Isn't that what makes this country great (at least for men)?

In fact, at the risk of alerting Alberto Gonzales, I've done it in at least seven states.

And as my trusted colleague, Tim McManus, deadpanned..........I'm probably wanted in four of them.

The point is, I spent nearly a decade in Minneapolis and Williams is one of the true good guys in sports. And in case you haven't noticed, there aren't a ton of class guys littering the sports world anymore.

Everyone in the Minnesota sports scene knows what kind of person Williams is, but that didn't stop prosecutors from making Moe sound like Caligula.

The district attorney described the party as "a floating orgy" in which women on the boat changed into thong underwear and bras, gave players lap dances and, in some cases, stripped naked.

They said the crew was frightened and intimidated. (Right).

And yet, Williams was the only one taken to trial....Does that make sense to you?

Yes, Williams is a heterosexual that was in a testosterone-charged environment, and I have little doubt he touched the aforementioned breast.

So what?!

His biggest crime was not inviting me. And you can bet he will be getting a call about that.

-You can reach John McMullen at
-Photo courtesy of Craig Odegard - Minnesota Sports Update


By Jared Trexler

A new portion of The Phanatic's weekly lineup, I will take an in-depth look at the world of professional golf (the only sport where old men can play amongst the boys...and beat them).

1. Phil Mickelson has finally figured it out. Camp Mickelson dissects every blade of grass at every major championship venue -- pitching and chipping from every collection area and mentally playing a golf course before the championship begins. It really is a sight to see. Mickelson didn't overpower 7400-yard Augusta National to win his second Masters. He beat the beast with his brains. A man who looked a lot like Greg Norman down the stretch in so many majors through the years finally added the proper thought process to go along with every shot in the bag. I expect lefty to seriously contend in at least two more majors this season and take home one more piece of coveted hardware.

2. Speaking of Norman, it is good to see Greg back in the news. The Shark announced Merrill Lynch as the new title sponsor of his three-day, fun-in-the-sun event held every year in South Florida. Also, Norman announced thatFreddie Couples (he of the bad back and balky putter) will partake in this year's festivities. That wasn't even the headline name. Annika Sorenstam will play with the men at the Shootout this year and can bring her own partner. You heard it at The Phanatic first. She will pick Norman. Greg should have his game back in shape by then, as he plans to run the gauntlet of Champions Tour majors through the summer while also playing the British Open andInternational. That's six events in eight weeks. The Phanatic says the Shark is bound to reach the winner's circle in one of those starts.

3. Speaking of the winner's circle, congratulations to Aaron Baddeley. His game grew once he did. For the first time possibly, a marriage and maturation saved someone's golf game. Baddeley revamped his swing and is again near the top of the leaderboard early on in Houston.

4. Speaking of Houston, The Phanatic's thoughts and prayers are with Darren Clarke, who withdrew after an opening 68 to be with his sick wife. Heather Clarke was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 and it has since spread throughout her body. It again demonstrates the human nature of sports. Birdies and bogeys aren't on the Irishman's mind. Rightfully so.

5. I know I'm cheating slightly this week with the tournament already one round old. However, this was my pick from the event's first tee ball. I swear. I like Las Vegas' own Scott McCarron. Scotty is a great guy (I've met him several times) and this course is McCarron's cup of tea. The greens aren't complex and the course is long.

ENJOY THE WET WEEKEND IN THE NORTHEAST...And never leave a three-foot putt short.

-You can reach Jared Trexler at

Thursday, April 20, 2006

10-year plan

By Tim McManus

As a Phillies fan I'm obviously a glutton for torture, so I thought I'd take this time to perform an excruciating exercise: Look back at the Philly rosters from the past 10 seasons, and see what our team could look like today if things worked out differently.

We're going to neglect who was traded for who, which players were harping to ditch this city, salary concerns, etc. We're just looking at players who were once in the Phillies' possession, mixed with some that are currently here.

The starters looks like this...

1B: Jim Thome
2B: Chase Utley
3B: Scott Rolen
SS: Jimmy Rollins
LF: Pat Burrell
CF: Aaron Rowand
RF: Bobby Abreu
C: Johnny Estrada

Meaning the lineup would look something like this:

1: Rollins
2. Utley
3. Rolen
4. Thome
5. Abreu
6. Burrell
7. Rowand
8. Estrada

Not completely depressed yet? No worries, the pitching staff is up next.

Starting Pitching

1. Curt Schilling
2. Kevin Millwood
3. Eric Milton
4. Carlos Silva
5. Brett Myers

Middle Relief

Rheal Cormier
Todd Jones
Ben Gordon


Billy Wagner

Think that 13-year playoff drought might go ahead and get broken? How many rings would we have by now? Still think the disgruntled stars would be pining to get away from this team?

I will now go suffocate myself with a Rollins' beanie cap.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


By John McMullen

A heated discussion about politics around the Phanatic offices got me thinking about Washington, sports and just how naive the public at large has gotten.

Sure, Congress is busy with the war, tort reform and budget problems but the collective brain wizards that make up our ridiculous two-party system sure jump when the opportunity to get some extra TV time exists.

And the Congressional hearings into steroid abuse in the sacred cow that is Major League Baseball were just the type of headline grabbers that make John McCain and Ted Kennedy throw away the Viagra.

The now infamous Clintonian-esqe finger-wagging denial of Rafael Palmeiro, the pathetic mumblings from Mark McGwire, the feigned stupid act from Sammy Sosa and the self-serving s*** that seems to constantly spew from the mouth of Curt Schilling.

Talk about great theater!

Of course in the end, just like real world politics, nothing gets done save for lip service, public relations and spin.

"The sports industry is a huge industry, and it's largely unregulated, or at least is self-regulated,” University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Matt Smyth told the Augusta, GA Free Press. “ It makes billions of dollars a year, and its stars are held in high regard in particular by our nation's youth. Sports has an important role to play in our society, so from that perspective, it's not surprising to see Congress wanting to step in and get involved when something seems to go awry.”

Um.......Yeah.....No need to worry now....The bastions of integrity that dot our Congress stepped in and Major League Baseball is now clean.

Sure there is no test for Human Growth Hormone or the cream or the clear or about 55 other known performance enhancing drugs.

Sure, Bonds and Giambi and Sheffield still look like they stepped directly out of the pages of a comic book and young Latin kids still pump enough horse steroids into their bodies to kill a small dog.

But all is well.......

Congress with the help of Bud Selig and Donald Fehr cleaned up our national pastime.

Turn on sports radio.....Most average people actually think that way.....

And you know why?....Because the politicians from their party really want to help.

The other side is of course in a bunker plotting the demise of Western society.

-You can reach John McMullen at

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Do a little research...

By Steven Lienert

Tonight I felt like one of the cavemen in the commercial.

The cavemen were insulted when the company's spokesman said, "It's so easy, even a caveman could do it."
After learning cavemen still existed, the spokesman and two representatives from the caveman clan sat down to a fancy dinner for a discussion.

"We didn't know you guys still existed," the spokeman said.

"Yeah, next time, do a little research," a caveman replied.

I absolutely had to call a local 'sportstalk' radio station to correct the host Saturday night (or, more accurately, Sunday morning around 12:20 a.m.) because he hadn't done the necessary research to do a proper radio show.

The host that referred to himself as "G," a former NFL player who said so many things wrong I had to call.
It was that bad.

This host had the entertainment value of a dead pigeon, and a sports acumen of one to boot.

Can't we get a better alternative?

Besides plugging his new Web site 11, that's right, 11 times, two callers before I got on the air, he gave his take on the Flyers.

"I think they'll win out," he said. "I think they have momentum."

The real deal: the Flyers have alternated a loss with a win EVERYDAY this month. They have not lost two in a row, but they have not won two in row. That's momentum?

Here's momentum. Nine straight wins. The Flyers play the Devils this afternoon. The Devils have won nine in a row, including a win over the Flyers three days ago. But I was telling that to an ex-professional athlete. What do I know?

He wouldn't let me ask my next two questions because, "I had an agenda," he said.

He was right. I did have an agenda.

I wanted to point out that this host did no research whatsoever prior to taking to the airwaves. My agenda was that I was not going to tolerate someone that could care less about doing even an adequate job. My agenda was that I was not going to allow this farce to continue without someone calling him on it on his own, ahem, show.

-"Billy Wagner's a younger guy and doesn't have a history of injury problems," the host said, referring to the Phillies' decision not to retain the 34-year-old Wagner's services in lieu of signing 38-year-old Tom "Flash" Gordon .


Wagner had finger and elbow issues during spring training that kept him out until the start of the season. Furthermore, he has missed significant time in at least two more seasons (Phillies, 2004, Houston in 2000) and has pitched 75 or more innings in three of the past four years. Flash Gordon, however, has similar stats, despite being so ancient: he's tossed over 74 innings each of the past three years without any trips to the disabled list. Gordon sounds a bit more durable to me. But, then again, I wasn't a professional athlete.

The cous-de-gras? "G" announced the Eagles would take Winston Justice in the first round of the NFL Draft. Those that read the Phanatic know that's who I chose, too. Now I'll have to agree with my optimistic colleague on the Phanatic staff that they'll take Ernie Sims, the outside linebacker from Florida State.

I just can't agree with a host that told me that I should "take a glass of milk, pop it in the MICROPHONE, and drink it to relax." After I said "Microphone?," he giggled and said he meant microwave. Then he hung up on me because I had an agenda.

I would LOVE to challenge this host, or several other ones frankly, to a show-off. Let me do a half-hour against one of their half-hour's, then let the callers decide who should stay on the air. But that'll never happen.
Feel free to email me, G. I won't hang up on you.

You can reach Steve Lienert at

Friday, April 14, 2006


By Tim McManus

I flicked on the TV the other night and *61 was on, right at the part when things started to get real bad for Roger Maris in New York.

He was getting chairs thrown at him in the Yankee Stadium outfield, people were sending him death threats, the media was twisting stories to make him a pariah, his hair was falling out...

The intended (and achieved) reaction is sympathy for a character whose only flaws are 1) that he's less than obliging to the press and 2) is so good at his job that he's threatening the most sacred record in all of sports.

You always leave that movie realizing that fans objectify players to such a degree that they tend to lose human compassion. How otherwise could people unleash so much hatred towards a man who, in reality, is nothing more than a successful entertainer chasing an empty number? He has a family and an ability to get wounded, just like those who are harassing his family and inflicting the wounds.

It makes little sense.

The next night I came home from work and flicked on the tube again, and SportsCenter was airing a segment from "Bonds on Bonds". Barry was sitting back in a chair and talking about all of the negativity and criticism that he has endured from the general public over his career. He started out coming off cold and hard and impenetrable, then cracked in the next instant and started to weep.

"You can't hurt me or my family anymore than you already have," said Bonds in a rare glimpse of vulnerability.

Now I know that show was manufactured to enhance the embattled slugger's public persona, so it has to be digested in accordance.

I know that he was blatantly bloated by steroids during his peak seasons, when he demolished numbers that hold significant meaning to loyal followers.

I also know that he comes off as abrasive, unapologetic and unlikable. He has done little through the camera lens to welcome you in or make you warm to him.

But above all, I know that none of those things are reason enough to rip apart another man.
And as I watched Bonds shed his machismo for a minute, I couldn't help but flash back to Maris.
Their moments of ridicule, after all, both reached their apex when they each stood just a handful of homers away from Babe Ruth. As less-than-beloved characters, fans became vehement when they approached the ultimate legend of the game.

Neither catered to the media, and were therefore pounded in the press harder than they would have been otherwise.

Maris got hate mail. Bonds got hate mail. Maris had a chair thrown at him. Bonds had a syringe thrown at him. Maris broke Babe's record anyway. So will Bonds.

The biggest difference, of course, is the use of the juice by Barry. This injustice validates the fans' venomous approach to the greatest player of their generation. He was tainted, and as a result, tainted their experience.

What Barry and his cohorts did does cast a shadow over the sport, no doubt. Numbers and seasons will have to be revisited and scrutinized, and your level of faith and enjoyment in baseball may have been jeopardized.

What he did was bad, sure, but what we're doing is worse. Like Maris, he is nothing more than an entertainer chasing an (ultimately) hollow number, and has been absolutely shredded for doing everything in his power to ensure that he thrives at it.

And as enough time passes, he may just evolve into a tragic hero as well. People with an unattached view will sympathize with a character whose only flaws are 1) that he's less than obliging to the press and 2) is so good at his job that he's threatening the most sacred record in all of sports.

There may even be a movie about it one day. Call it *715.

Laughing First

By Steven Lienert

Mirror, mirror on the wall, who the dumbest man of them all?

Is it Jerry Jones or Terrell Owens?

Maybe it's Drew Rosenhaus, who should have picked Owens up at his house and physically took him to Dallas' training facility to take part in the Cowboys' voluntary offseason workouts until they were over.

Owens got his money, and how did he repay the hand that fed him? By doing his own thing once again. But Owens probably needed to rest up from the grind over the final nine games of the 2005 season. You know, the games he was suspended for.

Either that or he was getting ready for his reality TV show.

So, the first chance he gets to interact with teammates on a football field since October 30, 2005, he decides to stay home and workout on his own. Oh, Owens will come into training camp in the best of shape -- that's not the issue. But after everything he's gone through, why wouldn't somebody tell him it would be in his best interest to attend the voluntary workout?

Just for the good public relations or to possibly answer questions from teammates or coaches that were skeptical of the signing in the first place?

And what does Bill Parcells think about all this? Only the Tuna knows, because he hasn't said one friggin' word regarding Owens' signing with his team. With Parcells, it's about developing team chemistry, so the Tuna doesn't have time for someone that does his own thing.

And Owens epitomizes 'doing his own thing.'

As an Eagles fan, let me paint a dream scenario on how all this might end. Wouldn't it be just peachy if Tuna decided Owens wasn't worth it after all and cut him at the end of training camp?

Or what if Tuna chooses to retire instead of putting up with the T.O. circus? Imagine the egg on Jones' face if that happens. The financial implications would be disastrous.

What if something happens to 34-year-old Drew "The Statue" Bledsoe? If T.O. had a problem with Jeff Garcia and Donovan McNabb, he'll just love Tony Romo and Drew Henson.

Trust me -- this couldn't have happened to a better team. It's started already, and he's only been in Dallas 26 days.

You can reach Steve Lienert at

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Season Wasted

By John McMullen

Much has been made of the underachieving Philadelphia 76ers.

Everyone from Allen Iverson to Maurice Cheeks to Billy King have been blamed for the Sixers' woes.

So for the two people that still care, here's my observations on Philadelphia's forgotten team after covering four games in the past month.

Allen Iverson - Iverson is still the only "talented" player on this roster that will give you an honest day's effort night in and night out. At just 6-feet tall, Iverson will always bring his defensive deficiencies to the table and it would have been nice if he developed a love for the weight room earlier in his career. That said, at least he brings it every night and he is still the best this city has to offer.

Chris Webber - This guy is a shining example of why people have become disinterested in the NBA. A supremely talented player with a deft passing touch, Webber is lazy on the defensive end and still has trouble swallowing the fact that this is Iverson's team. To all the A.I. haters and Webber himself, look in the mirror and try to convince yourself that the team's offense should be run through CWebb. If you can do that...You are either lying to yourself or you are just obtuse.

Andre Iguodala - The only bullet proof member of the Sixers. People just haven't figured out Iguodala can't finish and is an extremely overrated defender. If the rumors were true and the Sixers could have gotten Ron Artest for this guy, I shudder at Billy King's ineptitude.

Samuel Dalembert - The team's biggest disappointment. Dalembert has the ability to be a game-changer on the defensive end but seems to lack heart, desire and basketball smarts.

Kyle Korver - Korver is what he is. An excellent pure shooter who can do little else. Stationed on the weak side of a team with a superior low post threat, Korver would be quite a weapon. On a team that expects him to play both ends of the floor, like the Sixers, he's a joke.

John Salmons - Salmons could be a very good role player but he will not accept his limitations. John becomes very disinterested when he doesn't get involved on the offensive end and the rest of his game suffers.

Steven Hunter - How can a 7-foot guy be such an abysmal rebounder? Lack of effort.

Willie Green - Before the ACL injury, Green looked like he had a chance to be a quality NBA scorer and was the only Sixer, save Iverson, who could go get his own shot. As a defender, the less said the better.

Shavlik Randolph - Randolph is a carbon copy of Mark Madsen. A high energy guy who can give you about 10 minutes a night. Anything more than that and he is exposed.

Michael Bradley - Maybe the best pure rebounder on the team and he rarely sees the floor. That tells me two things, the Sixers can't rebound and Bradley really can't do anything else.

Kevin Ollie - The only role player on this team that gets it but he just doesn't have the ability to make things happen on the floor.

Matt Barnes - An offensively challenged player who could be a quality matchup defender if Cheeks had any idea how to use such a commodity.

Louis Williams - Should have went to college.

Maurice Cheeks - As much as I admire Cheeks, I ripped Jim O'Brien and Mo has done even worse. In Game No. 75 of an NBA season, your rotation should be set whether you are the Detroit Pistons or the Charlotte Bobcats. I don't believe any of the Sixers' secondary players knows their role and how could they? It has never been clearly defined. Cheeks flips-flops so much, he would have made an excellent running mate for John Kerry.

Billy King - Many think Ed Wade was a bad executive. Well, Wade was an undergrad. King has earned his doctorate in incompetency. If Isiah Thomas and Matt Millen didn't exist, Billy would be the worst general manager in professional sports. But, hey I love the suit.

Ed Snider - Could care less -- Peter Forsberg and Company are playing tonight.

-You can reach John McMullen at

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

One and done... the futility continues

By Steven Lienert

People that make a living working at the Wachovia Center should start looking for seasonal work now. The Flyers and Sixers (if they make it all) will most certainly be first-round fodder in the postseason.

Let's tackle the 10, 9, 8, 76ers first. They stink. They don't play defense. When things break down, the resort to individual play. They'll have to face the Detroit Pistons, who epitomize the team concept, in the first round; that is if the Sixers can beat out the Bulls for the eighth spot in the East.

I feel bad for Sixers fans (both of you) that will shell out money for postseason tickets. You'll have to watch this dreg of a team for two extra home games. But if you keep your eyes on Hip-Hop and down enough adult beverages, perhaps this season will just fade away into memory.....

Which brings us to the Flyers. One night they're up, next night they're down. Robert Esche whined that he thought the coach had named Antero Niittymaki the starting goalie for the playoffs, but now it seems he'll win the job by default. Keith Primeau keeps teasing us with a possible comeback, but I would ask him to recall the last time a Flyers' center came back early from a concussion to play in the playoffs.

Eric Lindros played his last game as a Flyer and was left in a crumpled heap at the blue line after Scott Stevens killed him in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Peter Forsberg has come as advertised: a superstar talent when healthy. I know a little too much about Forsberg's groin, however, mostly because it's been a topic of conversation on a weekly basis. It heals, he plays, it gets aggravated and he sits. Then we get aggravated because he's sitting because without him on the ice, the Flyers seem lost.

Right now, the Flyers will face either the Buffalo Sabres or New York Rangers in the first round. Philadelphia is 3-3-1 with one game left versus the NY Rangers and the team went 1-2-1 against Buffalo. Not exactly the type of statistics that gives a fan confidence.

If Forsberg and Gagne are healthy, if they get Primeau back, if Esche gets hot and if the hockey gods smile favorably on us, the Flyers have a shot at the second round.

Philadelphia fans are starved for a winner. The second round doesn't cut it anymore.

You can reach Steve Lienert at

Pessimism at Long Last...Yet so Early

By Jared Trexler

There is a running joke around the office that I am an optimist amidst a loud and talented group of pessimists.

Those that have read my work on this site probably already know that fact. I'm a big believer in Jimmy Rollins. Likewise in Chase Utley. Ditto Ryan Howard. I'm also steadfast in the inclination that Pat Gillick knows how to build a pennant-winning baseball team.

However, my patience is running thin with Charlie Manuel.

I won't waste this space describing all of the mind-boggling moves Manuel has made in the season's first seven games. Steve has already done a great job of that.

I'll just reiterate that my patience is running thin with Charlie. And for those that know me, that is saying something.

The Phillies have averaged only 3.4 runs per game so far this season, not good for a team I felt would lead the majors in runs scored. And at some point, players that are making millions of dollars need to take responsibility for such a humbling beginning.

I don't place the whole heap of hurt on top of Manuel, but I place way more than a manager should have to bear only seven games into a season.

I stated on Monday morning that the Phillies NEEDED to go 4-2 on the brief road trip, one that started in same-old fashion that evening in Atlanta. Brett Myers, who had above average velocity and movement on this pitches, faced opposing pitcher John Thompson with two men on base and two outs in the bottom of the fourth frame.

Thompson fouled a first-pitch fastball right out of catcher Mike Lieberthal's glove over the Braves' dugout. So, in such a crucial situation early in the game, obviously Lieby is going to come back with another heater to an adequate hitting pitcher.


Lieberthal calls for a breaking ball and Myers slops up a hanging, 84-mph curveball that sits pretty around Thompson's belt buckle. The Braves new "slugger" rips the "hit me" pitch over the head of Aaron Rowand and two runs trot home.

Good teams don't make that play. Good catchers don't call that pitch. Going even deeper, good managers don't run out an over-the-hill battery mate with two bad knees and a life-long inability to call a solid game.

Shouldn't it tell Charlie something when staff ace John Lieber begs for another catcher, any catcher other than Lieberthal. Sal Fasano isn't Mike Piazza at the dish, but he represents a better option for a shaky at best starting rotation that includes two young arms at the end.

Then there is David Bell. The third baseman was 1-for-14 in the early going when Manuel stated, "It is still David's job to lose." Hadn't Bell already lost it (especially against right-handed pitching)?


In a perfect world, Manuel's lineup card would read:

SS Jimmy Rollins, 2B Chase Utley, RF Bobby Abreu, 1B Ryan Howard, RF Pat Burrell, CF Aaron Rowand, 3B Alex Gonzalez, C Sal Fasano, P Pitcher

Bell would start versus left-handed pitching while Lieberthal and Fasano would share the catching duties 50-50.
That won't happen. In fact, the lineup I just listed is a dream. Charlie will trot out the same eight in the exact same order that has resulted in a floundering start.

His excuse? "Our boys are gonna hit."

Manuel is right. They will hit. When he is out of town.

How's that for pessimism with an optimistic twist.

-You can reach Jared Trexler at

Who Will the Eagles pick in the Draft?

Let's go to the experts:

NFL Draft Scout - OLB/DE Manny Lawson - North Carolina St.
CNN/SI (Don Banks) - WR Chad Jackson - Florida
Sports Illustrated (Paul Zimmerman) - LB Bobby Carpenter - Ohio St.
Mel Kiper Jr. - OT Winston Justice - USC
CBS Sportsline (Pete Prisco) - LB Chad Greenway - Iowa (Pat Kirwan) - C Nick Mangold - Ohio St.
Philadelphia Daily News (Les Bowen) - OT Winston Justice - USC
Philadelphia Daily News (Paul Domowitch) - OT Winston Justice - USC
Philadelphia Inquirer (Bob Brookover) - OC Nick Mangold - Ohio St.
NFL Films (Ray Didinger) - LB Chad Greenway - Iowa
USA Today - LB Ernie Sims - Florida St.
Ourlads - DT Gabe Watson - Michigan
Pro Football Talk - WR Chad Jackson - Florida
NFL Draft Countdown - LB Chad Greenway - Iowa
Football's Future - LB Ernie Sims - Florida St.
Gridiron Central Magazine - LB Chad Greenway - Iowa - DT Brodrick Bunkley - Florida St. - WR Santonio Holmes - Ohio St. - DT Gabe Watson - Michigan - DT Gabe Watson - Michigan - LB Ernie Sims - Florida St. - WR Santonio Holmes - Ohio St. - RB LenDale White - USC
Consensus Draft - DT Brodrick Bunkley - Florida St.
Fantasy football Toolbox - WR Santonio Holmes - Ohio St.
Great Blue North Draft Report - WR Chad Jackson - Florida
NFL Gurus - WR Santonio Holmes - Ohio St.
Draft Board Insider - DT Brodrick Bunkley - Florida St.
Sports Xchange - OT Winston Justice - USC
The Sports Network (Tony Moss) - WR Chad Jackson - Florida - OT Winston Justice - USC - WR Santonio Holmes - Ohio St.
The Phanatic (John McMullen) - WR Chad Jackson - Florida
The Phanatic (Steve Lienert) - OT Winston Justice - USC
The Phanatic (Jared Trexler) - LB Ernie Sims - Florida St.
The Phanatic (Tim McManus) - OT Marcus McNeill - Auburn

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Enough of Uncle Charlie

By Steven Lienert

It's only seven games into a 162-game season, but I am already sick and tired of Charlie Manuel's act.

After benching Ryan Howard and Pat Burrell, among others, in the second game of Sunday's doubleheader against Los Angeles, I've seen enough.

Let's list the mistakes good ol' Uncle Charlie has made so far this year (that I've seen) and tell me he doesn't deserve to be fired right now.

- How about having Mike Lieberthal catching Jon Lieber on Opening Day, just because it was Opening Day? It's common knowledge that Lieber doesn't like the way Lieberthal calls games. Todd Pratt was his personal catcher last season, and Sal Fasano was behind the plate for Lieber's second start. So the only conclusion I can come to is that Lieberthal played because he's a veteran. It doesn't matter what disruption he caused the starting pitcher -- he got to play on Opening Day.

- Speaking of Opening Day, how 'bout the decision to walk some schlub named Jim Edmonds to load the bases and get to the weak hitting Scott Rolen? It's not like Rolen loves to stick it to Philly fans. He only hit a grand slam to put the Phils down 8-1. Nice choice. At least bring in a lefthander to face him instead of northpaw Julio "Gasoline" Santana.

- The way the lineup is constructed is insane. Why isn't Howard hitting clean-up? He's batted sixth in every game he's played in thus far, leaving no protection behind him. Why is Aaron Rowand batting second? He batted sixth for the World Champs last year. He's alternated between second and seventh in the order. Why is Chase Utley batting fourth? He should be in the two-, three- or five-hole. Utley and Burrell have flip-flopped between the fourth and fifth spots in the order. How about this for a lineup: Rollins, Utley, Abreu, Howard, Burrell, Rowand, Bell/Nunez, Lieberthal/Fasano. Leave it like that for a month. Don't even mess with it.

- Right after Abreu's walk-off homer in the first game of the doubleheader against the Dodgers, Phillies fans felt good for the first time since Ed Wade was fired. And what does our esteemed manager do? Does he go for a sweep? Nah. The guys really exerted themselves in the win. Howard, Burrell, Rowand, Bell, Lieberthal...have a seat. We'll get by with Shane Victorino, Dave Dellucci, Alex Gonzalez and Abraham Nunez. Yeah, each of those guys are interchangeable. Last I checked, the Phillies have won one game this year. How about keeping the 'A' lineup intact until you get on the road.

- He came right out and said the team stinks right now after a loss to the Dodgers. He couldn't wait to get on the road. So how'd they do in the first foray outside the City of Brotherly Love? Another loss...After all the mistakes last season, I've seen enough of Charlie Manuel. Maybe it's time Lou Pinella gets his hands on this roster. If Larry Bowa had players like Howard, Utley and Rowand, his harsh style would have gone over much better. Besides, I've never been big on coddling in the first place.

Repeat after me: Who-oa, Chuck must go.

-You can reach Steven Lienert at

Monday, April 10, 2006

Dixon's Death a Reminder to Us All

By Jared Trexler

I never met Maggie Dixon. After all, I'm just a young journalist right out of college. I'm only 23 years old.

That's the scary thing.

Dixon was a vibrant basketball mind who had just guided Army to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history. Her brother Jamie, the head coach at Pittsburgh, also led his Panthers to another tournament bid.

March Madness had become a family affair. A celebration of hard work had culminated with hugs between a family bonded by basketball.

Despite the Cadets' first-round defeat to Tennessee and Pittsburgh's second- round upset loss to Bradley, the Dixon family was on top of the world.

Until it all came crashing down.

Maggie was rushed to Westchester Medical Center on Wednesday after suffering an arrhythmia heart episode.

She died Thursday after spending about a day in critical condition. She was only 28.

"Her joy in coaching these young women made them believe in themselves and depend on each other," said Army athletic director Kevin Anderson. "Her guidance not only helped them excel here, it will help them become better, more compassionate leaders."

Those are generous words. Yet, they don't bring Maggie back. Flowers, cards, tears and condolences will not place Maggie in front of her family and friends again.

Her sudden death has absolutely nothing to do with sports. This just happens to be an impassioned plea found on a sports website. I don't plan on discussing her overall record or the bright coaching future she had.

The tragedy has everything to do with life.

Cadets ready themselves on a daily basis for bad news. Friends and classmates are fighting a war in the Middle East, spending every day one bullet away from death. Not that it is ever expected, but families understand the dangers of loved ones restoring peace in the Persian Gulf.

This came without warning. Without an immediate explanation. It makes even those who didn't know Maggie question life's plan.

WHY. WHY. WHY. They don't have question marks because we already know the answers. There aren't any.

Maggie's death will be grieved in the public spotlight because of who she was. However, every single day people who never got the chance to dribble a ball, putt for birdie, get married or take vacations sadly pass away.

It is never fair. It is never easy. But a lesson in life always comes out of death.


It seems simple enough, but most people get too caught up in the rigors of the daily grind to ever truly embrace life. We should all enjoy special moments with family and friends. Always take the opportunity to tell loved ones how much they mean to us.

It may be the last time. No one ever really knows.

The wounds of Maggie's death may never truly heal. There is no need to ask the Dixon family for a quote to fill this space.

They are grieving. And we all already know how they feel.

The next several months, probably even the next several years, will be a day- by-day recovery period for this basketball family. Yet, if they remember the embrace in happiness they all shared due to this season's success, perhaps the embrace in sadness will be just a little easier in the long run.

We celebrated the joys of human existence during the NCAA Tournament only to remember its fleeting nature in this one tragic event.

That's life.

-You can reach Jared Trexler at

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Double Switch

By John McMullen

The Philadelphia Phillies can’t win.

It’s not because Ed Wade and Pat Gillick handed Charlie Manuel a rotation that boasts Jon Lieber as the headliner.

It’s not because the rest of the rotation reads: Brett Myers, Cory Lidle, Ryan Madson and Gavin Floyd.

It’s the Double Switch!

Poor old, dim-witted Charlie just can’t figure out the most perplexing move in all of baseball.

That’s right ... Charlie doesn’t know how to flip-flop the batting order when Rheal Cormier comes in to give up a three-run blast.

But, please don’t blame Charlie ... Few in America can decipher the mysteries of the double switch.

Granted I can, but much like Bill Conlin and Angelo Cataldi, I was weaned on National League baseball and boast an IQ hovering above 60.

Not everyone can have those kinds of credentials.

Stephen Hawking?

Forget about it, He may be a genius but he was brought up watching American League ball.

The geeks at Yale, Harvard and MIT?

Nah ... They might cure cancer someday but that’s nothing like squeezing an extra inning out of Aaron Fultz by inserting Alex S. Gonzalez at the same time.

That’s magic.

And Charlie Manuel is no magician.

-You can reach John McMullen at


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Opening Day Disaster

By Steven Lienert

It hadn't rained in a month, but as soon as Jon Lieber wound up for the first pitch of the 2006 baseball season, water began falling from the sky.

I've been going to Opening Day with my uncle for about 25 years, and this was just about one of the worst sports experiences ever.

Our day started off well enough...we had lunch at Nick's Cafe (a.k.a. Nick's Roast Beef) at 20th and Jackson. It was my first time there...that's a good freakin'sandwich. Anyhows, we got to Citizens Bank Band Box around 1:45 -- after BP but well before the game started. We had seats in the upper deck of left field...two sections away from Albert Pujols' bomb that seemingly put the Cardinals ahead by a 100 runs.

By the way, those walls they moved in the offseason? I think they may need to be moved back further. Like the Navy Yard.

Despite the speakers not working in the outfield, the skydivers delivering the flags and ball were awesome. Although I have to ask: Why is it okay for skydivers with smoke streaming from their ankles to land on the outfield grass, but Cardinal O'Hara's band and the soldiers carrying the humungous American Flag had to walk along the warning track?

Lieber actually had us on our feet in the top of the first. He had struck out the first two batters he faced and the fans were cheering like it was the bottom of the ninth of a no-hitter. We were jazzed and ready to cheer for something, anything. But Lieber walked Pujols and the Cardinals scored the first of many runs to come.

Bobby Abreu showed he was in midseason form -- his two hits came without any runners on base, and when he did come up with a runner in scoring position, he flied out. Unlike a guy that normally hustles his butt off, Abreu also had trouble digging a ball out of the corner and relaying it back to the infield. Chase Utley went into the stands, got a Schmitter, ate it, jumped back on the field and was still waiting for Abreu's relay throw. Take it easy, Bobby. There's still a 161 to go.

My seat stayed dry until got up to get another beer -- by the time I got back to my seat, it was soaked and the Phils were losing by three. Good thing the Phils gave out rally towels yesterday -- it was a way for fans to dry off their seat and keep the wind off the nape of their necks.

After Julio "Gasoline" Santana intentionally walked Jim Edmonds to load the bases for Scott Rolen (key the theme music to The Natural here), everyone in the Park knew he was gonna jack a grand slam. Sure enough, the Fightin's were down 8-1, Jimmy Rollins was already 0-for-3 and all the optimism that fans had felt from spring training had quickly disappeared.

Thinking we could beat traffic out of the stadium, my buddy and I left in the fifth inning. I mean, the game is on at the bar, and it sure as hell ain't raining in there. We got out of the stadium all right -- and then sat in traffic on I-95 for an hour and a half. While waiting to get off at Prospect Park, we heard on the radio that Ryan Howard had homered and Rollins got his base hit. Perfect.

It was a relief to get back home on the Main Line and finish the day pounding beers at the Wayne Beef 'N' Ale. After that and a warm shower, I realized that baseball season had finally returned. Unfortunately, I also remembered that I root for the Philadelphia Phillies. Only 161 more to go...

-You can reach Steven Lienert at

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Can I please have an alternative?

By John McMullen

Listening to sports radio in this town has become excruciating.

When I turn to a certain station on the dial, I can actually feel the I.Q. points slipping away.

Here are some of the things I have "learned" by listening to Philadelphia's "top sports station" over the past few weeks:

-The good-old USA has 11 billion illegal immigrants entering it every year. (This despite the fact there is, at last check, about seven billion people on the planet).

-Vince Young did very poorly in the "Wonderlink" test. (That may seem like a small mistake if it wasn't repeated a dozen or so times by a certain wannabe "King.")

-Rickey Henderson was a heck of a switch-hitter in his day. (An excellent point considering Ricky was one of the best....But, the fact he hits exclusively from the right side probably should have disqualified him.)

-That Gavin Floyd will be "the fifth in the rotation starting." for the Phillies. (That's an homage to a certain Yoda-ically challenged late night update hostess).

-The Cowboys "are stupid" since they didn't trade their seventh round pick to the Eagles to get T.O. under the terms of his old contract. (Maybe I'm dense but isn't that contract the reason T.O. was pissed off in the first place?).

At my job, I get taken out to the woodshed for a typo...Say, I noted that Allen Iverson scored 43 points and he really netted 44. The sun might fail to rise according to my superiors..........

But perhaps, I am just jealous......It would be nice to work in a stress free environment that seems to encourage incompetence.

Or maybe, just maybe we deserve better than this?

I dream of a Philadelphia sports world with no more "Chief"...No more"Cuz"....No more "Big Daddy".

And you should too.

-You can reach John McMullen at