Friday, December 25, 2015

Ranking the three big sports holidays

Some holidays move around on the calendar each year and others just don’t have specific marquee sporting events that always fall on that date. But there are three that always bring joy to sports fans everywhere.  Here is how I rank them.

3. Christmas: Five NBA games that always feature the best teams and the best players. It’s a tradition that’s certainly growing on me, especially with the marquee game this year being a rematch of the NBA Finals last season between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors. Teams like the Lakers and Knicks seem to be staples on Christmas regardless of how good they are. Other times, teams with a star player or two underachieve and the game that team is playing in isn’t as much of a draw all of a sudden. Such is the case with the New Orleans Pelicans playing the first game on the Christmas slate this year despite having star power forward Anthony Davis to feature. At the end of the day, most of the better teams and players in the NBA are going to be playing on Christmas, so it’s certainly worth watching.

2. New Year’s: The longstanding traditions are what make the holidays great. There aren’t many better traditions in sports than college football on New Year’s Day. I don’t think it was a particularly wise move to schedule the playoff semifinal games on New Year’s Eve, as opposed last year when the games were played on New Year’s Day. Nonetheless, there’s nothing like the history that comes with New Year’s college football and I’m sure more people are interested now with the playoff being a part of the schedule. The NHL’s Winter Classic isn’t nearly as longstanding as college football on New Year’s, but it’s one of the best spectacles in all of sports.  It takes hockey back to its outdoor roots and the crowd is far larger than any other hockey game. There have been more outdoor games added to the NHL schedule since the Winter Classic began in 2008 in Buffalo as a result.

1. Thanksgiving: On this day, it’s just your duty as an American citizen to have football on while eating a big dinner with the family.  Not to mention the great high school football rivalries that are renewed around the country on Thanksgiving. It’s the same thing every year, but I love it more and more. I’ve blogged about my love for Thanksgiving before so this was really a no brainer.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Recapping a wild week in Philadelphia sports

None of Philadelphia’s professional sports teams are particularly good at the moment. Despite being in a three-way tie for first place in the NFC East, the Eagles have been a huge disappointment in 2015 as they are 5-7 with four games to go in the regular season. The Sixers are going through yet another season in their seemingly never-ending rebuilding plan during which they’ve been the subject of tons of negative media attention and very little winning. They sit at 1-22 with just over a quarter of the 2015-2016 season in the books.  The Flyers are muddling through another mediocre season that could likely wind up as the third in the last four without a playoff appearance. The Phillies went 63-99 in 2015, which was baseball’s worst record.

Yet this week in Philadelphia sports came with plenty of intrigue.  The obvious story is the return of LeSean McCoy to Philadelphia as the Eagles welcome in the Buffalo Bills to Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday.  In January, head coach Chip Kelly became the general manager of the Eagles after winning a power struggle against Howie Roseman. Of course the frenzy of moves Kelly made this past spring is well known by now and with a 5-7 team to show for it, the third-year coach has been under plenty of scrutiny this season.  Arguably the most perplexing of all the moves Kelly made was the decision to trade McCoy to the Bills for linebacker Kiko Alonso. While Kelly points to McCoy’s high cap figure as a reason for the move, the Eagles have a lot of money tied up in the running back position in 2015 anyway.  DeMarco Murray signed a five-year, 40-million dollar contract weeks after McCoy was traded. Around the same time Murray signed, the Eagles agreed to terms on a three-year, 11-million dollar deal with former San Diego Chargers’ running back Ryan Mathews.

                                                     David Maialetti/
Culture was the buzzword behind Kelly’s offseason and it’s obvious when looking at the money put towards other running backs that McCoy did not fit into Kelly’s culture. When the Eagles returned to practice this week after an upset win in New England last Sunday, the questions about McCoy’s return were at the forefront of Kelly’s press conferences.  Often times Kelly is snarky with the media and is hesitant to admit mistakes.  But this week was different.  Kelly acknowledged he handled the departure of McCoy poorly and said he would like to shake McCoy’s hand on Sunday. But, the feeling wasn’t mutual as McCoy made it known he wasn’t willing to exchange pleasantries Sunday afternoon.  We’ll see whose team comes out on top Sunday, but this certainly isn’t just another week for Kelly or for McCoy.

Murray, one the team’s current running backs, was also in headlines this week after speaking to owner Jeffrey Lurie on the plane ride back Sunday night about his role in the offense.  The former Cowboy had just eight carries in the Eagles victory against the Patriots Sunday and rumors began to swirl about Murray’s future with the team.

The Sixers “process” as it’s commonly referred also warranted attention this week.  On Monday, the organization held a press conference announcing the hiring of Jerry Colangelo as chairman of basketball operations. Colangelo worked previously as the general manager of the Phoenix Suns and as the director of USA Basketball.  Colangelo is a highly regarded basketball executive and one who is respected in NBA circles nationwide.  So the speculation then arose about the future of general manager Sam Hinkie. Hinkie was often at the center of the aforementioned negative press regarding the Sixers in the last two years.  Is Hinkie being pushed out the door? Or maybe this was just a move to better the public perception of the Sixers as the “process” is accelerated and the Sixers begin seriously looking into free agency to add to their roster. Time will tell, but Colangelo is 76 years old and still resides in Phoenix so I tend to lean towards the latter.

                                             Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports
From left to right, Hinkie, owner Joshua Harris and Colangelo
and Monday's introductory press conference for Colangelo.
Today, the Sixers announced a two-year contract extension for head coach Brett Brown. Brown was an understudy to Gregg Popovich in San Antonio and was hired as the head coach of the Sixers in August of 2013. Brown has endured lots of losing with very few NBA caliber players on the roster. The Sixers rebuild has been slowed by Joel Embiid’s foot injury and waiting on Dario Saric to come stateside.  With all that in mind, it is really hard to pass any kind of judgment regarding Brown’s coaching ability but for most of the games during this rebuild, Brown has the Sixers playing tough and gritty basketball. They’ve been right in the thick of a lot of games, but at the end of the day, they just haven’t been a good enough team.

Then there are the Phillies. This week, new general manager Matt Klentak sent closer Ken Giles to Houston for a four-player return from the Astros. It was another of a series of trades the Phillies have made over the last 12 months to restock the farm system and get younger. The Phillies are almost certain to struggle again in 2016, but the transformation of the franchise is finally beginning to take shape after struggling through the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons while being unwilling to commit to a rebuild.

The Flyers season has continued without much news off the ice, but on the ice the team is playing some of its best hockey of the season. A 4-2 win last night in St. Louis was their fourth straight road win. The Flyers are now 5-1-1 in their last seven and are over .500 for the season at 12-11-6.  Perhaps it’s just a tease and the team is going to revert back to being an average hockey team. But recently, they’ve looked good. Even if this season doesn’t yield a playoff berth, the commitment to developing players in junior hockey and the AHL from general manager Ron Hextall is a refreshing change from Paul Holmgren’s ultra-aggressive approach every season.

Who knows when things will turn around in Philadelphia? But this week has certainly been filled with plenty to talk about.