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On Why We Love Sports: Justin Salmasi

A year ago, I found myself staring into an infinite abyss. The Indianapolis Colts had announced that they were releasing the face of their franchise, and my childhood hero, Peyton Manning. Speculation spread like wildfire indicating that the perennial Pro Bowler, the Super Bowl MVP, Mr. “Cut That Meat” himself was unlikely to return to the gridiron at his elite level due to recurring neck injuries. To me, this was like finding out Santa Claus isn’t real, Patrick Swayze lost his battle with cancer, another attempt of a modern Superman movie was in production, and so forth. The end of an era was believed to be approaching, and it was a tough pill to swallow.

The Temple Floor Hockey “Beers.”

Then it happened. Denver Broncos General Manager, John Elway, found a way to become more awesome. A former quarterback who experienced a similar battle with proving skeptics wrong, Elway aligned himself with the fellow gunslinger and the rest was history. The following season, a physically and mentally rejuvenated Peyton Manning returned to the field as the Denver Broncos starting QB and showed no rust. In fact, the Tennessee alum had one of the most decorated seasons of his prolific career, taking his team to the playoffs as the #1 seed and finishing 2nd in MVP voting. People said he should hang it up. Call it a career. Instead, Manning proved his doubters wrong and made his return to NFL dominance. He also became an endorser for tapenade. Stud.

It’s stories like this that exemplify the romance that sports can achieve. The glory, heartbreak, and the unknown are what make fans so passionate. Whether it’s the electricity that runs through the sections of a stadium after a walk-off homerun for the home team, or the venom that fans wear on their sleeves when their star player lets them down, sports bring people together. Sports bring revenue to cities. Sports bring excitement to life. My name’s Justin Salmasi, and I love sports.

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On Why We Love Sports: Michael Conroy

I’ve spent my entire life between the suburbs and inner city of Philadelphia. That being the case, my earliest experience with professional sports occurred at a Philadelphia (now Adirondack) Phantoms exhibition game with my father. It may not have been the most important event in the sports world, but to me it was the start of something special.

I came to love Hockey, the Phantoms and the Flyers in the following years. That love inevitably grew to include the Phillies, Sixers and, above all, Eagles. Though I rebelled against the social experience of American sports through my teen years, my father’s appreciation for “four for four” Philly fandom never truly left me.

My brother, Ryan (left) and Me (right)

In America, sports are important. They provide a means of expression on the largest scale possible. There’s something about tens of thousands of people passionately engaging in dejection, celebration, shock and/or confusion that is impossible to manufacture. Thus, it is the last experience that has remained untainted by our mass-production society.

No matter how many big screen TVs and electronic advertisement banners you fill the stadium with, the feeling of a stadium full of people united in jubilee after a game-winning touchdown is pure.

I am a passionate person. Sometimes that passion becomes annoying. I’m okay with that. If I have one hope for this blog, it is for the Banner Years to be a means of expressing that passion for me and a means of validating that passion in others.

Break the Silence

Center, Jason Collins

I began to write this column knowing wholeheartedly that, by doing so, I would be immediately undermining the point I wish to make. Still, I feel strongly enough about the subject that I was willing to give it a shot.

I want to begin by asking the media as a whole a simple question. What on Earth are we doing with this Jason Collins story? Let’s really step back for a moment and think about what happened yesterday. Jason Collins, a veteran NBA player, became the first active professional athlete in the United States’ four major sports to “come out” publicly and announce that he is gay. When you put it that way, it’s easy to see why this has become such a massive story in the sports world and beyond.

Make no mistake, this was a notable event. It’s worthy of reflection, significance and discussion, but on day two of this post-homosexual-professional-American-athlete world, this has devolved into something that I’m not sure Jason Collins can even be proud of. 

Let me explain. Before yesterday, we knew there were professional athletes with varying sexual preferences in America. Very few people would dispute that what happened was a likely scenario. So, when Jason Collins took a commendable step in disclosing details about his orientation, there was a palpable sense of relief in his words. There was a feeling of relief from his audience as well. In the immortal words of one Bob Sugar, “Finally, someone said it.”

As cathartic an experience as it was, the purity of Collins’ acknowledgement lasted just about twenty-four hours. Today, the prevailing narrative has completely shifted from one man’s brave declaration to something far less noble.

Today, the story seems to be about how “we” are all supposed to deal with this. How are the “rest of us” supposed to treat Jason Collins and other gay athletes? How should a team deal with his locker-room presence next season? The news cycle has been dominated by this story and it’s “ripple-effect.” It’s become a national sensation, but those peripheral distractions should not be so paramount to the discussion.

Maybe I’m naive for thinking that the bigger this story becomes, the less progressive our society seems. I don’t feel like talking about how much of a bombshell this is reflects very well on our tolerance at all. At what point does the media cross that fine line between covering a story and covering themselves, covering a story? Wherever that threshold may be, I can’t help but feel that it’s somewhere behind us.

I could be wrong. This story might warrant such incessant dissection. There is no doubt that Jason Collins did something courageous and noteworthy yesterday. Perhaps his affirmation should have been given a little more room to breathe, though. I think we should be coming to a point in our nation’s history where Jason Collins is looked at as a professional basketball player who happens to be gay and not a gay man who happens to play basketball.

Good Life

It feel like Philly

On Friday, the Philadelphia 76ers did something. I mean they really, actually did something in the world of professional basketball. In acquiring Andrew Bynum, a trajectory has been set for this franchise. There is a real, distinct chance that this team could contend for an NBA championship as early as two or three seasons from now. This is no small feat, as the situation the 76ers had found themselves in was significantly less than ideal.

In the NBA, the economic system dictates that you, as a team, either need to be a contender or you need to be rebuilding. There is no “good” in this league. Just ask Daryl Morey if you don’t believe me. He’s been on a warpath to land a superstar for years. Now that he’s realized he can’t, he’s shifted his focus to sucking as soon as possible.

Being caught in the middle of the pro basketball pack ensures that you are not good enough to contend with the best teams but far too formidable to draft a difference maker. Boy, had the Philadelphia 76ers found that middle… existing as assembled, the Sixers were never going to win a title so they needed to make a move.

The only problem was that seemingly the only move to be made involved a considerable amount of risk; risk that the “difference-maker” you acquire might leave the team gutted at the season’s end. This is only a problem if you are too short-sighted to realize that you truthfully have nothing to lose.

In making this decision, the 76ers have rid themselves of that pesky Andre Iguodala, the man who kept them too good to rebuild for so long, and made certain that they will no longer be part of NBA purgatory. If Andrew Bynum works out as a 76er, plays well, and the team can build around him for the future, that will be a major victory for the franchise. If he flops in Philly and walks when all is said and done, then the team will be atrocious. They will lose a TON of games and contend, for the next few seasons at least, for the top five picks in the lottery.

For ownership, this is a massive gamble with a product that could have easily yielded them a few more years of profitability without warranting such risk. For the fans, however, this is one of the best decisions in franchise history; this is a get-out-of-jail-free card. This team is either going to contend for a championship or build for one through the draft and, after this season, there is no more in between.

For Andrew Bynum, the latest appointed savior of our beautiful city, the focus should remain on himself. I say “remain” because we all know that’s where it’s been all along. We’ve heard rumblings about Bynum’s desire to be “the guy” on his team and, as I’m sure he is aware, that was never going to happen on a team employing Kobe Bryant. In the Philadelphia 76ers, Bynum has found a team that desperately needs him to do what he has so longed for in Los Angeles. They need him to be the premier, go-to offensive option. What Bynum has always wanted is at his fingertips. This is his chance to become something he was never going to be in L.A. : a true superstar.

The happiest person of all in this situation should be Evan Turner. With the roster this team was boasting before the deal, his development was the only meaningful story line. Turner’s growth into a superstar, something he has shown no signs of being, was going to dictate whether this team could salvage this group or had to find a way to bottom out in a hurry. With Bynum’s arrival, Turner reaching his potential becomes just icing on this delicious, blue, white, and red velvet cake.

It’s not all roses and sunshine, however, for the newlyweds in this case. There still remain some serious questions about how this can all fit together. Bynum is notorious for having a lackadaisical attitude towards coaching instruction and can be rough around the edges when dealing with the media.

With Doug Collins being the coach of this team and sports media being what it is in Philly, I have my doubts that this will go off without a hitch. There is also the loss of Iguodala to consider. Some of you may scoff at that last sentence but make no mistake, Andre Iguodala was a leader and stabilizing force on this young team. Regardless of Bynum’s obvious skill set, Iggy’s absence will certainly be felt.

All around, this should be a glorious time to be a Sixers fan. The franchise’s future has not looked this promising since before Allen Iverson stopped attending practice. Before this move, there was seemingly no plan. In making this commitment to excellence or excrement, the Sixers’ front office has sent a clear message to their fan base that we have been desperately waiting to hear. Deep down, beneath all of the boasting about last season’s imitation post-season success; behind the signing of one Kwame James Brown, they understand. They really do understand.

I Get a Kick Out of You

Flying too high with some gal in the sky...

Taking a break from what has been just a dreadful Eagles season thus far, I have been enjoying the various story lines developing in other NFL cities for the past few weeks. My favorite underdog B-team, the Texans, have had some terrible luck with a great team this season. The Bears are looking at Donavon Mcnabb as a possibility. Even the Lions have gone from a league-wide embarrassment to a… different kind of league-wide embarrassment. As with all things, NFL, these stories have gotten plenty of play on the local and national level.

The most prominent story, however, has been the spectacular play of MVP candidate, Aaron Rodgers. The Green Bay QB is on pace, with company, to break Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season. His Quarterback Rating is almost high enough to be considered a joke. There is no doubt that the season he is having is one of the greatest we have ever seen in the NFL. Many national pundits are already declaring his season the greatest they have ever seen and until this morning, I shared those sentiments.

I found myself wasting time on ESPN.com’s (stats) page for a good 35 minutes mostly wondering what Michael Vick and other Eagles players could do to make themselves not look terrible on paper by the season’s end. For some time afterwards, however, this devolved into uncontrollable gushing over Aaron Rodgers’ numbers as I compared them to other leading QBs in the league. The numbers are impressive to say the least. They’re almost inhuman, leaving little evidence that he has ever made a mistake on the field.

This set of numbers, as do most things, led to me wasting more time as I sought to line up Rodgers’ numbers with the best seasons for QBs in history. As expected, these first twelve games for the Packers signal caller bore out to be, indeed, one of the most prolific stretches of the last half-century. Still, I found that it may not even end up being the best season for a Quarterback in the last four years.

After a historically brilliant first three quarters of this season, Aaron Rodgers needs to significantly step up his game if he wants to have anything other than the best season ever by a player not named Tom Brady. I realize that talking about Brady’s greatness has grown stale at this point. It’s no longer sexy to talk about the career of someone who is assuredly headed to Canton, Ohio shortly after his career comes to an end. I’m not going to argue that he needs to be talked about more, either. Tom Brady gets all of the respect that he deserves, the standard, against which, elite QBs will be measured for the foreseeable future.

I bring Tom Brady’s ’07 season to light because it has only been four NFL seasons and I had already forgotten just how astonishing that year was for the Patriots’ QB. I watch Aaron Rodgers now, and am impressed with every single throw. Touch throws, power throws, location throws, he makes them all. It just seems like whenever he has the ball, he is going to score and you know you are doing something right when a team “holds” you to 38 points in your closest win of the season.

That is why I am so retroactively moved by Brady and the reality of his ’07 season. Rodgers is behind the Pats QB’s pace for touchdowns and only leads by .02 in completion percentage; a ratio that is normalizing with every game Rodgers plays. Also, considering what empty calories passing yards have proven to be this year, that advantage may not be all too valuable looking back on these stats in years to come. Amazingly, when all is said and done, this year’s runaway MVP may not ever have threatened that immaculate ’07 season.

Thinking of Brady in this light, with the entirety of his career in perspective, you just have to appreciate it on a different level. We get so caught up in the moment sometimes that we become prisoners of it. It seems humorous to say that someone has been “written off” as a hall of fame QB but that’s sort of what’s happened here and he’s not done yet, folks.

Aaron Rodgers is clearly on his way to an all-time elite career and I don’t aim to take anything away from that. I think the questions just become; if we are all so dazzled by the performance of Rodgers this year, just how good was/is Tom Brady? Was his season in ’07 just too good to be aptly appreciated? Maybe that season was just too hot for us humble Goldilocks’ while Rodgers’ ’11 manifestation is juuuuuust right. This morning, I simply felt the need to bring some attention to these thoughts of mine.

Boiled Frogs

The Smartest Men Alive

There is an old anecdote that goes; if a frog is placed into boiling water, it will jump out of the pot immediately to avoid it’s demise but if this same frog is placed into cool water that is gradually brought to a boil, it will remain in said pot until it expires, never even realizing the peril it was in.

The 2011 Philadelphia Eagles season has been a complete catastrophe thus far, fulfilling even the most pessimistic fans’ worst fears and then some. In the game of football, where so much is based upon chance, it is almost improbable that every single one of the Eagles’ mistakes has come back to bite them so potently. Seriously, they are suffering the effects of many oversights but when it comes to luck, this team has been no darling either. Still, I would argue that the decline of the franchise in recent years has occurred in almost poetic fashion.

There may not have been a more gradual incline through which this team could have descended to this position. It is no surprise, then, that most Eagles fans swear by their own disbelief of the way things have transpired in recent months. When something comes unglued so subtly over a three to four year span, it can be very difficult to pinpoint exactly where things went wrong.

Of course, most people are operating without the benefit of hindsight. Looking back from this train wreck of a situation, some points of decline become far more noticeable. In reality, the past two seasons probably should have felt like falling off of a cliff and landing with a thud but to most, it has been much more of a sinking feeling. Michael Vick was sold as Philadelphia’s bridge to a championship when, in reality, he may have been acting as more of a quicksand.

In 2004, the Philadelphia Eagles had what may have been their most successful season ever. Donavon Mcnabb reached his stride as a professional Quarterback and Andy Reid saw his team operate like a well-oiled machine for months. In fairly dominating fashion, the Eagles made it all the way to the Super Bowl that year, only to fall to the New England Patriots.

This was the year that Andy Reid and his staff had finally opened up the check book and went for it all. They leveraged the future to make a run at a title, bringing in such names as Jevon Kearse and Terrell Owens. Who could blame them? The city of Philadelphia hadn’t seen a world championship in over a quarter of a century. Reid wanted to cement his career with a Super Bowl victory and he had worked to build a solid foundation through the draft. All that was missing were a few finishing touches.

The following few years were marred by injuries and, although the team saw success, the Eagles fell well short of the success they had enjoyed in ’04. Through this underwhelming stretch, players that had become cornerstones of the franchise got older. The team was slowly beginning to decline.

In 2008, Philadelphia fans enjoyed what became a very exciting and memorable season. The team battled its way from mediocrity to championship contention, winning two playoff games to get to the NFC Championship game. There, the team was beaten by the Arizona Cardinals. Although that season was entertaining, the late season run pulled attention away from what was an abysmal season otherwise.

The following off-season saw the departure of fan favorite, Brian Dawkins. He was the first of many big names remaining from the Super Bowl run of 2004 to be scratched from the roster and would not be the last.

2009 was a successful season by most standards before a crushing two-game brutalization at the hands of the division rival Cowboys sent the Eagles home. Andy Reid could sense that the team was in a state of flux. At the time, not one person could determine which direction the Eagles were headed. In what felt like a desperate struggle to regain control, the team cut ties with integral members of the team in Brian Westbrook and Donavon Mcnabb. The 2004 Super Bowl Eagles were dead and gone.

In 2010, Kevin Kolb was set to begin his career under Andy Reid. This was all part of Reid’s “starting over” strategy. In the season opener, Kevin Kolb was knocked out of the game, paving the way for the most storied comeback in NFL history. Michael Vick emerged as a suddenly elite quarterback and it forced the hand of the Eagles’ coach. Michael Vick brought an excitement to the team that masked many flaws in 2010.

What most fans had written off as a rebuilding season was becoming more promising by the week. The season peaked in week 15 when Michael Vick led a comeback against the Giants to seal the NFC East Championship and win the hearts of the Philly faithful. The next few weeks were forgettable at best as the 2010 Philadelphia Eagles failed to win another game, being knocked out of the playoffs in round one.

Amid all of the magic of 2010 and Michael Vick’s comeback, the defense seemed to get worse every week. Tackling became a lost art, younger players were taking the field every week without the veteran guidance under which to develop. The youth movement that Andy Reid started in 2009 was suddenly clashing with the emergence of a quarterback that would never be better than he was right then.

What could be done? The team was littered with an odd mix of star power and inexperience. At some positions, stars were coming into their prime. At other positions, failed high draft picks and late round overachievers were taking the field every snap.

The team took on a very inconsistent personality as a result. Big plays drove the team to success and to failure. From game to game, fans never knew which team would take the field; the team that hit 80-yard bombs with obscene regularity, or the team that gave up game changing plays on seemingly every snap.

This strategy works when the good outweighs the bad, but what was being ignored were the clear voids opening up in the roster and heading into the 2011 season, many were unsure of what to expect. When the Eagles signed who they did this off-season, there was a buzz resonating around the league. To the casual fan, this team had stars littered throughout the lineup. To those of us really paying attention, Andy Reid was making a colossal mistake.

In the National Football League, when your team declines, you lose games, draft high, and rebuild. In Philadelphia, losing games is not an option. Perhaps, in an effort to slake our lust for annual success, the Eagles’ front office has tried to do what no team can or should be able to do; rebuild while contending. Unwilling to sacrifice even one season of playoff contention, the Philadelphia Eagles have been borrowing  time every year, drafting poorly and trying to patch together the flaws in the team.

What they failed to realize is that this system was created for all teams to be equal. Since the dawn of the Andy Reid era, the franchise has maintained a smug attitude. Joe Banner, Howie Roseman, and Andy Reid think they are smarter than everyone else; that you can contend every year even when you make mistakes, that simply no one else knows how to. It is this exact attitude that has led to the miscasting of Juan Castillo, Casey Matthews, and even Nnamdi Asomugha.

What the Philadelphia Eagles’ front office is learning this season is that sometimes, you can out-smart yourself and that following convention is not always a bad thing. In paying so little attention to detail, the franchise has disrespected the game and is paying dearly for it.

To many Philadelphia fans, this season has come as a shock but allow me to put things in perspective with one question. If Michael Vick never returned to football, would this season’s direction surprise you at all? Why is it that the Eagles’ management believed you could get younger at many key positions without sacrificing production? Was it their plan to have a 31 year old quarterback and surround him with a work in progress? The more this season plays out, the more I feel like there was never a plan to begin with.

There is no doubt in my mind that, eventually, the Eagles will be forced to deal with the issues on this team. There is promise for seasons to come and the future is bright, but I offer a word of advice to fans feeling blindsided by the play of the “Dream Team” Philadelphia Eagles. There are no shortcuts. This season was inevitable. Do not be shocked, be patient.

The Impression That I Get

It’s always hard to find the right words to describe something you’ve experienced when you know it will be the subject of many major pieces of literature in the proceeding decade. Still, while unsure of what, exactly, I just witnessed, I am somehow certain of it’s significance. This night in Major League Baseball was a baffling blur of impossible circumstance. While many remain busy sifting through the wreckage in an effort to define the aftermath of what just happened, the historical significance of the past six hours is undeniable. Whatever it is I just watched will be referenced fifty years from now in books written by far more important people than I.

Back in August, the Braves and Red Sox were preparing their seemingly loaded rosters for a stretch run to the inevitable post-season. September would be about staying healthy, getting a look at some future prospects, and figuring out some answers to the few questions these two teams had going into October. The Playoffs were near and it would take a nearly un-rivaled, historic collapse to keep either of these contenders out.

As September rolled on, the Red Sox and Braves began to leak copious amounts of oil, watching their respective strangleholds on their post-season berths regress to something of a malevolent nuzzle. At some point during September’s free fall, these teams were faced with the reality that they were going to make it to the playoffs limping and in no condition to make a significant run. This became the concern of many Braves and Red Sox fans alike. Even at the ugliest points of this epic collapse, the prospect of either of these teams missing the playoffs was a melodramatic leap.

Somewhere between mid September and tonight, game number 162 slithered its way into significance right under our noses. There are 162 games in an entire baseball season. The idea that the final game could bear any significance, whatsoever, for even a single team is a joke. Tonight, it meant the world to four. It was an uncomfortable shift from regular season baseball to having every single pitch cost you some more of you index finger nail.

As the night rolled along, it looked as though the Red Sox, holding tight to a 3-2 lead over the lowly Orioles, and the desperate Braves, leading the Phillies, would silence the sports radio banter and stroll right on into the playoffs as was always expected. The under-funded Rays were getting a wake-up call form the Yankees, down 7-0 in the seventh at this point. This was a truly exciting, memorable end to the regular season.

This is where things started to take on that odd “I’d have to check but I don’t think this type of thing or combination of things has ever happened before” smell. The Sox-Orioles game was delayed by a sudden rain storm. This meant the Braves game was the only entertaining game left on TV. At this time, the Braves began to bleed a bit, allowing Philly to inch their way to a tie in the ninth off of their vaunted bullpen and Rooke of the Year favorite, Kimbrel. To extra innings the game went, Atlanta’s entire season suddenly on the line.

At some point between weak, fruitless at-bats in Atlanta, the Rays had begun a rally for the ages, loading and unloading the bases in Tampa Bay to bring the game within one run. Clearly the night would have a fantastic finish for fans of baseball. The Rays tied the game up in the ninth inning remarkably to keep their hopes alive while Atlanta struggled mightily to do the same. In the next hour, Atlanta found themselves down a run and short on offense, ultimately coming up empty on their final at-bat of the season. Wow. The Braves are done so soon after that entire promising season.

This was some sort of history in the making already. In Baltimore, the game had resumed now, and come down to the final inning. The Red Sox put their closer on the mound with a two run lead, watching that scoreboard and hoping the Rays would be losing in extra innings at any moment now.

Unbelievably, Boston’s closer soon found himself  with a runner pulling into second with another crossing the plate. It was a one run game; for the Sox, potentially a one run season. The next pitch sent Boston dragging themselves into their dugout to hope the Rays would lose and force a tie-breaker the following day. The Tampa Rays controlled their destiny.

In Tampa, Evan Longoria looked up at a scoreboard that read: BOS 2, BAL 3. He was down to his final strike and out of the inning with a home crowd slowly making their way to the concessions stand before the Yankees would undoubtedly be back up to bat. Then, with one stroke of the bat, a line drive found it’s way into a nook in the back of Tropicana Field and it was all over. The Rays were going to the playoffs.

As I give this extremely limited account of a night that will surely live in infamy, I still find it difficult to grasp the specific implications of it all. I feel certain, however, that these events will be remembered for decades to come.

Was this the wildest night in Major League Baseball history? American sports history? It just may have been.

Paper Walls

Don't believe a word.

With the 2011 NFL season descending upon us like an ancient Persian army, I find myself bracing for the stranglehold I will undoubtedly be caught in over the next 96 hours. As an extremely measured member of the “media”, I understand that the regular season of any professional sport is a race to categorize, scrutinize, and dissect every single team in every possible way in an effort to develop some sort of system through which we can predict the outcome of future games. This, of course, is a fruitless effort. If this exercise had any meaningful impact on the sport, itself, it would be no fun. Still, in your flurry, as fans, to figure out who is good, bad, mediocre, and unbeatable, consider this; This is just one week, and these paper walls we build to separate teams from one another are feeble at best.

Though the games count, the starters will play, and you will be watching real football for the first time in months, I caution you to pull back the reigns just a little bit on this week. Some teams are going to give you reason to believe in them this week. Some others will give you reason to bet their opponents every week for the remainder of the season. Do not react to every one of these influences.

With this warning in place, I wanted to play a game before the season opener tonight. In this game, I will provide you with a glimpse into the near future with some headline predictions for Monday (Tuesday) morning. I will then tell you why what’s taken away from some of these week one match-ups should not be taken too seriously.

1. “The Falcons’ offense did not get any more explosive this off-season”. For some reason, the drafting of Julio Jones this off-season has made fans and analysts alike jump to all kinds of conclusions about Atlanta’s offense being more explosive this year. While I do believe this pass offense will be improved, I do not believe it will be as drastic a change as most people are anticipating. Their week one match-up at Chicago could make that offense look a lot less explosive than we can expect it to be this season.

2. “The Rams are really good this year” As an Eagles fan, I can assure you I have insight into this prediction that you can bank on. I can’t say the Rams will win this game, but I can say that they will look good no matter the outcome. This game is going to be a typical Eagles early season scare. (see Detroit last year). There will be points scored in this game, and you will see a Rams offense that you are not used to. DO NOT BE FOOLED. An inspiring performance by the Rams here may be more indicative of an Eagles’ slow start than a Rams ascent to NFC contention.

3. “Houston is going nowhere and Kubiak is gone. ” That’s right, I really have a strong feeling that the Colts find a way to shock the world and pull this one out with Kerry Collins at the helm. I believe Collins is a lot better than most are giving him credit for and so are the Colts. I wouldn’t react so quickly to this outcome though. This season is a short one, but it’s not that short. I think the Texans may buy themselves some weeks to play(and win) out from under the spotlight with a let down in the opener and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them win the division in spite of this set back.

4. “The Giants are contenders.” The Redskins are bad. Stop doing this thing you people do every year and just open your eyes. When a team shows you how bad they are, believe them. In week one, the Giants are going to pound the Redskins thoroughly and look unstoppable doing so. I implore you to see through this farce. The media is putting way too much stock in the Redskins this year and this win will have everyone talking about Big Blue and how they are overcoming their summer set backs. Lies, lies I say, they’re all lies. Stop lying to yourself, to me, just stop it. The Giants will become more of what we’re all expecting them to be, feeling the sting of the injury bug by late September.

5. “Miami is better than we thought.” No they aren’t. They are bad like they’re supposed to be. They just managed to play well enough in a loss to New England that we’re stuck listening to this ESPN fodder pour out of Skip Bayless’s mouth all week long.

Well, that’s all for the warnings. I am giddy like a school girl to get this year underway and I know you all are with me. Just remember as we charge into this hopeless final battle for our Sunday free-time, not everything is quite as it seems.

The Royal We

The "Dream Team"

This past week has been a complete bombshell in the National Football League. Never before have so many lives been changed so drastically over the course of four days for the purpose of a major american sport. Though I plan to touch on most of these moves in a future post, there’s something that I felt needed to be said in the wake of it all. As most fans of the NFL know, the Philadelphia Eagles made quite the splash (or series of massive splashes) this week that have led to a powerful buzz surrounding America’s new “Dream Team”.

When talking about the moves noted above, you have to start with Nnamdi Asomugha. There will be much speculation over the next few weeks as to the specific impact he will bring to the Philadelphia defense but I’ll try and keep this simple. He is, and has been, the best Cornerback in the world for six years. This move came as a shock to most, being that the Eagles had so recently acquired a Pro Bowl caliber Cornerback in Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie through a trade, with Arizona, for Kevin Kolb. Being that Asante Samuel remains on this roster currently, the Eagles seem to have gone from a terrible passing defense to an elite one in 24 hours. This is no small feat.

Couple these moves with the signings of Pro Bowler Jason Babin and Cullen Jenkins, and it sure seems that in this arms race, the Eagles are preparing for a war on a different scale than any other team is anticipating. While there remain holes on the starting roster in Philadelphia, the Eagles have cemented themselves as a massive contender for the Super Bowl this season.

Unless you have been living in a hole for the past week, most of my above comments are nothing new. These comments are being made as a formality but I am writing today to make a point that has yet to be made. This off-season may have been the most active that the Eagles have ever been already and it’s not over yet. With so much elite talent at their disposal and so many new faces in Philadelphia, there’s really only one person that this all hinges on.

No matter who the Eagles brought or will bring in this off-season, there is still only one man that will dictate the path of them all. Michael Vick is that man, and as he goes, the Eagles will go in 2011. Make no mistake about it, Michael Vick’s magnetic effect on this league reaches far beyond the fan base. He is the reason Nnamdi is in Philladelphia, the key component in the “all in” strategy for the Eagles.

Most of us remember the electric season Vick had last year, the climax of which, consisted of a historic night in Washington. He took the city of Philadelphia for a wild ride. While it all ended with a playoff loss to the eventual world champs, it was easy to accept. Nobody had expected the Eagles to do anything in 2010. As I’m sure Michael Vick is aware of, this weekend, that protection was ripped away like a blanket from a waking teenager. The moves Philly has made have sent a clear message to every team in the NFL. They are gunning for a championship in February.

Michael Vick has spent his stint with the Eagles working tirelessly for our attention. Finally, the future has been mortgaged and all eyes have shifted back to him. This is it. This year, the spotlight has returned and the sporting world awaits the answer to one question. Who is Michael Vick? Is the Michael Vick we have seen in Philadelphia the product of a fantastic situation and tempered expectations, or is this who he really is? This year will be the most pivotal chapter in, what I believe, is the most compelling story in American sports history.

This is it, Mr. Vick. Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Rodgers-Cromartie and the city of Philadelphia will sink or swim on what you can do; what you are made of. This isn’t house money anymore. The chips are down.

This is Absolution

Rogers Arena, Vancouver

Tomorrow morning, every member of the Bruins and Vancouver organizations will wake up sore, spent, and guilt-less. This series has been everything the NHL and its robust fan base could have ever asked for. In a few short hours, these men will be digging in for the biggest game of their lives; a Super Bowl on ice. Through struggle, these two teams have dragged respect and hatred out of one another and they will leave all of it on the ice tonight.

Every punishing blow, exclaimed insult, and cheap shot administered will finally bear fruit when tonight’s game seven concludes. It would not surprise me if this one went to overtime. If I had to say that one team were at a disadvantage, it would be Boston, though I don’t feel strongly about this determination, Make no mistake about it, Neither of these two teams will play a comfortable game.

It’s a very good thing that there are only seven games allowed in this series because after tonight, I really don’t think either of these teams will have anything left to give.

Two nights ago, I saw something that made me chuckle nervously simply because I had no appropriate reaction. The second period of game six had just come to an end and the Canucks might as well have been on the plane back to Canada already. There was no way they were coming back from a 4-0 deficit in the third. The final period got underway and the Canucks plastered a message on Tim Thomas that I am sure will be there tonight. They dominated three minutes of a game for no other reason than to let the Bruins know they could.

All momentum that Boston had going into this game is null. The home-ice advantage that Vancouver established through this series is void. Throw everything out folks. The Cup is in the building tonight and one of these teams will be leaving with it. The hype surrounding this game is immeasurable and yet, I can’t imagine this game disappointing.

Whichever team wins tonight will deserve it and whichever team loses should feel completely absolved come tomorrow. When you give your best, your worst, your everything and more to win a title the way these two teams have, the outcome is a footnote.