Tuesday, September 06, 2005

A plea to keep the Saints

A powerful editorial from the New Orleans Times-Picayune on Sunday.

Opinion: Please don't go, Mr. Benson

The people of the New Orleans area "battered, grieving and homeless" are in desperate need of something to hold onto. Something to ease their broken hearts and nourish their spirits.

Saints owner Tom Benson can give them that something. He can choose, and we fervently hope he will, to play this fall's home games at LSU's Tiger Stadium.

Saints fans are among the most loyal in the NFL. For 38 years, they have embraced this team whether it won or lost, and the losses almost always outnumbered the wins. Mr. Benson owns this team, and it is his business. But this is our team, too, at least in spirit. What other fans would pack the Superdome year after year despite lackluster win/loss records? Don't these devoted people deserve that sort of dedication in return?

This metro area has suffered the worst natural catastrophe in the nation's history. People who were helpless to get out of the way of the storm died in our beloved Superdome. The Dome is wrecked, and it is a place known for misery right now. But it can be refurbished. Its rebuilding can be a hopeful sign to the hundreds of thousands of residents who have been scattered across the region by Hurricane Katrina - people who have lost not only loved ones and homes, but their entire community.

The Saints have been a source of that sense of community since the day they first walked on the field. They bring us together in a way nothing else does.

The NFL doesn't want the Saints to leave. As after the Sept. 11 attacks, when the New York Giants chose to stay in their ravaged city, the league sees the Saints as a balm for wounded souls.

Surely the players don't want to leave. Receiver Joe Horn spent three hours touring the Astrodome on Saturday, signing autographs for children and giving the 15,000 displaced storm survivors something to smile about.

And it is difficult to believe Mr. Benson would want to leave, despite reports to the contrary. He has talked in recent months about how much he loves New Orleans, about his desire to stay here, and we take him at his word.

Before Katrina, Saints fans wanted their team to stay. Now they need it to stay.

Blown lead

The Phillies went three up-three down this week and blew the wild-card lead. They trail the Astros by a 1/2 game with two more against Houston, so there still is hope. Judging by the comments in the blogosphere, each loss is getting more frustrating.

A sampling from around the horn:

From Balls, Sticks and Stuff: As of late, the team is falling back into a maddening pattern that we've seen over the course of the season: scoring runs in bunches one night, and then failing to score more than one or two the following night. The pitching staff has been fairly consistent, keeping the team in the game, night after night, but it is the offense that seems to let the Phillies down in a loss.

Over the past twenty games, the Phillies have a record of 10-10 and have scored 7 runs or over 5 times. Over that same span, the Phils have also 3 runs or less eight times.

Had the Phillies scored 5 hypothetical runs in each and every one of those twenty games, they would have gone 12-5 and sent three others to extra innings. Had they scored just 4 hypothetical runs in each of the last twenty games, the Phils would have had a record of 10-8 with two games going into extra innings.

Like any sport, baseball is a game of highs and lows, and so to expect exactly 5 runs every night would be ludicrous. But the roller coaster of run totals the Phillies have displayed in the last three weeks or so is clearly hurting them in their quest to make the playoffs. And with their third loss in a row last night, the Phils are no longer in first place in the Wild Card hunt. To make the playoffs, they will now need to come from behind with a pitching staff that is beginning to wear thin.

From Swing and Miss:

For the third consecutive game the starting pitcher stumbled out of the gate and for the third straight day the offense failed to overcome the deficit.

Two ninth inning rallies cannot hide the awful truth: the Phillies aren’t hitting, especially when it counts. Still, they had a chance to tie or win in the bottom of the ninth, but Charlie Manuel in his infinite wisdom chose to have Matt Kata run for Ryan Howard and let Endy Chavez bat to end the game, flailing. A pitch earlier Endy fouled off a ball that bounced in front of the plate.

Why Manuel didn’t have Chavez pinch run and let Kata pinch hit is a complete mystery, but, then, moves of more than one person are too much for the Phillies' skipper. Kata, a switch-hitter, couldn’t be less capable than Endy; no one in the major leagues is less capable than Endy. Two batters earlier Manuel had used Shane Victorino so it cannot be a matter of not wanting use a call-up in that crucial spot.

From PhilliesNation:

Only seconds have passed since Endy Chavez ended Monday's nights game, so I should probably calm down before writing this, but I won't. What a terrible at-bat. I mean what was going on there? The first pitch is check swing foul ball, and Endy has this look of amazement that he made contact. The next pitch he whiffs completely. Then, he fouls off a ball that bounces in front of the plate. Let me reiterate, he fouled off a ball that bounces in front of the plate. Mind you, there are runners on second and third and like Lofton's run earlier, that pitch easily could have gotten away from Astros catcher Brad Asumus and allowed the tying run to score. What a joke, Endy. But I guess the joke is on us, because really, should we expect anything more?

Confident Eagles fan

The roster has been set and the countdown to Game 1 vs. Falcons is now less than six days. Eagles fans are gearing up for another run deep into the postseason.

Here is a blog from mrbiersnob:

We don't know where we're going
But the season's ripe for knowing
I want you to join together with the band
This is the biggest band you'll find
It's as deep as it is wide
Come on and join together with the band

Ten rookies. A total of 18 players on the roster with less than two year's experience. Corey Simon, Derrick Burgess, Hugh Douglas, Chad Lewis, Germaine Mayberry and Todd Pinkston are gone.

No big free-agent acquisitions. No big up-the-middle running back. Contract squabbles, hold outs, general discord, and a shaky, at best "Pax Mc-Owens."

There seems to be a laundry list of reasons why the Eagles seem poised to fly the way of Super Bowl losers past; falling flat on their faces the following season. In spite of what seem to be insurmountable obstacles facing the Birds, your brew-monger, in a moment of clarity and sobriety, (Four months this weekend, gang!) has other thought about our upcoming season.

Here are the malt, hops and grain of why the 2005 Birds are better equipped for capturing this year's Lombardi Trophy:

Andy Reid and the Coaching Staff: If there is one thing today's Eagles fan has learned, it is to trust this coaching staff's judgment and ability. From passing over Ricky Williams to draft Donovan McNabb in the 1999 draft, through releasing all pro players like Trotter, Vincent, and Bobby Taylor, and not losing a step, the plethora of undrafted free agents which occupy so many starting positions on this team; Andy Reid has made believers out of all of us.

The close-to-the-vest Reid is a master of revealing what he, and only he wants the press to know. During his tenure, the Eagles have won more, showed amazing consistency and ability to overcome injuries, and have restocked their lineup with speed and agility in the past six seasons. If there are a group of men who can calm the storm and part the Delaware to lead the Eagles to the NFL's Promised Land, it is the Eagles coaching staff.

Donovan McNabb: He had lost three consecutive NFC Championship games, and allegedly needed assistance from FredEx Mitchell to call plays in the closing moment of a Super Bowl loss. At times, he can make a football sink with sharpness and regularity that could put Roger Clemens' "Mr. Splitty" to shame. He runs too much. He's black.

Yadda Yadda Yadda! The fact remains, the Eagles arethe NFC's winningest team this century, and McNabb is the straw that stirs the cocktails on Broad and Pattison. Few quarterbacks in the league have the knowledge and comfort level of their offense as D-Mac possesses. Even fewer are as adept at buying time in the pocket and finding an open receiver for a big gain at critical junctions of a game. And while not as frequent a sight as in the past, no one short of Michael Vick brings fear into the heart of defenders with the threat of breaking from the pocket for a big gain. These factors will allow the youth on the Eagles offense to rapidly acclimate themselves to Childress' system.

The Wide Receivers: Terrell Owens is Terrell Owens, and contract squabbles or not, remains arguably the most exciting and versatile wide receiver in the game today. Greg Lewis and rookie Reggie Brown simply form a better pair of receivers than Todd Pinkston and Freddy Mitchell could dream of being. Back-ups Billy McMullen and Darnerian McCants are huge targets with good speed and sure hands. This unit is a threat to score from any position on the field, and will be giving opposing defenses fits the entire season.

The Offensive Line: Shawn Andrews and John Runyan are two road-graders on the right side that will provide giant running lanes for wonder-weapon Brian Westbrook and his new sidekick, Ryan Moats. (Who, in the suds-crafter's estimation, will develop into the most fearsome one-two punch from any NFL backfield.) Tra Thomas and Artis Hicks will continue to provide security for McNabb's backside. This group has quietly gelled into one of the most formidable front walls in the league.

The Defense: One noticeable improvement will become readily apparent in the opening games of the season: the Eagles will be able to stop the run consistently. Starters Hollis Thomas and Darwin Walker in combination with frequently rotated backups Sam Rayburn, Paul Grasmanis and rookie Mike Patterson form a great deal of beef to protect MLB Jeremiah Trotter, and allow him to make plays. Jevon Kearse will be back to his freakish ways on the end, and the return of N.D. Kalu gives the Eagles pass-pressuring ability par excellence.

The secondary was essentially the starting Pro Bowl unit last season, has gained more experience, and is still a young group. This group is filled with willing hitters, and defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson's blitz packages will utilize this to the fullest. Look for the Eagles to at or near the top of the league in fewest points allowed once again.

Tangibles and Intangibles: David Akers is as automatic as a kicker can get in an outdoor stadium. We have yet to see the full range of this man's leg. Jason Short and rookie Jeremy Thornburg are two head-hunters who will put the "special" in the Eagles special teams.

While the rest of the NFC East has improved during the past off-season, they have not bridged the gap sufficiently between themselves and Philadelphia. The Panthers appear to be the sole road-block to the Eagles' run to Detroit and Super Bowl XXXX. This year's schedule includes four games against the anemic NFC West, and four more vs. the Jekyll and Hyde AFC West. The aging Packers and questionable Rams fill out what on paper seems to be another 12-4 season, and home-field advantage in the playoffs.

And lest we forget, the Legendary 12th Man. We, the fans, are hungry for a Lombardi, and recognize that our beloved Eagles are indeed the class of the NFC. As my fellow Eagles Blogger Erin says, "This is the Year of the Birds!"

Until next time, avoid the rush, and make your plans for February in Mo-Town!

If you have an Eagles blog, send me the address and I will keep an eye on it for postings and links.