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Friday, November 18, 2016

Rob’s Rants on Sports: Giving Thanks in Philly Sports

It’s that time of year that we gather together to watch football . . . I mean, give thanks. Depending on your viewpoint, that might be a tough task at the moment. Leaving real world concerns aside, here’s what I think Philly sports fans should be thankful for this year.
Rob's Rants on Sports logo featuring various stadiums and jerseys from the area and Rob
Carson Wentz: I’m not 100% sold that he’s going to be “the guy” for the next 10 to 15 years, and there’s obviously no guarantee he brings the Lombardi Trophy to Philadelphia at long last. But at the very least, he’s the Eagles quarterback for the next 5 years. He is the guy they need to build around. They don’t even have to think about drafting a starting QB for quite a while.

“The process” is, essentially, over: It seemed endless. It was stupid. And it never should have happened. But it is, finally, over. Sam Hinkie’s process of tanking, and tanking, and tanking, and tanking, to acquire talent . . . because Sammy couldn’t pick his nose, let alone NBA players, without making the process absolutely mistake-free . . . is in the past. It might not seem like it, since the team is still struggling to win a game a week, but that’s the result of Hinkie’s absurd plan. It’s actually necessary to see if the talent that has been acquired can play together.

Joel Embiid:
Again, the wait seemed endless, and the frustration with his limited minutes . . . which is quickly getting old, not to mention questionable, especially since Embiid seems unhappy with it . . . is building. But this is a guy who you stop what you’re doing to watch. If he can stay healthy . . . ohhhh, yeah.

The pending return of Ben Simmons:
I just keep thinking, if only Simmons was playing, if only Simmons was playing, if only Simmons was playing. Is it January yet? I know, the anticipation is largely based on his college career and summer league play, but watching Simmons play with Embiiid should be, and, I think, will be, the reward for Sixers fans suffering through Hinkie’s time as general manager. (No, this doesn’t prove him right; there are ways to build a team without sacrificing multiple years to get the number one pick in the draft.) The Sixers cannot put Simmons on ice all year—if he’s healthy.

The Phillies have “turned the page:”
So far, there’s been nothing overly exciting coming from the Phillies this off-season, but they seem to have made some nice moves already. I like the trade to acquire a veteran bat in Howie Kendrick, even though at 33 he’s a stopgap. But, as I’ve said before, at least they’ve completely moved on from the teams of 2008 and 2009.

Ron Hextall is running the Flyers: I’ll admit, I’m struggling to pick up hockey. But I still say having Hextall at the helm, and getting rid of the “win now at all cost” mentality is a plus. It seemed like every spring they’d make wholesale changes, bringing in big names who were passed their prime at the expense of young talent, and it never worked.

Chip Kelly’s not here:
I’m not quite ready to say that Eagles fans should be thankful for Doug Pederson. In fact, I’m not even close. But at least he’s not that fraud of a coach Chip Kelly. The 49ers are 1-9 under Chip, having only beaten the lowly Rams opening week.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Remembering a Great Day with Dad

My mom just happened to be cleaning out the storage area last week, and wanted to throw out the frame that held pictures from a day that my dad and I got into a Philadelphia 76ers practice. (We kept the pictures, of course.) I think of this day from time to time, and it seemed apropos to post the pictures as I think of him this week, especially. It was 19 years ago that he passed. I don’t post this to dwell on the sadness, but to remember one of my last great memories with him.

Johnny Dawkins shooting; Rob in foreground
Action shot of Johnny Dawkins
I originally wrote the below in a post on my old sports blog. It was called “Remembering Charles Barkley.”


Dad and I were out for a weekend drive just to get out of the house, when he suddenly asked if I wanted to go to the Sixers’ practice. It was closed even to the press, I said, egging him on. We had been to the one win the 76ers managed against the Chicago Bulls in the 1990 playoffs the night before. Of course I wanted to go, and I knew that on rare occasions dad could be an impulsive guy who liked to do things he was told he couldn’t.

So, when we pulled up at the St. Joseph’s University field house, where the Sixers practiced, I asked dad where we were headed after they tossed us out. He laughed, and headed in. Ten minutes later, he ran out to grab my wheelchair from the trunk and get me. We were in.

Hersey Hawkins and Rob
My dad was impressed (as was I) when Hersey Hawkins asked, “Is this ok?” while we took the picture. “Hawk” was one of my favorites on the team.
Watching guys like Mike Gminsky, Johnny Dawkins, and Hersey Hawkins, warm-up just feet from me was amazing enough. Then Barkley came in . . . loudly.

Entering the field house on the opposite end, Barkley was yelling, “Front runner!” It turned out he was teasing the son of SJU’s Athletic Director Don DiJulia and nephew of Jim Lynam. (Coincidentally, Chris was a former schoolmate of mine, and, apparently, often attended practice.) Without any prompting, Barkley spoke to my father and I, and even thanked me for wearing a shirt with his likeness. Then he posed for a picture with me.

Watching Lynam run practice was a treat for a high school junior who loved the Sixers. He didn’t mince words — or spare his players’ ribs — as he demonstrated how to split defenders when caught by the Bulls’ trap. At one point, I had to stifle a laugh as Barkley’s slap of a teammate’s head echoed through the gym, reminiscent of a high school kid caught horsing around during class. True to his frequent refrain, “That’s Charles being Charles,” Lynam just kept going.

Rick Mahorn and Rob

Rick Mahorn shot around after practice for a while. His response to the equipment manager who wanted to leave was pretty funny. And I think I’ll keep it to myself. Afterwards, he was cool enough to take a picture with me.
Later, Lynam talked hoops with my dad. (They had gone to the same high school.) Rick Mahorn and Hawkins posed for pictures with me after practice. Assistant coach Fred Carter, the man who gave dad permission for us to watch practice without any knowledge of my disability (dad swore), shook my hand and playfully asked if I had picked up anything they should know. And “Charles being Charles,” he made a point to say goodbye, remembering my name.

I never did write the thank you note mom rightfully said I should to Fred Carter. There’s no excuse, but the way things turned out, a prompt thank you may not have gotten the job done.

Charles Barkley and Rob; a little blurry as they start to get in position for a picture
Not sure what happened, but I don’t think I was the only one who was star struck. If he were here, I’d tell dad he choked! With love, of course. Never did find out what dad was doing after Charles Barkley and I actually got in position for the picture!
The day’s significance has changed for me over the years. It turned out to be one of, if not the, last great memory I had with my dad. Not long after, Alzheimer’s disease began taking him from us at an all too young age. In fact, I believe the previous night’s game was the last sporting event I ever got to attend with my dad.

I wish I had some profound words to finish this post. I don’t. I’m just glad I have this memory of a day with my dad.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Rob’s Rants on Sports: Mid-season Grades for the Eagles; NFL “Pretenders and Contenders”

I thought I’d try something a bit different this week as the NFL hits the halfway point of the season. I have a few mid-term grades for the Eagles, and some thoughts on which teams are “pretenders” and who are the actual “contenders” in what has been a confounding year so far in the NFL. Here’s my latest Rob’s Rants on Sports:

Rob's Rants on Sports logo; collage of jerseys and arenas from the area, and RobCarson Wentz: C+. He started out looking like he was already a veteran franchise quarterback, but has shown that he really is a rookie lately. I think perception would actually be better if he didn’t start 3-0, and, I admit, the grade would be a little higher. But with 4 interceptions in the last two games and the team having lost 4 of 5, it’s time to wonder if teams finally having video on him is a problem. To be fair, he has absolutely no weapons around him.

Doug Pederson: C-. I’m being generous. Twice, he punted games away, and apparently tried to make up for it last week by “going for it” on a couple occasions where doing so was just ridiculous. Seriously, he was approaching Rich Kotite depths of bad decision making last week. He is dealing with a rookie quarterback—though he didn’t have to be—and Darren Sproles is apparently his best running back based on how he’s using guys. But he’s not even making basic decisions correctly right now.

Wide Receivers: F. They stink. None of them scare defenses by going deep, and they constantly drop passes. Jordan Matthews is the best of the bunch, and he’s a slot receiver. Dorial Green-Beckham is showing why Tennessee gave up on him. Even the tight ends, previously thought of as pretty good, have done little.

Running Backs: D. This could be higher, I think, if Pederson played Kenjon Barner and Wendell Smallwood more. Sproles can’t be the main running back with 285 rushing yards. Ryan Matthews only has two more yards on 17 more carries. Play the young guys.

Defense: B+. They won at least a game or two, and kept them in others, but they coughed up the Dallas game. I don’t think they are as good as people thought, but they are definitely the best unit on the team.

Special Teams: B. This is very tough to judge. They’ve made some plays and given up a couple. Except for a blocked field goal, I don’t think they have really cost the team, and they have had at least two big returns.

Contenders and Pretenders
I only looked at teams .500 or better, which would seem to be the minimum requirement for being viewed as pretending to be contending for the Super Bowl. By the way, 18 teams fit that description. Parity is ugly.

Patriots: Despite Tom Brady’s suspension, New England is 7-1 and they look unbeatable. Things change quickly in the NFL, and, trust me, my “predictions” have been horrible this season, but they may be the only real contender.

Cowboys: If Dak Prescott wasn’t a rookie, they would be everybody’s choice to win it all—at least everyone in the national media. I don’t think even Jerry Jones would go back to Tony Romo . . . unless they lose a couple in a row. I’d say they’re a contender.

Broncos: Can they really be considered a dark horse as defending champions? If Trevor Siemian get his shoulder fully healthy, maybe not. I’d say contenders with an asterisk.

Raiders: I haven’t seen them play, but they’re leading the best division record-wise in football. They have to be a contender.

Chiefs: If their current injury situation doesn’t linger, I’d say contender. They beat the Raiders, and won a game with Nick Foles replacing the injured Alex Smith, albeit against Jacksonville.

Steelers: It’s killing me, but with Ben Roethlisberger not 100% (again) and a shaky secondary, I think they’re pretenders.

Ravens: They lost 4 straight before they beat the Steelers. Pretenders, if that, even with the win against Cleveland last night.

Houston: I haven’t seen them much. They did beat the Chiefs and Colts, but got slammed by the Patriots, Vikings, and Broncos. Pretenders, if that.

Dolphins: With only one win over a team currently .500 or better, they are pretenders. Probably not even that good.

Giants: I’m saying contender because they could still win the division against Dallas, and they do what they do in the playoffs. They have some offensive weapons.

Washington: They’re barely on this list at 4-3-1, and are about to face the Vikings, Cowboys, Cardinals, and Eagles. I only have Dallas as contenders from that list, and I still think they will struggle. Pretenders.

Vikings: I defended Sam Bradford, and he let me down. After what I saw against the Eagles, Minnesota may be the biggest pretender.

Lions: They are in a surprisingly weak division, and I just saw that John Clayton reported several GMs have Matthew Stafford in the mix for MVP. But true contenders? Eh, I’ll say no. Pretenders.

Falcons: Three tough games coming up starting with the Eagles, then what should be a walk to the playoffs. Matt Ryan is playing well. They could still get home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Contenders.

Seahawks: They’ve looked putrid at times,, but if Russell Wilson can get going . . . maybe. I’ll flip a coin and say pretenders.

Saints: Winning 4 of 5 has salvaged their season, and they only play 3 teams currently above .500 the rest of the way. Two of them are at home, and Atlanta is also in a dome, where New Orleans traditionally thrives. I still say pretenders.

Packers: I keep waiting for them to get rolling, and they just don’t. Without a running game, I don’t think they’ll be anything but pretenders.

Eagles: I write about them every week, so there’s not much to add. This season? Pretenders.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Rob’s Rants: Donald Trump and “The Hand Thing”

I had no intention of writing an election rant. I’m as tired of Donald, and Hillary, and, locally, Katie McGinty and Pat Toomey, and the commercials, and the e-mails, and the rest of the nonsense, as anyone else.

Then my phone rang on Saturday morning.

Someone from the Republican party asked, “Will you be able to make it to the polls, and will you be supporting Donald Trump?”

I don’t know why I didn’t just hang-up, but, instead, I replied, “I’ll be voting, but certainly not for Trump.”

“You will be voting for Trump?” the woman asked.

I do have a speech disability, so I could understand why she might not have heard me correctly. But then I thought, I do have a disability that the woman had clearly picked up on. And, well, I couldn’t resist. “I have a disability,” I said. “Why would I possibly vote for him?”

“Ohhh, the hand thing,” came the response.

The hand thing? Really?

She presumably was referring to the campaign rally in which Trump stood in front of a podium, speaking to a large audience of supporters with TV cameras trained on him, and imitated a reporter who lives with a disability. Trump shook his hands and body, and sort of drew out his words, in imitation of the effects the disability has on the man.

Trump used a story written by Serge Kovaleski, a reporter who lives with arthrogryposis, which affects the movement in his arm, to substantiate his claims that Muslims celebrated the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The reporter said he wrote about allegations of celebrations, and that he never heard anything about the level of celebration Trump claimed.

Bottom line, Trump didn’t like what Kovaleski said, so in typical bully fashion, he mocked the guy.

Trump wasn’t caught on an unseen mic. He wasn’t speaking to friends in a private moment.

The Republican nominee for President of the United States deliberately mocked someone’s disability in front of an audience because he didn’t like something the man said.

It was nothing short of the “cool kid” in high school doing the exact same thing to get some laughs from his buddies.

To my knowledge, Trump’s never apologized. In fact, again in typical bully fashion, he denied what was obvious to see and hear. He claimed that he wasn’t mocking the reporter’s disability, and demanded an apology from the New York Times, which criticized him for his actions. At one point, in defending his record on disability issues, I suppose, he made a point to say that his buildings were accessible, as if that was some grand gesture instead of what it actually is—a legal requirement.

I’m not voting against Trump tomorrow because of this one issue. There are plenty of reasons I won’t be voting for him.

However, I did think it was telling when Republican officials and candidates lined up to revoke their endorsements of Trump after his disgusting comments about coming on to women were made public.

Why, exactly, did these people need to withdraw their support at that point? Why were they supporting him after he mocked a person with a disability?

Because for many of them, and certainly for Trump, it was just that hand thing.

There is still a mentality among many that says, yeah, yeah, we’ll be nice to the handicapped, but we don’t want to hear from them, and, if we crack a joke or two at their expense, well, too bad.

Don’t agree? I knew that some Republicans expressed outrage at Trump’s actions in mocking the reporter. So, I googled the subject because I wanted to be fair and mention them. Instead, I learned that, according to the New York Times, not one official from the party actually withdrew support from the nominee over the issue.

I don’t vote based on my party. I never have. In fact, I was hoping to vote for John Kasich in the general election if given the chance. Yet, Trump’s actions and the lack of substantive response from Republicans, say a ton about how they regard the disability community, not to mention our vote, in this election.

It was different with Trump’s comments about women. Republicans had to distance themselves from Trump after video was released of him saying, basically, that he could force himself on women. Women are seen as a voting bloc. They can sway elections. Besides, many Republican men have a wife and daughters, as they kept telling everybody when they withdrew their support. (Although, apparently, some Republicans were only kidding about not supporting Trump.)

The disability community doesn’t get the same respect. We’re not a voting bloc, nor do I think we should be. We are too diverse. Cable networks don’t talk about how candidates can get our vote. Very few, if any, of us have the power to influence votes enough for candidates to care about our opinions.

But, tomorrow, I at least have the power of one vote. Tomorrow, I get to confront a bully who treats people with disabilities, and pretty much everybody else, as little more than a nuisance.

On Election Day, I’m going to do my own hand thing—maybe I’ll even use my middle finger—and not vote for Donald Trump.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Rob’s Rants on Sports: Huff Released; Bad Losses for Eagles, Sixers; Plenty of Dumb Comments

Bad losses for the Eagles and Sixers marked the week until Josh Huff got arrested. Time for a sports rant:

John Clark’s tweet showed Fletcher Cox looking stunned after the loss

  • Josh Huff was waived by the Eagles, but not just because he’s a bad wide receiver. On Tuesday, he was “charged with speeding, possession of a small amount of marijuana, unlawful possession of a weapon” and more, according to Philly.com and other outlets. Writing on Thursday afternoon, I haven’t heard any specific reason for why Huff was released—Eagles GM Howie Roseman called it “the right decision for the Philadelphia Eagles”—but clearly they didn’t want to deal with the distraction. The official reason ought to be stupidity. Huff initially said, “What professional athlete don’t have a gun? I have a wife and I have a son at home. My job is to protect them at all costs.” I’m not going to get into a gun debate in a sports post. We all make mistakes. But I am tired of athletes screwing up and then talking about taking care of their family. Don’t break the law—especially a law involving guns—and then blame circumstances and talk about what everybody else does.

  • As for the Eagles game . . . I don’t usually buy into the “dink and dunk” complaints about an NFL offense, but it was very noticeable with the Eagles in their loss to Dallas on Sunday. Carson Wentz completed 32 of 43 passing attempts for just 202 yards. The longest reception was for 14 yards. Fourteen.

  • I saw this on NJ.com, and it’s already a mildly troubling stat: Wentz has had the ball with a chance to win a game three times, and the Eagles are 0-3 in those games.

    • What the hell is Doug Pederson doing punting from the Dallas 36-yard line in the fourth quarter? This is the second time he’s punted a game away. This week there was 7:17 left in the game with the Birds up 7. It would have been a 53-yard field goal attempt in basically a domed stadium, and, oh, by the way, their kicker already made a 55-yarder in the first half. (Psst, Doug, that’s longer.) If Caleb Sturgis hits it, they’re up 10—two possessions. The game might not be over, but it’s damn close.

    • The defense wasn’t blameless. The punt put the Cowboys on their own 10. They were in the end zone 3:22 later. And the Eagles never saw the ball in overtime because Dallas won the coin flip to start overtime and scored a touchdown on the first possession. Give Dallas and Dak Prescott credit, especially the quarterback on the last play of the game where he scrambled and found Jason Witten wide open for a touchdown. But the defense needs to make a play. The Eagles were up by 10 points twice in the fourth quarter and lost. That’s on the “D.”

    • Tuesday night we saw a bit of what the Sixers hope to be. They were playing another (previously) winless team, but playing a bad team can sometimes let fans see how things should work. Joel Embiid continues to look like the guy we’ve all been waiting for, and Dario Saric shot the ball well. It was a brutal loss as they gave the game away late, and it’s disheartening that they got crushed the next night without Embiid. But I’ll take a “process” of watching a team jell over stockpiling draft picks any day.

    • I’m liking what I see out of Sixers point guard Sergio Rodriguez. He looks like he can be a distributing point guard who can shoot when needed. He’s in the top 10 in assists (7.5 per game) in the young season, shooting 45.5 percent from the field and scoring 12.0 points per game (stats as of Thursday morning). Sixers fans couldn’t even discuss a player like Rodriguez for years because the team had no chance to win, making evaluating role players impossible.

    • Huff wasn’t the only Philadelphia athlete found saying stupid things this week. ESPN quoted Sixers point-forward Ben Simmons bemoaning the fact that he had to go to class in college. “The NCAA is really f---ed up. . . . Everybody’s making money except the players. We’re the ones waking up early as hell to be the best teams and do everything they want us to do and then the players get nothing. They say education, but if I’m there for a year, I can’t get much education.” Besides being wrong—the fact that a player can’t be drafted until a year after his class graduates high school is an NBA rule—he sounds like a spoiled brat. He had to wake-up early? That’s rough. And being that he clearly had no intention of having a sophomore year of college, I’m guessing he wasn’t a regular in class after December. Besides, no one is forced to play college sports nor leave after a year. Don’t play in college if you don’t want to. Go overseas, as NCAA president Mark Emmert pointed out. I know he’s still a kid, and I can’t wait to watch him to play again. But someone needs to teach him when to shut up.

    • It was the week to say something stupid in Philadelphia sports. The NFL Network suspended analyst Brian Baldinger for six months after he said on 97.5 The Fanatic that the Eagles should hurt Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott. “There’s got to be 10 guys that want to hurt him every single play,” Baldinger said. “In fact, we may even put a little bounty on [him].” Again, know when to shut up.

    • Congratulations to the Chicago Cubs for winning their first World Series since 1908. Despite Joe Maddon micromanaging the final two games and overusing his closer, the Cubs came back from a 3-1 series deficit. Of course, it would have been nice if the deciding Game 7 ended before midnight on the east coast—and to have “October baseball” end, you know, in October.
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