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Posted on: January 13, 2010 8:43 pm
Edited on: January 14, 2010 10:14 pm

Philadelphia Memories

I was driving into Philadelphia on I-95, Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" playing on my car stereo, and I looked out my window to see the sports complex. Towering over everything was Lincoln Financial Field. Not far off was the Wachovia Center. Near it all was Citizens Bank Park. Three amazingly modern behemoths to house the Philadelphia sports franchises, a testament to owners with deep pockets and a city that lives and dies with its teams. These are not the landmarks I grew up with, not the destination of my myriad trips to Broad and Oregon streets as a child and young adult living in the city of brotherly love, growing up on the teams of our forefathers. As I drove into Philadelphia on that afternoon not so long ago I thought about the change of landscape...

1990. The Spectrum.  Michael Jordan and the Bulls are in town to play the 76ers. We have nosebleed seats, the highest you can get without hitting your head on the roof. But we had fun. The rotting posts holding up the old roof are like old friends we wanted to high five (and then wash our hands immediately afterward). The game is one-sided with the Bulls winning big, but the experience of being in the same building where Dr. J had won the NBA Championship, it is incredible.

1996. Waiting outside the Spectrum for tickets to an Oasis concert (the first concert to be staged at the new Wachovia Center). There is a Phillies game tonight at Veterans Stadium and we see the crowds of people pass by as they queue to go in. They are rabid fans, I see, as they wear old-school Phillies jackets, shirts and caps. Remember, this is 1996. The Phillies are abysmal this year but the fans don't seem to notice, at least not out here.

1997. The Spectrum parking lot. A free Metallica concert is raging for three hours.

1998. Veterans Stadium. The Eagles are playing the Giants, one of those grudge matches where everyone comes out muddy (it is raining cats and dogs). We are sitting in the area directly behind the player family seats and we see Holly Robinson Peete (her husband is Rodney Peete, our quarterback of the moment) pass by. She is as stunning in real life as she ever was on 21 Jump Street. My uncle is wearing a Giants cap. I swear there will be a riot if the Giants win this game and they get a hold of him.

I miss Veterans Stadium. I miss the Spectrum. I miss the feeling of those places. The history associated with them. Veterans Stadium opened the year I was born. That it had outlived its usefulness by the time I was 30 I just cannot wrap my mind around. Citizens Bank Park is a wonderful place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Same with Lincoln Financial Field, but the Vet was like home. Beaten down and overused, but like a member of the family. All this talk is paid to the "new" Yankee Stadium, but Veterans Stadium was the place to be in South Philly.

And I will see the Eagles play at their new digs. I will watch Halladay pitch in Citizens Bank Park. But I will also always remember the places I grew up in, the places that helped me become a fan. Of Philadelphia. Of sports. Of life.
Posted on: January 4, 2010 9:12 pm

Green and White

There is a certain Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quality to these Philadelphia Eagles of '09 - '10. While they can seem unbeatable at times, running up high scores and demolishing teams, they can also crash back to earth with a magnificent thud. Evidence of this trend can be seen in the Oakland, Dallas, and New Orleans losses, accounting for four of their five losses this season. In those contests the Eagles offense appeared listless and ...lost. Like they didn't know how, or why they were supposed to be functioning at a high level. And also in each of these contests there was no excuse for the listlessness. Nowhere was this more apparent than in Dallas yesterday. The Eagles, winners of their past 6, and clearly rolling, just did not show up in Dallas. Their bodies were on the field but their minds were elsewhere. Maybe they were focusing too much on that second position in the NFC, or maybe they just underestimated the Cowboys, but regardless of what it was, they once again showed that infuriating tendency to lose when they have no excuse for it, indeed when they have every reason to actually fight hard and win.

So which Eagles team will we see next week in the place of their most recent humiliation? Will we see the team that makes the big plays and dominates both sides of the ball? Or will we see the Eagles who walk about on the field as zombies, seemingly content to let the clock run out on their hopes and on their potential? My money is on the juggernaut Eagles. This was a wake-up call if there ever was one, and the Eagles will step up to the challenge. The defense needs to blitz at will like they do when they win. McNabb, Jackson and company need to remember who they really are and step up to it. And they need to score when they get in the red zone, something they CAN do against any team, including the Cowboys, who played way above their heads yesterday. It won't happen two games in a row, not to this Eagles team. Because no matter what you can say about the Eagles, Dr. Jekyll always has a higher average of showing up than Mr. Hyde, especially in the playoffs.
Posted on: January 2, 2010 6:58 pm

Closing Time

In 2008 Brad Lidge was the perfect closer, and I mean perfect in the literal sense. Converting every single save opportunity was an impossible feat but he did it. However, lost amidst the hoopla of the perfect season and the World Series win for the Phillies was the fact that it took a team effort to keep Lidge perfect. It took some great fielding and some scattered hits. It also took a toll, both physically and psychologically on Lidge himself. Going into the 2009 season he was expected to maintain a perfection that we found out all too soon was impossible to maintain. When he blew his first save it was like someone had plunged a needle into a balloon and left it there, with the air slowly being let out. By the time the season ended (inostensibly with a blown opportunity in the World Series) all illusions were gone. Lidge was seen as the lucky recipient of the perfect season in 2008, a season that will live on as the only perfect one he will ever have.

But why did we even expect more from him? He had done all that the Phillies asked for and more for an entire season, the culmination of which was the fulfilled dream of young boys who love baseball, a ring and a championship. There had to be a letdown somewhere. No one pitcher could maintain that luck, perfect fielding, and the ability to stymie all comers. Even the great Mariano Rivera hasn't had a perfect save season, yet Phillies fans felt letdown. Phillies fans felt abused by the man they believed was their messiah. There is no redemption in Philadelphia (unless your name is Michael Vick) because we have an ability to look at everything as "what have you done for us lately?" So Lidge, the hero of 2008, became the goat of 2009, and all as fallout for the one season of perfection. There are always tradeoffs and he was the recipient of one of the big ones in 2009.

So that leaves us with a big question. What do the Phillies do about a closer in 2010? If they trust in Lidge has he finally gotten over the fact that he won't be perfect again but he could still be damn good? Or will the psychological issues keep him in their sway so he doesn't believe in himself anymore. The Phillies do not have on their roster another pitcher who can slide easily into that role for this upcoming season. Ryan Madson has proven he is the ultimate setup man ('09 World Series notwithstanding), but he has also proven that he cannot handle the closer role. It takes a mental toughness that he just does not command. It would behoove the Phillies to acquire another bonafide closer-in-the-making and use him and Lidge interchangeably until one distinguishes himself.  One thing they just cannot do is rely solely on Lidge from the start because he will assume that they expect perfection and he will not deliver. Perhaps the best thing for Lidge will be that sense of competition because competition was what always brought out the best in him before. Maybe then he will see that he can still be a really good closer...

before it's too late and the Lidge project becomes a complete failure.
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