Archive for April, 2010

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Despair (and Hope) in CapsTown

April 30, 2010

Wednesday night, the Washington Capitals suffered a crushing loss in game seven in their opening round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens.  As the #1 overall seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Caps were heavily favored in this series, and were thought of as serious Cup contenders.  But after taking a 3-1 series lead over the Canadiens, the Caps lost the final three games of the series and have been eliminated.  And the Washington area does not seem to be taking the loss well.

I’ve seen this before.  I’ve seen the hopes of a title starved city get crushed when a championship quality team and their star player come up short.  And it isn’t pretty when it happens.

In the past two years, Washington has fallen in love with the Capitals, and the city has been transformed into CapsTown. Throughout my time here, I’ve never seen people get behind a team like they have with the Caps over the past two seasons. 

Back in 1998, when the Caps were in the Stanley Cup Finals, it seemed like there prevailing mood in the city was apathy.  Sure, hardcore fans were excited, and I’m sure that people thought it would have been nice for the city to win a title.  But for the most part, the city didn’t seem to be all that excited about the team.  It was certainly far from the Caps Mania that we have here now.  In 2010, the Verizon Center is packed for every game, and anywhere you look on the streets, you can see people “Rocking the Red.”

What changed?

Alex Ovechkin has been a big part of it.  It’s always exciting for a sports fan knowing that your team has a player who might be the best in the game.  Caps fans know that Ovechkin’s presence alone should give them a shot at winning every time out.  And not only is Ovechkin talented, but he also has a dynamic personality that the fans can get behind.  Fans love to see passion, and Ovechkin typically delivers it, not only with his hard play, but how he crashes himself into the boards after he scores a goal.  That’s the type of behavior that makes a player beloved.

But it can’t be Ovechkin alone that has made DC into a hockey city.  The Caps have had good players before.  While Ovechkin might be the most talented, is his presence alone enough to make people go Caps crazy?

I think much of it has to do with the difference in the DC sports landscape between 1998 and now.  Back in 1998, Washington was only seven years removed from its most recent sports title.  And all of the local teams were doing fairly well at the time.  The Wizards were a playoff team, the Orioles (Yes, they’re from Baltimore, but since they were essentially Washington’s unofficial baseball team, I’m going to include them) had just made a run to the ALCS, and Redskins fans were high on their team, with no idea of the horrors that Daniel Snyder would soon inflict upon them. 

Twelve years later and the fans have gotten a bit desperate.  They are desperately craving a title in any sport, but most of the local teams don’t look to be in any shape to deliver.  Despite adding Donovan McNabb, the Redskins still look a long way off; the Nats and O’s have been hopeless for years; and the Gilbert Arenas-led Wizards are pretty much just a punchline these days.

That leaves the Capitals as the city’s one hope to win it all.  And they did not deliver.

In 2002, there was a similar feeling in Philadelphia.  It had been 19 years since Philly’s last title, and the fans were getting desperate.  While the Sixers had a nice run behind Allen Iverson the year before, it appeared like that team had peaked and wouldn’t win a title; the Flyers were a dysfunctional group who could make the playoffs, but couldn’t be seen as real contenders; and the Phillies hadn’t even made the playoffs in nine years.

Philadelphia’s shining hope was the Eagles.  Under coach Andy Reid, the team looked like it was on the verge of a championship.  They had a great core of players led by an emerging star in quarterback Donovan McNabb.  Back then, McNabb looked like he might be becoming the NFL’s best player, and the type of QB who could win them multiple Super Bowls.

Coming off a defeat in the NFC Championship game the year before, the 2002 Eagles – like the Caps – earned the top seed in the playoffs.  And like the Caps 3-1 series lead, the Eagles seemed ready to live up to expectations by winning their first playoff game, and taking a lead in the NFC Championship game against the Buccaneers.

And then, it fell apart.  Ronde Barber’s interception sealed an improbable NFC Championship loss and Philly’s title hopes were squashed yet again.  January 19, 2003: Black Sunday.  Perhaps the darkest day in Philadelphia sports history.  Certainly one of the worst days of my life.

After that, McNabb’s star never seemed quite as bright.  Sure, he had more chances, but could never get the Eagles to the ultimate goal.  And with each playoff defeat, the city of Philadelphia seemed to sour on McNabb a little bit.  The talk of “he can’t win the big one,” grew and grew, until this past offseason, many Eagles fans were glad to see him go, because they didn’t think the team would ever win the Super Bowl with him.

Will Ovechkin suffer the same fate? 

Not only have the Capitals fallen short of expectations the past two seasons, but Ovechkin’s Russian team also came up small in the Olympics.  Making things worse for him is that Sidney Crosby – typically considered to be his main competition for the “best player in hockey” title – has succeeded where Ovechkin failed, winning last year’s Stanley Cup, and helping Canada capture Olympic gold.

When a team continues to fall short of expectations, the star player inevitably starts to feel the fire.  The criticisms have already started: He’s too flashy.  He doesn’t have an extra gear for the playoffs.  He’s not a leader.  He doesn’t have it in him to carry the team to the title. 

It’s easy for Caps fans to get down on the team and its star.  Suffering a playoff upset leaves you with an empty feeling.  Caps fans will remember the game seven loss to the Canadiens for a long time.  They’ll probably replay the loss in their heads over and over again.  They’ll go over all the things that could have broken differently.  Watching the other local teams probably won’t help matters.  When the Nationals and Redskins fail, it will just be another reminder that the Capitals were the best chance they had.

But one thing they shouldn’t do is turn on Ovechkin.  There have been a lot of young athletes who failed a few times before winning a championship.  Even Michael Jordan was once thought of as a flashy player who didn’t necessarily have the substance to lead a team to a title.  So there’s still hope that Ovechkin can lead the team to a title.  Because like it or not, he’s probably the best hope Washington has. 

And the best thing about sports is, there’s always next year.  When the season starts up again in October, the Caps should have a strong, Cup contending team.  Maybe the team will learn from the loss, and use it as motivation.  Maybe it will help inspire them to finally win it all.  If that happens, this year’s playoff defeat will seem less like a failure and more like a misstep on the road to a title.

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Ryan Howard vs. the Statheads

April 29, 2010

Earlier this week, the Phillies gave first baseman Ryan Howard a contract extension through the year 2016.  This contract makes him the second highest paid player in baseball, and seems to ensure that he will be a member of the Philadelphia Phillies for the forseeable future.  They locked up one of the franchise’s greatest players for years to come.  This should be a good thing, right?

Not if you believe the statheads.

Who are the statheads?  The statheads (or sabermetric experts as they’d prefer to be called) rose to prominence in the early 2000s with the book Moneyball by Michael Lewis.  Moneyball showed how the Oakland A’s realized that they couldn’t compete financially with the larger market teams such as the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.  If they wanted to remain competitive, they would have to find some sort of advantage. 

The advantage they found was sabermetrics.  By taking a deeper statistical analysis of the game, they found certain statistics – such as on-base percentage and defensive ratings – that helped teams win, but more importantly, weren’t overpriced like traditional stats like home runs and batting average.

Thanks to the publicity of Moneyball – and more importantly, because the A’s were successful with their approach – sabermetrics went from the fringe of baseball analysis to the forefront.  Suddenly, we were bombarded with a wave of new statistics: OPS, WAR, UZR!  The statheads claimed that these statistics were the real judges of how good a baseball player is.  What about the old statistics that everyone used to measure players by such as wins and RBIs?  According to the statheads, those statistics are too dependent on outside factors.

To an extent, I understand where they are coming from.  I’ve seen lousy pitchers accumulate high win totals, merely because they pitch for good offensive teams.  And RBIs are largely dependent on how many runners are on base when the batter comes to the plate.  But on the other hand, sometimes players can’t be summed up just by advanced statistics. 

And that is where Ryan Howard comes in.

Statheads hate Ryan Howard.  To them, Ryan Howard is the type of old school player who was overvalued before the statistical revolution.  According to prominent statheads like Keith Law of ESPN.com, Howard isn’t a great player.  To them, he’s actually a liability.  Sure, he hits a lot of home runs (Overrated!) and has a lot of RBIs (Only because the Phillies lineup provides him with so many opportunities!), but because he hits poorly against lefthanders and strikes out too much, he is a detriment to the team.

Not unexpectedly, the statheads were apoplectic when the Phillies gave Howard a contract extension.  Not only were the Phillies giving a huge contract to a player based on overrated statistics, but they were also giving a lot of money to a player whose performance would surely decline during the life of the contract.

Another big statheads trend is to compare players due to statistical similarity, and based on those comparisons, they make projections on the remainder of their careers.  They figure that if players have had similar stats up until this point in their career, then it is logical that the rest of their careers will play out the same way as well. 

While this seems like a reasonable idea, it’s unclear just how accurate these projections are.  These projections ignore the fact that every player’s career path is different.  Just because one hitter went into a decline at age 34, doesn’t mean that another player with similar stats will as well.  Another major flaw in the projection system is the abundance of performance-enhacing drugs in the last 20 years.  While these players might have been completely clean, it is strange that we saw certain players (Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens) have career upswings right around the time they should have been declining.  And we also saw some players (Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz) drop off tremedously right around the time stricter drug testing was put into effect. 

One valid concern raised is that traditionally, large sluggers in Howard’s mold have not aged particularly well.  Howard has worked to counter this, losing 30 pounds over the past two years and undergoing a rigid training regimen.  Still, large bodies do tend to break down sooner than smaller ones, and Howard is about as large as they come in baseball.

So it’s clear that the statheads are opposed to the contract.  But how do I feel about it?  I’m happy, but I do have some concerns.

My biggest opposition to the contract is that it wasn’t necessary to do at this time.  They had Howard signed for the next two seasons.  And while he might have been a free agent and able to cash in on the open market in two years, first base is one of the easiest positions to fill.  There might have been a number of good first basemen available, such as Prince Fielder.

But in recent years, the Phillies have shown great fear of competing in free agency.  The whole Roy Halladay-Cliff Lee maneuvering was done specifically so that they wouldn’t be bidding on a free agent pitcher.  I understand their fear of the open market somewhat.  It only takes one team making a ridiculous free agent offer to a player to drive his price up.

For an example of this, see the Phillies pursuit of Jim Thome in 2003.  The Indians probably thought Thome would never leave, but along came the Phillies with money to spend and the desire to bring in a big name, and the Indians could no longer afford him.

But while open bidding can be frightening, there is also a good chance that the market for Howard wouldn’t have been as open as the Phillies thought.  After all, there are only a few teams in baseball who can afford the type of contract that Howard would have demanded (and was ultimately given).  If none of those teams were going to be willing to offer up the money, then Howard’s demands would have to come down. 

And since Howard was still two years from free agency, I’m not sure why they gave him such a long and expensive contract.  Usually when a player signs before free agency, there is some concession on his part.  Some players prefer the comfort of security rather than the uncertainty of free agency.  There didn’t seem to be any concession on Howard’s part.  So if the Phillies were just going to give him what he wanted, why didn’t they wait?

And my biggest reason for trepidation about the deal is because I don’t want the contract to become a burden on the Phillies budget.  I don’t want to hear “Well, we don’t have money to pay other players because Howard is making so much.”  People are already fearing that outfielder Jayson Werth will be leaving as a free agent after this season because the Phillies seem maxed out on their budget.  While the Howard deal probably doesn’t affect Werth’s status (The new contract is actually an extension that doesn’t start until 2012) it might affect their ability to retain players like Cole Hamels and Jimmy Rollins when their contracts come due.

But those concerns aside, I like the deal.

The two most difficult things to find in baseball are a legitimate ace pitcher and a power hitter to anchor the lineup.  Howard certainly anchors the Phillies lineup.  The guy is almost guaranteed to hit 40+ home runs and have 120+ RBIs every season.  The statheads will point out that his on-base percentage may not be the best on the team, but his job is not necessarily to get on base, but rather to get the runners home.  And he is clearly succeeding.  (Side note: I find it funny that the same people who claim that Howard only gets a lot of RBIs because of the Phillies strong lineup, also criticize leadoff hitter Rollins’ low on-base percentage.  You can’t have it both ways.)

And if the guy is such a liability like some claim, then why are the Phillies succeeding?  Why have they won three straight division titles, two pennants, and a World Series with Howard as their cleanup hitter?  Why have they led the NL in runs the past two seasons?  I don’t think they’d be able to do all this if Howard was truly a liability.

Another aspect of Howard that often overlooked is the way that he changes the game.  In a late game situation, with runners on base, there are few, if any managers who will not bring in a lefthander to face him, assuming they don’t just go ahead and intentionally walk him.  You can be sure that when a pitcher is brought in to face Howard, he is going to be as careful as possible.  Howard usually deposits mistake pitches into the seats.

While he can be gotten out by a good lefthander, the fact is that there are very few good lefthanded pitchers out there.  One reason why the Yankees had success against Howard in the World Series was because they had multiple effective lefthanded relievers that they could bring in to face him.  They might be the only team capable of doing that.

There’s another factor that statheads often overlook (and sometimes deride because it can’t be measured by statistics).  While “clutchness” is extremely subjective and hard to define, Howard definitely seems to have it.  I’ve seen him go through hot stretches where he absolutely carries the team.  In September 2008 when the team was fighting for the division title, Howard was delivering big hit after big hit to carry the team to the postseason.  Last year in the playoffs, his memorable game tying double in the NLDS was only the highlight of the way he destroyed the Rockies and Dodgers pitching during the Phillies march to the World Series.

Looking past his contributions on the field, there are other reasons why locking up Howard was a good idea.  Barring an unforseen injury or career downturn, when his career is done he will be in the discussion of greatest Phillies hitter ever.  While it’s unfair to compare stats between the 1980s and 2000s, Howard’s power stats will likely eclipse Mike Schmidt on top of the Phillies all-time list.  While in theory it’s easy to say “Oh, the Phillies can just find another first baseman,” in actuality it’s a huge blow to a team and its fanbase when a star player and franchise icon leaves.  Howard was one of the key players who helped end Philadelphia’s championship drought, and fans have grown attached to him.  It would be devestating to many of them if Howard were to ever leave.

For years, Phillies fans were used to ownership not spending a lot of money on players.  They knew that the Phillies were never going to bring in the big money free agents.  But things have changed, and now the Phillies are among the financial powers of the league.  They’re paying big money to their star players, and I can’t possibly complain about that.  It’s much better than being a fan of teams like the Indians who see CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee depart because the team knows they can’t re-sign them once they become free agents.  It’s comforting to know that Phillies management is willing to pay what it takes to keep their star players in town.

So in the end, I am glad that Howard got his contract.  I salute the Phillies for doing so, and look forward to several more prosperous years with Howard leading the way.

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Post McNabb: Where Do We Go Now?

April 27, 2010

Now that the NFL Draft has been completed, the majority of offseason player movement is complete.  With only a few exceptions, team rosters look the same way they will when training camp begins.  So now that a few weeks have passed, and we have a better idea at how the teams’ rosters stand, how do the Eagles and Redskins look after the Donovan McNabb trade?

The Redskins

The Redskins’ offense resembles the fantasy football roster of a casual fan who hasn’t paid attention to the NFL for the past few years.  Donovan McNabb!  Clinton Portis!  Santana Moss! Willie Parker!  Larry Johnson!  This would be an amazing collection of offensive talent…assuming it was 2005.  Unfortunately for them, it is now 2010, and these guys all seem to be past their primes.

So is there any hope for this collection of past-their-prime talents?  Most of the optimism in DC is based on the hope that coach Mike Shanahan will be able to build a championship caliber offense around McNabb much the way that he did for John Elway in the late 90s.

Many people – myself included – believe that a large part of the blame for McNabb’s failures in Philly came because head coach Andy Reid never really adapted the offense to suit McNabb’s strengths.  Reid’s offense is designed for an accurate passer who could hit his receivers in stride, allowing them to break away for long gains.  But accuracy, especially on short routes, never seemed to be McNabb’s strength. 

McNabb’s strengths are his mobility, his deep arm strength, and running a screen pass based offense.  I’m guessing that Shanahan wouldn’t have traded for McNabb if he was going to take advantage of these traits.  I expect to see a lot more deep throws by the Redskins this season.  Of course, in order to throw the ball deep, the quarterback needs to have decent protection from the offenseive line.  And last season, the Redskins offensive line didn’t provide much protection at all.

Wisely, the Redskins selected an offensive tackle (Trent Williams) with the 4th pick in the draft.  But while Williams might anchor the Redskins offensive line for years to come, even with the best rookies, there are always growing pains.  Even with the rookie, the offensive line might not be too much improved over last season.  And while McNabb’s mobility will help him avoid a few sacks, Redskins fans should keep in mind that he isn’t the same QB who used to run all around the field in his younger days.  He no longer has the speed to avoid top pass rushers, and will probably suffer quite a few sacks this season.

As far as the screen game goes, part of the reason why McNabb and the Eagles were so good at it was because they had Brian Westbrook, who was among the best pass catching backs in the NFL.  None of the Redskins backs have ever been known as great pass catchers, so it is unlikely that the screen game will work as well with them.

Speaking of the running game…For the past few seasons, many Eagles fans felt that the best chance the team had to win was to go to a more running-based offense.  They felt that at this stage in his career, McNabb could no longer be the focal point of a championship offense.  Based on recent results, they might have been correct.

Some suspect that Shanahan will do something similar to what he did in the late 90s, when Elway was nearing the end of his career.  He changed the Broncos offense to revolve around star running back Terrell Davis.  Elway was still asked to make plays, but Davis was now the focal point.  Thanks to this change, the Broncos won two titles.

I think that at this stage in his career, McNabb could indeed pull off an Elway and win a Super Bowl if he wasn’t the main focus of the offense. But the main question is: Are any of the Redskins’ running backs good enough to carry the offense? 

It doesn’t appear likely.  Portis had a decent season last year, but he seems to be on the decline, and he certainly doesn’t seem to be a franchise back who can carry a team.  Between nagging injuries and discipline issues, Larry Johnson seems to be on his last legs, and likewise isn’t probably somebody you can depend on as the fulcrum of the offense.  As for Parker, he hasn’t had a healthy season in years, and it would be a huge surprise if he turned out to be the answer.  Could a combination of the three backs, each in a lesser role, somehow be effective?  Possibly.

Perhaps the Redskins best hope is to complete their collection of elite 2005 talent and sign Terrell Owens.  McNabb’s best season came when he was throwing to Owens, because Owens was capable of taking those slightly inaccurate short passes, and still taking them for big gains.  While Owens isn’t the top receiver he used to be, he is still a dangerous threat that defenses have to account for.  With Owens, opposing defenses might be back on their heels a little, and that might give the running backs a little extra space to work with.  And as for the concerns that Owens is a cancer who wrecks a team from the inside…well, those concerns are probably valid, but the problems usually don’t surface in the first season with a team.  Then again, if either of the Redskins’ young receivers – Malcolm Kelly and Devin Thomas – finally develop into viable receivers, then Owens probably wouldn’t be necessary.

So given all that, how do I think the Redskins offense will look in 2010?  Good, but not great.  Assuming the offensive line can at least provide mediocre coverage, I think the combination of Shanahan and McNabb will be a huge improvement over recent seasons.  While not elite, McNabb is a good QB who you can win games with, and I think Shanahan will put him in the position to succeed.  They may need a couple more parts (a younger running back and another lineman to start), but some good things should come out of this season.

The Eagles

As mentioned above, McNabb never seemed to be a perfect fit for Andy Reid’s offense.  But will his successor be any better?  Due to limited playing time thus far in his career, Kevin Kolb is still largely an unknown.  Scouting reports say that his strengths are the short to intermediate routes, so that alone should make him a better fit.

The problem is, will that make him a good fit with the Eagles’ best offensive player?  In DeSean Jackson’s first two seasons, he has established himself as a dangerous deep target, and is a threat to score from anywhere on the field.  He hasn’t been as good in the short passing game, although part of that might have had to do with the QB who was throwing to him.  But if Kolb doesn’t have the arm strength to get the ball deep down the field to Jackson, will that reduce his effectiveness?

One promising sign is how well Jackson did in the two games that Kolb started in 2009.  In those two games, Jackson caught ten passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns.  So it doesn’t appear that Jackson should suffer too much, if any depreciation in his numbers.  In fact, with Kolb at the helm, his overall performance might actually increase.

In addition to Jackson, Kolb should have plenty of offensive weapons at his disposal.  Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, Brent Celek, and Hank Baskett are probably the best set of receivers the Eagles have had under Reid. 

And not that Reid will run the ball much, but the running backs appear to be a strength as well.  Now that Brian Westbrook is gone, second year man LeSean McCoy will be the featured back.  While it would be a reach to think he could match Westbrook’s production, McCoy showed a lot of potential last year, especially in games where he went in as the starter.  Former Saint Mike Bell should be a good backup, and fullback Leonard “Part 6” Weaver also had some big games last season.  One concern with the backs is that unlike Westbrook, none of them have proven to be a great pass catcher.  Reid loves calling pass plays to his backs, so if they aren’t able to excel in that area, it could be a huge hinderance to the Eagles offense.  And possibly more importantly, Reid calls upon his backs to pass block quite a bit.  Westbrook excelled in this area, and it is yet to be seen if the others can do as well.

Perhaps the biggest concern with the Eagles offense is the offensive line.  In their playoff loss to the Cowboys, the Dallas defense pretty much had their way with the Eagles offensive line.  And with no major offseason additions, it’s hard to see where any improvement will come.  While left guard Todd Herremans is solid, the rest of the line is full of question marks.

Left tackle Jason Peters made the Pro Bowl, but that was more due to his reputation than from outstanding play.  Starting center Jamaal Jackson is rehabbing an injury, and it isn’t clear if he’ll be ready for the start of the season.  When backup Nick Cole replaced him last season there was a large dropoff.  While it’s reasonable to expect some improvement from Cole with a full offseason to prepare, he still may not be a starting caliber center in the NFL.  The rest of the line will probably be Stacy Andrews and Winston Justice, and they are both average players at best.

Considering the weapons available, and the expected improvement in accuracy, should we expect the Eagles offense to perform better in 2010 than it did in 2009?  Not necessarily.  Going from a ten year veteran to a first time starter, there is almost always going to be some sort of drop off, if not physical, then at least mental.  While Kolb has gotten plenty of practice reps over the past three seasons, there’s a lot of things that he hasn’t seen before.  And you can be assured that defensive cooridnators are going to throw everything they can at Kolb in order to confuse him. 

Plus, with a potentially subpar offensive line, the Eagles may miss McNabb’s superior mobility.  There may be times when Kolb won’t be able to escape from a relentless pass rush.

Overall, I expect the QB switch to eliminate those games where the offense does absolutely nothing.  With McNabb and Reid together, you would get at least one or two of those games each year.  Hopefully the swicth to Kolb will prevent this from happening.

On the other hand, the offense will probably be more mistake prone than it was under McNabb.  Because McNabb so rarely threw them, I expect a large increase in the number of interceptions by the Eagles offense.  In addition, I can see more than a few drives ending due to a big sack.

As always, Reid could make things easier on his QB by running the ball more, but I don’t expect that to happen.  The Eagles will continue to be a passing based team, and will do as well as their QB does.  Hopefully, Kolb lives up to the expectations that Reid has for him.  Otherwise, the Eagles offense is going to struggle.

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My Story

April 21, 2010

My life as a sports fan began in 1985 with the Phillies.  Growing up in West Chester, PA, I had gone to a couple of Phillies games with my father, but I was too young to truly understand or appreciate what was happening. 

By 1985 I had started to play Little League and had gained a fondness for the sport of baseball.  When I went to a Sunday afternoon Phillies game that spring, I was hooked, and my life as a Philadelphia sports fan had begun.  From that point on, every baseball season would feature several trips to Veterans Stadium to watch the hometown team.

Sadly, I picked the wrong time to become a Philadelphia sports fan.  The glory days of Philadelphia sports that stretched from 1975 to 1983 were over, and we had just entered a period that would see the city go without a title until 2008.

But back in 1985, I didn’t know any better.  The Phillies might not have been contenders, but they had Mike Schmidt, and he was one of the best players in baseball, so how bad could they be?

For awhile, the Phillies were the only team I followed.  But slowly, I began an appreciation for football as well.  It was around 1989 or 1990 when I began to follow the Eagles closely.  It was an exciting time for the team as they were led by outspoken coach Buddy Ryan and star quarterback Randall Cunningham.

My “Big Three” of sports fandom was completed in 1991 when I started following Temple University basketball.  Why Temple?  Mostly because every year at day camp, we had “College Day” where the campers were divided into teams, and each team was given a different local college as a name.  Every year I was on the Temple team, so I decided that they would be my favorite college team.  I’ve heard dumber reasons for liking a team.

Along the way, I would also start following the 76ers and Flyers, although they were always lesser passions for me behind the big three.  While I’d watch their games and hope they won, I rarely lived and died with the results like I sometimes would with the Big Three.

In the fall of 1996, I packed up my stuff and headed to Washington DC where I would be attending the George Washington University.  I was now living in enemy territory, and it was an adjustment for me to not follow the local teams.  I would no longer get to watch the Phillies every night.  Instead of taking it for granted that the Eagles game would be on local TV each week, I’d often have to head to a sports bar to watch them.

In a different era, I might have slowly switched over my allegiance.  Even the most dedicated fan would have trouble following a team if he couldn’t watch them.  But fortunately, when I went to college the internet became a part of my everyday life.  Thanks to the internet, I was able to stay connected to my teams in a way I could have never managed before.  Now, I could read the Philly newspapers for game coverage on my computer.  I could watch highlights on various websites.  I could discuss the teams on message boards.  It was easier than ever to be a fan of a non-local team.

Once my college years were over, I stayed in the DC area and now live in suburban Maryland.  After 14 years in the area, I’ve gotten to know the local teams fairly well.  Much like Philadelphia a few years ago, Washington is in the midst of a long dry spell since their last championship.  Many of today’s college students weren’t even alive the last time a Washington team won a title.  (Redskins in 1992 Super Bowl)  Because of this, I’ve softened to the local sports fans a bit.  I once considered them enemies since the Philly and DC teams are usually rivals.  Now, I look at them with a sense of sympathetic sadness.  It sucks to never see your team win it all.  Trust me, I know.

Now that you know my story, here’s what to expect.  I’ll offer analysis on any sports subject that strikes my fancy.  It might be about a Philly team, it might be about a DC team.  It might be about sports in general.  Whatever the subject, I hope you find it interesting.