The Philadelphia sports scene is already overcrowded. But here's one more thing.
The Philadelphia sports scene is already overcrowded. But here's one more thing.
Published April 12, 2019
Fifteen years ago today.
Hard to believe, but it was a decade and a half ago that the Phillies played their first regular season game at Citizens Bank Park, a beautiful new playground for the team and fans alike who had spent over a generation watching Phillies games at a concrete monstrosity across the street.
But because Philadelphia can never have anything nice, the first game at the new park was played under less than ideal circumstances, as the Phillies had started the season on a six-game road trip that left them at 1-5. So, not only didn’t MLB decide to let the team at least christen the park on Opening Day itself, but a lousy start to the season sucked at least a little bit of excitement out of the home opener.
I was able to attend the game, and I remember feeling overwhelmed at all of the new sights, sounds and even smells that a true ballpark should have. I had seen it in other places like Baltimore and Pittsburgh, but now Philadelphia finally had what it deserved.
Before the game, the team staged unveilings of the various statues around the park. My dad and I chose to watch the reveal of the Robin Roberts statue, as it wasn’t nearly as crowded as those for Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton. We were mere feet from the late, great Phils pitcher for the special moment.
All of the features...Ashburn Alley, the bell, Harry the K’s, etc. were new and exciting. Then, eventually, it was finally time to play the game. And I believe that if it were any other game, it probably would have been postponed. It was cold with off-and-on drizzles, hardly ideal weather for baseball. But weather was not going to spoil the first game at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies would do just fine on their own in that area.
Randy Wolf took the mound for the Phillies and delivered the first pitch in the park’s history. Moments later, the Reds’ D’Angelo Jimenez slinged a double to the opposite field for the park’s first hit. Two batters later, Wolf uncorked a wild pitch with Ken Griffey Jr. at the plate, allowing Jimenez to cross with the inaugural run. Griffey would go on to become the first strikeout victim in the park’s history.
In the bottom of the first, the Phillies’ first ever hit went to Bobby Abreu, who connected for an opposite field home run to etch his name into the history books. Quite disappointingly, that would be the only run that the Phillies would collect in the first game at their new home.
Cincinnati would score a run in the second to quickly regain the lead, and then they tacked on two more in the fifth inning against Wolf. The Phillies’ bullpen was solid the rest of the way, but the 4-1 lead was more than enough for Reds’ starter Paul Wilson, who the Phillies barely touched over seven innings as the Reds held steady by that 4-1 margin.
Because of a scheduled off-day and then a rainout, the Phillies and Reds wouldn’t play again for three more days, with the Phillies nabbing their first home win at the new yard. As it turned out, the 2004 Phillies were actually a good team, winning 86 games to hang around the wild card race until the season’s final week.
But it wasn’t enough to save Larry Bowa’s job, and he was fired before the season’s final game, having failed to get the Phillies to the playoffs in four seasons at the helm. That offseason, the team hired Charlie Manuel. The rest, as they say, is history.
On this day fifteen years ago, the Phillies lost a baseball game. Not a shock, they’ve done it over 10,000 times. But the inherent symbolism of that day, as they christened a beautiful new ballpark, was the first step toward washing off the stink and the stain of a largely lousy era of Phillies baseball. Things were going to be different in this yard.
The Phillies posted a winning record at the Vet in just eight of their final seventeen seasons there. They’d do it for eight years in a row to open Citizens Bank Park. We take it for granted now, but it truly feels like home. Time flies, doesn’t it?
Ok, here we go, the first ever pitch in this beautiful new ballpark...and the Phillies lose.
Published March 19, 2019
Eleven years ago today.
Allen Iverson, the greatest 76er of the last quarter-century, returned to Philadelphia for the first time as a visitor as his Denver Nuggets came to town for a late-season contest against the Sixers.
Iverson had been traded at the end of 2016, well over a year before his first game back in Philadelphia in a different uniform, but a quirk of the NBA schedule created a 17-month gap between Denver’s annual trips to Philly. In the meantime, Iverson had played two games against the Sixers in Denver, with the teams splitting those contests. And Iverson had actually been ejected for committing a technical foul late in his first ever game against his former team, mere weeks after being traded.
All eyes were on #3 for this game eleven years ago, as a capacity crowd of 20,674 were practically hanging from the rafters of the then Wachovia Center, ostensibly to shower Iverson with love. I was also there, working in my capacity as AV guy/”cable puller” for ArenaVision, a freelance position I held for several years late last decade.
I worked many Sixers games during that time, and most were utterly forgettable, the repetitive nature of the position serving to numb me from gaining many strong or favorable memories of my times working such games. But I will never forget that night.
Introduced by terrible Sixers PA announcer Matt Cord, Iverson entered the court to the strains of Eiffel 65’s Blue (Da Ba Dee), which might just be my favorite awesomely bad song of all-time. If you watch the video of Iverson coming on to the court, you can see the crush of cameramen and other assorted photographers crowding in around him. I’m in there somewhere, holding a cable and doing my best not to get trampled and/or trip somebody. It felt like there were about 50 people crammed in shoulder-to-shoulder, and I don’t think that’s an exaggeration.
Iverson received a long, deserved raucous ovation from the Sixers faithful, or at least the people who hadn’t been to a Sixers game in eight years but bought tickets anyway just to be there that night. He acknowledged them gratefully, famously kissed the logo at center court, and did a great job of conducting himself all-around.
Once the game started, Iverson had himself a solid night, going 13 for 24 from the field to score a game-high 32 points in over 43 minutes of time on the court. But despite that, the Sixers’ impressive depth served them well on the night, as they bested Iverson and the Nuggets 115-113.
A month later, neither team went anywhere in the playoffs as they both lost in the first round, with the Nuggets failing to win even a single game against the mighty Lakers. Iverson was basically done as a player by that point, as he would go on to play less than 100 more games in the NBA before calling it a career.
He would be traded to Detroit the following season, and then he bounced to the Grizzlies for a 3-game stint that nobody remembers. Finally, he was brought back by the Sixers for one last hurrah, a 25-game victory lap during the team’s wretched 2009-10 season.
Eleven years ago today, Allen Iverson made his one and only trip to Philadelphia as a visiting NBA player. And I feel very privileged to have been there. It was really a cool night and a special moment for the greatest #3 in the history of Philadelphia sports.
At least until Bryce Harper’s first at bat next week.
I can guarantee that A.I. didn't practice this hug.
Published March 5, 2019
Fifteen years ago today.
In a ridiculous development, the Flyers and Ottawa Senators combined for 417 penalty minutes, an NHL record that isn’t likely to ever be broken. And it wasn’t even an overly chippy game, with all of the nutty action occurring in the final two minutes of that night’s contest.
So why did it happen? You have to go back to the previous week when the teams met in Ottawa. The Senators’ Martin Havlat, who was a good offensive player when he was healthy enough to stay in the lineup but who was also one of those sneaky-dirty Eurotrash-type players, smashed the Flyers’ Mark Recchi in the face with his stick. Havlat earned an ejection and a two-game suspension as a result. But that suspension was over in time for the next Flyers-Sens clash in Philly a week later.
And for 58 minutes, it was just your average game with the normal amount of penalties. But with the Flyers up comfortably by three goals late, that gave them the opportunity to seek some vengeance for Havlat’s cheap shot.
It all began when the Flyers’ Donald Brashear and the Senators’ Rob Ray, a pair of legitimate heavyweights, squared off in a fight. Then, on his way off the ice following that fight, Brashear engaged with several other Senators players, which started a full-scale battle between all the players on the ice, including the goaltenders. And of course everybody loves a goalie fight. This one between Robert Esche and Patrick Lalime wasn’t the best one, but it was good enough.
It took them forever to sort out all those penalties, but then even more fights broke out following the next faceoff. This time it was heavily in the favor of Ottawa, who had several physical players out on the ice against numerous Flyers who weren’t fighters. A cheap move by Senators coach Jacques Martin, whom Bobby Clarke actually tried to confront in the locker room after the game before being prevented to do so. Man, I wish he would have gotten through.
At this point, Havlat was sent to the penalty box to serve a penalty given to one of his teammates, meaning that he was safe for the remainder of the game. Another gutless move by Ottawa. Anyway, a THIRD group of fights broke out immediately after the next resumption of play, and then a fourth just a little while later. Finally, the coup de grace came when Patrick Sharp, in the high point of his career as a Flyer before he went on to win three Stanley Cups with Chicago after the Flyers traded him for nothing, briefly pounded Jason Spezza into the ice.
You can read the whole Wikipedia article about it here, and the video is available in multiple parts online in several places.
Comcast SportsNet aired the game a few days later as an “instant classic”, prompting the NHL to get all pissy and ask them to not do that again because it made the league look bad. Never would want fans to have too much fun, eh NHL? At any rate, those were a few of the most enjoyable moments of Flyers hockey this century. Which is probably kind of sad. But we’ll take it.
Oh, and the Flyers won the game 5-3, but nobody noticed.
I can't see his face, so I'm gonna guess that's Hextall.
Published January 19, 2019
Sixteen years ago today.
In an absolutely gut-wrenching defeat that probably ranks at or near the very top that a team from this city and its fanbase has ever suffered, the Eagles fell in the NFC Championship Game to Tampa Bay, marking the end of their 33-year residency at Veterans Stadium.
Other than that, everything was great.
Let’s rip out an excerpt from my book I’m Getting a Sports Complex (on sale now!) to get into the dirty details of that day…
It was a fine season for a surging Eagles club, as they went 12-4 and earned a first round bye. In the playoffs, they would take care of Michael Vick and the Falcons and earn their second consecutive berth in the NFC Championship Game. But this time, the Eagles were playing at home. Even better, their opponent would be Tampa Bay, whose all-time record in “cold weather” games was about 0-108. Or something like that. And we had just ended their season two years in a row to boot. Oh man.
Home for the weekend and watching the game at Mike’s house, we were all pumped to see the Eagles make the Super Bowl for the first time in our lives. Mike’s dad wouldn’t have to refer to it as the “Stupid Bowl” that year, as he always did since the Eagles never made it.
Brian Mitchell nearly returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown, finally being brought down at Tampa’s 26-yard line. Excitement was almost reaching a fever pitch already.
Two plays later, Duce Staley ripped off a touchdown run and everyone around here exploded in a seizure of elation.
We all flew up off the couch in a simultaneous eruption of screams and high-fives. This was it. Most memorably, Mike, at the top of his lungs, bellowed “The rout is on!” This will stick with me for as long as I live.
There was no reason to doubt this. It would have gained universal acceptance at that moment. My dad was at the game and would later tell me that the Tampa fans sitting in front of him were already turtling up and admitting defeat at this point. Like the Eagles against the Rams the previous year, they were just happy to be there and were hoping to make it out with their dignity and their lives.
Tampa responded with a field goal on their first drive, but that was a trivial occurrence. Then, late in the first quarter, the undisputed turning point of the game occurred.
Joe Jurevicius took a short pass from Brad Johnson and was able to pull off a 71-yard catch and run before mercifully being hauled down by Brian Dawkins at the Eagles’ 5-yard line.
What a complete and total defensive breakdown. The history books will say that the Vet came down the following year via explosive charges, but in truth it was this play that did it. Two plays later, everyone’s last-resort second RB in their fantasy league, Mike Alstott, plunged into the endzone and the Bucs had the lead. The Eagles would actually tie it up in the second quarter, but a late score by Tampa had them down 17-10 heading into halftime.
We were all nervous, and the only thing that distracted us at this point was Ja Rule’s halftime performance, undoubtedly one of the all-time worst. The fans absolutely let him have it. If the Eagles were up by two touchdowns like they should have been, nobody would have given a damn. But the fear and the anger was bubbling up. This was our year, and this team had better not blow it.
I wish I could tell you that the Eagles fought the good fight and the Bucs let them be. I wish I could tell you that – but sports is no fairy-tale world. This was all just part of our routine as Philadelphia sports fans.
It got deep into the fourth without any further scoring save for a Tampa field goal, so the Eagles’ deficit was ten points. Desperation time. We all knew it wasn’t going to work out, but it didn’t have to be as painful as it ended up being.
Ronde Barber’s 92-yard interception return was the final bitter pill to swallow. The Eagles era at Veterans Stadium was over. Sadly, given all of the pain and bad teams over the years, it was probably appropriate.
There was a whole Phillies season still to play after that before the Vet came down, but everyone around here will tell you that this Tampa game was truly the end for that edifice.
For those keeping count, the Eagles posted just 14 winning seasons in their time playing there, winning 7 home playoff games. Not great for 3+ decades. Let’s just say things didn’t work out too well for them at the Vet, despite whatever cherished childhood memories we have of the ol’ concrete dump.
But, hey, at least it was OUR dump.
This guy beat us. And I still can't believe it.
Published October 31, 2018
Ten years ago today.
It was time to celebrate. The Phillies had won the World Series two days earlier, and everybody was in full party mode.
Here now is an excerpt from my book I'm Getting a Sports Complex: Trials & Tribulations of a Thirtysomething Philadelphia Sports Fan that details my own experience on that day.
And so we arrived at the Nova Care parking lot at about 7:30am on parade day and commenced an early morning tailgate of sorts. It was absolutely bizarre that we didn’t have a game to look forward to. We had already won! What a feeling. A small part of me wanted to go out on the actual parade route, but the throng of humanity seemed imposing. I figured I’d save that experience for the next time.
We had cruised up 95 from Delaware in the normal amount of time, scoffing at the mayor’s warning to take public transportation and not jam up the roads. How’d that work out anyway? Trains in Delaware were filling so fast that people in the Wilmington area were having to drive SOUTH just to board trains while there were still available seats. Maybe those unfortunate souls that got caught up in that whole situation viewed it as some kind of badge of honor, but I preferred our easy ride up and relaxing time in the parking lot as we grilled up some breakfast hot dogs and waited for the ballpark to open. During this time, I got a phone call from my employer and was asked if I was available to work that day. They had a callout and were looking for someone to come in. I nearly laughed them off the phone. I later found out that a big Phillies fan whom I work with had been the one who called out that day. Hmmm.
So, after our victory tailgate, we made our way over to the stadium to take in the festivities on PhanaVision. Perhaps some would claim that this didn’t actually constitute going to the parade, but it was a picture perfect Halloween afternoon spent in the ballpark and I had my own seat instead of rubbing elbows with millions of Philly’s sweatiest, so it was fine by me. I’ve never seen everyone so happy. The joy of the situation also made time seem to stand still, as I couldn’t tell you if we were there for three hours or five hours or however long it was.
Eventually the parade found its way to Lincoln Financial Field, and then finally Citizens Bank Park. The entire organization was feted as conquering heroes as far as I can remember, except for pitcher Adam Eaton. He was booed like the crook and bum that he was. Harry the K fittingly emceed the whole thing, and it was awesome. Charlie Manuel endeared himself to Philly fans forever with his disjointed yet touching words. Say what you will about Uncle Charlie, but he got the job done. I didn’t think it was going to happen, but he proved all of us wrong. And he’ll never be forgotten for what he did. And then came Chase Utley.
I don’t know if Utley’s wardrobe that day was inspired by Jesse Pinkman from Breaking Bad or the other way around, but he exuded his normal coolness as he came to the mic. Now, Chase MAY have had a beverage or two by this point, because he certainly seemed a lot looser than the workmanlike, nose-to-the-grindstone player we had come to love over the past few years. In a move straight from the 1980 parade where Tug McGraw exclaimed “New York City can take this World Championship and stick it, cuz we’re #1!”, Chase went one step further.
“World F’ing Champions!”
With those three simple words, Chase elicited the loudest ovation that will ever occur in a Philadelphia sports stadium, and with good reason. The man can teach a master class on the proper time and place to use the F word. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but PG-13 movies are now allowed to get away with one, and they always try to put it where it will have the biggest impact in the film. They can’t just throw them around like an R-rated movie. I am convinced that they send the scripts to Utley and ask him where to put it. It was amazing. If I had a little kid with me, I wouldn’t even have been mad. The local stations, airing it live and uncensored, should have all won regional Emmys on the spot. Simply put, it was the best F ever.
Following the raucous celebration, literally everybody in the Philadelphia area spilled out onto the streets. It was the largest mass of humanity that I had ever been a part of. And even though it took way longer than usual to get back to our car and 95 was a parking lot, more than doubling the usual 45-minute drive, none of that mattered. We all had a champion. I had all my Phillies swag to prove it. And I had a stockpile of memories that would last a lifetime.
Ten years ago today, it felt like just the beginning of a very special run by that Phillies team. But as we know, they took incremental steps backward year by year until bottoming out as the worst team in the league a few seasons ago. Things look to be back on the uptick (maybe), but let's view those events of 2008 as a cautionary tale. Appreciate what you have as it's happening. Nothing is guaranteed.
The F'ing Man
Published October 22, 2018
Twenty-two years ago today.
The Flyers were playing their fifth home game at the brand spankin’ new CoreStates Center, but it was the first time that I would set foot in the building and be in attendance for a game. And so began my obsession with chronicling every hockey game I saw in person, which continues to this day.
As for the game itself, those Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were the visitors on that Tuesday evening. Even then, at twelve years old, I thought it was dumb that they had to be “of Anaheim” instead of putting the city name first. They’d rectify it years later by rebranding as just the Anaheim Ducks.
On that night, my excitement was tempered only somewhat by the fact that Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya, each team’s best offensive player, both had been out since the start of the season with injuries and would not be suiting up in this one. Can’t have everything I guess.
Following our normal watching of the pre-game skate, my dad and I filed into our seats at the end of row 12 in section 213 to watch the Flyers take on the purple Disney team. At the 8:16 mark of the first period, the crowd was brought to its feet for the first time, with Shjon Podein opening the scoring for the home team.
I was delighted that part of the goal celebration on ArenaVision included a Three Stooges clip. What a time to be alive. The game stayed 1-0 until the late stages of the second period, when Rod Brind’Amour scored to make it 2-0.
Eric Desjardins would cap the scoring with a power play marker in the third. That was it, a neat and tidy 3-0 win for the orange and black, with Ron Hextall needing to make just 12 saves (12!) against a punchless Ducks attack to record the shutout.
The loss dropped Anaheim’s record to 1-6-2 on the season, and they looked every bit of it. But they’d turn it around eventually and finish fourth in the Western Conference that season, winning a playoff round. As for the Flyers, they’d play average into December before catching fire. They put together a 17-game unbeaten streak (14-0-3, remember ties?) to vault themselves into serious contention.
They would finish just a point behind New Jersey for top spot in the East, and it looked like the two teams were on a collision course in the postseason. But then the Rangers did them a favor by dispatching the Devils in the second round. The Flyers couldn’t have asked for a more perfect setup. They had their way with the Rangers but, as we all know, everything caved in during a disastrous four-game sweep by Detroit in the Cup Final.
The horrible end aside, that season was a fun ride, and it all started for this little boy back on this date 22 years ago. The Flyers were victorious in my first ever trip to the CoreStates/First Union/Wachovia/Wells Fargo Center.
And in case you’re wondering, I’m currently up to 94 Flyers wins seen in the building.
Are they still selling those damn bricks?
Published October 19, 2018
Nine years ago today.
One year and six days after Matt Stairs sent a 94-mph pitch from Dodgers’ reliever Jonathan Broxton into orbit over Dodger Stadium to give the Phillies a lead they would never relinquish in Game 4 of the 2008 NLCS, Broxton took the mound in an even more pressurized situation in Game 4 of the 2009 NLCS at Citizens Bank Park.
The Phillies led the series 2-1, but on this night the Dodgers led 4-3 entering the bottom of the ninth, a tied series just three outs away. Broxton had actually finished the eighth inning, retiring Jayson Werth, and was hoping to redeem himself after allowing the colossal, series-shifting home run the previous year.
The bottom of the ninth began well enough for Broxton, with Raul Ibanez grounding out. Then, Charlie Manuel made the move that everyone was expecting, sending Stairs out to pinch hit for Pedro Feliz. Broxton immediately crapped his pants (I assume) and walked Stairs on four pitches.
The nervousness carried over to the next at bat, as Broxton drilled Carlos Ruiz on the first pitch. Then, after a Greg Dobbs lineout, the Phillies were down to their last hope: Jimmy Rollins. The series hung in the balance, and a loss would have evened things up and meant that the Phillies would be guaranteed of having to travel back across the country to LA for Game 6 and (if necessary) Game 7.
But Rollins would have none of that.
Delivering what has to stand as the biggest hit of his borderline Hall of Fame career, Rollins laced a blistering 99-mph heater into the right-center field gap, rolling all the way to the wall. Eric Bruntlett, pinch running for Matt Stairs, scored easily from second base. Also, Bruntlett was in the middle of every key Phillies play of that era somehow.
Bruntlett’s run tied the game, and then the relay took so long that speed demon Carlos Ruiz scored easily from first before the ball even got back to the infield dirt, with Ruiz delivering an emphatic but altogether unnecessary pop-up slide into home plate for the win. Then the Phillies proceeded to murder Jimmy Rollins, because that’s what happens on huge walkoff hits.
Just over a year removed from a signature moment against Broxton and the Dodgers in Game 4 of the NLCS, the Phillies had turned the same trick. Brad Lidge, who got the save in the 2008 game, got the win on this particular night. The Phils’ comeback also took a win off the ledger for the Dodgers’ starter that evening. It was Randy Wolf, which you completely didn’t remember.
Two nights later, the Phillies would jump all over former Phil Vicente Padilla en route to a return trip to the World Series. Two straight years, the Phillies had defeated the Dodgers 4-1 in the NLCS. But while the 2008 series was actually fairly even, the Phillies dominated this one to the tune of a 35-16 run differential over the five games.
To this day, Jonathan Broxton still has nightmares when he sees red pinstripes.
Published September 27, 2018
Ten years ago today.
Back before the Phillies were an embarrassment of epic proportions.
In front of a full house at Citizens Bank Park, the Phils defeated the terrible Nationals 4-3, in turn winning the NL East for the second straight year. We didn’t know it at the time, but the team would do much more than that over the following month.
The Phillies had won the division crown the previous year on the season’s final day, finishing off their momentous comeback to beat out Tom Glavine and the Mets, who got destroyed that afternoon in their vain attempt to at least keep pace with the Phillies. But on this date ten years ago, the Phillies got the job done with one game to spare, again beating out those Mets, who heartbreakingly fell one game short of the playoffs again. Poor babies.
The Phillies got six strong innings from Jamie Moyer in this game, and they carried a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning. The teams would trade runs in that frame, and it was a 4-2 game as Brad Lidge came out for the ninth. Lidge was a perfect 40-for-40 in save opportunities on the season. Could he get through the full slate without a blemish?
Yeah, obviously, but I’m gonna tell you about it anyway.
After striking out Emilio Bonifacio to start the inning, Lidge allowed a single to Roger Bernadina. The next National with an abnormally long last name to come to the plate was Ryan Langerhans, who walked. Then Lidge allowed two more singles. It was a 4-3 game, the bases juiced with one out for the Nationals’ best player, Ryan Zimmerman.
He connected on what sounded like a broken bat grounder up the middle. It instantly looked like a 2-run single to give the Nationals the lead. But Jimmy Rollins was shading him that way. With a cool dive and a quick flip to Chase Utley at second, followed by a lightning-quick turn and throw by Utley over to Ryan Howard at first, that was it. An iconic double play as the team’s three best offensive players this century connected on a 6-4-3 twin killing to win the game and the division, sending the CBP crowd into spasms of ecstasy.
Lidge was a perfect 41-for-41, of course going on to keep his streak intact through the postseason as well. The final moment was also punctuated by an amazingly bad call on Fox by Tim McCarver of all people. Phillies broadcaster Tom McCarthy was actually doing the game for a national audience that afternoon, and I assume that he was made to leave the booth after the eighth inning in order to set up shop in the Phillies clubhouse to catch the probable postgame celebration. That left McCarver all alone to “call” the top of the ninth, and boy did he deliver.
Ground ball up the middle, great play, Rollins, Utley…the Philadelphia Phillies are the National League division champions (slight pause) of the East for the second straight year!
He said a few more lines after that, but I was laughing too hard to hear them. I enjoyed rewinding it about fifteen times to hear his technically correct but disjointed and nearly horribly wrong call. Never change, Tim.
In a bizarro world where Gabe Kapler was managing the 2008 Phillies, they would have never gotten to the point of being able to clinch a playoff spot on the next-to-last day of the season. But even if they had, we all know that Zimmerman’s ball would have gotten through, probably scoring three runs, either because of a misguided defensive shift that left nobody within 100 feet of the ball or merely an awful fielding error. They would have lost the next day as well, their season going down the tubes and never ending in World Series glory.
But this happy moment really did occur ten years ago today. At least I’m relatively sure it did; it seems so long ago. So let’s look back and smile before Gabe Kapler and Matt Klentak do something to send us into a frightening alternate timeline that removes 2008 from existence.
10 Years B.K. (Before Kapler)
Published September 3, 2018
Eighteen years ago today.
Football season started in just about the best way possible, as the Eagles trounced the Cowboys 41-14 in Dallas. What a way to begin season #2 of the Donovan McNabb/Andy Reid era, with this game serving as their official coming-out party and notice to the rest of the league that Eagles were a team on the rise.
Reid reached into his bag of tricks on the season-opening kickoff, calling for an onside kick that the Eagles recovered. If it failed, it could have set an ominous tone for the whole season. But the Cowboys were caught with their pants down, and it just got worse from there for them.
McNabb connected with Jeff Thomason for a touchdown on that opening possession, and then it was Duce Staley’s turn to take over. He ran roughshod over the Dallas defense all day long, to the tune of 201 yards and a touchdown.
His rushing total was the highest by an Eagle in over 50 years, and he also led the team with 61 yards receiving on the day. The Eagles cranked out 306 yards on the ground and held the ball for almost 40 minutes. Ten different Eagles caught a pass.
The defense wasn’t too shabby either. They sacked Troy Aikman four times, and Jeremiah Trotter intercepted him for a touchdown as well. In fact, Aikman didn’t even complete a pass, going 0 for 5 before being knocked out of the game with a concussion. The man who replaced him? Randall Cunningham. Talk about bizarre.
Aikman would miss the Cowboys’ next two games with the injury. Another injury would force him to sit out the Cowboys’ trip to Philadelphia two months later, an Eagles OT win. He retired after the 2000 season, meaning that this game was the last action he ever saw against the Birds. What a sendoff.
On the whole, the Eagles looked faster, stronger and hungrier than the Cowboys. It was simply a Texas-sized whooping. And their secret? Pickle juice. Players credited drinking the briny solution with helping them stave off cramps and dehydration on a brutally hot 109 degree day where temperatures on the turf were said to be around 130. The home team was not prepared. But the Eagles, pickle juice in hand, were game.
Between the historic day for Staley, the dominant defense, the opening kickoff, the Aikman injury and the overall embarrassment of the Cowboys, it was one of those games that had absolutely everything going for it.
And not only that, it served as a real springboard for the Eagles to join the NFL’s upper crust after three woeful years. And it kicked off three straight 5-11 seasons for the Cowboys under hapless coach Dave Campo. Those were halcyon times, my friends.
It was surely the sweetest opening to a season that the Eagles have ever served up.
And the saltiest.
Duce was loose, and he was on the juice. No, not that juice.
Published August 20, 2018
Seventeen years ago today.
In a move that was at one time unthinkable, the Flyers traded Eric Lindros to the New York Rangers. It finalized the divorce between the Flyers and their former captain and franchise player, although it was a long time coming before that.
Lindros, of course, hadn’t played since being leveled by Scott Stevens in the playoffs the previous year, sitting out the entire 2000-01 season with that injury and then a subsequent squabble with GM Bobby Clarke, the training staff, popcorn vendors and basically anyone involved with the Flyers. He wanted to be traded to Toronto, but the Flyers let him sit, and he eventually acquiesced to the trade with New York.
Strangely, Lindros had almost been a Ranger in the first place nine years before when the Flyers acquired him from Quebec following a ruling by an arbitrator who upheld the Flyers’ trade with the Nordiques for the young phenom rather than the one that the Rangers had made with them. Now, almost a decade later, it was coming full circle. But everyone knew Lindros wasn’t the same.
Still, in that first year on Broadway, he stayed healthy by Lindros standards and scored 73 points in 72 games. This included a hat trick against the Flyers in a game at MSG just days after his 29th birthday late that season.
Lindros would play in a career high 81 games the following season, although his goal and point totals dropped to just 19 and 53, the lowest of his career to that point. Time was running out.
After Lindros’ final, injury-plagued third season with the Blueshirts, the NHL’s missed year of 2004-05 hit. He then realized his dream of signing with the Maple Leafs, but he posted only a pedestrian 22 points in 33 games. One last year with Dallas rounded out his Hall of Fame career, one that will always have hockey fans everywhere (but especially Flyers fans) shaking their heads. So much promise unfulfilled.
As for the Flyers, how did they make out in the trade that went down 17 years ago today?
One of the pieces they received in return was the Rangers’ 3rd round draft choice in 2003. They used it on Stefan Ruzicka, who would go on to play 55 games for the Flyers in the NHL. Nothing special.
Also in the deal, the Flyers got winger Jan Hlavac, who was coming off a 28-goal, 64-point season for New York. But he lasted all of 31 games for the Flyers before they jettisoned him off to Vancouver four months later for Donald Brashear.
The Flyers were high on Pavel Brendl, who had been the 4th overall pick in the draft just two years earlier. But it was clear why the Rangers were willing to part with him, as he managed just 13 points in 50 games as a Flyer before being traded to Carolina in 2003.
Finally, we come to the only saving grace of the trade from the Flyers’ perspective: Kim Johnsson. He developed into a steady and solid two-way defenseman in Philadelphia, posting seasons of 41, 39 and 42 points in his first three years with the Flyers, missing only two games during that time. But in his fourth year with the team, injuries came calling. He left the Flyers in 2006.
So, really, neither team won the trade. The Flyers got mostly a pile of junk in exchange for the most talented player in the history of their franchise, while the Rangers got one good year but then two predictably regressive ones out of a fading star they rolled the dice on.
Lindros’ time in Philadelphia ended on the sourest of notes, but it’s been truly enjoyable to see him bury the hatchet with the Flyers over the last several years. The team inducted him into its Hall of Fame, and then he received the sport’s highest honor with induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Finally, earlier this year, the Flyers rightly retired #88.
It’s hard to believe just how long it’s been since Lindros played for the Flyers. And for me personally, any mention of his name always kindles a sense of disappointment in me that he couldn’t lead the team to a Stanley Cup. Still, his greatness can’t be denied. I just wish we all saw more of it.
Not many images in life have made me want to throw up more than this.
Published July 29, 2018
Sixteen years ago today.
The Phillies divested themselves of disgruntled star third basemen Scott Rolen in a move that was a long time coming. The return was not nearly commensurate with Rolen’s value at the time, but it had to be done.
An Indiana native, Rolen apparently always had the same dream of every little boy that grew up in the Midwest…marrying his cousin. Actually, it was playing for the St. Louis Cardinals. And the Phillies granted that wish by dealing him to St. Louis for pitchers Mike Timlin and Bud Smith and infielder Placido Polanco.
The Phils also threw in pitcher Doug Nickle and some cash, although it is ludicrous that they should have to fork over some money when the Cardinals were getting far and away the best player in the trade. Whatever, at least the ordeal was over.
The timing of the trade was also a bit questionable on the Phillies’ end, as it came just a day after Harry Kalas entered the Baseball Hall of Fame. It seemed like they were trying to wait until their fans’ spirits were as high as they were going to get before pulling the trigger to send the team’s best player out of town, jerk though he was.
Prior to that 2002 season, Rolen had begrudgingly signed a one-year, $8.6 million contract with the Phillies after rejecting a long-term deal. He clearly didn’t want to be in town any longer than he had to be, and everyone knew it. So the Cardinals took full advantage with the underwhelming offer that the Phillies accepted out of obligation more than anything else.
Rolen was off to his happy new surroundings in the “baseball heaven” of St. Louis where he didn’t have to be the center of attention on a team with players like Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds. With the pressure on him minimized, he continued to play at an all-star level for several seasons.
On the Phillies’ end, the deal worked out predictably miserably. Timlin played the rest of the year and then left as a free agent. Smith never appeared in another major league game. Polanco was a nice player for three seasons, and then came back for three more later in his career. All in all, a garbage return on the same level as the one that Ed Wade got two years before when he sent Curt Schilling to Arizona.
Rolen would unfortunately play a big part in two pennant-winning teams for the Cardinals, culminating in a 2006 World Series win. But on the plus side, injuries eventually caught up to him and he was traded out of “heaven”, finishing his career with so-so stints in Toronto and Cincinnati.
He would face the Phillies just once in the playoffs, as a member of the Reds in 2010. He went 1 for 11 at the plate with eight strikeouts while also committing two fielding errors in the Phillies’ three-game sweep. It was a small bit of vindication that took almost a decade to come around.
But, going back to the trade itself, it represented a proverbial wiping of the slate for the Phillies. It wasn’t an end, but a chance to create a new beginning for the franchise. The following offseason, they regathered themselves and signed Jim Thome, the first piece of the roadmap back to competitiveness that ultimately ended up with them winning the 2008 World Series.
Maybe if Rolen had accepted the Phillies’ big-money, long-term offer, they wouldn’t have had the cash or the wherewithal to sign Thome or make several other key moves. Yes, players like Chase Utley and Cole Hamels would have come up eventually to join him, but you never can tell just how things would have turned out. Maybe, in some way, everybody won when Rolen got his wish to leave Philadelphia sixteen years ago today.
Still, screw that guy.
The model for Grumpy Cat?
Published July 9, 2018
Seventeen years ago today.
I got one of the biggest thrills of my life when I had a chance encounter with Harry Kalas. Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book, I’m Getting a Sports Complex, that details the moment…
I’ve told it many times but I never tire of it. It was the previous year, July 9, 2001, to be exact. My friends Bill, Mike and I were enjoying a summer day at Dorney Park. And yes, I can frequently pinpoint exact dates in my life if something notable happened on them, especially when it’s sports-related. This particular date is easy to do an internet search on and identify because it was the day before that year’s MLB All-Star Game. In and of itself, that probably seems trivial, but it turned out to be a key factor in this story.
We were strolling through the park and headed over to Steel Force, one of my favorite roller coasters. Then, about 100 feet ahead of us and off to the right, we spied an older gentlemen just sitting on a bench doing nothing in particular. He was wearing sunglasses and was conspicuously well-dressed for an amusement park. Clearly he was just waiting for whoever he was with to finish a ride. I distinctly remember giving a quick point in his direction and joking “Hey look, it’s Harry Kalas”. My friends looked and let out some agreeable laughs. We continued toward the ride, getting somewhat closer to the man on the bench, who was now directly off to our right. Without any of us breaking stride, we all agreed aloud at the same time that, holy crap, that might actually be Harry Kalas.
In an unusually bold move for me, I actually made the executive decision to approach. I had to be sure. I sidled up on his right. I couldn’t tell where he was looking since he had the sunglasses on, but he didn’t seem to see me coming up. A few feet away, I got the unmistakable whiff of cigars that clings to someone who smokes them at all times. I knew it! I got close and in probably the meekest voice ever said, “Excuse me, sir, are you Harry Kalas”?
He smoothly turned his head up and to his right, and with the hint of a smile, declared “Yes I am”. At that point, for this 16-year old kid, the world stopped. It was just me and Harry and I couldn’t be more oblivious to what was going on around me. I said something along the lines of being a huge fan of his and the team. I think I shook his hand. I was shaking, babbling, probably crapped myself. Why didn’t I have a camera? Why hadn’t smartphones been invented yet? At some point, my friends must have seen how I was acting and rushed up to join. Harry endured the onslaught of excited teenagers and couldn’t have been nicer.
We buttered him up right good. But it was all legit. We loved Harry. He WAS the Phillies, and we told him so. He was there that day with his family since the league was on its All-Star break (ding ding, told you there was a good reason I mentioned that) and he didn’t get many of these free days throughout the baseball season. While talking to Harry, my mind went to that year’s upcoming Hall of Fame inductions and the fact that I was beside myself that Harry had not gotten the call yet. The Hall annually presents one broadcaster with the Ford C. Frick Award, and that year it was going to some guy who had been announcing Marlins games in Spanish for all of about eight years. Way to go, voters. And so I felt the need to tell Harry that he had been robbed and that, when he did get in, I was going to Cooperstown for the induction. He found that to be very nice, said it would be an honor to get in, and was generally just awesome about everything.
Our whole encounter with Harry the K probably only lasted about 90 seconds and I’m amazed that nobody else horned in on us and came over to bother him. But, short as it may have been, that moment will be etched for all time in my memory and my heart. We composed ourselves enough to go ride the roller coaster, which was a huge letdown after the thrill that we had just had. We actually passed by Harry once more on the way off the ride as we made our way to a different part of the park. I think we giddily waved goodbye to him. He acknowledged us and asked my friend how the ride was. And that was that, my brief experience with Harry and the only time I would ever meet the man and legend. It was simply amazing to me and the two best friends I got to share it with.
Look for this and more in my book, which I’m currently in the process of self-publishing.
A dapper young Harry the K
Published June 23, 2018
Seven years ago today.
The Flyers, in a pair of trades, altered the course of their entire franchise by sending captain Mike Richards to the LA Kings and the team’s leading goal-scorer, Jeff Carter, to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
But to get the full background on why the trades happened, you need to go back a few weeks to June 7 of that year when the Flyers, in need of a goaltender (shocker), traded for the rights of Phoenix Coyotes’ netminder Ilya Bryzgalov. He was headed for free agency on July 1, and the Coyotes chose to deal with the Flyers rather than losing Bryzgalov for nothing.
Bryzgalov was due for a big raise, but everyone knew that the Flyers and GM Paul Holmgren would figure out something in order to work him in under the salary cap. Still, nobody had any clue about the magnitude of what was to come on June 23.
In those trades, the Flyers got a number of young, promising and cheaper pieces in return. And it’s fair to say that things have worked out very well.
Coming the other way from Columbus in exchange for Carter were Jakub Voracek and a pair of draft picks, one of which turned into Sean Couturier. You have to give Holmgren credit (ugh) for getting a pair of franchise building blocks. The swap with the Kings for Richards had similar results, with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds both coming to Philadelphia.
Ask the Flyers even today why they made the trades, and they will undoubtedly cite Carter and Richards’ hefty contracts as the reason they were both sent packing. Never mind the rumors that had been going on for quite some time that they both enjoyed partying a bit too much and were becoming a distraction to the rest of the team. Richards, as team captain, especially was failing in the organization’s eyes to be “the next Bobby Clarke”.
So whatever the reason(s), they both went, the new players came into the fold, and the Flyers had plenty of cash to sign Bryzgalov. Little did they know that Carter’s unhappiness in Columbus would lead the Blue Jackets to trade him to the Kings later that season, where he would team up with Richards to lead LA to its first ever Stanley Cup.
The pieces who came in return for the pair continue to provide solid production, but Bryzgalov, the whole reason for the trades in the first place, fell woefully short of expectations. You probably didn’t need to be reminded of that. Anyway, you know the rest. After two subpar seasons in Philadelphia, Bryz got bought out and the Flyers will still be paying him until judgement day. It’s not quite “Bobby Bonilla and the Mets” bad, but it isn’t good.
Richards and Carter, meanwhile, liked winning the Cup so much in 2012 that they did it again two years later. Carter remains a key member of the Kings to this day, although he has had to deal with injuries recently.
But Richards, despite the two Cup wins, never was able to reach the offensive totals that he had in Philadelphia. He eventually had a nasty split with the Kings when he was terminated due to a substance abuse issue. He filed a grievance and won, and will actually be getting paid by the Kings for even longer than the Flyers have to pay Bryzgalov. But hey, at least he won there. Richards also played part of a season with the Capitals. He is basically retired from hockey without ever having officially done so.
All of the key players who the Flyers received in return for Richards and Carter still play for the team, with the exception of Schenn, who was sent to St. Louis last summer. But when you consider the Blues’ 2017 and 2018 first round picks that came in return, the Flyers will be reaping the trickle-down rewards of the Richards trade for years to come.
The Flyers selected Morgan Frost with St. Louis’ first round pick last year and then Joel Farabee last night with this year’s selection. Maybe, just maybe, some combination of all of these players end up being key contributors in a Flyers championship, which would allow us to trace a convoluted yet legitimate path from the trades that happened seven years ago to a Stanley Cup win in Philadelphia.
Or not, because this is the Flyers.
Jersey Shore Bros
Published June 14, 2018
Fourteen years ago today.
The Phillies were returning home from a long road trip for a makeup game against the Reds to kick off a 7-game homestand. Slugging first baseman Jim Thome had hit career home run #399 two days before in Minnesota, but had gone 0 for 4 the previous day, setting the stage to hit his milestone 400th in front of the home fans.
44,710 people packed the seats that night, the highest attendance in Citizens Bank Park’s brief history, and a mark that would stand for another year. Thome would not disappoint.
With a full count and on the eighth pitch of his at-bat in the bottom of the first, Thome took Reds’ righthander Jose Acevedo deep just to the left of center field for the historic blast. It was one of Harry Kalas’ most memorable calls and included the line “Take a bow, big man!” A fantastic moment to say the least.
It got lost in all of the success the Phillies would enjoy later in the decade, but let’s not forget how big of a deal Thome was. When he signed with the Phillies on December 6, 2002, people took it as a sign that the Phillies were finally serious about competing. And if Thome was jumping onboard, he must have seen something to be excited about as well.
Thome’s first year in town was the Phillies’ last season at the Vet, and his 47-homer campaign helped the Phils stay in the playoff hunt until the season’s final week. When he and Mike Schmidt raised each other’s arms during the post-game ceremony after the Vet’s final game, it felt like a changing of the guard and that the Phillies were destined for great things at their new home across the street starting the next year. Thome was going to be the guy to lead them.
During the first year at Citizens Bank Park, he put up another solid campaign, posting 42 home runs (including #400) and 105 RBI. Things were looking good two years into his 6-year contract, and with 423 career home runs by that point, it seemed a foregone conclusion that he would eventually hit his 500th in a Phillies uniform.
But none of that happened. Not the 500th home run, and not the “leading the team to the promised land”. Instead, injuries reared their ugly head and he was limited to just 59 games in 2005. The Phillies called up some guy named Ryan Howard to play first base. The rest is history.
Forced to move Thome’s contract to accommodate their new Rookie of the Year at first base, the Phils shipped him to the White Sox. Thome was gone after just three years in town, through no real fault of his own.
He would eventually hit that 500th home run in a White Sox uniform in 2007. And then his 600th while playing for the Twins in 2011.
Thome would come back for a return engagement in Philadelphia in 2012, hitting five more home runs to push his career total to 101 homers in a Phillies uniform. But he was sent to Baltimore at the end of June that season, where he hit three more longballs to run out the string on a brilliant career and finish with a grand total of 612 home runs.
So now, as Thome is being recognized by the Phillies today and will receive baseball’s ultimate honor in Cooperstown next month, let’s look back and remember this date in Phillies history. It was the top Phillies moment for the most popular player in town at that time, and a class act all around.
Published June 9, 2018
Eight years ago today. And I promise all these flashbacks won’t be from 2010; that’s just how this worked out. Anyway...
Down 3-2 in the Stanley Cup Final to Chicago, the Flyers had one final home game on the season. They were 9-1 at the then Wachovia Center to that point of the playoffs, and would need a tenth home victory just to send the series to a Game 7 back in Chicago.
The Flyers trailed 3-2 after two periods, and it looked like Chicago was simply destined to win the game and the series. But that particular Flyers team had a lot of fight in them (just ask the Bruins) and weren’t going to go quietly.
Instead, Scott Hartnell scored with 3:59 left in regulation to tie it and send the game to sudden death. Claude Giroux, as was written here last week, had played the hero in Game 3 earlier in the series. Could he (or any Flyer) get the job done on this night? I think you know the answer.
In the most Flyer way to possibly lose the Stanley Cup and see your opponent celebrate on your home ice, Michael Leighton let an epically weak, bad-angle shot by Patrick Kane go right through him for the winning (losing) goal. Kane himself was the only person who even realized that the shot had gone in within ten seconds of the play happening.
It took a while for his Blackhawks teammates to take his word for it, but they piled onto each other at the far end of the ice while the Flyers just stood around dumbfounded and Leighton wished he had never been born.
The Cup win was the first one for Chicago since 1961, ending a 49-year drought. And don’t look now, but the Flyers are just five Cup-less seasons away from matching that themselves. The Blackhawks would go on to win two more titles over the next five seasons and were the early frontrunner for “team of the 21st century” before Crosby and company equaled them in championships over the past couple years.
In that 2010 Final, the Flyers scored 22 goals in six games, which is a healthy number for a playoff series and usually wins it for you. Blackhawks’ goalie Antti Niemi was eminently beatable, but he was just decent enough to outduel Leighton and give Chicago the win.
Horrible goal aside, the Flyers had been outshot 41-24 in Game 6, so the signs were there that they were probably lucky just to get the game to overtime. Yay, lucky us. We got to see Kane’s goal instead of just losing in regulation. At any rate, you just know that if they had won Game 6, they would have gotten blown out in Game 7. Would that have been preferable to what actually did happen? We’ll never know for sure.
Making things even more painful is the fact that Kane should have been a Flyer. He was the consensus #1 overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft, one in which the Flyers held the best odds to get the top selection after finishing a mile behind the rest of the league that season.
But things went Chicago’s way, they got the first pick, and the rest is history. The Flyers picked James Van Riemsdyk at the #2 spot, and they eventually turned that into Luke Schenn years later. Oh boy.
Whenever the replay of Kane’s “goal” comes up, I still look away. And so today, eight years later, let’s all close our eyes, wince, and think about what could have been.
Published June 2, 2018
Eight years ago today.
Down 2-0 in the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks, the Flyers returned home needing a win in the worst way. I was there with my dad in section 214, row 4, seats 1&2, my stomach churning with nervousness and excitement.
The Flyers were seeking their first Final win since 1987, as they had been swept by Detroit in 1997, their only other appearance in that 23-year span. And coming into the game 7-1 at home so far that playoff season, there was a feeling that the series was far from over despite facing a 2-game deficit.
Danny Briere, continuing an amazing playoff run, scored his 11th goal of the postseason late in the first to open the scoring and bring the home crowd to its feet. The Flyers carried the 1-0 lead into the intermission.
But Chicago came alive in the second, and it was a 2-2 game headed to the third. Patrick Kane then scored what seemed like a backbreaking goal (little did we know what would transpire a week later) to put Chicago up 3-2 at the 2:50 mark of the third period.
To the Flyers’ credit, they immediately responded, with Ville Leino burying a rebound just 20 seconds later to tie the game once again. Then, after a harrowing final 17 minutes of play where neither team could find the back of the net, it headed to overtime.
The Flyers had just one Stanley Cup Final overtime win in their franchise history: Bobbie Clarke’s iconic goal against Boston in Game 2 of the 1974 Final. They were long overdue for another.
About five minutes in, the Flyers looked like they had won it, but replays showed that the puck had hit the post and then slid right along the goal line before being covered by Chicago netminder Antti Niemi. It was agonizingly close, and if I knew Philadelphia sports, it was an omen that something bad was about to happen.
But my fears were allayed just moments later as Claude Giroux took a pass from Matt Carle, redirecting it through Niemi’s legs for the win. The place went nuts. It was the loudest and longest I’ve ever cheered at a sporting event. The Flyers were on the board with their first Stanley Cup Final win of the 21st century. And they were back in the series.
They would go on to win again two nights later to tie the series, but as we all know, that would be the extent of it, with Chicago eventually winning in six games. The Flyers’ improbable run came up two wins shy of the ultimate prize.
They won three rounds and fourteen playoff games that season. In the eight years since, they have won a grand total of two rounds and sixteen playoff games. For the better part of a decade, it’s been lean times for the orange and black.
But on this date eight years ago, there was an electricity in town. And the moment that Giroux’s deflection crossed the goal line, there was a feeling surrounding the Flyers that I have not felt in my lifetime. Here’s hoping it happens again soon.
Published May 29, 2018
Eight years ago today.
It was the biggest dichotomy to occur this century in Philadelphia sports, as Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game for the Phillies while the Flyers dropped Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final to the Chicago Blackhawks.
For me personally, the result of the hockey game put a damper on my enjoyment of Doc’s perfecto. Yes, Halladay’s achievement was magnificent. He threw 115 pitches in striking out 11 Florida (not Miami) Marlins en route to 27 up/27 down, just the 18th perfect game in baseball’s modern era. But by the time word spread that he was approaching a potentially historic accomplishment, the Flyers were already in the thick of things and holding all of my attention in their first Stanley Cup Final game since 1997.
That night, the Flyers had a golden opportunity to draw first blood in Chicago and squandered it. Danny Briere, on his way to a 4-point night, scored in the final minute of a frantic first period to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead at the intermission. Then Chicago went ahead 5-4 in the second period, at which point Michael Leighton got yanked. The Flyers managed to tie it before the period ended and it was 5-5 headed into the third.
Midway through, Chicago scored what turned out to be the only goal of the frame, holding on for a 6-5 win. And while you can’t assume that the rest of the series would have played out exactly the same way after that, I feel like the Flyers would have lifted the Stanley Cup if they hadn’t come up short in Game 1.
Earning a split on the road would have been huge for the Flyers, who were 7-1 in the playoffs at home that year up to that point. Remember, this was back in the days where they didn’t crap their pants in fear every time they took the ice in front of their own fans. As it ultimately turned out, the home team would win every game in the series until that fateful Game 6.
The lingering image we all have is of Patrick Kane’s horrible, invisible goal ending the season, but the failure of that round can be traced back to Game 1. The scoring settled down for the rest of the series, but eight years ago tonight the Flyers did enough of it that they should have claimed the opener. They just couldn’t keep the puck out of their net, and it cost them big time.
But at least we can look back fondly on the late, great Roy Halladay and perhaps his finest moment on the mound. I actually think he was better in his playoff no-hitter later that year, but a perfect game is a perfect game, so he gets full marks for his performance eight years ago against a Marlins team that was actually half-decent.
And in case you’re wondering, the top bats that Halladay had to go through that night were Hanley Ramirez and Dan Uggla, back before he was a .190-hitting joke. Mike (now Giancarlo) Stanton would not make his major league debut until the following week, also against the Phillies.
Time flies and a lot has happened in the eight years since, but May 29, 2010 will always stand out in Philadelphia sports.