Meet the 99-year-old Eagles fan with a remarkable story

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Josh Potter

Meet the 99-year-old Eagles fan with a remarkable story

In Philadelphia, rabidly following the Eagles is a rite of passage. Watch one game and you’re hooked. Like many lifelong fans, that’s what happened with Phil Basser.

In 1933. 

So to lump Basser in with the rest of the lifelong fans wouldn’t be right; he was actually born 15 years before the Eagles first took the field for their inaugural season in 1933. 

By now you’ve probably heard of Basser. How could you not have? He’s appeared in Sports Illustrated, made appearances on the local news and has become a Twitter sensation — all in the last week. He’s had a busier week than the team he roots for.

That busy week will culminate with suite tickets provided by the Eagles for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. Eighty-two years after Basser attended his first game in 1936, he’ll attend his first playoff game and his first game in “many years.”

If you caught last Sunday’s Vikings-Saints game, you surely caught Millie Wall’s story; a 99-year-old fan attending her first playoff game. A constant camera fixture — she even got to meet Commissioner Roger Goodell — she became a social media star within minutes.

A tweet by SNF on NBC of Wall was quickly passed around Twitter, where Josh Potter, the grandson of Basser, first saw it. Potter replied to the tweet, making his grandpa an instant internet sensation. See, social media isn’t all terrible.

This week, Wall's Vikings and Basser's Eagles will battle for a trip to the Super Bowl. But don't expect Basser to talk any trash.

"To Millie, I would say, 'I will be sure to toast to your 100th on July 4th,'” Basser said in an email correspondence with NBC Sports Philadelphia.

For “a simple guy who likes to live under the radar” like Basser, his meteoric rise to fame “is all a bit overwhelming.”

“The upside is getting calls and emails from the children of my old friends who have long since passed,” Basser said. “When you get to be 99, you don’t have a lot of childhood friends around. It’s been nice to reminisce about my youth.”

Basser — born March 6, 1918, in Philadelphia — has overcome a lot in his 99 years. His mother passed away when he was just four years old. His father, unable to provide for him and his sister, was forced to place his children in a Germantown foster home. Still, his father would come and visit on weekends. Years later, his sister Rose passed away at just 8 years old. 

So Philadelphia, the city and the Eagles — Basser estimates he’s attended “about 25 games” in his lifetime, many of them in those early days in the 1930s — have a deeper meaning than most to Basser.

Then World War ll broke out. Basser originally trained to be a pilot but was rerouted to ground warfare after the Allied invasion at Normandy, where he eventually served as a second lieutenant in the Philippines. 

“After World War II, I never thought there would be another war,” Basser said. “I thought, ‘Hey, I could use the extra income,’ so I enrolled in the army reserves. I was shocked when the Korean War broke out.”

“I was all set to get shipped to Korea and was actually being examined in the Schuylkill Arsenal in Philadelphia when my lifelong best friend, Louis Wexler, ran in and said he had bad news. I was pulled out of line and he told that my dad had had a sudden heart attack and passed away. I was given a 90-day compassionate leave. After the 90 days passed, my orders were changed to ship off to Germany because of heightened tensions with the Soviets.”

Much like the 2017 Eagles, Basser has overcome a great deal in his lifetime. And still, he remains positive. The Eagles’ and Basser’s stories of perseverance collided on Dec. 10 when Basser experienced his worst moment as an Eagles fan, “watching my hero Carson Wentz get carried off the field” with a torn ACL.

But it hasn't been all bad. Unlike younger Eagles fans, Basser has seen the team reach the pinnacle of the sport.  

“Seeing them slog in the snow and blustery wind during the 1960 championship game at Franklin Field,” replied when asked about his favorite Eagles’ memory. “They had to be true soldiers to do that and I was so impressed and inspired by them, and best of all, they won!”

He saw their last championship, and this year, Basser is confident he'll see another.

“There is an old saying, ‘Always a bridesmaid but never a bride,’” Basser said. “Well this year, I can’t wait to walk you down that 100-yard aisle to Super Bowl victory!”

So you like the Eagles to beat the Vikings this weekend?

“A hard fought battle but the Eagles will soar to VICTORY!”

The positive man that he is, Basser offered some condolences for the Vikings. 

“To the Vikings, I would say, ‘Keep plugging. You’ll get to the big time one year. Just not this year!’”

It's time to recognize Flyers' other rock on D

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AP Images

It's time to recognize Flyers' other rock on D

Take a second and guess which Flyer leads the team in plus/minus. Nope, it's not Ivan Provorov or Sean Couturier.

Give up? At plus-14, rookie defenseman Robert Hagg leads the team. And while plus/minus isn't an ideal depiction of a player's success, it's something the rookie takes pride in.

“Well, absolutely. It means I’m more on the ice when we score goals than against, so of course, I’m taking pride in that," Hagg said. "But at the same time, you can’t read too much into that because every game is different."

Every game is different, but Hagg's steady, solid play has largely remained the same across his first 31 NHL games. The 22-year-old is averaging 19:22 ice time a game — sixth-most on the team and third among defensemen behind Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. He's also tied for third in the league with 101 hits this season. 

It's easy to forget about Hagg on a team full of young talent. But that's the way he likes it. 

"No, I love to go under the radar," Hagg said. "I don’t like the attention so much. It’s hard to disappear when you’re playing in the NHL, I guess."

On the ice, it's easy to miss Hagg. He doesn't have the flashy moves of Gostisbehere or the puck-moving skills of Provorov. He just goes out there and quietly gets the job done, at both ends of the ice. And for a rookie D-man, going relatively unnoticed at times can be a good thing. It means he's not making mistakes. 

While he may go unnoticed by fans, he has certainly stuck out in the mind of Dave Hakstol.

“He doesn’t fly under the radar in our dressing room," Hakstol said. "He’s been a good player and just by nature of some of the injuries and with [Radko Gudas'] suspension — with a couple veterans out of the lineup — he’s logged some minutes that maybe we didn’t predict quite this early, but by necessity, he’s been in these situations and he’s handled them well.

"Those are challenging minutes and assignments for a young defenseman. But Hagger has handled all of those things with pretty good poise. So he’s learning, he’s giving us good minutes and he keeps pushing to improve his game, so those are all positive things.”

With Andrew MacDonald's injury and Gudas' suspension, Hagg has been forced into playing more — and tougher — minutes than Hakstol originally anticipated for the rookie. But the coach has shown in the past — take Provorov's ascension to No. 1 D-man for example — that a player's age or experience will not limit minutes earned on the back end. 

Hagg has been a constant on the Flyers' blue line all season, and it's time to start appreciating his play as he continues to develop into a sturdy, top-four defenseman. 

Mr. 300
Michael Raffl will play in his 300th NHL game tonight and it's a special one for the 29-year-old. 

In 2012-13, Raffl was playing in Sweden when the Flyers took a chance on the Austrian.

Playing in the NHL at all seemed like a farfetched idea to him then, and 299 games later, it still doesn't feel real.

“If you asked me a couple years ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of it," Raffl said. "It’s part of my life now. I think it’s awesome and I’m very proud of that."

This season — Raffl's fifth — had the appearance that it may have been his last. At least for the first 21 games. Playing mostly on the fourth line with Scott Laughton and Taylor Leier, Raffl didn't record a single point in that span. 

“I was trying not to change my game too much, to be honest," Raffl said of his early struggles. "I know the points weren’t there the first 20 games and I was struggling offensively, but I thought I played very well. I was trying to help the team win one way or the other. Now it’s clicking and I’ll try to ride the wave. Yeah, it’s more fun like that, for sure."

Over his last 10 games, Raffl has eight points — five goals and three assists — including five points during the Flyers' four-game win streak. It's no coincidence that the two overlap. 

Raffl's resurgence came with Hakstol's decision to break up the team's top line of Couturier, Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek.

Now on the second line with Valtteri Filppula and Voracek, Raffl has looked like the 2014-15 player that scored a career-high 21 goals. 

“It’s been a benefit for us," Hakstol said of Raffl's hot streak. "Raf is a guy that’s scored 20 goals in this league so we know that he can contribute and he can help offensively, and I think he was pretty frustrated early on by not being able to find the back of the net. His continued good play has obviously created different opportunities for him and with the line that he’s with, right now with Fil and Jake, he’s going to get some of those scoring opportunities and in the past couple weeks, he’s made good on them and it’s been a huge boost for our team."

The Flyers take on the worst team in the Eastern Conference Thursday night — the Buffalo Sabres. But with points in their last four games (2-0-2), the Flyers can't afford to take the Sabres lightly. 

“No, we can’t look past anyone and I think where we are at, we gotta bring everything we’ve got," Raffl said. "It’s going to take a lot and I think it’s way harder to play against teams that are down there."

Lineups, pairings and scratches

Forwards
Claude Giroux-Sean Couturier-Wayne Simmonds
Michael Raffl-Valtteri Filppula-Jakub Voracek
Jordan Weal-Nolan Patrick-Dale Weise
Taylor Leier-Scott Laughton-Travis Konecny

Defensemen
Ivan Provorov-Andrew MacDonald
Robert Hagg-Shayne Gostisbehere
Travis Sanheim-Radko Gudas

Goalies
Brian Elliott
Alex Lyon

Scratches: Forward Jori Lehtera (healthy) and defenseman Mark Alt (healthy).

Radko Gudas facing suspension, waives right to in-person hearing

Radko Gudas facing suspension, waives right to in-person hearing

Updated: 10:32 p.m.

Here we go again.

Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas was offered an in-person hearing by the NHL for his dangerous slash to the back of the head of Winnipeg's Mathieu Perreault in Thursday's loss. Late Friday night, Gudas waived his right to the in-person hearing and will now have it via phone on Sunday, meaning he can't play Saturday afternoon when the Calgary Flames visit the Wells Fargo Center.

Gudas was handed a game misconduct — the sixth of his career — and was tossed for his unnecessary slash. Was it dirty? Judge for yourself in the video above.

The NHL certainly seems to think it was intentional, however. The offering of an in-person hearing means Gudas is staring down a suspension — and a lengthy one, too — should the NHL discipline him. In-person hearings warrant a suspension of at least six games, as opposed to a suspension of five games or fewer that would be discussed in a phone call.

While the slash was certainly grounds for a suspension, Gudas' reputation is also working against him. The D-man is a repeat offender and was last suspended for six games in Oct. 2016 for a late hit. 

In his absence (Gudas can't play until the hearing is held), the Flyers figure to get Andrew MacDonald back from a lower-body injury within the next week or so. MacDonald injured his leg while blocking a shot Oct. 21 vs. Edmonton. The Flyers are 3-5-3 in his absence. Mark Alt, who is currently serving as the team's seventh defenseman, also figures to step in should MacDonald not be ready for Saturday's game.