Casey Feeney

The 5 biggest 180s in recent Philly sports history

The 5 biggest 180s in recent Philly sports history

It's hard to believe that Bryce Harper made his MLB debut this week eight years ago. If we had a time machine and could go back to that time in 2012, it'd be even harder to project that Harper would become a Philly fan favorite. So that got us thinking about five of the top Philly sports perception turnarounds, good and bad, in recent times.

5. Chip Kelly

Say the name Chip Kelly now and Eagles fans will rant about Pro Bowl players released and draft picks wasted. But there was a time when Chip Kelly was the most popular figure in Philly sports. Sports science, smoothies and no-huddle excitement highlighted a first season that resulted in a division title. Unfortunately, Kelly burned too many bridges, along with his boats, and was gone two years later ... to the delight of most Eagles fans.

4. Scott Rolen

From face of the franchise to public enemy No, 1, that's the journey Scott Rolen lived in Philadelphia. After winning the 1997 NL Rookie of the Year, Rolen served as a beacon of hope for Phillies fans in a time with few glimmers of light. But five years later, Rolen eyed a better situation. It's also worth noting that his mild-mannered approach did not mesh well with his fiery manager, Larry Bowa. After his trade to the Cardinals in 2002, Rolen called St. Louis "baseball heaven" and Phillies fans have never stopped informing Rolen that he can go to the opposite place.

3. Doug Pederson

As an Eagles player, Pederson was best known as the guy in Donovan McNabb's way. Eventually, Pederson would resurface as Kelly's replacement as head coach. He had never called plays and had never been a head coach beyond the high school level, so skepticism engulfed Pederson. But the first Super Bowl in franchise history and three straight playoff appearances has a way of changing perspectives. We love ya, Doug.

2. Bryce Harper

Harper burst onto the scene as MLB's answer to LeBron James. A teenager with the promise of Mantle and unprecedented hype. He also represented the greatest threat to the demise of the Phillies' NL East supremacy. Harper hasn't been LeBron but he's been a great player that is on the path to Cooperstown. His ascendence with the Nationals did coincide with the demise of the Utley/Rollins/Howard era. Put all of that together and Harper could count on boos in Philadelphia. That's so 2018. One 13-year contract and $330 million later, Harper is arguably Philly's favorite athlete.

1. Terrell Owens

It's not an understatement to say that Owens was hailed as a savior upon his 2004 arrival in Philadelphia, the much-needed top receiver that would finally push the Eagles to a Super Bowl title. He nearly delivered in Year 1, starring in a Super Bowl loss to the Patriots on a not-fully-healed broken leg and injured ankle. Eagles fans could not have been more smitten.

Then came the driveway workout, the locker room fight with Hugh Douglas and the constant verbal jabs at McNabb. The Eagles had seen enough and released Owens after the 2005 season.

T.O. signed with the Cowboys in 2006, the ultimate sin for Eagles fans. From hero to villain in 24 months.

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2020 NFL Draft: Do you buy these Jalen Hurts theories?

2020 NFL Draft: Do you buy these Jalen Hurts theories?

Perhaps Howie Roseman is just a big fan of the film "Network" and he wanted to get every quarantined Eagles fan to run to their window (or Twitter in this case) and yell, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore.”

That explanation makes as much sense as any other possible explanation provided for the decision to select Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft. (Insert caveat that this isn’t about Hurts. He's a perfectly good kid who deserves to celebrate a major life accomplishment without having it diminished. Etc., etc.)

So if it wasn’t an homage to a film from 1976, what was the reason for taking Hurts? Let’s look at some of the proposed rationales and play “Buy It Or Don’t Buy It.”

Quarterback Factory: Don’t buy it

There’s one objective in pro sports, winning the championship. Any ulterior motive or interest is a waste of time and resources. So when Roseman suggests he believes the Eagles have been and desire to be a “quarterback factory,” you have to wonder why the organization cares about that.

It’s perhaps easy and unfair to bring this back to the Patriots. But could you ever imagine Bill Belichick saying that he wants his team to be the best at a certain position? Of course not. In the pros, winning is all that matters.

Taysom Hill 2.0: Don't buy it

Within minutes of the Hurts selection, the buzz began to circulate on social media that Doug Pederson could create a package for Hurts similar to how the Saints use former college quarterback Taysom Hill. Pederson later confirmed that the team envisions being creative to get Hurts on the field in the short term.

Yet, it’s worth noting that Hill was an undrafted free agent that forged an NFL path by playing special teams and has yet to be the primary backup for Drew Brees. Perhaps Hurts will play special teams, but that appears unlikely for a quarterback taken in the 2nd round. Howie Roseman intimated last night that this upcoming season will be Nate Sudfeld’s last in Philadelphia. So how often will the Eagles be willing to run gadget plays with Hurts as a runner/receiver when he’s the primary backup?

Lastly on this front, roster spots are not a luxury in the NFL. Especially not for the Eagles. There always has to be a contingency plan for Brandon Brooks. He had to leave a November game last season due to anxiety-related symptoms. Injuries also can mount in a game. The Eagles are very familiar with that concept. Can this particular team really afford a roster spot for five-to-ten offensive snaps?

Challenging Carson: Don't buy it

The notion that it’s a good thing to challenge Carson Wentz with a potentially dynamic back-up has been making the rounds on social media. Hey, it worked when Nick Foles was brought in.

No, it didn’t. When Foles was signed prior to the 2017 season, he was a guy that knew the system that had failed with the Rams before riding the bench for the Chiefs. No one, NO ONE, saw Foles as a player to push Wentz until after he won the Super Bowl as Wentz’s injury replacement.

Last season, Wentz made the playoffs by winning out with Boston Scott and Greg Ward as key offensive pieces. That’s enough of a challenge.

In fairness, Roseman did not claim the Hurts selection was an effort to push Wentz.

Wentz’s injury history: Buy it

The NFL is not about building the most talented team. It’s about having a deep enough team to function in late January and February as the physical toll accumulates. Even the most ardent Wentz supporter has to acknowledge that he’s been unable to finish the last three seasons.

When it’s not your livelihood, it’s a lot easier to have a macro approach and opine that it isn’t wise to use a 2nd round pick on a luxury item like backup quarterback. But when you live it every day and jobs are on the line, it’s a different story.

The Eagles know from experience that you can win a Super Bowl with the right backup quarterback. Roseman and Pederson also lived through the playoff loss to the Seahawks last season as 40-year old Josh McCown limped through a 17-9 loss following the concussion Wentz suffered in the first quarter.

It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where the Eagles envision Hurts being able to save the day in that Seahawks game, winning the next week in Green Bay and allowing Wentz a chance to take on the 49ers in the NFC title game.

Decisions are often the product of your experiences and the Eagles’ experience of late has been to expect Wentz to be unavailable when it matters most.

Does that make the decision the right one? Time will tell.

Personally, I subscribe to the Tom Moore school on quarterbacks. When the former Colts offensive assistant was asked why Peyton Manning takes most, if not all, of the team’s practice reps, he said the team is bleeped without Manning. And the team doesn’t practice bleeped.

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The case for Chase Utley as the most important Phillie from 2007-11

The case for Chase Utley as the most important Phillie from 2007-11

There is no wrong answer to this topic, but in the coming days at NBC Sports Philadelphia we will look at the individual cases for Chase Utley, Ryan Howard and Jimmy Rollins as the most important player of the Phillies' most successful run in franchise history.

First up: Utley

There's no right answer. But there is a best answer. That's how I feel when asked to compare Howard, Rollins and Utley. Put any one of that trio on a different team and the golden era of Phillies baseball doesn't happen. It's as simple as that. Yet, there is a first among equals in that holy trinity of the infield and it's Utley.

The passage of time can leave a haze, especially when it comes to recalling the value of athletes. It's natural to remember only the extremes, a player at his apex or his nadir. 
A decade removed from their collective primes, it's tempting to think that Rollins and Howard played to an MVP level every season because they each have one of those trophies on their respective mantles. But that just wasn't the case. Utley, on the other hand, did sustain a level of excellence over an extended period of time.

There's something to be said that baseball stats can be twisted any way one wants in the interest of making an argument. But there is one statistical piece of information that clearly demonstrates Utley's superior value relative to Rollins and Howard. 

Here's a look at each player's combined WAR (per Baseball-Reference) from the 2007-11 seasons, the entirety of the Phils' NL East dominance:

Utley: 34.6
Rollins: 18.1
Howard: 10.9

That is just a staggering disparity. Would it be fair to say that Utley was twice the player Rollins was and three times the player Howard was? No. But it clearly demonstrates the gap in total value that existed between Utley and his infield mates. 

Put more simply, Rollins was just a good player after 2008. Howard was just slightly above average in 2010 and 2011. But Utley played at an All-Star level in every season from 2007 to 2011. 
    
Also for consideration, Utley was headed to the 2007 NL MVP that Rollins won before the Nationals' John Lannan broke his hand on July 26th of that year.

Here's a comparison to that point in the 2007 season:

Utley: .336 batting average, .996 OPS, 17 home runs, 82 RBI, 7 stolen bases

Rollins: .287 batting average, .858 OPS, 20 home runs, 60 RBI, 17 stolen bases

It is fair to wonder if there would even be a conversation between these three if Utley didn't get hurt in 2007.

Another means of comparing the Phillies' Big 3 would be to look at All-Star appearances. Utley made six National League All-Star teams during his tenure in Philadelphia. Rollins and Howard combined to make that many in their careers (three each).

Further in the anecdotal category, I cannot shake the 2009 World Series. With the Phillies having a chance to state their case as an all-time team, one that could repeat as champions while defeating the Yankees of all teams, Utley was the only one of the Phillies' three hitting stars to shine. The UCLA product tied a World Series record with 5 home runs while posting a 1.448 OPS. 

Rollins, on the other hand, failed in his chance to measure up with legendary Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter. Over six games, Rollins accounted for five hits and a .562 OPS. Howard posted a meager .631 OPS in the 2009 Fall Classic.

As if that weren't enough, Utley served as the conscience for that championship era of Phillies baseball. Whereas Rollins brought the swagger that the franchise needed, Utley allowed his approach to set the tone for how the Phillies were going to play. All-out and unapologetic for as long as it took to go home with a win. There's a reason Roy Halladay held Utley in the highest esteem of any teammate he ever played alongside.

Rollins and Howard will rightly be remembered as franchise greats. But only one can be the man. That's Utley.

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