Eagles

Rob's Rants: Plenty to be thankful for in Philly sports

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Rob's Rants: Plenty to be thankful for in Philly sports

With Thanksgiving upon us and the rest of the holiday season just around the corner, I thought it would be a nice opportunity to reverse course from Rob’s Rants and express what I’m thankful for in Philadelphia sports. Truth be told, with the football team having the best record in the NFL and the basketball team having two dynamic, budding superstars and playoffs in their sights for the first time in a long time, things are pretty good around these parts. So let’s show a little gratitude.

Eagles
Where to start? Before this season, the hope was a playoff appearance. After 10 games, a division title, a bye and home-field advantage in the NFC are all real possibilities. This team is complete, laser-focused, well-coached and talented. Further, they have a second-year quarterback in Carson Wentz whose skill is only matched by his work ethic and football IQ. This city has always loved a tough defense and that’s exactly what they have. They are physical from the deep, defensive line to the surprising cornerbacks. The Saints, Vikings, Rams and Panthers are right there on the Eagles’ tail, so nothing is a given, but I just don’t see this team collapsing. I love that they can beat you in a multitude of ways whether it’s Wentz’s arm, a punishing running attack, a ferocious pass rush, or out-scheming the opposition. We are in for an amazing ride with this group.

Sixers
Ben Simmons has 11 double-doubles in his first 16 games in the NBA. That‘s the most by any player in that span of time in his first season since Shaquille O’Neal in 1993. His ability to finish with both hands is remarkable. If you never watched him shoot a jump shot or a free throw, you would have no idea he is left-handed. His size, power, handle and ambidextrousness mask his inability or willingness to pull the trigger from the outside. And by the looks of his stats and what the eyeball tells you, he’s doing just fine. Mr. Meat Pie is averaging 21.5 points, 9.2 rebounds, 7.6 assists and two steals a night. Then there’s the big fella. Joel Embiid is a once-in-a-generation talent, who by his own admission is not even in basketball shape yet. His Tinseltown two-step where he throttled both L.A. teams out there may have been the highlight of this short season thus far. But Embiid shows on a nightly basis that if he stays healthy, he’s capable of leading this teams to multiple championships. The Wells Fargo Center is back to the A.I. days of being the place to be for a basketball game. It’s electric.

Flyers
The Flyers' season has been very up and down. But there are certainly things to be thankful for when it comes to the orange and black. The first line of Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, centered by Sean Couturier has accounted for 69 points through 20 games. Whether it was Dave Hakstol or Ron Hextall’s call, the decision to move Giroux to the wing and insert Couturier as the top-line centerman was a stroke of genius. Ivan Provorov deserves a plate full of kudos himself for his machine-like play.

Phillies
The Phillies' youthful core of Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Altherr, Odubel Herrera, J.P. Crawford and soon-to-be Scott Kingery has the makings of a nucleus to be proud of going forward. Aaron Nola showed himself capable as a top-of-the-rotation pitcher. There’s much work to be done here but the club appears headed in the right direction.

College Hoops
Let’s give college hoops a little love as well. Villanova has dominated the headlines of late and rightfully so but there’s a possibility that at least three of the local teams will be dancing come April.
      
So pass the stuffing and enjoy the gravy, things are looking up in Philadelphia sports.

Zach Ertz is only other player to leave field with Jason Witten's jersey

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Zach Ertz is only other player to leave field with Jason Witten's jersey

For a long time, Zach Ertz has always said that he’s emulated future Hall of Famer Jason Witten. Ertz loved the way he played and the way he handled himself on and off the field. 

Turns out it’s mutual. 

Because after Ertz went on social media to say goodbye to Witten after the longtime Dallas Cowboy retired recently, Witten returned the favor and praised Ertz. 

That’s pretty crazy. Witten played 15 years, a total of 247 games including the playoffs. And, according to him, the only other person to ever leave the field with his jersey is Ertz. It's become commonplace for players in the league to trade jerseys after games. During an NFL season, a peek into someone's locker will reveal a few jerseys of different colors. Witten's was probably be in demand, but Ertz is the only player to ever get one. 

It’s clear that Ertz gained Witten’s respect and Witten has probably heard the praise from Ertz before. He heard it again when Ertz tweeted earlier in May. 

“First off, I want to say congratulations to someone that had a profound impact on my career, by just being the man he is!” Ertz wrote. “At 17 years old when I was trying to figure out what a tight end meant and what they embodies I started following the tight end for the Cowboys. Everything he did on the field and off, I tried to emulate.” 

Oddly enough, this season Ertz made his first Pro Bowl, but couldn’t go because the Eagles were in the Super Bowl. Guess who took his place? Yup, Witten. 

Earlier this spring, Ertz said it’s strange to think that other tight ends are now growing up and trying to emulate him. He’s just trying to set as good an example as Witten did. 

Eagles' Brandon Brooks uses own story to inspire graduates

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Miami University

Eagles' Brandon Brooks uses own story to inspire graduates

Eagles right guard Brandon Brooks was back at his alma mater this weekend, delivering the commencement speech at Miami University (Ohio), when he began talking about his battle with anxiety. 

In front of thousands of people. 

“Truth be told, I’m feeing a little anxious today,” Brooks said, inciting laughter in front of the giant crowd staring back at him. “But I’ve learned through therapy, to not worry or care about making a mistake. Why? Because the best thing about life is that it goes on.”

Brooks, 28, talked to the crowd of graduates about love and honor, perseverance and unity, but perhaps it was telling his personal story about how he overcame his anxiety that made the most lasting impression. 

After identifying his issues with anxiety during the 2016 season, when he missed two games, Brooks began to seek help. In 2017, he played in all 16 games, became a Pro Bowler and helped the Eagles win their first Super Bowl championship. 

As the Eagles were getting ready to play in the Super Bowl, Brooks reflected a little bit on his road thus far and chronicled how he was able to have fun playing football again (see story)

On Saturday, he told the graduates that even after becoming a Pro Bowler and winning the Super Bowl, he’s “especially proud” of overcoming his anxiety. 

For those in attendance who didn’t know his story, he gave them an overview: 

“I took being the best very seriously. Too seriously, in fact,” Brooks said. “I demanded excellence of myself. I demanded perfection. No mistakes, no screwups. I wanted to epitomize perfection. I did not want to make mistakes. And when that did happen, the world wasn’t a good place for me. I had a secret; I needed help. I grew up thinking, you had to man up. You had to suck it up, as they say. Boy, did I learn the hard way. 

“I don’t know how many of you know, but I have an anxiety disorder. I demanded perfection of myself and when I fail, when I’m not that superhuman I’m supposed to be, my body and my mind turn on me. I get tremendously ill for hours and can’t play the sport I love. I missed five NFL games over my career because I couldn’t handle being perfect. I came to a crossroads where I had to make a decision. I would either cave under the pressure or get help, persevere and rise to the occasion. I choose the latter because there are no diamonds without pressure. 

“Getting help by seeing a therapist was one of the best things for me. For those out there going through something you can’t handle yourself, never be afraid to ask for help and get the help you need.”

Brooks is one of three Eagles to make graduation speeches this spring after the Eagles won the Super Bowl. Corey Clement was at Rowan University in his hometown of Glassboro, N.J., and Chris Long spoke at the University of Virginia. 

Brooks explained how important the law of averages has been to helping him overcome his anxiety and tried to pass along that knowledge. For a player who is an 8 out of 10, there will be days they’re 10/10, but also days where they’re 6/10. 

For Brooks, it’s all about striving to be perfect without letting life’s inevitable failures take over. 

That’s a lesson worth teaching. 

“We are all allowed to make mistakes, to be imperfect, to be human,” Brooks said. “Learn that now, listen to someone who knows. Learn from your mistakes, keep pushing, trust yourself and trust the process.”