Flyers

Linc's structure, playing surface a bigger problem than family-friendly atmosphere

Linc's structure, playing surface a bigger problem than family-friendly atmosphere

When a team's home losing streak spans beyond both a Roman and Football calendar year, people tend to take notice. And when some of them believe the underlying reason is the owner’s insistence on turning what used to be the league’s toughest place to play (the Vet) to, basically, a country club, (the Linc), they start calling up talk radio and complaining. Loudly.

All told, when it comes to the Eagles slide – nine games, beginning with a 26-23 overtime loss on Oct. 14 last year to the eventual 4-12 Lions – you could argue the Linc is the problem.

But not for its cozy, family-friendly feel.

For its acoustics and playing surface.

First, there’s the Linc’s open-air structure. Ideally, it would’ve been built as a dome. (To that end, if elected commissioner of the world, my first act may be to put every relevant professional and college sporting event in a dome. I digress…) Problem is, building a stadium with a roof, even a retractable one, is significantly more expensive. Pennsylvania taxpayers put up $85 million to fund the Lincoln Financial Field construction project, eventually valued at $512 million. Imagine the price tag had there been a roof.

Why a dome? It shelters you from the elements and exposes your opposition to relentless noise, both of which should translate to team success. At least in theory – the net effect is a tough to quantify. Still, Eagles fans who think the lack of rowdiness at the Linc directly impacts the scoreboard would agree, bottling up sports' most passionate fan base couldn’t hurt.

But having a roof isn’t the only way to a create stadium pulse.

Take this, from TIME Magazine, on CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks:

While the vocal cords of Seahawks fans surely deserve credit for piercing ears, so do the designers of CenturyLink Field. Even though it’s a mostly open-air stadium, the building traps noise. … Two huge canopies — one on the east side of the stadium, the other on the west side — cover 70% of the seats.

“The main thing that creates noise is any type of overhanging structure that reflects sounds back into the stadium,” says Andrew Barnard, a research associate at Penn State‘s Applied Research Laboratory, specializing in structural acoustics.

Seattle’s stadium has two additional overhangs, functioning as the bottom of the upper seating bowl, that cover the lower seating bowls. “Sound also reflects off the bottom of the upper deck, and back onto the field,” says Barnard.

Maybe the most important function of that structure:

“Fans get caught up in it,” says Stewart. “They experience an intense increase in the sound levels that they would not normally experience in an outdoor environment, and are energized by it.” As a result, they scream even louder.

Only thing sciencey about the Linc’s structure is wind turbines. Yay?

In fairness, even the Seahawks didn’t see the "12th Man" coming. The architect, Jon Niemuth, called the effect a “happy accident.” Tough to crush Jeffrey Lurie and Co. there.

The decision on the playing surface, however, is questionable. The Linc uses a reinforced natural grass surface, called DD GrassMaster, in which artificial fibers stabilize the grass blades and roots. Some great work by IgglesBlog in 2008 delves deeper, exposing the “real source” of the problem: the field’s absurd usage, given that it doubles as home of the Temple Owls and, as we learned over the summer, concerts.

But whether the grass would hold up better if not for ownership’s ambition to, you know, make money and stuff misses the point. It shouldn't have been grass at all. It should've been field turf, the same surface used in three of the four stadiums built since the Linc. (The fourth is the retractable grass inside Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium, clearly not practical for Philadelphia.) And in three of the four built before it.

Especially for a cold-weather city in a sport that, at this point, plays warm-weather football.

Even if the NFL didn’t implement the rule changes that, some say, made the NFL “the arena league” until 2005, two years after the Linc opened and four years after the financing was approved, the Eagles had a progressive, pass-first coach in 1999. They didn’t have the same speed they do now, but, for a coach/front office that insisted they didn’t need elite wide receivers to be successful, you’d think they’d do whatever they could to… enhance the effectiveness of the scrubs they trotted out there.

They didn’t. So, we have this.

On complaints that the Linc is calm, safe, well-policed: if you think this, this, this, this, this, this and this -- and this and this -- are good, swell, worth team wins, something to strive for, you have issues. You also don't seem to care too much about eradicating the stigma about Philly sports fans that's persisted for, like, ever.

As for the instability at quarterback the past few years: Even the Cardinals, fixed with the league’s most active turnstile under center (Palmer, Kolb, Skelton, Lindley, Hoyer, Bartel), have managed to go 12-7 and 5-1 in OT at home since 2011 with teams that won a flimsy. 8, 5 and, now, 3 games. At minimum, you should run into 2/3 home wins per season… on accident. That’s how awfully, marvelously bad this has been for Philly.

What’s sad is, if the Eagles still played the same brand of football they did in the early part of the decade, both points would be moot. Their defense would thrive on what may be unofficially the sloppiest field in football. (Of note, the Eagles were 30-18 in the regular season 5-2 in the playoffs under the late Jim Johnson thru 2008.) And fans would ballyhoo loud as ever, helping fuel a team that was already likely to win.

(Enrico's note: not all of us here at the Level believe the Birds should play in a dome or on turf. This is the opinion of the writer of this article, Matt.)

Follow Matt on Twitter: @MKH973 Catch him every Saturday from 12-2 on 97.3 ESPN-FM. 

 

 

2020 NHL playoffs: Standings in round robin, series updates as Flyers, Lightning eye No. 1 seed

2020 NHL playoffs: Standings in round robin, series updates as Flyers, Lightning eye No. 1 seed

The Flyers have earned at least a point against every Eastern Conference team this season except one:

The Lightning.

On Saturday at Scotiabank Arena, the Flyers will meet Tampa Bay in what has become the East's round-robin championship of the NHL's return-to-play 24-team tournament.

In the round-robin fight for top seeding, the Flyers have set themselves up well with a 4-1 victory over the Bruins and a 3-1 decision over the Capitals.

"I think it’s just important to play the right way and keep building on this momentum we’re gaining right now," Sean Couturier said in a video interview Thursday night after the Flyers' win over Washington. "We want to win, we want to finish the highest possible seed, but I think as long as we’re at our best once the real playoffs start, that’s the biggest thing."

Let's answer four questions heading into Saturday's showdown against the Lightning:

What's on the line?

The winner of the game will earn the Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed in the first round of the playoffs, while the loser will settle for the No. 2 seed.

Both seeds are obviously advantageous, but there's certainly a difference between them. The No. 1 seed will hold home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. With no fans, that distinction still holds importance because home teams are awarded the last line change in games, which can be critical to matchups when outcomes are in the balance.

Below are the current round-robin standings:

1. Lightning — 2-0-0, four points
1. Flyers — 2-0-0, four points
3. Capitals — 0-1-1, one point
4. Bruins — 0-2-0, zero points

Who could Flyers play in 1st round?

Given they will finish with either one of the East's top two seeds, the Flyers cannot face the fifth-seeded Penguins or sixth-seeded Hurricanes in the first round.

It's still possible the Flyers can face the No. 7 Islanders, No. 8 Maple Leafs, No. 9 Blue Jackets, No. 10 Panthers or No. 12 Canadiens in the first round.

If the Flyers earn the No. 1 seed, they'll meet the lowest seed to advance past the qualifying round. If they're the No. 2 seed, they'll get the second-lowest seed to advance past the qualifying round.

Here's the latest on the best-of-five qualifying series:

No. 8 Maple Leafs vs. No. 9 Blue Jackets (CBJ leads 2-1; Game 4 — Friday, 8 p.m. ET)

No. 7 Islanders vs. No. 10 Panthers (NYI leads 2-1; Game 4 — Friday, noon ET)

No. 6 Hurricanes vs. No. 11 Rangers (CAR wins 3-0)

No. 5 Penguins vs. No. 12 Canadiens (MTL leads 2-1; Game 4 — Friday, 4 p.m. ET)

When are final round-robin games?

The Flyers-Lightning round-robin game is Saturday but the start time is TBD. We'll know the time of puck drop at some point Friday.

The Capitals and Bruins finish the round robin Sunday (start time TBD).

The first round of the playoffs is scheduled to begin next Tuesday.

How do Flyers fare vs. Lightning?

Among the round-robin teams, the second-seeded Lightning were the club that gave the Flyers the most trouble in the regular season. The Flyers dropped two games in regulation to Tampa Bay — albeit one was a 1-0 defeat and the other was a chippy 5-3 loss with an empty-netter during the final 22 seconds.

The Lightning can flat-out score, putting up a league-best 3.47 goals per game during the regular season.

However, the Flyers hung with Tampa Bay in other statistical categories and didn't have trade deadline acquisitions Derek Grant or Nate Thompson during the two regular-season matchups.

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Hector Neris picks up biggest outs of young season in confidence-builder for Phillies bullpen

Hector Neris picks up biggest outs of young season in confidence-builder for Phillies bullpen

As Phillies manager Joe Girardi maneuvered his way through the middle and late innings with a beleaguered bullpen in a close game Thursday night, one thought weighed uncomfortably on his mind.

Girardi's counterpart, New York Yankees manager Aaron Boone, had decided this was the night to rest one of the most dangerous hitters on the planet. But just because Aaron Judge was out of the starting lineup didn't mean he and his lethal power bat wouldn't be a factor in the game.

Sure enough, with the Phillies desperately clinging to a one-run lead with two outs in the eighth inning and a man on third base, the hulking Judge grabbed his bat and strode toward the plate.

Girardi responded by replacing lefty reliever Jose Alvarez with right-handed closer Hector Neris.

Phillies fans beyond the centerfield gate and those watching on television held their breath.

Five pitches later, they could exhale as Neris got Judge to swing over a splitter for strike three. It was the biggest out of the young season — at least for an inning. Neris allowed a pair of two-out hits in the ninth before retiring Luke Voit on a ball to the warning track to complete a 5-4 victory over the Yankees.

The win gave the Phils a split of the four-game series with one of baseball's most powerful teams.

J.T. Realmuto and Phil Gosselin stood out with the bats and Zach Eflin pitched well in his season debut as the Phillies improved their record to 3-4. 

But the star of the game was an unlikely unit, a bullpen that had been scorched for 17 earned runs in 16⅔ innings in the early part of the season.

The 'pen was handed a 5-2 lead in the fifth inning and got 15 outs to preserve a one-run victory. Nick Pivetta allowed a two-run homer in the seventh for the bullpen's only blemish. But Pivetta did get six of the 15 outs.

Neris got four huge outs, including the strikeout of Judge, who leads the majors with seven homers and 17 RBIs in his first 12 games.

Yes, Girardi thought about having Neris walk Judge and go after Gio Urshela. But he didn't think about it for too long.

"You know, Aaron Judge, as great a hitter as he is, if you make your pitches you have a chance," Girardi said. "I thought Hector and J.T. had a great plan and they executed it."

Realmuto, the Phillies catcher, sensed that Judge would be looking for a first-pitch splitter because Neris is known for that pitch and threw it 66 percent of the time to lead off an at-bat last season. So Realmuto called for two straight fastballs then three straight splitters and it got the job done.

"That's a dangerous at-bat for any pitcher because if you make a mistake he can hit it out of the ballpark anywhere," Girardi said. "Hector was fantastic. 

"When you look at what our bullpen did tonight, they gave us five strong innings against arguably the best lineup in baseball. Just an outstanding job."

Girardi admitted that his heart may have skipped a beat when Voit launched his ball to center in the last at-bat of the game. Off the bat, it looked like it had a chance to be a three-run homer and more misery for the bullpen.

"You worry because you know how strong these guys are and how far they hit the ball," Girardi said. "But you feel a little bit better when you see your centerfielder nestle under it."

The bullpen needed a little confidence-builder after a rough start to the season. But there's not much time to savor the performance. The Braves arrive Friday night for a four-game series.

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