Rob's Raves: A classy, passionate weekend from Philly sports fans

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Rob's Raves: A classy, passionate weekend from Philly sports fans

This space is usually reserved for my rants. I’ll sound off on things that have my ire that took place in the world of sports and beyond. They usually pertain to the Philadelphia sports scene. Truth be told, it’s therapeutic for me to let it out. Well, no counseling session or venting needed this week. There is just too much good to throw verbal darts. The Rants will be on hiatus for the moment, though I can’t promise they won’t return later in the week. But for now, we’re all about the love in this week’s Rob’s Raves.

It was a pretty amazing showing by the Philadelphia sports fans on both coasts. Let’s start on the west side, where a green wave engulfed Carson, California. Eagles fans always travel well, but the combination of a trip to Cali, an indifferent fan base in L.A., at best, and a small venue turned the StubHub Center into Philadelphia West. Birds fans took over. Whether you watched on television or listened on the radio, you knew regardless of geography, that was an Eagles home game. And it was not unnoticed by the team’s players and coaches. 

The fans were as dominant as the Birds' running attack. 

From Carson to University City, more specifically the hallowed halls of The Palestra. The Sixers held a Blue-White scrimmage there Sunday on Penn’s campus and they sold it out. I don’t care if the tickets were free — to get nearly 9,000 people to show up for an in-squad scrimmage speaks to a couple of things. First, this fan base is ravenous for this Sixers team. Home games are going to have playoff atmospheres night in and night out this season. There will be a distinct home-court advantage at the Wells Fargo Center. Second, it just furthers how in-tune and passionate the Philadelphia fans are in general. Not to mention the timing was perfect — the scrimmage tipped off at 1 p.m. and the Eagles kicked off at 4:05.        

We can’t forget about Phillies fans. The club finished with the third-worst record in baseball and the first half of their season was beyond miserable. But thanks to a much-needed and in some cases way-too-late infusion of youth, they not only started winning more but dare I say it, also became fun to watch.

On Friday, GM Matt Klentak and the organization decided that Pete Mackanin was not their guy going forward to manage the team. Mackanin inherited some of the worst rosters in modern baseball history in his two-plus seasons in Philadelphia. As a result, his teams lost a lot of games. But when Nick Williams and Rhys Hoskins and guys who could actually play came up, a funny thing happened — they started to win. The club finished the second half 37-38 after going 28-58 in the first half with the likes of Michael Saunders and Brock Stassi. Mackanin presented the lineup card Sunday in his last game as skipper and as he emerged from the dugout to walk to home plate, he received a standing ovation from the Philadelphia faithful.

Class personified by the fans.   

Ground and pound
While the love fest rolls on we must give some to Doug Pederson. I, for one, have been critical of Pederson's pass-run balance or lack thereof in the past. The Chiefs game was a low point. But credit Pederson with seeing the error of his ways and not only gaining some balance but also committing in a big way to the run game. The last two weeks, the Birds have run the ball 81 times for 407 yards. Not coincidentally, they won both games and Carson Wentz has not thrown an interception during that time span.

The 6-minute, 44-second drive to close out the Chargers game was a masterpiece. L.A. knew what was coming and still couldn’t stop the Eagles' ground attack. Credit the offensive line and the backs for executing in a big way. But kudos go to the play-caller, Pederson, for his commitment. He dialed up a great game against the Chargers.

How 'bout 'dem ...
OK, I couldn’t help myself. I was getting a little too syrupy. As if the Eagles' winning and going to 3-1 on the season wasn’t sweet enough for the fans, you had the exacta of a Cowboys loss and Giants collapse late Sunday afternoon. New York is winless and its season is over. The Cowboys are now 2-2 and just one loss shy of their total from all of last season. Dallas lost at home to a Rams team that is vastly improved but still won just four games last year. 

In addition to the Eagles' 3-1 start, the Flyers and Sixers are both undefeated. Indeed, these are good times in Philadelphia sports.

Greg Ward still learning wide receiver position after great college career at quarterback

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Greg Ward still learning wide receiver position after great college career at quarterback

Greg Ward threw more touchdown passes in college than Carson Wentz and had a higher career passer rating than Nick Foles. 

These days, his job is catching passes, not throwing them. 

It’s quite a transition from big-time NCAA Division 1 quarterback to NFL wide receiver, but at 5-foot-11, 185 pounds, the former Houston Cougar knows where his future is.

Ward spent all of last year on the Eagles’ practice squad, learning the nuances of a new position and figuring out how to think like a receiver instead of a quarterback. 

He looked surprisingly polished at wide out in training camp, caught nine passes for 63 yards in the preseason and then spent the season focusing on getting better.

“I still haven’t 100 percent gotten the position,” Ward said after a recent rookie camp practice. “I always feel like I can get better, always feel like I can learn something new, feel like there’ll always be something to improve on. 

“Last year was a big year for me. Just learning a new position, learning football period, learning from Alshon (Jeffery), Torrey (Smith) and Nelson (Agholor), it was a very important year for me.

“Just gathering every bit of information I could watching those guys practice and watching them in games and then learning how to apply what you’ve learned to your game.”

Ward never did get a chance to play, but he said he felt himself getting better as the year went along.

“Everybody wants to play,” said Ward, who led Houston to a Peach Bowl win over No. 9 Florida State in Atlanta at the end of his junior year. 

“You’re a competitor, that’s why we all do this. But I was humbled and thankful just to be on a Super Bowl team. Just to be in the NFL period. Some guys aren’t able to play football at all. I’m just grateful to be on a football team. 

“But this is not the end of my story. I am going to get out there and I am going to play.”

Ward was with the Eagles during their postseason run and he was there in Minneapolis for the Super Bowl.

He used every moment, every day, as an opportunity to improve. Even if nobody could see it happening.

“The biggest thing I learned was just being patient, just being humble,” he said. “Our team last year, there was nobody that was selfish. Nobody who thought they were bigger than anybody else. I learned patience and the importance of doing extra. Getting extra work, studying more, watching more film. That’s what it takes to win a championship.”

The Eagles have quite a crowd at wide receiver, with Jeffery, Agholor and Mack Hollins back, Wallace and Markus Wheaton in the fold and guys like Bryce Treggs, Shelton Gibson and Rashard Davis all also in the mix.

But Ward doesn’t concern himself with the numbers.

“The next step for me is to separate myself,” he said. "As a competitor, especially coming from being undrafted, you have to separate yourself. You have to be different. 

“You have to catch whoever’s eye it is, head coach, position coach, catch everybody’s eyes. They have to see value in you. That’s where I am right now. Trying to separate myself.”

How long will it take?

“I’m leaving that up to God,” he said. “I know I’m putting in the hard work and I know one day it will pay off. I know that day will come.”

Jay Ajayi's publicist denies Eagles' RB trashed an L.A. mansion

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Jay Ajayi's publicist denies Eagles' RB trashed an L.A. mansion

Eagles running back Jay Ajayi is strongly denying accusations made in a lawsuit that he trashed a Los Angeles house after the Super Bowl (see story)

The lawsuit, as reported by TMZ earlier this week, accuses Ajayi of throwing three parties at the L.A. mansion he was renting even after the owner told him not to. Ajayi is being charged $25,000 by the owner. 

Shortly after the story broke on Monday, a representative for Ajayi claimed the lawsuit was bogus. 

Now, we have an even stronger detail from Ajayi’s camp. 

Ajayi’s publicist Melanie Wadden told the Miami Herald that Ajayi didn’t throw any parties and caused no damage to the property. 

Additionally, Wadden denied the home owner’s claim that Ajayi pushed him in a menacing manner after confronting him.

“Jay was not involved in any physical altercations,” she said. 

Ajayi’s publicist also told the Herald that Ajayi was a guest and not the renter and the owner wanted the group to pay cash instead of through Airbnb. 

"The entire group voluntarily left the property several days early — no security or police were ever involved or on-site," Wadden said. "They filed a complaint against the owner through Airbnb back in February that included screenshots of the owner asking for cash and trying to communicate outside of their platform [against Airbnb policy]."

Ajayi, who came to the Eagles in the middle of last season in a trade, has one year left on his current contract.