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Where has all the leadership gone?

October 5, 2010 1 comment

What do sports and Andy Reid have in common? They have no idea how to stick to a plan.

This game was supposed to be about McNabb returning to play against the Eagles. It was supposed to be about the cheers and the boos. It was supposed to be about Michael Vick reminding us we can forget Donovan. But sports don’t know how to follow the scripts the commentators write ahead of the game, that’s why tens of thousands show up at the stadium and millions watch on their TV sets.

It might as well be the signal for "Are you F-ing kidding me?"

For me, all the storylines and hype became moot right before halftime when I watched a team fail to run a play in time, after that time included a lengthy booth review and a timeout. Under that circumstance, it would have been more pleasurable for the crowd to hear nails on a chalkboard played over the P.A. system than the official’s delay of game announcement.

My reaction was unruly. It included an involuntary disregard for the children in the row behind me.

After dealing with my own bewilderment for a moment or two, while Andy Reid scrapped whatever stupid-ass play he couldn’t even figure out how to call, I thought about how guys like LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson must feel about this incompetence. How can they take the coaches for serious leaders? Maybe they can excuse their generals once and a while, but week after week?

At halftime, I realized that was the new storyline being written by this game, at least the way I was reading it from my seats in the Linc.

The moment Vick stumbled off the field, so too did the team’s identity. Once Vick disappeared into the locker room, all sense of leadership on that field disappeared with him. The emergence of Vick included the rise of a swagger and confidence that the club started carrying to back its arsenal of talent.

Andy Reid watching his team's identity go down with an injury

Reid has established a fine legacy here, as the years of success have been rightfully associated with his tenure at the helm. But it’s becoming clear that McNabb helped mask Reid’s identity for both good and ill. His performance undoubtedly bailed out the head coach’s shortcomings at times, and the QB’s failures rightfully shouldered plenty of the criticisms.

But thousands of undistracted eyes are now fixated on Reid in a way they’ve never been before. Only he remains as a figure from those glorious years, so we’ve naturally put our trust in him to know what to do with the young talent on the team. Yet he continues to have no management of his group, and his fellow coaches don’t seem to be helping out at all. It has become clearer by the Sunday, that Jim Johnson was the game breaker on the sidelines during the Eagles stretch of success.

JJ’s defense used to insert fear into the middle of opposing offenses’ game plans. Fans took to him more than your average coordinator, because it was obvious that the fan base had confidence in his preparation and his control of the game. We’re an astute group here in Philly, any national broadcaster will concede that. I think we were on to something, and now we miss Jim Johnson immensely. At this point, I’d consider placing Johnson’s tombstone on the sideline with a headset on it in favor of Sean McDermott as defensive coordinator.

Has anyone recently had success with a séance?

Once Vick exited, it was time for Reid to rescue the game, but his questionable judgment as a decision-maker and evaluator of talent became immediately re-exposed. Without Vick there to bail him out, we got another look at Kevin Kolb.

Even those who argue that Kolb did what he had to do, getting back in the game by taking what the defense gave him, getting one Jason Avant snag away from winning, their tone admits he did a serviceable job. He was given an ideal chance to redeem himself. McDermott and the D actually got their shit together enough to stop giving up points. Kolb was afforded one opportunity after another to put points on the board. But what some are calling a smart, conservative approach that he took, I am calling a struggle.

How many times have we heard the coaching staff say Kolb can make every throw? How many times have we heard the Sal Paolantonio’s of the Eagles media world regurgitate the confidence the Eagles staff has in Kolb? Sal, when are you going to start to distrust a staff that can’t even make a goal line play call within a five minute time span? Could it be that Kolb can only make the throws at the NovaCare complex? Why couldn’t he make the throw to Jackson who got open deep with a move toward the sideline late in the game? Ok, maybe he does make that throw next time, but what good is it if he doesn’t SEE it next time? Maclin was open deep on more than one occasion in the fourth quarter, and Kolb didn’t even look his way. I did, however, see him pass the ball through a defender’s hands a couple times, so at least he’s got that throw down pat.

I would not give up on Kolb completely right now, but the idea of turning the franchise over to him is becoming scarier than any haunted house I will be visiting on Halloween. Kolb came into a very similar situation as Vick did in Week 1, and he came in against a defense with half the intimidation as the Packers. Whereas it took Vick five ticks of the clock to wow me, Kolb did little to impress in three full quarters. I want to like Kolb, because the media and his teammates talk of him as a fighter and a fiery competitor. He had a golden chance to redeem himself and strut his stuff. But he looked like a drone under center more than a commander.

It’s too bad, because Kolb could have written a post game script worthy of a Pulitzer. Instead, we wound up with a story we’ve all read so many times before.

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Ad Finem Fidelis

October 4, 2010 1 comment

Ad finem fidelis: Faithful to the end. It’s the slogan of the Sons of Ben, the Philadelphia Union supporters club, which faithfully chanted, cheered, and derided the opposition on Saturday, as they loyally watched their team’s playoff hopes come to an end.

After attending the inaugural game at PPL Park in June, and sharing my thoughts on my first MLS experience and the state of American soccer in my piece for Culture Blues, I promised myself I’d see a game from the fan section before season’s end. The constant standing, singing, and generic rowdiness seemed like it would suit my style of game attendance more than the docile, first-row midfield seats that allowed me to get an up-close look at how much worse these players are than the Europeans.

Certainly a decent crowd, but noticeable empty seats on a picture perfect day

I had a lot of hope that day though. The stands were full and a buzz definitely hovered over the pitch. But this Saturday’s beautiful sun was gleaming off chunks of empty seats around the stadium. I stayed on my feet all game, learning the verses of various cheers, including my favorite one expressing disapproval of the officiating:

Who’s your father? Who’s your father? Who’s your father, referee?

You don’t got one, never had one, you’re a bastard referee.

As much as the supporters section was a good bit of fun, I expected to stick out there. I thought I’d be the only idiot who didn’t know all the songs by heart. I expected to have to fight through a gauntlet of team flags, supporter scarves and clouds of smoke to reach my seat. From my other seats in June, it looked like a reenactment of the Revolutionary War was taking place in that section. But empty seats showed their bare bottoms,  and the environment was tame enough for me and my buddy to have a lengthy conversation about fantasy football keeper league rules. I was only there because a season-ticket holder, supposedly ad finem fidelis, sold me his tickets to the game because he couldn’t make it. Devotion made an appearance at the stadium, but it’s going to take a while for diehard dedication to make its presence felt.

Sons of Ben members offer to throw the opponent in the river behind them

Nevertheless, a certain team tradition is being forged. Nearly everyone in the crowd donned a slick blue and gold Union kit or some other official team apparel. The DirecTV blimp was capturing aerial footage of all this, and frankly I was pleasantly surprised that this game was deemed blimp-worthy.

If you aren’t sure you’re interested enough to get a pair of seats for a game, I’d say observing the crowd at Union contest is worth the price of admission, which, by the way, was only $70 total for two seats and a parking pass on Saturday. The demographic at PPL Park truly distinguishes itself from any other stadium crowd in the city. The experience begins with the drive up to the stadium and the awkwardness of cruising through the floods of white folk walking around the depressingly dilapidated black Chester neighborhood. The irony will raise your eyebrows as you make your way to the parking lot.

Once you’re inside the stadium corridors, it’s easy to be taken aback by the diversity within the practically all-white crowd. There’s more tatted up pale skin in the PPL stands than there is at a Northern Liberties community event. The hipsters are mixed in among the affluent yuppies who grew up with special soccer channels on their cable packages and spent semesters abroad taking in the world’s favorite game. Splice in a young dad who is explaining the British term “wanker” to his little-league playing daughter and that gives you an idea of the group that is embracing the new team in town.

It all makes for an entertaining scene, and it can be more interesting than the product on the field at times. But unless the whole crowd is willing to be ad finem fidelis, attending games in season two may not be quite as much fun.

The supporters section on its feet all game long

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