One of the best things about retirement is how it has already changed my love and appreciation for sports. No longer do I watch games to develop themes for our next WIP show. Now it’s back to the way I started my devotion to sports. Pure enjoyment.
What I learned in the eight months since I left radio is what I genuinely love about the games, and what I don’t.
Above all, I learned that the Eagles mean the most to me. I still root for the Phillies — especially in the playoffs — but baseball is not football. The Sixers? Meh. It’s really hard to pull for a jerk like James Harden. And I have a new-found interest in the Flyers because their president is a wonderful fellow named Keith Jones.
In my final years at WIP, I promised some of my favorite callers that we would watch an Eagles game together on TV after I retired, and I followed through this season by sharing the joys of two Eagles wins in my living room with Eagle Shirley, Arson Arnie and Kenny (Justice) from the Dirty Thirty.
Of course, even with the Eagles still undefeated (5-0), there has been lots of grumbling, especially by me. In fact, after Jalen Hurts threw an interception in the end zone late in Sunday’s LA win, Shirley actually turned to me — in my own house — and said: “Don’t say anything! Please, just keep your mouth shut!”
I did. Not long after that, we were all up screaming for joy. Most of my immediate family was there, too — as you can see from this video shot by my wife Gail just as the Eagles clinched the game. Those are three generations of fans bonding over a sports event. Life doesn’t get much better than that, especially when your team wins.
At one point late in the game, my one-year-old grandson Dutchie walked over to my recliner and motioned for me to lift him onto my lap. Soon, Shirley was screaming about something on the field, and he looked over at her in confusion. My first thought was, he must think we are all crazy. My second thought was, soon he will be joining us.
When the game was over, I switched quickly over to the post-game show on NBC Sports Philadelphia just in time to see the jubilant Eagles leaving the field in LA. Brandon Graham was laughing and hugging people. Jordan Mailata was beaming with pride after the offensive line shut out Aaron Donald (again). Nick Sirianni was justifiably overjoyed.
And then Jalen Hurts walked alone toward the locker room, stone-faced. I realized in that moment that he is my favorite Eagles quarterback ever, precisely because of that reaction. I like my franchise QBs committed to winning, to perfection. Hurts had his best game of the season in LA, but it still wasn’t good enough for him.
That’s why Dutchie’s first Eagles jersey should be No. 1, and why Hurts should be the biggest star in Philadelphia right now — Bryce Harper notwithstanding. Hurts wants to win as badly as the fans. Hurts is the embodiment of a Philadelphia sports hero.
I know, I know. There are still lots of Randall Cunningham fans, and for good reason. He was the most exciting Eagles QB ever. And there are some Donovan McNabb backers, still, though he was too weird and sensitive for my tastes. And fans are not wrong to idolize Nick Foles, who gave us the biggest gift, a Super Bowl win. But Foles was a shooting star in the Eagles galaxy. Hurts is the sun.
I’ve learned a few other things in my first eight months as a sports fan:
- Officiating is still a huge problem in all sports, most notably baseball and football. The refs nearly handed Washington a win two weeks ago with a couple of bogus holding calls against the Eagles. And how many umps are going to miss ball-and-strike calls before baseball fixes the problem with technology?
- Nick Sirianni drives me nuts. His insistence that it was a good idea to throw for a touchdown late in regulation against the Commanders rather than running out the clock and kicking a game-winning field goal was ludicrous. But then he will be losing it on the sideline, screaming at officials or celebrating a big play, and all is forgiven. Nick is one of us. That’s one of the biggest compliments a coach in Philadelphia could ever get.
- I root harder against no one than Jonathan Gannon, whose head-coaching career is off to a 1-4 start. In some eyes, his Cardinals are outperforming expectations. Not in mine. He owes Philadelphia a Super Bowl. If I were on the air now, I would still be hammering him every day. I am really good at holding grudges.
- Has anybody noticed how similar Rob Thomson is to the last Phillies manager to win a World Series, Charlie Manuel? Like Charlie, Rob has the respect of the clubhouse. Players love playing for him. And also like Manuel, Thomson is not very good at thinking on his feet. His pre-programming of the bullpen is annoying, and it shows a lack of confidence in making the best move in the moment, not just the one supported by analytics. (On the other hand, Thomson is still a vast improvement over the robot he replaced, Joe Girardi.)
- Cris Collinsworth is the worst national broadcaster in the past half-century. I should know. I’ve been around, monitoring these guys, for all that time. I also worked for two years with one of the best network analysts, Tom Brookshier. Next time you’re watching an NBC Sunday night game, just listen to Collinsworth for a few minutes. The pattern is unmistakable. After each play, Collinsworth does a speech about how great one of the players is. The themes are all the same. The guy is unappreciated, he’s doing things never done before, he’s the perfect teammate, he’s a candidate for sainthood. Does anybody at NBC actually pay attention to this dolt? Does anybody care? Thank God for the mute button.