Very Different Collapses

Very Different Collapses


     The hardest I have rooted for a local team since the magical run of the 2017 Eagles has been the Flyers over the past few months, for one very obvious reason. I desperately want my old radio partner, Keith Jones, to succeed as president of our long-forgotten hockey team.

     When the Flyers collapsed during a nauseating seven-game losing streak, I experienced a weird mixture of feelings. I was devastated that they couldn’t defy the odds and make the playoffs, but also not at all surprised that they flopped at the most inopportune time. (Technically, the Flyers are not eliminated yet, but they look dead to me.)

     If you’re keeping track at home, this is two consecutive Philadelphia sports seasons ruined by last-season implosions. Need I remind anyone of what happened to the Eagles, who went from 10-1 to 11-7 after getting demolished by Tampa Bay, 32-9, in first round of the playoffs?

     Rhea Hughes used to remind me all the time – except in 2008 and 2017, of course – that Philadelphia sports fans don’t get to have nice things. I see her point. But two collapses like this, back to back? It seems unfair. It seems downright mean.

      Well, take heart, Philadelphia. The best way to get over disappointment – something our city is all too familiar with – is to understand whom to blame. I know I always feel better when I can point my finger at the villains and vent my frustration.

      The Eagles collapse was a failure of one man above all others – head coach Nick Sirianni, who was oblivious of the decline in performance even while the Eagles were amassing some shaky wins, but who had no answers once the freefall started. From my perspective, he was unmasked as a figurehead for a front office that is nowhere near as savvy as it thinks it is.

      Even now, a year into retirement, I found myself in a public spat over this very point at a Villanova sports symposium on April 5. Who wants to guess with whom I had this loud disagreement?

     Time is up.

     Howard Eskin.

     Ironically, our difference of opinion happened during an otherwise surprisingly friendly panel on the way the media is changing in these turbulent times. I acknowledged publicly that Howard is truly a pioneer in Philadelphia sports talk, offering a blend of bold commentary and raucous entertainment.

     But when I said, not so innocently, that I would have called for the firing of Sirianni with three games left in the regular season, Howard jumped to the coach’s defense. Eskin argued that Nick never lost the locker room. He said the roster wasn’t good enough. And so on.

     Then I countered with my belief that Howard’s opinions about the Eagles are compromised by his presence on the sidelines during games. (He reports, very effectively, from that perch during the radio broadcast.)

     Eskin’s protests notwithstanding, I am convinced that Sirianni showed a lack of leadership and an even greater void of creativity at a crisis point in his three-year tenure as Eagles head coach. It seems inevitable to me that the Eagles will falter again next season and that Sirianni will beat a hasty exit from Philadelphia.

     If he couldn’t win with a Super-Bowl team of the previous season and a leadership corps including Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham, how is he going to win without Kelce and Cox next year?

     A sharp contrast to Sirianni’s floundering winter of discontent has been the performance of Flyers coach John Tortorella, to whom I assign none of the blame for the demise of this season.

     Unlike Sirianni, who just kept babbling about how the playoffs were a whole new season, Tortorella held his players accountable, by name, before and during the collapse. He even benched his captain, Sean Couturier, in the final month to send a signal to the players that no one was safe. (Couturier is not a leader anyway; he gets hurt too often for that role.)

     The Flyers were not good enough this season, but they took a major stride forward by playing important games in the final weeks of the season. Tortorella got all he could get out of an inexperienced team missing arguably its best player, goalie Carter Hart, because of still-pending sexual-assault charges.

     When Sirianni wasn’t making lame excuses for his choking team, he was failing to address the most obvious flaws. Over-the-hill cornerback James Bradberry singlehandedly lost the game in Seattle on the final drive, and yet, there he was, starting the next game against the Giants anyway. He became a target for every offense the rest of the season. Rarely was he ever sent to the sideline.

      My record as a prognosticator is shaky, at best, but I see two of our Philadelphia franchises going in opposite directions, despite their eerily similar collapses.

      The Flyers will make the playoffs next season. They will learn from the collapse. The Eagles will be lucky to win seven games next year. They do not have the coach to bring them back.

      Hey, I hope Howard Eskin was right and I am wrong. I hope Sirianni is a good coach who had a bad couple of months.

      But I doubt it.

      I think the Eagles’ collapse will be fatal.

      And I think the Flyers’ collapse is the first step to a better future.


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