Tag Archives: Penn State Football

Sad Eagles-Seahawks Haiku

When I used to cover Penn State, I found that a few of my better game stories came after emotional losses. They were a team playing with nothing to lose. Victories were fun, but defeats were — for me at least — easy to shake off given the situation they were facing.

Unfortunately, the Eagles — my first love — produce different emotions, and trying to throw something together about that game is proving to be difficult.

Ten days ago, it felt like the Eagles were on top of the world. and the defending Super Bowl champions sent them crashing back down to earth. Thanks to a muffed punt and some gutsy play-calling by Chip Kelly, the Eagles took a 7-0 lead.

The euphoric feeling quickly evaporated though as they would only score seven more points throughout the day as Russell Wilson did Russell Wilson things en route to 24 for the Seahawks.

Some less than stellar officiating may have helped them get to 24, but the Eagles were so thoroughly dominated on the stat sheet that I don’t feel I can devote a ton of space to bashing officials without pointing out the lopsided numbers.

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Not pictured in that screenshot is that Doug Baldwin, a rather pedestrian wide receiver, had more receiving yards than the entire Eagles team. After playing an efficient game in Dallas, Mark Sanchez never truly looked comfortable.

This was the lowest point total for the Eagles in a game since their last regular season home loss — against the Giants on October 27 last year — and it may have been the most out of sync the offense has looked since then, save for maybe the 49ers game earlier this season.

The Eagles were outplayed in a lot of areas and shown how far their quarterback and secondary play still needs to progress before they can hang with the Seahawks, and yet there are some plays and moments where it’s hard not to wonder ‘What if?’

The ineligible Seahawks lineman downfield on their first touchdown drive that wasn’t called, the ill-advised timeout with a minute remaining in the second quarter, the pass that sailed through the hands of Zach Ertz early in the fourth quarter, and last but certainly not least, the Malcolm Jenkins dropped interception later on in the fourth quarter.

Ultimately, the Eagles are EXACTLY where I expected them to be after 13 games of this season. What I did not expect is some other teams like the Cowboys and Lions to have the exact same record. The NFC playoff picture is really tight, and 9-4 doesn’t go as far as it may have in past seasons.

It is still very likely the Eagles find themselves in the NFC playoff field. It will be a near certainty should they beat Dallas again next Sunday, this time at the Linc where they are 6-1 on the season, but rather than playing for a complete division clinch and a potential inside track on a first round bye, both are a bit dicier than they would have been with a statement victory today.

Like most losses, today really sucked, but it wasn’t a death sentence, just a wake-up call, and we’ll all feel more awake after we beat Dallas at home on Sunday night next week.

Let’s hit the haiku, win the game next week, and check on the health of Nicky Foles.

Refs bad Sanchez worse

Outclassed by Russell Wilson

Trust Chip after loss

Revisiting a Five-Part Penn State-Ohio State Series I Did Two Years Ago

(Photo credit Dave Cole/Onward State)

In what seems like a bit of an anticlimactic buildup compared to past seasons, Penn State plays Ohio State at Beaver Stadium this Saturday night.

It will mark the first 8 p.m. kick time in State College in nearly four years, and it will be my first time back in Happy Valley in more than six months.

My first few trips back as an alum felt a little weird, but I am looking forward to being reunited with some real life friends and turning Twitter friends into real friends, something that has sort of become a regular activity for me. To be honest, I have barely thought about the actual game.

Unlike the past two seasons, Ohio State does not enter undefeated, and Penn State does not head into the matchup with any momentum as the underdog. Most folks — myself included — are expecting a comfortable Buckeyes victory, but this matchup has featured its share of classics and will again someday, even if that is a few years away.

Back in 2012 when I covered the team for Onward State, I did a five-part series leading in to the Ohio State game that counted down the top five games in the rivalry from a Nittany Lions perspective.

The stories featured extensive game summaries and interviews with fans in attendance who were present for the trilling moments in both State College and Columbus. I thought it might be fun to look back on that series if a little college football history is your thing.

You can read all five parts linked below:

Counting Down the Most Memorable Penn State-Ohio State Games: 2001

Counting Down the Most Memorable PSU-OSU Games: 1997

Counting Down the Most Memorable Penn State-Ohio State Games: 1994

Counting Down the Most Memorable PSU-OSU Games: 2008

Counting Down the Most Memorable PSU-OSU Games: 2005

Four Years Later: How I Got Yelled at By Bill O’Brien

(Photo credit Dave Cole/Onward State)

Editor’s Note: Today marks the four-year anniversary of me being yelled at by Bill O’Brien, simultaneously one of the greatest and most embarrassing moments of my life. This post detailing how it happened was first published two years ago in an attempt to chronicle the moment.

We now relive it every year in its original unedited format on October 16th and hope you enjoy the story below.

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Seeing Bill O’Brien’s uber-intense face appear on my TV every Sunday is met with a strange emotion of shock and awe these days.

It feels pretty surreal that a guy who not so long ago sat less than 10 feet away from me answering questions is now making millions in the most powerful league in the world.

During my year and a half covering Penn State football, I never had any real one-on-one conversations with the man who at the time was saving the program. He made it a point not to get too close to students. I once tried to email him directly after I was unable to get a final question in during a media scrum and was met with a quick reply from his PR man essentially saying ‘Please do not attempt this again.’

O’Brien knew my face, but he didn’t know my name, and there is absolutely no chance he remembers me, but today marks the two-year anniversary of the greatest interaction I ever had with the man.

Whenever I am presented with a situation where I need to state a couple fun facts about myself, I usually include ‘Bill O’Brien once yelled at me.” It was one of the most embarrassing moments of my life, but it was also one of the best.

A lot of folks who were not present for it have asked me how it happened, and I believe this is the best medium to fully tell the story.

As previously mentioned, the date was October 16, 2012. It was a Tuesday, which meant it was the day O’Brien had his weekly press conference with reporters in the Beaver Stadium media room.

O’Brien never particularly wanted to be at these things, understandably so. His time was better spent watching tape or carrying out the other core responsibilities that are attached to being a college football coach.

There were some Tuesdays where he was pretty tight-lipped, but if you caught him in a decent mood coming off a nice victory, he would be good for a couple of jokes and good answers.

For a guy who didn’t enjoy the media spotlight, O’Brien was incredibly well-spoken. He had an amusing habit of using the verbal filler ‘sure’ before responding to most questions and would sometimes cut a reporter off if he could predict the end of a question before it was completely out of the person’s mouth.

That last point will be important later, but before going back to that day’s press conference, some background information and context is needed.

Penn State was coming off a bye week, and many professional media members had gone away for a quick vacation. For students like myself, it was a time to just be college kids and get a break from the grind of the season.

The next two paragraphs are about as #college as things get. On Tuesdays, I normally had one class in the morning. O’Brien spoke around 12:30, and then I had two classes later in the day, but on this particular fall Tuesday, my first class had been cancelled a few days in advance meaning I had nothing pressing to do all morning.

My friend Kevin and I took advantage of this and went out on a Monday Night. This was not a particularly uncommon thing during senior year of college, but we were still drinking at a bar when it closed at 2 a.m. and were pretty well taken care of from some Long Island Iced Teas by then. Fun night.

I took advantage of the opportunity to semi-sleep in the next morning, and the first thing I remember upon waking up around 9 a.m. is hopping on Twitter and seeing CSN Philly’s Reuben Frank break the news that Juan Castillo had been fired from his job as Eagles defensive coordinator.

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Not to veer to off topic but quick word on Castillo: He was a good man and a good offensive line coach. A true ‘started from the bottom now we here’ story. Castillo had made a life for himself after growing up poor, but he was in over his head as a defensive coordinator, put in an awful position as a result of Andy Reid having Andy Reid’d harder than he had ever Andy Reid’d before. It was destined to end poorly, and it did.

I spent about an hour following Eagles stuff, knocked out a quick homework assignment, and then started to prepare for this press conference.

Penn State had won four straight games after beginning the season 0-2. It had been an exhausting but really fun seven weeks covering the team. I like to think I am a pretty hard worker, but at that point, I am not sure I had ever worked so hard at something in my life. The way I saw it, I wrote for four main reasons:

  1. It was fun — People should always do things that they find to bring them a sense of enjoyment and utility. I liked writing about sports and felt like I was pretty good at it.
  2. People liked reading my stuff — Through social media, I had built up trust and credibility with a core audience who generally enjoyed what I had to say.
  3. For Onward State — I took pride in the outlet I wrote for and always wanted to represent them well.
  4. Because my haters wanted me to fail — There were a couple professional guys who thought I was too young and too inexperienced to do what they were doing. They didn’t think I could hang with them over the course of the season. I knew I could and was doing it. That made it all the more rewarding, but more than that, the reason I put in that work is because two people in particular wanted me to fail. I went all out so at the end of the day I could publish compelling content and say ‘Hey Devon, Hey Dan, I’m better than you, and all three of us know it. Deal with it.”

I didn’t break a ton of news (although we would get a big one in late November), and there was of course room for improvement, but my stuff was usually solid.

Press conferences always made me nervous though. Some national people would tune in and you didn’t want to look stupid in front of your colleagues.

Up until this point, I had avoided that. I occasionally got a one-word “No” from O’Brien and never really had a back-and-forth with him like some veteran guys did, but I asked questions that I thought were relevant and fair and could benefit not only me but others in the room too.

The way these things work are that non-present reporters ask questions over the phone first. When they are done, two microphones are available, and you raise your hand for some intern to bring one of the microphones to your seat. Everyone pretty much sits in identical seats on a week-to-week basis with most of the students to the right of the room and non-students more on the left.

One of my biggest fears was always that my question would get asked when I was holding the other microphone, leaving you with nothing. To guard against this, I always wrote out about 10 potential questions/topics. The breakdown was something like: one question I absolutely wanted to ask if no one else did, two or three backups that i thought would be good, two or three backups to those backups, and a few that wouldn’t be great but were there should I need them.

An example of my laptop screen or notepad would have looked something like:

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From those notes, it is not obvious, but Penn State was playing at Iowa that weekend, and to some of the seniors on the team, it was a really big deal. In both 2008 and 2009, Iowa had ruined undefeated seasons of good Nittany Lion squads that had national championship aspirations. Although O’Brien and most of his staff were not there to witness it, Kinnick Stadium had been a house of horrors for Penn State throughout the twenty-first century.

You could probably go as far as to say that Penn State hated Iowa. Senior cornerback Stephon Morris, the most interesting player I ever spent time around, said exactly that the night before.

Hence, the top topic saying ‘Morris tweet.’ If memory serves, Morris’ tweet was deleted, and a deep fishing expedition has yielded no results in its search. More on that is coming though, I promise.

Providing other teams with bulletin board material was never in O’Brien’s nature, and he spent part of the opening portion of his press conference talking up a pretty bad Iowa team. In addition to keeping his players grounded, O’Brien was friends with Iowa assistant Brian Ferentz, son of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz from their time together with the Patriots.

O’Brien was smart to do what he did, but his message just wasn’t completely true. There were players on the team who had stronger feelings of hatred toward Iowa than they did toward Ohio State or Michigan. As the press conference proceeded on, I looked over my notes along with the different features and players I had honed in on over the first half of the season.

Nothing new or particularly useful was emerging from here other than coach-speak about Iowa. A few of my other question ideas had been asked, and I decided it was worth a shot.

I raised my hand while O’Brien was answering some other question, and the communications assistant nodded. Ten seconds later, the microphone was in my right hand.

In this type of setting, you want to maintain your cool externally, but my legs always shook like jello a bit in the time between holding the mic and actually saying something.

In my head I briefly wondered if I should change my mind and go with something else, knowing from the past he would normally not entertain social media related questions too much, once playfully referring to Facebook and Twitter as “Spacebook and Tweeter.”

If he thought you were trying to trick him, he could get pretty defensive, but why would anyone try to trick a Brown-educated coach who was the smartest guy in the room?

Nah, this needs to be asked, let’s do it.

I ran through the question in my head while O’Brien answered the one before me.

Stephon Morris said on Twitter last night in regards to Iowa, ‘we hate them, they hate us’. Being around your players this week, do you sense any extra animosity that they have towards Iowa given the recent history of the rivalry?

Great, all set.

O’Brien was now completely finished with the previous question. I looked up. Go time.

‘Bill, Stephon Morris said on Twitter last night in regards to Iowa, ‘we hate them, they hate us.’ Being around…

By this point, O’Brien’s typical focused demeanor had given way to a look that more resembled exasperation. I attempted to continue with the next few words…your players this…

I was still holding the microphone, but that is as far as the question would get. O’Brien jumped in, his voice much louder than mine:

“YOU KNOW WHAT I HATE? I HATE TWITTER.”

From there, he launched into a 30-second mini-rant about college athletes and social media. His full response can be viewed below along with video beginning right around the 10-minute mark.

Do you know what I hate? I hate Twitter. I think these guys are young guys, and I think “Tweet this, Spacebook that.” Whatever. We’ve got to go play the game. We don’t have any hatred for Iowa. We respect Iowa. We have a tremendous amount of respect for their football program and for how they play the game, for how they’re coached, and we have a tremendous amount of respect for their coaching staff and their players and the longevity of Coach Ferentz at Iowa and the amount of wins he had his 100th win last week. Just done a great job there. So there’s a lot of respect there. I think that’s just young guys Tweeting this, twitting that, and that’s how it works, I guess.

The beginning of the response elicited laughter from a lot of people there. I tried to go with it and smile, but still holding the microphone, I was in a state of shock.

Did that really just happen? Holy shit, there’s still six games left in the season. I’m here for another eight months. I gotta cover this guy. He’s going to hate me.

Those were all thoughts that raced through my head at the speed of light. When I looked over the transcript and played the recording back later that day, I had to pay specific attention to the few questions that followed because I must have completely tuned them out.

Immediately, I began to wonder if there was something I could have done differently to solicit a response that didn’t involve him yelling at me. Maybe, if I had framed it in a slightly more general way without him hearing the word “Twitter,” he answers in a different way.

I had no intentions of riling him up and wasn’t trying to spark controversy, just thought it was a valid question at the time.

Some media folks tweeted about it right away. The quote made its way into a few local stories and even one or two national headlines. My roommates heard about it from Twitter and gave me a hard time about it later that day. The whole thing even found its way to Morris (Sorry if you had to run extra laps that day after practice, Stephon).

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I mentioned it briefly in a story the following day but made it more about preparing for Iowa than myself, so two years later, I’m taking the time to depict the whole scene from a personal perspective.

Penn State rolled over Iowa that Saturday. The next Monday, I went on an ESPN show to talk about the upcoming game against Ohio State. I was somewhat nervous that following Tuesday, but for the rest of the season, he answered whatever I asked.

O’Brien always enjoyed poking a little fun at the media but knew a lot of professional folks by name, and there was a general belief that as much as he disliked doing these things, he respected people who came prepared and took their jobs seriously.

My final interaction with him occurred the following summer in Chicago at Big Ten Media Days. Fittingly perhaps, it was social media related. Another reporter asked him if he was aware of a parody Twitter account called @evilbillobrien that much of the Nittany Lions community followed and enjoyed.

O’Brien laughed and joked ‘I think Evil Bill needs to turn down the rhetoric a bit.’ For as much as he liked to play dumb at times when it came to stuff like this, he was very savvy and knew exactly what was going on.

We were all seated at a roundtable and the mood was pretty loose, a decent contrast to a typical podium press conference. O’Brien pointed at one of his younger PR people and said ‘I think it’s him doing it.’

Good guess but nope. I had met the actual person a couple times and after a few seconds of silence, I chimed in.

“Bill, I don’t want to ruin it for you, but I actually know who he is if you’d like to know.”

“You know the guy? That’s awesome.”

O’Brien’s session wrapped up within the next five minutes. I returned from Chicago and moved out of State College. Four months later, so did he, leaving Penn State after two successful seasons to coach the Houston Texans.

While I doubt he remembers this and never really knew me, those 45 seconds are engrained in me forever, a moment I will never forget and am always quick to bring up when I think people might find it to be entertaining as I did.

You were great, Bill. Thanks for yelling at me two years ago. Go lose to the Eagles in the Super Bowl now so I can tweeter about it.

You Asked for a Sam Ficken Kickoff Distance Tracker/Contest A La Cody Parkey so We Gave You a Sam Ficken Kickoff Distance Tracker/Contest

(Photo credit Dave Cole/Onward State)

We like to listen to our community here whenever possible.

While it is still a small community, the listening and considering suggestions factor is something I consider to be a big advantage. If you follow this blog at all, you know that one of our most popular posts and features is the weekly Cody Parkey kickoff tracker that now turned into a contest.

Twitter user (@nickrapak) has requested we start one for Sam Ficken as well, so here we go.

Sam Ficken Reminder Tweet

The rules if you are unfamiliar:

Tweet at me (@drewBbalis) before kickoff at noon guessing the number of touchbacks Ficken has AND Northwestern’s average starting field position on his kickoffs (far right column of the chart)

Guessing the correct number of touchbacks is worth one point while predicting the right field position is worth two. 

A snapshot of Ficken’s season so far is below courtesy of GoPSUSports:

Sam Ficken

Ficken may not have the same leg strength or consistency as Mr. Parkey, but more than 50 percent of his kickoffs have gone for touchbacks so far.

Northwestern is surrendering 20.3 points a game on average. Penn State is scoring 27 points a game. Even with an inconsistent offense at times, I think DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis continue to roll, resulting in several Ficken kickoffs today, so my official guess and sample tweet would look like:

(@drewBbalis, 3, 24) 

Your chart is below and will of course be updated throughout the afternoon. Come for Sam Ficken, stay for Cody Parkey tomorrow.

Game Opponent Kickoff Number End Zone Touchback Starting Field Position Average Starting Field Position
5 Northwestern 1 No No 34 34
5 Northwestern 2 Yes Yes 25 29.5
5 Northwestern 3 No No 26 28.3

Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton Are Still Absolutely Crushing It

Real quick before we push out some Eagles content.

We promised you an update once the stats came in, and here they are:

Lewis is eighth in the country in receiving yardage while Hamilton comes in close behind at fifteenth. Both guys could probably be a couple spots higher had they played the entire game yesterday, but neither had many opportunities in the second half with Penn State running the ball in a blowout victory.

The Nittany Lions remain the only FBS program with two receivers in the Top 15 for receiving yardage. They were both in the Top 10 after Week 1, Top 14 after Week 2, Top 13 after Week 3, and still holding strong.

Full stats here if looking at them is your thing.

Penn State still has some issues to work out on offense, but Lewis and Hamilton have crossed off replacing Allen Robinson on the list of concerns.

Penn State Has Replaced Allen Robinson Quicker than Almost Everyone Expected

(Photo credit to Dave Cole/Onward State)

Perhaps one of the biggest — and most pleasant — surprises on Penn State’s young season is that the offense does not ‘miss’ Allen Robinson nearly as much as many folks anticipated.

That lede is not at all intended to be a knock on Robinson. He would be having another great year catching passes from Christian Hackenberg had he elected to stay for his senior season, but the Nittany Lions passing game is operating just fine with him in Jacksonville.

The two Nittany Lions responsible for this almost seamless transition are true sophomore Geno Lewis and redshirt freshman DaeSean Hamilton.

Lewis’ breakout goes back to the season finale against Wisconsin last year when he posted a career-high 91 yards and two touchdowns in an upset win. Lewis has been in full beast mode since then, recording no less than five receptions and 82 yards in every game since.

Hamilton was lesser known than Lewis a month ago, but that held true for all of about three minutes into the season opener when he burst onto the scene against Central Florida. Since then, Hamilton has posted at least 65 yards in all four games.

After Week 1, both receivers were in the Top 10 in the nation for receiving yardage. After Week 2, both of them remained in the Top 14, and following last Saturday, the duo was still right there after playing an instrumental part in Penn State’s comeback against Rutgers. We will provide a current update here when all of the statistics come in following tonight’s games.

As I have pointed out before in those posts, Penn State was the only FBS school with such a distinction, and Hamilton was one of only two players who did not see any snaps in 2013 to rank that high.

Before the season got underway, many believed that the majority of Penn State’s production would come from the tight ends even with Adam Breneman injured. Jesse James has been very good so far, but as of me typing this, 55 of Penn State’s 96 receptions have come via Hamilton and Lewis.

Chart breakdown below:

Opponent Hamilton/Lewis Total Receptions
Central Florida 19 32
Akron 13 22
Rutgers 14 25
Umass 9 17

What. A. Duo.

The way Lewis has progressed has impressed me even more than his raw numbers. He had his moments last season, but I thought he was a bit one-dimensional in terms of running go-routes. When he wasn’t on the receiving end of a perfect deep ball from Hackenberg, he had his share of quiet games including getting completely shut out against Central Florida, Kent State, Illinois, and Minnesota.

The Nittany Lions have not faced the toughest schedule so far, and Hamilton and Lewis will be tested in the coming weeks, but so far, things are going about as well as anyone could have imagined.

The Nittany Lions were able to get the running game going today in a rout against overmatched UMass, but were it not for Hamilton and Lewis, they might be 2-2 rather than 4-0 for the first time since 2008.

Thanks to the recruiting work put in by Bill O’Brien and James Franklin’s staff coaching them up, the Nittany Lions were much more prepared to replace their stud receiver than many folks realized.

Does Penn State miss Allen Robinson? Of course they do, but things are just fine without him right now.

Update: Working on the fly but two more thoughts for you in tweet form:

Lewis and Hamilton Post

Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton are Both Really Good

I am not exactly sure what I watched last night.

Seriously, I’m not. I missed the first half, and the final 30 minutes still feels like a blur with interceptions and holding penalties galore, but what I do know is that Geno Lewis and DaeSean Hamilton were both really, really, good again.

Lewis hauled in six catches for 109 yards while Hamilton went for eight and 103. Both receivers had key receptions from Christian Hackenberg on Penn State’s game-winning drive including a 53-yard gain off a slant pattern for Lewis to escalate the march into Rutgers territory.

Lewis is fifth in the nation with 380 yards while Hamilton holds down the thirteenth spot with 337.

Penn State is the only FBS school in the country with two players in the Top 20 on this list.

Both were Top 10 after Week 1 and Top 14 Saturday morning, so things are holding up well here.

I never really covered Hamilton, but here is a piece I wrote about Geno Lewis for Onward State following the 2013 Blue-White game when I was around the program. Ever since the season finale against Wisconsin last year, Lewis has just been on an absolute tear with no less than 91 yards in every game.

Geno Lewis Screenshot

To say I love this team right now from a football standpoint would be a big lie. From run-blocking to play-calling, they have a lot of issues to fix, but replacing Allen Robinson’s production does not appear to be one of them.

Penn State is 3-0 for the first time since 2009. The next two games are at Beaver Stadium against opponents that are a combined 0-5. They have a chance to get on a roll as the top two receivers continue to roll.

Enjoy these statistics while I run a few miles, get coffee, and potentially make Internet during NFL games.

Penn State is the Only FBS Program with Two Players in the Top 14 for Receiving Yards Per Game

Earlier this week when I tweeted a couple posts about Jeremy Maclin and the Eagles, a few people be like this:

Penn State Content Meme

So I be like: I’ll try.

You asked for Penn State #content, here is a little Penn State #content for you.

I decided to follow up on a cool statistic that I tweeted after Week 1, which appeared popular among Penn State Football Twitter, to see how things were holding up.

Penn State Receivers Week 1

As you can see based on the screenshot at the top of the page, things are holding up pretty well going into Week 3. It may not be Top 10 anymore, but Top 14 still looks solid.

You will notice that Baylor has joined Penn State as another school with two players in the Top 14, but that is influenced by the fact that Baylor has played three games while most other programs have only played two.

Baylor junior Jay Lee jumped up to fifth with 136 receiving yards last night against Buffalo but had been pretty quiet and far down the list through two games.

KD Cannon, who was eighth before last night and now first, joins DaeSean Hamilton as the only other freshman that high on the list.

Just like the Cody Parkey kickoff tracker with the Eagles, we will continue to keep tabs on this and see where things go, but it has certainly been a welcoming sight so far as the Nittany Lions aim to replace Allen Robinson’s insane production that saw him average 87 receptions, 1225 yards, and nine touchdowns during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

27-17 Penn State tonight in enemy territory. Don’t see the blowout against Rutgers that some are calling for but think the running game gets going a bit, Christian Hackenberg hooks up with Jesse James for another touchdown, and the Lions head back to Beaver Stadium 3-0 for the first time since 2009.

An Eagles History Lesson: The Great Collapse of 2012 That Ended the Andy Reid Era Began Against the Steelers

Fifty years from now when someone not yet born does the current equivalent of typing “2012 Philadelphia Eagles” into Google, one will likely reach the immediate conclusion, “Wow, that team was really awful.”

They would be correct, except there is a bit of a catch. The Eagles finished the season 4-12, their worst record since 1998 when they were 3-13 in Ray Rhodes’ final year running the show before Andy Reid was hired.

The 2012 team scored the fourth lowest number of points in the league and surrendered the third highest. They were terrible, but there was a time early on when they weren’t.

The Eagles play the Steelers tonight in a preseason game, and while it doesn’t count, it is the first time the two teams have met since October 7, 2012. I find that if you watch sports long enough, you begin to internalize what other teams mean to you and automatically link that to said team.

For example, regardless of what they do in the coming years, the New York Mets will always be synonymous with their September 2007 choke job for me.

The Steelers, to me, are the team that helped begin an eight-game losing streak that would end the Andy Reid era in Philadelphia.

The 2012 Eagles were poorly coached, poorly constructed, and not particularly likable, but by way of some talent and a spunky Michael Vick playing quarterback early on, they somehow won their first two games, each by one point. The only other time the birds had started a season 2-0 under Reid was back in 2004 when they went to the Super Bowl.

An ugly loss in Week 3 followed, but Week 4 was more of the same. Two weeks after beating the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, the Eagles knocked off the defending champion Giants by two points with another fourth quarter comeback.

They easily could have been 0-4 but instead were 3-1 and sitting in first place in the NFC East.

A win at Heinz Field the following Sunday would have made the birds 4-1 for only the third time in the Reid era, yet no one was particularly excited. They figured it was too good to be true and were about to be proven correct.

The Steelers carried a 10-0 lead into halftime as a fumble by Vick on the Pittsburgh 1-yard line prevented the Eagles from getting on the board. They came alive though with an early touchdown in the third quarter and took a 14-13 lead with less than seven minutes remaining as Vick found Brent Celek for a touchdown from two yards out.

It looked like the Eagles might pull off another Houdini act, but this time, their defense couldn’t hold one more time.  The Steelers converted a key third and long deep in their own territory and another third down on the Eagles side of the field. They controlled the ball for six and a half minutes, setting up a chip shot field goal for Shaun Suisham as time expired.

Right down the middle.

16-14 Steelers.

Back home the following week, the Eagles blew a 10-point lead with five minutes remaining and lost in overtime to the 1-3 Detroit Lions.

Honestly, they deserved to be 0-6 but were one or two plays from somehow being 5-1. The reality was that they were 3-3, which wasn’t good enough for a desperate Reid who Andy Reid’d nearly as hard as he Andy Reid’d 21 months early when he gave Juan Castillo the job. This time, he threw his defensive coordinator overboard in a last-ditch effort to stop the bleeding.

The decision only made the cut deeper though. For the first time in 14 years, Reid lost a regular season game following a bye week. The Eagles would proceed to lose eight consecutive contests before beating Tampa Bay 23-21 on a last-second touchdown.

Four wins by a combined total of six points. The bottom had fallen out. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie had no choice but to fire Reid, a guy many previously believed would be his ‘coach for life.’

As a result of driving back to State College after covering Penn State road games, I missed more games during the 2012 season than I have in most other seasons combined (I did watch this one). Conventional wisdom suggests that is a good thing given how south the season went, but not seeing them every Sunday still made me sad.

That team easily could have gone 0-16, but could the dumpster fire have been prevented had they just beat Pittsburgh?

I do not normally spend a ton of time thinking about the 2012 season, but when it comes to mind, I get hung up on it because in my opinion, it is an interesting case study in organizational behavior.

More inside information would be needed to really explore it, but it is not every day you see an absolute control freak in Reid lose complete control of a situation.

If the Eagles had came up with a stop against Pittsburgh on that final drive, would the meltdown against Detroit seven days later have still happened? Furthermore, could the entire losing streak have been avoided?

The great and also infuriating thing about sports is that we will never know and can only infer.

Conventional wisdom says no — an ugly stretch was coming either way. The Eagles were a bad team getting a few lucky breaks early on, and then things caught up with them. The collapse probably would have happened anyway. Still, in a 16-game season, 4-1 is a lot different from 3-2 and dare I say it, 5-1 leaves way more margin for error than 3-3.

To completely fail to acknowledge other factors would be ignorant. A series of poor personnel decisions in the years leading up to the 2012 season put the keys in the ignition on the road to Reid’s firing, but the loss to Pittsburgh and embarrassing defeat to Detroit revved the engine.

What if?

What if the Eagles had escaped the steel city with a victory? Would Chip Kelly be on the sidelines tonight when the squads play an exhibition game 22 and a half months later. Would Reid still be here instead of Kansas City?

I do not know the answer to that, but I do know that what may seem like a harmless game a half century from now was a damn important one in Eagles history.

Cliff Lee Got Hurt and Everything Sucks

Everyone who would potentially care about Cliff Lee getting hurt already knows that Cliff Lee got hurt last night. I realize that I’m not telling you anything groundbreaking here.

When I introduced this blog, I made it a point to say that despite my previous experience covering sports it wouldn’t be branded as up to the minute sports news.

One of the advantages to operating it how I currently am is that it affords me the luxury of time when I want to reflect on something or maybe go deeper on a topic rather than spitting out a short, immediate take.

I find that when teams go as south as the Phillies have gone, one begins to identify better with individual players on the club than the entity itself. The final result might not matter a whole lot in those situations, but the players you care about still do.

Sometimes things get so bad where a late July game turns into background music while multi-tasking, almost an afterthought until something awful catches your eyes and ears.

When a frustrated and distraught Lee pointed to his elbow and removed himself from a baseball game last night in the third inning, my first thought wasn’t ‘There goes Cliff Lee’s trade value and the Phillies’ August plans.’ Instead it was ‘There goes Cliff Lee, I wonder if I will ever see my favorite pitcher again.’

That approach might be considered overly sensitive by some. When I covered Penn State football, a few people who were known to dislike my coverage thought I was too soft. They wanted a whipping boy every time a game was lost, and while I’m all for holding people accountable and believe I did that, demanding weekly firings wasn’t my style.

On another level, watching the injury unfold made me think about Ryan Howard’s controversial “Want to trade places?” line from a week ago.

Upon first hearing this, most people would probably utter some variation of “HELL YEAH!” When I slow down and think more about it though, it’s a difficult question for only being four words long.

It’s complicated to ponder for me because I point back to what happened less than 24 hours ago. At age 35, Lee’s elbow may have stopped him from doing what he does best. Certainly they are well compensated, but returning to Howard’s question, I’m not sure how I feel about a primary career ending before age 40. Average Joe’s may never have that financial security but also don’t see some of their best attributes erode so quickly.

I don’t have the answers; I just find it interesting to discuss.

What I do know is that if last night was the end for Lee, he deserved better. It is becoming increasingly likely that one of the greatest playoff pitchers of this generation will never see another October.

I don’t want this to completely go the route of eulogizing Lee’s career. He insisted after the game that he simply re-injured the flexor pronator muscle that cost him two months of the season.

Ruben Amaro said earlier this afternoon that there is no evidence of ligament damage. On the opposite side of that good news, he mentioned that Lee would likely see Dr. James Andrews at some point. A visit to Andrews doesn’t mean a pitcher is on track for major surgery, but the name Amaro uttered might be the scariest three words when it comes to sports injuries.

Hopefully this is indeed just a strain and Lee, who averaged 6.5 WAR a season and a 2.89 ERA between 2008-2013, comes back next April good as new, but one has to be realistic.

Think back to Roy Halladay in 2012 and 2013. If one of the hardest working and best-conditioned pitchers the game has ever seen cannot overcome a shoulder injury, that doesn’t leave a ton of hope for others, Combine that example with the Tommy John epidemic sweeping baseball, and it becomes easy to understand the pessimism.

I have been told by people over the years who would know that Lee is kind of a dick to deal with. Every time I hear it, I proceed with a combination of ignorance is bliss and ‘Alright, maybe he is a dick, but he’s our dick’ mindset. Never in any sort of trouble, I had no reason not to love him.

Even though you learn quickly that athletes have plenty of flaws, actually hearing evidence of them and seeing one of your heroes reduced to a mortal can be tough to come to grips with.

Lee earned better, but unfortunately this movie has plenty of previous editions. For as much press and fanfare as Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter’s yearlong farewell tours have received the past two years, there are tons of players every year who aren’t afforded the opportunity to go out on their own due to injury or ineffectiveness, and in some cases both.

Baseball isn’t fair, and last night shortly before 8 p.m. eastern time was another sad reminder of that cold, hard truth.

Lee didn’t need or merit a Rivera or Jeter retirement party, but he deserved far more than walking off the mound yelling “Fuck” on a random Thursday night in Washington D.C with many Phillies fans not even watching.

The baseball gods show no mercy, and last night, they came for Lee’s elbow, zapping him of a once golden arm. What a cruel game sometimes, man.

I want to say this isn’t goodbye, Cliff. It’s see you later, hopefully with a few more memories and a well-deserved standing ovation next spring at Citizens Bank Park, but unfortunately I lost my innocence when it comes to knowing the career trajectory of a baseball player a long time ago.

Right now, it is hard to believe that aforementioned wish with much conviction.