There were few bright spots in 2006 for the Philadelphia sports fan. The Flyers were the only team to make the post season and their play-off run was short. Phillies first baseman Ryan Howard had a season to remember, he set a team record and was named NL MVP. The Eagles, after missing the play-offs last season, are getting ready for the play-offs this season without their star quarterback.
Villanova Wildcats Basketball
The Wildcats had a good regular season and were ranked as high as number two. In the NCAA tournament they made it to the Elite Eight. Coach Jay Wright often played with four guards on the court at the same time. Three players from the team are currently in the NBA - Kyle Lowry (Memphis), Randy Foye (Minnesota), and Allan Ray (Boston).
Team captain and fan favorite Keith Primeau retired after a long, unsuccessful struggle to recover from concussions. Last season the Flyers made the play-offs but lost in the first round to the Buffalo Sabres (4 games to 2). I'm sure the Sabres had a hot goaltender who stood on his head and that the referees had it in for the Flyers - isn't that always the case?
This season the Flyers have been horrible. One Sunday morning in October Bobby Clarke 'resigned' as General Manager and Head Coach Ken Hitchcock was fired (read more about that here). Is Peter Forsberg the latest false sports savior in Philadelphia? He has missed a lot of games with a bad ankle. Currently the Flyers are in the midst of their longest losing streak in team history (now at ten straight losses).
How did Ryan Howard follow up his National League Rookie of the year season? In 2006 he just set the team record for home runs in a season and won the National League MVP award. His 58 home runs were ten more than Mike Schmidt's 48 in 1980.
Other Phillies of Note
Center fielder Aaron Rowand ran into the wall, broke his face and missed weeks of games. Starting pitcher Brett Myers was arrested for beating his wife on the street in Boston. He made one road start before the Phillies agreed to give him about six weeks paid time off. Charges were dropped after his wife refused to testify against him. Second baseman Chase Utley had a hitting streak that broke the thirty game barrier. At the trade deadline right fielder Bobby Abreu was traded to the New York Yankees for a bag of donuts (it was essentially a salary dump). Rookie starting pitcher Cole Hamels made his debut and his future looks bright. Catcher Mike Lieberthal was a free agent at the close of the season and he has signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He is the Phillies' all-time catching leader in Home Runs, RBI's, and Games Caught.
Is Philadelphia becoming a horse racing hot-bed? Several years ago it was Smarty Jones making headlines and this year it was Barbaro. Barbaro won the Kentucky Derby (6-1 odds). Tragically Barbaro then broke his right hind leg in the Preakness. It has been a long recovery but his prognoses looks good now.
The Sixers had a horrible 2005-2006 season and missed the play-offs for the second straight year. Allen Iverson, nursing an injury, missed fan appreciation night at the end of the season and Sixers President Billy King was outraged when reporters informed him of this (outraged I tell you!). King promised to change the culture of the team, which most people took to mean that he would trade Iverson in the off-season.
Well, this season started and Iverson was still on the team. It took a leaked story in a New York newspaper that said Iverson asked King to trade him that finally set the wheels in motion. Tough-guy Ed Snider even got involved. The Sixers set a 48 hour deadline for teams to submit trade offers for Iverson. Then the Sixers deactivated Iverson, cleaned out his locker and removed his highlights from their pre-game video show. That should show Iverson who's boss (Iverson was paid during this time). About a week and a half after the story broke, Iverson was finally traded to the Denver Nuggets.
Will Larry Brown return to the Sixers? That's what people are saying. He advised Billy King during the Iverson trade-talks and Brown is currently living in the Philadelphia area. The rumor is that Larry Brown would be an advisor of sorts to Billy King and possibly Head Coach Mo Cheeks.
Temple Owls Basketball
Longtime head coach John Chaney retired from Temple University. He coached the Owls for 24 years. He was an old school kind of coach who believed that players should be students too. That's why he held practices at 5:00 AM, so players wouldn't miss class.
Oh, you want stats to prove he was a good coach? How about these: his over-all college coaching record is 724-297 (over 70% wins) and he had 15 twenty-win seasons. That's not enough? He is also in the basketball hall of fame and during his tenure at Temple he made the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament more times than all the other city schools combined.
Fran Dunphy, formerly the head coach at Penn, is now Temple's head coach.
What a long, strange trip it's been. The Eagles have had a real strange season. Before the season started most people thought their schedule looked easy in the first half and more difficult in the second half, where three straight away games with division opponents waited for them.
The Eagles started by winning four of their first five games but then they lost five of six games. They also lost starting quarterback Donovan McNabb due to a torn ACL in his right knee. The rest of the season was lost too, right? Wrong! Back-up quarterback Jeff Garcia stepped in and did a fine job. After losing his first start, Garcia has won four straight including those three road games against the NFC East. The Eagles have secured a play-off spot and can clinch the division title with a win over the Falcons this weekend.
Philadelphia sports fans mourned the loss of these fine gentlemen in 2006.
Eric Gregg, former National League umpire, died of a massive stroke in June. Johnny Callison, fan favorite from the 1964 Phillies, also passed away this year. Andre Waters, staunch defender for Buddy Ryan's Eagles defense in the 1980s, died of a self inflicted gun-shot wound. Paul Arizin, a basketball player for Villanova and the Philadelphia Warriors (and a member of the basketball hall of fame), died in his sleep. Frank Dolson, longtime sports columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, passed away from colon and liver cancer. You can read his final column here: Dolson got into sports 'when it was still fun' (at Philly.com, registration required, try www.BugMeNot.com for login information).