Did Andre Waters Die for Our Entertainment?

Did Andre Waters Die for Our Entertainment?

Hanging in my basement, alongside the posters and magazine covers of Philly legends like Dr. J, Moses Malone, Ron Hextall, Mike Schmidt and Harry Kalas is a framed photo of Andre Waters. On an Eagles team full of superstars, Andre was my favorite.

Growing up, I was a relatively good kid who respected rules and authority. For a young rule-abiding kid there was something so thrilling about Andre’s blatant disregard for late hits, personal foul penalties, and the league office. The nickname “Dirty Waters” only contributed to the mystique.

He was badass. His legend was forever cemented when I heard Vai Sikahema tell a story about just how far Andre would go to intimidate the opposition. Sikahema, while a member of the Cardinals, was going about his business on the field during pregame warm-ups. The Eagles defensive backs, including Waters, were jogging around the perimeter of the field at Busch Stadium when they approached the Cardinals punter.

The next thing Sikahema knows Andre breaks away from the other Eagles defensive backs at the precise moment the Cardinals punter is preparing to uncork a practice punt. Andre steps in front of the punter, blocks the punt, and starts yelling, "All day. It’s gonna be like that all day." This was during pregame. It sounds ludicrous, and perhaps my fondness for Andre clouded my memory a bit, but I reached out to Vai over at NBC10 who confirmed the story.

For reasons like blocking a punt during pregame, Andre Waters was one of my favorite players ever. On November 20, 2006 Andre Waters killed himself.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a long time. Perhaps it was the three separate stories that Guest Editor Peter Gammons and Series Editor Glen Stout selected for the 2010 edition of The Best American Sportswriting that motivated me to finally write.

Pieces by Malcolm Gladwell, Jeanne Marie Laskas, and Robert Sanchez, all exploring concussions in football, were chosen for the anthology. Make no mistake about it, by including these stories Gammons and Stout were making a statement about the seriousness and severity of concussions in sports.

Perhaps it was the recent exhaustive three-part multimedia piece by The New York Times on the life and death of former hockey enforcer Derek Boogaard that made me finally sit down to write.

Or, perhaps my recent Twitter timeline had something to do with it. My timeline was flooded with updates on athletes dealing with the effects of concussions. Tweets about Chris Pronger’s severe post-concussion symptoms and Claude Giroux’s recovery from a “minor” concussion were sandwiched between a conversation about concussions between former professional soccer players Taylor Twellman and Alecko Eskandarian, both of whom were forced to retire due to head injuries.

The question in my mind, the question I still have been unable to answer, is what is my role in all of this? I love seeing big hits and physical play. I admire fearlessness and recklessness -- total and complete disregard for one’s body. It’s what drew me to Andre Waters.

However, the very things that left me in awe of him likely killed him. Dr. Bennett Omalu, who was the first person to discover physical evidence linking football-related brain injury and dementia, examined Waters’ brain.

Hal Habib, who interviewed Omalu for a piece in the September 11, 2010 Palm Beach Post, wrote:

"After Waters' suicide, Bennet Omalu, the doctor who studied his brain - and that of other NFL players who died young - said the damage he discovered was consistent with that of 80- to 90-year-olds suffering from dementia.

Family and friends are still not sure what made Waters pull the trigger, but Omalu offers a stark conclusion.

“Football killed him,' the doctor said.”

Leagues and teams continue to cling to the party line that there is not enough science to definitively state that there’s a link between concussions and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (“CTE”), the progressive degenerative disease typically associated with boxers.

Hockey agent Allan Walsh shared his thoughts on the rash of concussions suffered by NHL players and the link to CTE with Los Angeles Times writer Lisa Dillman:

"When [NHL Commissioner Gary] Bettman says there's no definite proof that there is a link between concussions and CTE, I think that statement will not hold the test of time, and once science catches up with the issue, Bettman is going to be on the wrong side of the science.

 "It reminds me very much of tobacco executives in the '70s screaming to the   media and testifying before Congress that there is no definitive link between cigarette smoking and cancer."

I don’t want to completely blame the teams and leagues though. The players willingly put themselves at risk. I’d be willing to bet that if given the option of either not playing and living a healthy life or playing and risking long-term health risks, the majority of professional athletes would opt to play and risk their health.

Aside from the obvious world class athletic ability, it’s what makes them different from you and me. They are willing to put their bodies and well-being on the line in exchange for the opportunity to make obscene amounts of money and secure the financial future of their family for generations. In turn we marvel at their willingness to sacrifice their health and we glorify them.

It’s a vicious cycle. In Andre Waters’ case, it likely cost him his life. As much as his playing style endeared him to me, the reality was he was not just some mythical disposal late-hitting machine here for my entertainment.

Today, I cringe when Brent Celek or Michael Vick staggers to his feet, punch drunk after getting up from a hit. I hold my breath whenever Claude Giroux goes into the corner to battle for a loose puck. If I am being honest though I’ll admit that part of my concern, a large portion of it in fact, is predicated on how an injury to one of them would impact the Eagles’ or Flyers’ chances of winning.

Then I catch myself and realize it’s easy to lose sight of what’s important. I look over at the framed photo of Andre Waters hanging on my wall a
nd remember that he was a warrior. He was as tough as they come. And that sadly, he’s dead.

5 potential candidates for Temple's head coach job

5 potential candidates for Temple's head coach job

The reality is still setting in for Temple fans as Matt Rhule, the beloved leader of the school’s football team who helped bring the program out of the doldrums and give it a sense of legitimacy, is no longer an Owl.

He’s now a Bear. A Baylor Bear, to be exact. 

Rhule on Tuesday morning accepted the head coaching position at Baylor University, a cold reminder in so many ways that college sports is a business (see story).

He reportedly received at seven-year deal after accumulating a 28-23 record in four seasons at the helm of Temple’s program and leading the Owls to this season’s AAC championship, the first conference title for the program since 1967 and just its second ever.

But Temple athletic director Pat Kraft and his administration have no time to let reality sink in. Their reality is that the search for a new coach has already begun.

So that begs this multi-million dollar question: Who are the candidates to take over for Rhule?

Kraft didn’t get into specifics when he met with the media Tuesday at the Liacouras Center, but he did share some of the criteria he’s looking for in a new head coach.

"It has to be a good man," Kraft said Tuesday. "You've got to be able to recruit this area. You've got to be really strong there.

"This is not just and X's and O's job. This is bigger. It's a vocation almost. It's about working with some really, really good young men and continuing to bring in really, really good young men.

"To find someone that dynamic is important. But at the end of the day, we just have to find the right fit for us. I think that comes with the evolution of our program and where we are and where we are on the national stage. That's important to the program. You need someone who's engaged in the community in the Philadelphia market. It's a competitive market."

So with that in mind, who are some candidates who could fit what Kraft is looking for? Let’s take a deeper look.

(Author’s note: I’d like to stress none of the following is sourced information from anyone within or close to the program. The following are people who I believe could be a fit based on what Kraft said on Tuesday.)

Joe Moorhead – Offensive coordinator, Penn State
After the incredible season the Big Ten champ Nittany Lions have put together, Moorhead was going to be a hot name in coaching circles no matter what. And now his popularity gets kicked up to another level with a local opening.

In his only year with the reins of PSU’s offense, Moorhead has masterminded a prolific attack that averages 36.7 points per game (third in the Big Ten, 25th in the nation) and he has worked wonders with sophomore QB Trace McSorely, who averages 258.8 yards per game through the air and has thrown 25 TDs compared to just five interceptions.

Moorhead does have head coaching experience, as he led FCS Fordham’s program from 2012 to 2015 (and beat the Owls in 2013 at the Linc.). After inheriting a 1-10 team, Moorhead compiled a 38-13 record at Fordham and turned the Rams into a FCS playoff regular.

So he has the local ties with PSU and has undoubtedly recruited this area during his time at Fordham and has familiarity with it. And he has a very good reputation.

But he has a really good thing going at Penn State right now. Is it something he wants to leave after just one season? Or can he bide his time in Happy Valley and wait for a Power 5 job to open up?

Al Golden – Tight Ends coach, Detroit Lions
You knew this one was coming, so let’s tackle it now.

Golden, the Owls’ head man from 2006-10 before he left for Miami, checks all the boxes on the list of things Kraft said he wants in a head coach. He obviously knows the area and how recruit it. Rhule is a disciple of Golden, so the transition would be almost seamless.

And Golden deserves another shot to be a head coach at the collegiate level after he walked into a no-win mess at Miami with sanctions the program dealt with from a booster scandal years prior. Golden went 32-25 with the Hurricanes, but that’s not good enough when you’re Miami.

This may not be the time for a return to Temple, however. He was the right coach at the right time in 2006 and was basically a miracle worker with some things he pulled off on North Broad Street during his tenure with the Owls.

But this is a much different job than it was in 2006. It’s in a much better place, thanks in large part to the work Golden started a decade ago. Kraft and his team now have some clout when it comes to finding a new head coach and may want to go with one with a bit more on his résumé.

That’s no disrespect to Golden in any means, but this just doesn’t feel like the right fit right now.

Phil Snow – Defensive Coordinator, Temple (for now)
Rhule and Snow are very close, so the odds of Rhule trying to entice Snow to Baylor are high.

And rightfully so. 

Look at the job Snow has done at Temple, leading a ferocious defense that’s produced stars such as current NFL players Tyler Matakevich and Tavon Young. This season, Snow’s group finished eighth in the nation in scoring defense with just 17.2 points allowed per game. That group was second in the nation with 145.2 yards allowed per game through the air. Only Michigan was better.

Snow has been well traveled throughout his career with stops at Boise State, Cal, UCLA, Arizona State, Washington, Detroit with the NFL’s Lions, Eastern Michigan and now Temple.

Snow is tremendously well-respected by his players and his peers. 

But would the 60-year-old Snow want to be a head coach at this point? It’s a question to ponder. And imagine what he could do with the type of talent pool Baylor and Rhule will be able to recruit from.

Ed Foley – Tight Ends coach, Temple
Speaking of tremendously well-respected, Foley has been at Temple for nine years now and has served on the staffs of Golden, Steve Addazio and Rhule. He’ll get his chance to run the show for at least a game, as he’ll be the Owls’ interim head coach for the Military Bowl against Wake Forest on Dec. 27 in Annapolis, Maryland.

Foley is as good of a guy as you’ll find in the college ranks. Anyone will tell you that.

But Foley’s only experience as a head coach at the college level came from 2004-05 at Fordham. When Foley came to Temple in 2008, it marked his first experience as a college coach at the FBS level.

Foley has seen it all while at Temple and has even spent time as the Owls’ recruiting coordinator, which will certainly stick out to Kraft when going through his list of candidates.

But this doesn’t feel like a fit for the long term. A more experienced head coach seems like more of a fit right now. But if the players rally around Foley, who knows? Anything is possible.

Charlie Strong – Former head coach, Texas
Now this is a mighty interesting possibility.

Strong was recently canned at Texas after going 16-21 in three seasons. Before that, he did a great job at Louisville, where he went 37-15 in four seasons.

He has a heck of résumé with coaching stops at Ole Miss, Notre Dame, South Carolina and numerous years at Florida before he went to Louisville.

He’s a man of values and can be demanding of his players. That’s just his style.

Strong may not be familiar with this area, but he’s dealt with all the muck that comes with coaching Texas, so the competitive Philadelphia market wouldn’t be anything new to him. And when it comes to recruiting, his name carries weight. He’s had to fight for some big-time recruits in the hotbed of Texas, so he would do just fine here.

And to think the former Texas coach going to Temple would be a step back is inaccurate. This is not the Temple of old. There is legitimacy here now and Strong would add a whole new dimension of legitimacy to the program.

The question is whether Strong would want to come to North Broad Street. He got a massive buyout (reportedly around $11 million), so he may not want to coach again right away. But if he does, he’ll have offers from other schools, which means the Owls will have to pay up for his services. But the investment could be worth it.

Doug Pederson indicates Lane Johnson will start at RT when he returns

Doug Pederson indicates Lane Johnson will start at RT when he returns

Talk about too, little too late.
 
Lane Johnson is due back in two weeks, and Eagles head coach Doug Pederson on Wednesday for the first time seemed to indicate that he’s leaning toward getting Johnson back at right tackle as soon as he returns.
 
Johnson, the Eagles’ best offensive lineman the first month of the season, was suspended by the NFL for 10 games for a second positive test for a banned substance. By the time his appeal was heard and rejected, it was after the Eagles’ loss to the Lions.
 
Johnson hasn’t played since.

The Eagles face the Redskins at the Linc and Ravens in Baltimore the next two Sundays. Johnson is eligible to return to the NovaCare Complex the day after the Ravens' game, which would be Monday, Dec. 19.
 
The Eagles then face the Giants three days later on a Thursday night at the Linc and finish the season on Jan. 1 at home against the Cowboys in a game that will likely have no meaning for either team.
 
Previously, when asked about Johnson, Pederson was non-commital about playing him. But on Wednesday, he seemed to indicate he would move him back to right tackle for the Giants' game.
 
“Listen, he was a big part of our success early in the season,” Pederson said. “So I wouldn’t hesitate to put him back out there.”
 
The Eagles, 5-7 after a 3-0 start, are on the brink of playoff elimination and could well be eliminated by the time Johnson returns.
 
Rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai started the first six games after Johnson’s suspension before getting hurt. Left guard Allen Barbre started the last two, with Stefen Wisniewski moving into left guard.
 
Even though Pederson indicated Johnson would return to right tackle as soon as he gets back, he did qualify the statement.
 
“He comes back on a short week, too, against the Giants, in a couple weeks,” he said. “Got to see where Big V is at coming off an injury and see where that’s at. 
 
“We’re beginning the conversations right now. When he does return, we’ll have to see. We still have some games. Have to get through these two games.”         
 
Johnson, the fourth pick in the 2013 draft, started 44 of a possible 48 games his first three seasons, missing only four in 2014 during his first NFL suspension.
 
After the Lions game, he said he hoped the Eagles had meaningful games remaining when he got back.
 
The Eagles are 3-1 this year with Johnson and 2-6 without him. In his four NFL seasons, the Eagles are 27-22 when he plays.
 
“Stay in shape and hopefully the team is good enough to stay in playoff contention,” he said in the visiting locker room at Ford Field back on Oct. 9. 
 
“Come back and I’ll be fresh and we can make a run for it. That’s the best-case scenario. We’ll see what happens.”