The 700 Level's 25 favorite Philly wins (and ten least-favorite losses) of 2013

The 700 Level's 25 favorite Philly wins (and ten least-favorite losses) of 2013

It wasn't long ago that our year-end lists of best and worst Philly games of the year were chock full of things like playoff clinchers, post-season upsets, and crushing losses when a championship legitimately seemed in reach. Sad to say, the stakes for sports in the city of Philadelphia were a lot lower in 2013, a calendar year in which none of our professional teams reached the second season, or even came particularly close to doing so.

Still, even in a year with no playoffs (March Madness aside), there were plenty of highs and lows to experience in the City of Brotherly Love--miracle comebacks, fluky beast performances, inspiring wins that made it all worthwhile and gut-punching losses that made you wonder why you even bother. You don't need the post-season to remind you of everything you love and hate about being a Philly sports fan.

That said...you can probably slot Sunday's game against the Cowboys in at #1 on either list pretty automatically, depending on what happens. But until then, here are The 700 Level's top 25 wins and bottom ten losses of the 2013 Philly sports season.

[Top 10 least-favorite losses post here]

BEST WINS:

25. Khalif Wyatt drops 31 each on No. 8 N.C. State and No. 1 Indiana, Mar. 22-24

Briefly a Philadelphia 76er, Temple's Khalif Wyatt put himself in NBA company with his performance in last year's NCAA tournament. Wyatt scored 31 points in both Temple's win over No. 9 N.C. State and its narrow loss to No. 1 Indiana. He became one of only four players in the last ten years to score 30 or more points in the round of 64 and the round of 32 in the same tournament, joining Kemba Walker, Jimmer Fredette and Stephen Curry, all of whom are now in the NBA. After getting released by the Sixers, Wyatt signed what his agent described as "a highly lucrative" deal with Guangdong Southern Tigers in China. Some reports pegged it as the largest non-NBA rookie deal signed by any player this offseason. --Nick Menta

24. Justin Rose wins the U.S. Open at Merion, Jun. 16

Englishman Justin Rose walked away champion from Philly's fist major in 33 years after a rainy, muddy, and sloppy but nonetheless tremendous week at Merion Golf Club. It was Rose's first major championship victory and came at the expense of Phil Mickelson, who for the sixth time in his career blew a chance at the Open. After holing his final putt, Rose began crying on the green, overcome with emotion as he filled with thoughts of his father, who passed away in 2002 after a battle with Leukemia. We later learned that Rose found the mental toughness to win a major by watching Star Wars. Another highlight from Sunday: Shawn Stefani's ridiculous hole-in-one on 17, the first ever ace in an Open at Merion. --N.M.

23.Phillies beat Reds on back-to-back homers in ninth, May. 9

Phillies wins could be so hard to come by in 2013 that you might need an occurrence as unlikely as Erik Kratz and Freddy Galvis hitting back-to-back homers off the likes off Reds' fireballing closer Aroldis Chapman to actually scrape one out. Yes, that actually happened, an all-too-rare come-from-behind win for the Fightins early last season to take the series from the playoff-bound Reds and keep the Phils within view of .500, a horizon line that ultimately got further and further as the season progressed. We got the freeze frame of the year out of it, at least. --A.U.

22. La Salle over Butler & VCU, Jan. 23 & 26

Before 2013, the last time La Salle had beaten nationally ranked opponents in consecutive games was 1952. That changed in the span of four days in January when the Explorers followed up a 54-53 home victory over No. 9 Butler with an even more impressive road upset of No. 19 VCU, a team that’s nearly impossible to beat at home. Senior Ramon Galloway led the way in both wins, scoring the game-winning layup against Butler to set off a massive court-storming at sold-out Tom Gola Arena (La Salle fans were actually told to go back to their seats for an official review – and then got to rush the court again) and pouring in a career-high 31 points and committing only two turnovers against VCU’s vaunted “Havoc” defense. These two wins helped the Explorers sneak into the program’s first NCAA tournament since 1992, where they continued to put La Salle basketball on the map with a truly memorable March Madness run (more on that to come). --Dave Zeitlin

They're so good, they miraculously found -- and then won -- the lost city of Atlantis. ... We're pretty sure. (USA Today Images)

21. Villanova upsets No. 2 Kansas, wins Battle 4 Atlantis, Nov. 30-Dec. 1

Villanova's apparent key to success: Have Ryan Arcidiacono be absolutely awful for 39 minutes. Arcidiacono had taken five shots, and missed them all from behind the arc, before nailing a three with 10 seconds remaining to secure a 63-59 win over the second-ranked Jayhawks. The Wildcats would go on to beat No. 23 Iowa the next night in overtime to win the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas. Villanova has beaten four Top-5 teams this year and six Top-25 teams -- No. 5 Louisville, No. 3 Syracuse, No. 17 Marquette, No. 5 Georgetown, No. 2 Kansas and No. 23 Iowa. Jay Wright's team will have a chance for one more Top-5 win when it visits the Carrier Dome this Saturday. As for Arcidiacono being terrible for 39 minutes and then coming up clutch, he was also just 1 for 7 from three when he sent the Syracuse game to OT last January (see No. 11). Kid was 1 for 12 from range before hitting a game-tier and a game-winner against No. 3 and No. 2 teams in the country. "Shoot 'em, sleep in the streets," or whatever they say over there on the Main Line. --N.M.

20. Union 3-0 over New York at home, Jun. 23

Coming off a disappointing loss to woeful D.C. United that sent them out of the U.S. Open Cup (a bracket-style tournament separate from the MLS season), the Union came home on June 23 for a date with their biggest rivals, the New York Red Bulls. Before the game, Union coach John Hackworth was approached in a Wawa by a fan who said "Hey, you better beat New York." It was a good omen, as Conor Casey scored in the 7th minute and added another in the second half before Antoine Hoppenot finished the scoring for an emphatic 3-0 win over Thierry Henry and New York, the Union's first win over the Red Bulls in 26 months. --Steven Moore

19. Jrue Holiday beats the Raptors in OT, Jan. 18

There wasn't a lot to smile about during the 76ers' lottery-bound, perpetually overcast 2012-'13 season, but at least we did have the All-Star breakout campaign of young Jrue Holiday to hang our hat on. Jrue's finest moment of the season undoubtedly came in the Sixers' Friday night home victory over the Toronto Raptors, which took a game-tying bucket from Holiday at the end of regulation and a stunning twelve points from the Damaja in overtime--making up the total of the Sixers' OT tally--to get the 108-101 victory. "This kid's awesome," we thought. "Just wait till we get to pair him with Andrew Bynum!" Oh well. Still love you always, Jrue. --Andrew Unterberger

17. Eagles throttle Bears on Sunday night, Dec. 22

The Chicago Bears had everything to play for with a division title on the line. The Philadelphia Eagles had the bare minimum to gain—improved seeding in the playoffs, if they get in. Guess which team showed up? The Eagles blew the doors off the visiting Bears 54-11 at the Linc in front of a national TV audience. Nick Foles was flawless. LeSean McCoy paced the running game to 289 yards. The defense and special teams shut down numerous Pro Bowl players. It was a complete effort in every phase, and the outcome was never in question. --A.K.

17. Phils crush Dodgers 16-1, Jun. 28

Yes, that really happened. The Phillies won a game by the final of 16-1 in 2013 and Delmon Young had 6 RBIs. This was against a Dodgers team that looked like world beaters at the time which made the feat even more shocking. John Lannan looked like an ace for a day with a nice line of 7 IP, 5 hits, allowing 1 ER. And that is a memory we'll always have of 2013: Delmon Young and John Lannan were studs for one calendar day. --Enrico Campitelli

16. Spencer Hawes miracle three against the Bucks, Nov. 22

Despite having absolutely zero consequence to the general NBA season--at least until they start picking lottery balls in May--it's hard to imagine there have been too many games more incredible this year than the Sixers' miraculous comeback win over the Bucks at home a month ago, in which the Sixers were down double-digits with just a few minutes left. Then, of course, HAWES happened, Spencer hitting a number of threes, including a game-tying one as he was falling out of bounds with the shot-clock expiring at the end of regulation, to send the game into OT, where Evan Turner took over and secured the victory. The 76ers haven't won a ton in late 2013, but the Ws certainly have been memorable. --A.U.

15. Drexel over Hofstra on Massenat buzzer-beater, Jan. 23

Drexel sputtered through a very disappointing season in 2012-13, finishing at 13-18 just a year after winning 29 games. But despite all of the losses, the Dragons still provided us with one of the wildest shots in recent history. With Drexel and Hofstra tied at 52-52 with 5.9 seconds left, Dragons point guard Frantz Massenat almost lost the ball in the backcourt, awkwardly split a pair of defenders and then heaved up a double-clutch prayer from beyond halfcourt at the buzzer. Somehow the ball went in, landing Massenat on SportsCenter and getting him an epic butt-slap from Drexel coach Bruiser Flint. Seriously, if you watch the video (which has over 45,000 views on YouTube), focus on the butt-slap in the final second. It would definitely top any year-end butt-slap list. --D.Z.

14. Cliff Lee destroys the Marlins, Sep. 16

Much like the three-straight walk off winners--still to come on this list--you can still find incredible moments in a lost season. If flipping on your TV and watching Cliff Lee strike out 14 opposing batters over eight innings doesn't give you joy, you're probably a really miserable fan. Cliff being Cliff though, he wasn't just happy with the 14 Ks. This was the game where Cliff added 4 RBIs after going 3-4 at the plate, including his first career triple! "I prefer to hit and then trot the bases," Lee joked. Cliff Lee isn't just an incredible pitcher. Cliff's a baseball player. --E.C.

13. Flyers 5. Blue Jackets 4, Dec. 19

You all should remember this one because it happened, oh, just a few short days ago. The Flyers sleepwalked through the first two periods against the visiting Blue Jackets and found themselves down 3-0 after 40 minutes of play. Hope you didn’t change the channel or walk out of Wells Fargo Center after that, as the Flyers went on to score five – count ‘em, five – third period goals to stun the Blue Jackets with a remarkable 5-4 comeback win. The Orange and Black back got within one with goals from Jake Voracek and Braydon Coburn just after the final stanza began. But the Blue Jackets scored shortly thereafter to take a 4-2 lead. The Flyers got a tally to get back within one again with just under five minutes left. That’s when Claude Giroux decided to turn into a puck wizard and take matters into his own hands. The captain tied the game at 4 with a nifty diving poke of a rebound. Just about two minutes after that, he put a stunning, otherworldly, falling backhander top cheese over the Columbus goaltender’s glove for the goal of the year and a lead the Flyers wouldn’t relinquish. That was just sick. --Greg Paone

12. Villanova knocks off No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse, Jan. 22 & 26

What's better than knocking off a Top-5 team? Knocking off two Top-5 teams -- back-to-back. The Wildcats became one of just four teams in the last 24 years to beat a Top-5 team in back-to-back games, joining Kansas in 1989, UConn in 1990 and, believe it or not, Ball State in 2001. After the second court storming at Wells Fargo Center, against Syracuse, Ryan Arcidiacono actually got lost in the crowd and missed the 'Cats postgame prayer. The video of his shot that sent the game to OT appears below. Bear in mind, this was the second time a Big 5 school knocked off a No. 3 Syracuse team last season. Temple did it back in December, although TU's Anthony Lee had no idea Syracuse was even ranked that high. Michael Carter-Williams was a combined 7 of 34 from the field in those two games. Villanova later went on to beat No. 5 Georgetown on March 6. --N.M.

11. Chip Kelly's debut game against the Redskins, Sep. 9

Few people knew what to expect from Chip Kelly in his NFL coaching debut as the 2013 season was getting underway. Apparently, those people included members of the Washington football club. With Mike Vick at the helm, the Eagles immediately went into Kelly’s famous no-huddle offense, and it was faster than advertised. By two minutes into the second half, Philadelphia had already built a 33-7 lead, taking the reigning division champs and their home crowd right out of the game. Washington did mount a comeback and made the game close in the end before giving way 33-27, but this game set the tone for the Birds’ season. Offense, defense, special teams—this was not the same squad that posted a 4-12 record the previous season. --A.K.

10. James Anderson goes off against the Rockets, Nov. 13

In what must rank as the greatest one-off performance by a 76er since Willie Burton hung 53 on the Heat during his one season in Philly, James Anderson had what will surely go down as his best game as a Sixer in a home game against his old team, the Houston Rockets. After scoring just 55 points over his first eight games of the season, Anderson exploded for 36 points against Houston, on 12-16 shooting, including 6-8 from beyond. One of those six threes also happened to come at the end of regulation, tying the game and sending it into OT despite coming contested and far beyond the arc. Oh, and Tony Wroten also had a triple-double in his very first start in the pros, the only player to ever do that. In another season, this all might have seemed strange, with this year's team, just another Sixers victory. --A.U.

9. Phillies blow out Mets after All-Star break, Jul. 19

The last truly hopeful moment of the Phils' season came one game after the All-Star break, when on a superbly hot night in Queens, the Philly bats immolated Metropolitan pitching, breaking open a double-digit lead just three innings in, with Chase, Dom and even Michael Young going yard. The Phils ended with a 13-8 victory and the sense that maybe they were finally starting to click as a team, and could make a run at the not-yet-decided NL East. Then they lost 13 of their next 14 and were already playing out the string by the end of the month. Winning that Mets game, and moving over .500 for the first and only time on the season, would turn out to be our World Series, so hopefully you all enjoyed it sufficiently at the time. --A.U.

8. Penn State beats Michigan football in four OTs, Oct. 12

Anyone who argues against the college overtime rules is flat wrong. Need evidence? How about four overtimes between Penn State and Michigan? Young Christian Hackenberg (this became his official name) hit Allen Robinson at the 1-yard line on a 33-yard pass and the then took it himself to force overtime in front of over 100,000-plus in Happy Valley. Michigan kicker Brendan Gibbons came into the game 5 of 6 for the season but missed a 52-yarder that would have won it in regulation. And then all hell broke loose in the overtime. Penn State kicker Sam Ficken's first try in the OT: missed. Gibbons' 40-yard try to end it: blocked. Second OT: Gibbons makes, Ficken makes. Third OT: Robinson fumbles, game on the line, AND GIBBONS MISSES AGAIN. He'd make his attempt in the fourth OT, but Penn State would find the end zone. Game. Let me rephrase. You're allowed to dislike the college overtime rules. You just also have to get a tattoo on your face that says "I hate fun." Sorry you hate fun, fun hater. --N.M.

7. Union 1-0 over Toronto to stay in playoff hunt, Oct. 5

After a lackluster August and so-so September left the Union on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, the team returned home after a surprising road win in Kansas City. They needed to beat lowly Toronto FC at home to stay in the hunt. It was then that the seldom-used (but VERY highly paid) Kleberson stepped up for a free kick in stoppage time of a 0-0 game. What happened next was bedlam at PPL Park. The goal served as a big "told you so!" from many Union fans, who had been begging to see more playing time from Kleberson in the hope he would bring the creative mind that the Union were lacking. It will end up being the only goal of Kleberson's Union career, as he's no longer with the team.

Oh, and the Union ended up not making the playoffs anyway. --S.M.

6. Nick Foles throws seven TDs in Raiders blowout

Nick Foles had shown some promise, but was coming off of an abysmal outing against the Dallas Cowboys and a concussion. Two weeks after struggling to complete 37 percent of his passes a showdown for first place, Foles etched his name into history books forever, tying the NFL record for touchdown passes in a game with seven against the Oakland Raiders. The 24-year-old tossed three to Riley Cooper, and one each to DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek and Zach Ertz as the Birds rolled to a 49-20 victory, the first of five in a row. A few short weeks later, Foles was named the club’s starting quarterback for the remainder of the season. --A.K.

5. Three straight Phillies walk-off victories, Aug. 21-23

Even in the midst of a pretty miserable season of baseball, we often get reminded that even a shitty team can be fun as hell to watch for stretches. Nothing illustrated that more than the three straight walk off wins towards the end of August, capped off by Chase Utley's walk off walk. It also gave a fan base a little morale boost after being bummed about Charlie Manuel's departure. Ryne Sandberg getting the squad to fight to the very end night in and night out was a small silver lining that could carry on to the future. --E.C.

4. Flyers beat Penguins 6-5, Feb. 20

Crazy goals. Huge hits. Fights galore. Shoddy goaltending. Dramatic momentum shifts. Oh, you know, just your typical Flyers/Penguins game. Jake Voracek’s first career hat trick lifted the Flyers to a 6-5 win in Pittsburgh over those filthy, rotten Penguins in a game where if you blinked, you missed the next ridiculous event in a game-long series of ridiculous events. The Flyers found themselves in an early, 2-0 hole but got on the board with an absurd Nicklas Grossmann goal out of Royal Rumble-like, net-front scramble and eventually had a 4-2 lead early in the third. After Wayne Simmonds’ second goal of the evening made it 5-3, the Penguins eventually tied things up at 5 with just over 2 minutes left when Ilya Bryzgalov – Hi, Bryz! How’s Edmonton? – let in a pretty terrible wraparound goal by the Pens’ Brandon Sutter. Never fear because the Penguins went all Penguins and broke down just over 30 seconds later when Voracek threw a puck from behind the net and banked it in off Pens’ netminder Tomas Vokoun to cap off the hatty and give the Flyers the win. This rivalry rules. --G.P.

3. Sixers beat Heat in season opener, Oct. 30

I said it then, I'll say it now: It's all gravy after this one. The Sixers could have gone 0-81 after winning this one and this season would still have been a resounding success. Beating the Miami Heat, who the Sixers had never beaten in the regular season during the LeBron James era, in the season home opener--even after starting the game off on a 24-2 run and giving the lead all the way back and then some by the end of the third quarter--was so much more than we ever could have hoped from this team. Of course, rookie Michael Carter-Williams has given us all sorts of things we would never have thought to ask for this season, and none moreso than on that night, when he scored 22 points to go with 12 assists, seven rebounds and nine steals in what was very possibly the greatest debut game any player has had in NBA history. I'm still buzzing from that opening-night win, which is why when we lose by double-digits now to the worst team in the league--like we did last Saturday--all I can do is smile. --A.U.

2. The Snow Bowl, Dec. 8

Not only one of the most memorable games of the year, but one of the most memorable pro football games in Philadelphia Eagles history. Despite forecasts calling for 1-3 inches of snow beginning at 3 p.m., the Linc was punished by six-plus before the 1 p.m. kickoff. The first half was played in a blizzard—no exaggeration—and very little happened. The storm eventually subsided, and then the magic began. LeSean McCoy set a new franchise record with 217 yards rushing, over 100 of those coming in a fourth quarter punctuated by touchdown runs of 40 and 53 yards. The Eagles went on to defeat the Detroit Lions 34-20 in a game that included just one extra-point attempt and no field goals due to conditions on the field. The imagery from this game was immortalized on Nick Foles’ Sports Illustrated cover. --A.K.

1. The Southwest Philly Floater, Mar. 25

Had nothing else happened after La Salle’s Tyrone Garland made the game-winning layup to improbably send the 13th-seeded Explorers into the Sweet 16 with a thrilling 76-74 NCAA tournament win over Ole Miss, it would have still gone down as a great shot at the end of a great game. But then Craig Sager, in all of his ridiculous-suit-wearing glory, asked Garland the name of the shot he just made and it immediately entered the coveted halls of March Madness lore. Still giddy from the win, Garland famously exclaimed, “That’s the Southwest Philly Floater, man!” before dishing out shoutouts to his mom and "Cousin Bern," both of whom were watching the game together in Garland’s native Southwest Philly. From there, t-shirts were made, the Southwest Philly Floater trended worldwide on Twitter and Cousin Bern (aka Bernard Tyler) became famous for teaching Garland the shot when the La Salle guard was growing up in Southwest Philadelphia. As Cousin Bern explained in this CSNPhilly.com article, the key to the shot is to “just get it over the big man and leave it in God’s hands.” God must have been on La Salle’s side that night. --D.Z.

[Top 10 least-favorite losses post here]

Temple great Tyler Matakevich soaks in rookie return to Philadelphia with Steelers

Temple great Tyler Matakevich soaks in rookie return to Philadelphia with Steelers

It’s a picturesque early autumn Thursday evening in the Delaware Valley. One of those nights when swaths of orange from the sunset to the west pierce the high sky like shards of broken glass.

Weather reports say it’s a similar type of evening all the way across the other side of the commonwealth in Pittsburgh, where Tyler Matakevich now makes his seasonal home. There could have been monsoon-like rains or gale-force winds or any type of terrible weather outside and it still couldn’t hush the excitement in Matakevich’s voice that torqued its way through the phone.

That’s because the former Temple Owl linebacker is less than 72 hours away from returning to play at the same field where he plied his trade for four years and left a program legend. And he’s coming back living his dream as a Pittsburgh Steeler. On Temple’s homecoming weekend, no less.

“I’m definitely excited for this and to come back to Philly,” the 22-year-old rookie told CSNPhilly.com prior to Week 3’s Steelers-Eagles game. “I talk to a lot of the guys still on the team like (senior quarterback) P.J. (Walker), (senior linebacker) Jarred Alwan, (senior linebacker) Stephaun Marshall. I know all those guys are looking forward to me coming back and spending time with them. … I hope to see those guys for a little bit. A good amount of them are coming to the game, too, so I’m excited about that.”

The anticipation in the young linebacker is evident. He’s coming back to his “home away from home.”


Matakevich is arguably the greatest football player in Temple history. For four years, he was the leader of a defense that grew to become one of the fiercest in the nation.  He recorded over 100 tackles in each of his four seasons on North Broad Street and added seven sacks and seven interceptions.

Not too shabby for a guy who had only one FBS-level scholarship offer and only got a shot to play as a freshman when the upperclassman above him on the 2012 depth chart was injured before the fourth game of the season. In what was supposed to be a spot start, Matakevich, then a fresh-faced 18-year-old, recorded 15 total tackles after playing sparingly on special teams the prior three games.

Incredibly, Matakevich wasn’t even the player Temple was recruiting when Matt Rhule, Temple’s current head coach who was then the recruiting coordinator under former head man Steve Addazio, went to Milford Academy Prep School in Matakevich’s native Connecticut on a scouting trip. Milford’s coach wouldn’t let Rhule leave without watching film of Matakevich.

“We watched his highlight DVD and he just kinda had it,” Rhule told CSNPhilly.com last December. “We went out and watched him play and he had it. (Former Temple offensive line coach) Justin (Frye) and I just kind of had a feeling this guy was special. I like to think I’ve always had a feel for linebackers. So we called Steve and he said if you guys think he’s that good, offer him.”

Rhule’s gut feeling turned out to be more correct than he ever imagined.

Matakevich put an exclamation point on his excellent college career with a monster 2015 season when he recorded 138 total tackles, five interceptions and 4½ sacks en route to being the first Temple defensive player to earn first-team All-American honors and the first Owl to do so at any position since 1986. He also brought home some impressive hardware as he won the Chuck Bednarik Award and Bronco Nagurski Trophy, both annually given to the best defensive player in all of college football.

Simply put, he is this generation’s Owl. Revered on North Broad Street, he is the player this crop of Temple fans will tell tales of watching play to future generations.

Matakevich accomplished all that during a season in which Temple shed its downtrodden, sad-sack label to the national eye by busting into and staying in the top 25 for the first time since the end of the 1979 season, beating Penn State for the first time since 1941 and, most notably, hosting Notre Dame in a primetime instant classic that was preceded earlier in the day by ESPN’s College Gameday broadcasting from Independence Hall in front of a massive live audience.

Those who’ve followed the program, intently or casually, would have thought there would be confirmation of human life on Mars before those last two things ever happened.

But they happened. It all happened and Matakevich was the freckled face of the revolution.

“It was something special and something I’ll always remember,” Temple’s all-time leading tackler (493) said of last season. “Our senior class, what we went through, going 2-10 in 2013, coaching changes, 6-6 and not going to a bowl to the season we had last year, it was just relieving, really. Such an awesome feeling that I was just able to sit and reflect on it. I was actually doing it the other day with (Redskins defensive lineman and former Temple teammate) Matt Ioannidis. I’ve got to pinch myself a little bit. When people are telling me all these things we accomplished, I’m sort of like, ‘Wow, we did do that.’”

Despite the accolades, Matakevich wasn’t seen as a great NFL prospect in large part because of a perceived lack of athleticism.

He was too slow. He couldn’t jump high enough. He wasn’t strong enough. The list of knocks can keep going.

The 6-foot-1, 235-pound tackling machine slipped down draft boards, and watched teammates corner Tavon Young (Ravens) and Ioannidis get selected. But he didn’t fall all the way off the board. In the seventh round, the Steelers used pick No. 246, eighth from last, to take a flier on the Temple linebacker.

Matakevich was left virtually unwanted by the big boys. Sounds familiar, huh?

“Once I finally got that phone call, I was just so excited,” Matakevich said. “That’s been my dream since I was a little kid. And to finally actually get that phone call, it made it feel like everything was worth it. All those long days I put in. I told the coaches, ‘This is just the beginning.’”

Matakevich earned his keep during training camp and was rewarded with a spot on the Steelers as a special teamer.

“He’s doing some of the things here that he did in Philadelphia,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said last week. “He’s displayed great instincts and urgency. He gets to the ball and he’s always around the ball. He makes a lot of plays. He’s acclimating himself right now in terms of being one of our core special teams contributors. I don’t see why he can’t be great in that area while he continues to grow as a young linebacker. I’ve been pleased with his progress.”


Fast forward to a gorgeous Sunday afternoon in South Philadelphia. Earlier in the day, Young recorded his first career interception with the Ravens and Ioannidis suited up for the first time with the Redskins in a regular-season game after he was activated from the practice squad.

But here is Matakevich, standing in a familiar tunnel, staring out at a familiar swatch of grass. He’s standing in the tunnel the Owls come out of and staring out toward the grass he tackled so many foes on.

But he’s not wearing cherry and not coming out to the sounds of Temple’s band and a screaming student section. He’s wearing Steelers black and gold and he’s standing in enemy territory, surrended by a sea of Eagles midnight green.

“It was awesome being back on that field again,” Matakevich said after Carson Wentz and the Eagles pummeled his Steelers, 34-3. The rookie saw kickoff and punt return snaps, but did not record a tackle.

“It didn't go the way we wanted it to, obviously. But I was so excited and so amped up. I played a lot of football here. Just to have the opportunity to come back and play here. I couldn’t be anymore excited and happy. I just tried to enjoy it. I get to keep playing football for a living. Not many guys get to move on after TU. So I’m just thankful and enjoying it and having fun.”

“I was just so happy to see him get out there and play and come back to his old stadium,” Rhule said of his former pupil after Sunday’s game. “For me, it’s always gratifying any time I see any of the guys that played for me being successful in anything, whether it’s their personal lives, their business lives, their football lives. It’s a lot of fun for me. It’s pretty cool for me to turn on the TV and see Tavon making big plays for the Ravens or to see Tyler out there playing and see Matt get activated and make the Redskins.

“I was really happy for Tyler. I’m proud of him and I’m excited he got the chance to come back and play in Philly.”

Matakevich still keeps a keen eye on the Owls and tries not to miss a game, even though professional responsibilities sometimes get in the way. He wasn’t able to catch Temple’s 48-20 homecoming win over Charlotte and had to later settle for highlights because the Steelers were traveling to Philadelphia, but he watched all of the narrow 34-27 defeat at Penn State two weeks ago.

“Let me tell you, it’s been frustrating,” Matakevich said with a chuckle. “I’ve never had to watch those guys play from so far away and now I’ve started doing that. At first, it took a little adjusting getting used to it. But I watch. I thought we had it. I really thought we had that win at Penn State.”

Matakevich mentioned he was able to spend time on Saturday night with former teammate and Temple star running back Jahad Thomas after the Owls’ victory. He and Thomas remain close and Matakevich is always there to provide a listening ear when needed.

That’s the thing about Matakevich and his relationship with Philadelphia, a place he gleefully calls his adopted hometown. Though he’s a Connecticut guy through and through and always will be, there will always be people and places here that will be a part of him forever.

“I love it here,” he said of Philadelphia. “I have some unbelievable memories here, especially on this field. It’s always been good to me. It’s always going to be my home away from home.”

Unlike 2 years ago, Dario Saric feels ready for the NBA

Unlike 2 years ago, Dario Saric feels ready for the NBA

Dario Saric wanted to come to the NBA. He just didn’t feel ready when he was drafted in 2014.

Saric spent the past two years furthering his basketball career in Europe after being selected 12th by the Magic and traded to the Sixers. Now 22, he is confident in his decision to start his NBA career in Philadelphia. 

“I grew up like a person first. After that, I grew up like a player to play against the best players in the world,” Saric said Monday at Sixers media day. “I think now I feel I’m ready. I feel I can give something to this team.”

Basketball itself wasn’t the issue — Saric has been playing professionally since the age of 15. He has competed against top European competition, won numerous accolades, and was a member of the Croatian Olympic team this summer. 

Saric knew he could play in the NBA, but there is so much more involved in it for him. Joining the Sixers meant leaving Europe, moving to a new place to play in a new league, all at the young age of 20. 

“After NBA draft, I wasn’t ready to come here,” the forward said. “Not like a basketball player, like a man. I wasn’t ready because to take a big step, to go out of the family, to go to another country. For me it was so hard. ... I decide[d] during last season I would come here, I would try to play with the best players in the world.”

From season to season, the anticipation of Saric’s arrival grew. The Sixers' front office and staff kept in frequent contact. Saric often was in communication with head coach Brett Brown, former general manager Sam Hinkie and current president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo. Assistant director of player development Chris Babcock also made trips to Istanbul to spend time with Saric.

All the while, Sixers fans eagerly awaited his decision. When he agreed to sign in July, he was taken aback by the reception. 

“I was surprised, I didn’t expect it to be something like that,” Saric said. “I know people waited for me like two years to come here. I know there’s, I can say, some kind of pressure on me.” 

With that pressure, Saric hopes to bring a winning mentality from his successes overseas. Colangelo has been impressed by the sampling he has observed of Saric during informal preseason team scrimmages. He grouped Saric with 6-foot-10 rookie Ben Simmons when discussing the Sixers’ bigs with diverse skillsets.

“What I see is a versatile player, a skilled big man that can do a number of things,” Colangelo said. “When you’re talking about 6-9, 6-10 and 6-11 players that are skilled and adept at ball handling, passing, driving, kicking out, thinking team-first — it seems both players — I think that’s a tremendous asset to have.” 

Saric understands, though, there will be a transition period as he adapts to the NBA. In the short time he has been around the Sixers, he has already noticed differences in the style of play. 

“What I can see is faster,” he said. “Everybody said the first couple of months will be like that. After that you will catch that rhythm, or that speed for your eyes and you will be faster. That’s the first thing I recognized, that I saw.”

Saric also noted the difference in format of the seasons, pointing out the tightly-packed 82-game NBA schedule. With so many adjustments, he plans to lean on his network of European players in the league, past and present. This summer, he received advice from former Sixer Toni Kukoc when he worked on the Croation National Team coaching staff. Even the smallest suggestion like stretching after practice is resonating with Saric.

“Toni, he told me for sure it will be hard for you when you come, but you must try to keep work[ing] day-by-day,” Saric said. 

For the player who once didn't feel ready for the NBA, Saric quickly has been pleased with his decision to play for the Sixers this season. 

“Everything is better than what I expect,” he said.