Why Eagles Fans Should Root for the Patriots, and (Almost) Enjoy It

Why Eagles Fans Should Root for the Patriots, and (Almost) Enjoy It

Most of us are naturally inclined to root against the Giants. Just look
at what's on the line. Not only are the Birds' division rivals in the
NFC East, there's also the interstate rivalry with New Yorkers. As the
Cowboys have floundered for much of the past decade, the Giants have
replaced them as the Eagles' chief antagonists. Cheering for the Giants
is akin to pulling for the villain's plot to succeed in a Batman
flick.

However, some fans find themselves in a
troubling position as Super Bowl XLVI approaches, because the New
England Patriots are not exactly a likeable bunch of characters either.
They have a bit of a dynasty going on up there, the road for which was
paved -- in some minds -- by cheating. They dashed Philadelphia's title
dreams in Super Bowl XXXIX, the face of the franchise is married to a
supermodel, and the city of Boston has been exceptionally fortunate in
this millennium, winning championships in all four major sports within
the past seven years.

How do we root for that?

Thing
is, that's a whole other conference. The Eagles can't control what
happens in the AFC, so a Patriots victory, while insufferable for a few
days, will fade. However, the Birds could have prevented the Giants from
reaching this point, and should they win on Sunday, you will hear about
it -- from their fans, from our fans, from the media. It's going to be
everywhere, all offseason, all summer, during next season's tilts...
forever.

Okay, so the overwhelming majority of you
have already chosen not to align with the enemy, but you're
understandably still on the fence about New England. Truth is, they
aren't so bad once you get to know them. Really. In case watching a
rival go down in flames isn't quite motivation enough, here are a few
reasons you might get a modicum of enjoyment out of a Patriots
victory.

Former Eagles on the roster
If you're
looking for a sentimental angle, a pair of former Birds will be in
uniform for the Patriots: journeyman special teams ace Tracy White, and
one-time training camp darling Kyle Arrington.

White
was with Philadelphia for the 2008-09 seasons until he was traded to New
England for an undisclosed draft pick in 2012, which as it turns out
will be a sixth-round pick. Not bad. After attending Eagles' training
camp in Lehigh, Arrington spent 2008 on Tampa Bay's practice squad, and
played in the club's opener the following season before being released.
He wound up with the Pats, and has started in 31 games (including
playoffs) over the past two years. He tied for the league lead in
interceptions this season with seven.

Sure, those
two guys are a thin premise for cheering on New England, but perhaps not
when you consider who will be standing on the other sidelines: Stacy
Andrews, one of the most ridiculed free agent signings in Eagles
franchise history. No way you want that bum to get his ring,
right?

The
Patriot Way
It may sound like some cheesy cliche,
similar to Joe Banner referring to the Eagles' organization as the "gold
standard," but Philadelphians would embrace the tenets of the Patriot
Way. It's a true team-first concept up there in a world of me-first
professional athletes.

When Randy Moss started
causing a ruckus in the locker room, the Patriots dealt him to Minnesota
mid-season, despite the fact that Moss had caught 50 touchdown passes
in 52 games with the club. When expensive free agents such as Albert
Haynesworth aren't cutting it, the Patriots admit their mistake in the
most public way possible, clearing that roster spot for somebody who
gets it.

This is an organization that has taken a
permanent sideshow in Chad Ochocinco, and amidst the worst season of his
NFL career, incredibly has him toeing the company
line.

What you get is a roster somewhat lacking in
star power, instead assembled with players who buy in to their system.
Yes, they have Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, and Vince Wilfork -- that's
some legitimate greatness right there. They also have 18 undrafted
players, guys like Danny Woodhead and Arrington, carving out key roles.
They make homes for veterans such as Brian Waters and Shaun Ellis who
are maybe past their primes, and several of their best players are
overachieving castoffs who nobody really wanted, for instance Wes Welker
and even Brady.

It's a humble collection of athletes
that place the team's goal above all else. They don't make a lot of
noise in the media, they just go out and win football games. It's hard
not to respect that philosophy, especially in this day and
age.

Belichick is a mad scientist... and it's
fun to watch!
On Sunday, a diminutive kick
returner/wide receiver will fill in at nickel cornerback. An offensive
lineman will line up at tight end on certain run downs. A tight end will
take handoffs out of the backfield -- and these are just the
unconventional formations that we've seen already. Who knows what Bill
Belichick might have in store for the Giants.

No head
coach in the NFL is better at finding unique roles for his players. He
turned Troy Brown from a Pro-Bowl wide receiver into a full-time corner
in the twilight of his career. He allowed linebacker Mike Vrabel to
become a staple of the offense's goal-line package, catching 10
touchdown passes in his career. Long before Andy Reid pegged Dan Klecko
as the Eagles' fullback, the defensive tackle by trade had experimented
at the position in New England.

Heck, Tom Brady could
surprise punt the ball on third down, or the Patriots could attempt to
convert a 4th and 2 on their own 29-yard line. We wouldn't even count on
their running out the clock should things get out of hand -- after all,
they're far more efficient through the air.

Their
brand of football is a breath of fresh air in the copycat world of
professional sports. There's an extra level of intrigue when Julian
Edelman is trying to cover Victor Cruz, when Aaron Hernandez might be
more dangerous at running back than he is at tight end, and when the
idea is in your head that they really might attempt a pass to Nick
Solder, in the Super Bowl of all games.

That is
football, my friends, and Bill Belichick gets
it.

History
It may come as a small
consolation, or none at all, but what the Patriots have managed to
accomplish in the salary cap era may never be duplicated. You
understandably may not like the team or its fans one bit, but it may be
time to consider shifting from disdain to appreciation as the
Belichick-Brady combination head toward their final act. Both men are
among the greatest of all time at their respective jobs, and you
witnessed a run that's felled NFL records, nearly produced the league's
first 19-0 season, and featured a solid number of future Hall of
Famers.

One day, your grandchildren could be asking
if you ever saw Tom Brady coolly slide step in the pocket and deliver a
tight spiral as he operated one of his many game-winning drives, or
stare at you in wonder as you try to explain how a franchise won three
Super Bowls in four years during the age of parity. You'll talk about
the Tuck Rule Game and Spygate, but also Adam Vinatieri hitting three
championship-clinching field goals, and their intense rivalry with
Peyton Manning's Colts, which produced some of the finest contests ever
played on the gridiron.

Again, it may not provide
much comfort right now, but it's got to be better than being on the
wrong side of history. If the Giants should win for the second time in
five seasons, it will solidify the greatness of their head coach Tom
Coughlin, who was eternally on the hot seat during his tenure. It will
build on the legacy of Eli Manning, quite possibly the goofiest elite
quarterback the game has ever seen. It will create a legend out of their
front four, a group that will have once more catapulted New York to the
promised land using the old mantra "better late than
never."

The Patriots winning yet again has got to be
better than being constantly reminded that the Giants would then have
four Super Bowl Championships -- two against the most dominant franchise
of an era -- while Philadelphia has zero. A three-trophy lead is enough
as it is without them adding another.

Simply put,
who wants to live in a world where a division and regional rival has
ultimate bragging rights for a full year? Not I, and I hope not you
either.

Instant Replay: Cubs 4, Phillies 1

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The Associated Press

Instant Replay: Cubs 4, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

CHICAGO -- The Chicago Cubs continue to dominate the Phillies with extra-base hits and terrific starting pitching.
 
They beat the Phils for the second day in a row Saturday. The final score at Wrigley Field was 4-1. Right-hander Kyle Hendricks went the distance for the win. The Phils scored in the ninth inning to avoid a shutout.
 
The Phils have been held to two or fewer runs 18 times and one or fewer 11 times. They are averaging just 3.22 runs per game.
 
The Cubs, who lead the majors with 33 wins, have stroked nine extra-base hits in the first two games of the series and four of them have been homers. The Phils have just three extra-base hits, all doubles. One was a misplay by the Cubs’ outfield.
 
The Phillies are 1-4 on this six-game road trip, which started in Detroit.
 
The Phils have lost six of their last eight games and are now just three games over .500 at 26-23.
 
Starting pitching report
Eickhoff was not nearly as efficient as he was in his previous start when he threw just 85 pitches in seven innings in a 5-0 win over Atlanta. This time, Eickhoff threw a season-high 109 pitches over six innings. He gave up eight hits, four for extra bases and four runs. He walked one and struck out seven.
 
Eickhoff was tagged for three extra-bases hits in the first inning, a home run and two doubles. For the season, Eickhoff is 2-7 with a 4.07 ERA.
 
Hendricks held the Phillies to five hits, three of which were singles. He was not overpowering, but his command was exceptional. He did not walk a batter and struck out seven while throwing just 104 pitches.
 
Jon Lester held the Phillies to one earned run in 6⅓ innings Friday.
 
Bullpen report
The Cubs didn’t need one. Andrew Bailey and Elvis Araujo pitched scoreless ball for the Phillies.
 
At the plate
The Phillies had just five hits. Ryan Howard returned to the starting lineup and went 0 for 4 to drop to .154.
 
The Cubs, who hit three home runs Friday, got their power game going early as Dexter Fowler led off the bottom of the first inning with a solo homer against Eickhoff. Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist both doubled in the inning as the Cubs went up 2-0 in the first. Heyward doubled home a run in the second inning.
 
Up next
The Phillies and Cubs close out the series Sunday afternoon. Vince Velasquez (5-1, 2.75) pitches for the Phillies against right-hander John Lackey (4-2, 3.83).
 
The Phillies return home Monday night to open a 10-game homestand that will see Washington, Milwaukee and the Cubs comes to town.

Police: Pelicans guard Bryce Dejean-Jones shot and killed in Dallas

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USA Today Images

Police: Pelicans guard Bryce Dejean-Jones shot and killed in Dallas

DALLAS -- New Orleans Pelicans rookie Bryce Dejean-Jones was fatally shot after breaking down the door to a Dallas apartment, authorities said Saturday.

Officers were called early Saturday and found the 23-year-old player collapsed in an outdoor passageway, Senior Cpl. DeMarquis Black said in a statement. Dejean-Jones was taken to a hospital where he died.

A person living at the apartment was sleeping when he heard his front door kicked open, Black said. The man retrieved a handgun and fired when Dejean-Jones began kicking the bedroom door.

Dejean-Jones was from Los Angeles and it wasn't immediately clear why he was in Dallas.

"We are devastated at the loss of this young man's life (and) who had such a promising future ahead of him," the Pelicans said in a statement.

In his only NBA season, which ended in February because of a broken right wrist, the 6-foot-6 guard started 11 of 14 games and averaged 5.6 points and 3.4 rebounds.

He was part of the 2014-15 Iowa State team that went 25-9, captured a Big 12 title and made a fourth consecutive trip to the NCAA Tournament. He was fourth on the team in scoring, averaging 10.5 points in 33 games. He shot a career-best 47.6 percent in his lone season as a Cyclone. He also played at Southern California and UNLV.

"This is a very, very sad and tragic day for everyone that's a part of the Cyclone basketball family," Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said.

Former Cyclones coach Fred Hoiberg added in a statement that Dejean-Jones was a "passionate and talented player that lived out his dream of playing in the NBA through hard work and perseverance."

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

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USA Today Images

Stanley Cup: Offseason moves send Sharks to final after missing playoffs

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- After watching the San Jose Sharks miss the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade, general manager Doug Wilson set out to remake the team last offseason.

Individually, none of the moves sent shockwaves through the NHL. The Sharks hired a coach who made the playoffs once in seven seasons as an NHL coach, traded a first-round pick for a goalie who had been a backup his entire career, added two playoff-tested veterans for depth at forward and defense and signed an unheralded Finnish rookie.

Together, the additions of Peter DeBoer, Martin Jones, Joel Ward, Paul Martin and Joonas Donskoi to a solid core that had underachieved proved to be the right mix to get the Sharks to their long-awaited first Stanley Cup Final appearance.

"I thought this team has a lot of the pieces of that puzzle," Martin said. "Doug did a great job bringing guys in that he did, to make that push for it. I don't think many people would have guessed that we'd be here right now, but I think we believed."

The players all said the disappointment of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Los Angeles in 2014 and then missing the playoffs entirely last season served as fuel for this season's success.

DeBoer also credited former coach Todd McLellan for helping put the foundation in place that he was able to capitalize on. The Sharks became the second team in the past 10 seasons to make it to the final after missing the playoffs the previous season, joining the 2011-12 Devils that pulled off the same trick in DeBoer's first season in New Jersey.

"Everyone was ready for something a little bit fresher and newer, not anything that much different," DeBoer said. "The additions that Doug made, it just came together. I inherited a similar team in New Jersey when I went in there. First time they missed the playoffs for a long time the year before I got there. I think when you go into that situation, when you have really good people like there was in New Jersey when I went in there, like I was with this group ... they're embarrassed by the year they just had, and they're willing to do and buy into whatever you're selling to get it fixed again. I think I was the benefactor of that."

The transition from McLellan to DeBoer wasn't seamless. As late as Jan. 8, the Sharks were in 13th place in the 14-team Western Conference and seemingly on the way to another missed postseason.

But with Logan Couture finally healthy after being slowed by a broken leg early in the season and the move by DeBoer to put Tomas Hertl on the top line with Joe Thornton and Joe Pavelski, the Sharks rolled after that and made the playoffs as the third-place team in the Pacific Division.

In-season additions of players like depth forwards Dainius Zubrus and Nick Spaling, physical defenseman Roman Polak and backup goaltender James Reimer helped put the Sharks in the position they are now.

"With the new coaching staff we needed to realize how we needed to play to win," Thornton said. "Once that clicked, and that probably clicked maybe early December, I think after that, we just exploded. I think that's really when we saw the depth of this team. Everybody plays a big part."

That has been especially true in the playoffs when longtime core players like Thornton, Couture, Joe Pavelski and Patrick Marleau got the support that had often been lacking during past postseason disappointments.

Jones has posted three shutouts in the playoffs, including the Game 7 second-round clincher against Nashville and back-to-back games in the conference final against St. Louis. He has proven more than capable of being an NHL starter after serving an apprenticeship as Jonathan Quick's backup in Los Angeles.

Ward scored two goals in each of the final two games of the conference final and has 11 points this postseason. Donskoi exceeded expectations just to make the team as a rookie and has solidified his spot on the second line with five goals and nine points.

Martin's steady play has allowed offensive-minded defenseman Brent Burns to roam at times and given San Jose a strong second defensive pair that had been missing in previous seasons.

Zubrus and Spaling played a big role as penalty killers and on the fourth line, while Polak has been one of the team's most physical players.

"Doug did a great job this summer, this season," Couture said. "A lot of credit needs to go to him for the guys he brought in."