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.

Canada wins World Cup, rallying to beat Europe 2-1

Canada wins World Cup, rallying to beat Europe 2-1

TORONTO -- Brad Marchand scored a short-handed goal with 43.1 seconds left and Canada beat Team Europe 2-1 on Thursday night to win the World Cup of Hockey.

The Canadians won the best-of-three finals 2-0.

Patrice Bergeron tied it with a power-play goal with 2:53 left in the third, and Marchand won it with a shot from the slot.

Canada has won 16 straight games, including two Olympic gold medals, since losing to the U.S. in the 2010 Olympics.

Carey Price made 32 saves for the Canadians, who started slow before ending the tournament with a furious rally that fired up a once-quiet crowd.

Zdeno Chara scored early for Europe, and Jaroslav Halak made 32 saves for the eight-nation team.

Sidney Crosby was named MVP of the tournament with three goals and a World Cup-high 10 points.

After getting that award, he was presented with a silver World Cup of Hockey trophy and he skated with it around the ice just months after hosting the Stanley Cup for the second time in his career.

He set up the tying goal, passing the puck off the boards to Brent Burns, whose shot just inside the blue line was redirected by Bergeron's raised stick.

Crosby was stewing after each of the first two periods.

When the game was over, he was sporting an ear-to-ear smile.

The Canadians closed the game in impressive fashion after a lackluster start.

In front of an unenthusiastic crowd and a lot of empty seats in the home of the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Canadians started flat and the Europeans made them pay for their apparent apathy.

Unlike the last two times Canada trailed briefly to the U.S. and Russia, it could not come back against Europe quickly.

It looked as if it wasn't going to be Canada's night when John Tavares had a wide-open net to shoot into, but hit the right post from the bottom of the right circle. Earlier in the same shift, the New York Islanders forward missed the net on a one-timer opportunity.

Canada averaged 4.4 goals over the first five games of the tournament, giving Price plenty of support. It didn't score as much in the final game of the tournament, but two goals were enough to win thanks to Price.

Chara, a Slovakian and Boston Bruins defenseman, scored from the left circle with a wrist shot through traffic two teammates created in front of the net off a short, soft pass from Andrej Sekera in the slot.

Crosby was part of a scrum at the end of the first period in which his helmet was knocked off near Europe's net at the end of the first period. After the horn sounded to end the second, Crosby lingered on the ice to shot at Swiss defenseman Roman Josi.

Crosby was clearly frustrated, playing with a pair of Boston Bruins, Marchand and Bergeron, who had combined for 22 points through the first five games.

Europe outshot the Canadians 12-8 after the first period and 27-21 after the second.

The Canadians had three power plays over the first two periods and failed to take advantage, falling to 2 for 17 with an extra skater. On one of their power plays, they needed Price to make stops on breakaways.

Canada had a man advantage again early in the third period, but only got one shot on Halak, a Slovak and Islanders standout, on the possibly pivotal power play.

Crosby had a chance to score with 7-plus minutes left, but Halak kicked the shot away with his right skate.

Europe seemed as if it had a chance to score late when Drew Doughty was called for high-sticking with just under 2 minutes left, but Canada was the team that took advantage when Marchand got the puck into open space and beat Halak with a shot to win the first World Cup since 2004.

Instant Replay: Braves 5, Phillies 2

Instant Replay: Braves 5, Phillies 2

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson’s final start of the season — and possibly his final one with the Phillies — was cut short by a sprained right knee Thursday night (see story).

Hellickson left the game against the Atlanta Braves after 3 1/3 innings.

The Phillies ended up losing, 5-2, in their final game at Turner Field. The Braves swept the three-game series. The Phillies have lost six of their last seven and are 70-89.

The Phillies went 82-91 over 20 years of visiting Turner Field. The Braves will move into a new stadium next season.

Starting pitching report
Hellickson gave up just one hit and no runs in his 3 1/3 innings. He walked none.

The right-hander finished the season 12-10 in a career-high 32 starts. He tied a career high with 189 innings. His final ERA of 3.71 was his best since he recorded a 3.10 ERA in 31 starts for Tampa Bay in 2012.

Hellickson is eligible for free agency this winter. The Phillies would like to get draft-pick compensation if Hellickson signs elsewhere, but they must extend him a $17 million qualifying offer for 2017 and he must reject the offer in order for the club to get that pick.

Atlanta’s Josh Collmenter pitched seven innings and held the Phillies to one run. He gave up six hits, walked none and struck out four.

Bullpen report
Struggling Jeanmar Gomez entered a tie game in the bottom of the eighth inning. He gave up a walk and a tie-breaking double as the Braves took the lead. The Braves scored three more times against Gomez in the frame to put the game away.

At the plate
Odubel Herrera’s RBI single in the third inning gave the Phillies a 1-0 lead. It was the Phillies’ 600th run of the season. They were the last team in the majors to get there.

Aaron Altherr cut the Braves' lead to three with a two-out RBI single in the ninth.

Atlanta’s Dansby Swanson tied the game at 1-1 with a solo homer against Colton Murray in the sixth.

Swanson walked and scored the go-ahead run on Matt Kemp’s double against Gomez in the bottom of the eighth.

Up next
The Phillies return home Friday night for the final three-game series of the season. They will play the New York Mets, who are battling for the National League wild card. Here are the pitching matchups:

Friday night — RHP Alec Asher (2-0, 1.66) vs. RHP Robert Gsellman (3-2, 2.56)

Saturday afternoon — RHP Phil Klein (0-0, 12.15) vs. RHP Bartolo Colon (14-8, 3.42)

Sunday afternoon — RHP Jerad Eickhoff (11-14, 3.72) vs. RHP Noah Syndergaard (14-9, 2.60)

Sunday afternoon’s season finale starts at 3:05 p.m. The team will make a special on-field presentation to Ryan Howard at 2:30.

Howard did not play Thursday night. He is expected to start all three games against the Mets. The Phillies will not pick up Howard’s contract option for 2017 and he will become a free agent.

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