Congratulations Simon Gagne

Congratulations Simon Gagne

I've been told I attended my first Flyers game at the age of 2. Of course, I don't remember it.

See, my Dad used to take my Mom to games all the time until she revealed, after they got married, that she didn't like going. This remains an amusing story to almost everyone but him.

Anyway, you can imagine he was pretty quick to get me into hockey once that bombshell dropped and I finally came along. And aside from just being a fan of the teams in this city, there's always been something special about the Flyers for that very reason. I assume this isn't an uncommon story for a great many of you read this site, who were introduced to sports by your father or mother, or are now introducing something to a son or daughter as a parent yourself.

Simon Gagne has held the mantle of "my favorite hockey player" since shortly following his rookie debut -- even if there was a brief period of overlap between he and Paul Kariya -- and serves as a prominent fixture in so many of my most cherished Flyers memories. Some of the reason the following moments stand out is because he was involved; that said, he was so talented as to make himself involved.

-- Game 6 of the 2004 Eastern Conference Finals. Flyers down 3-2 in the series. Skating with the captain and JR:

 
(Note: Gagne's first goal of the game might actually be one of the most impressive of his career.) 

-- Game 4 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semis. Flyers down 3-0 in the series and on the verge of elimination. His first game back since undergoing surgery after taking a shot off his foot against the Devils in Round 1:

 
-- Game 7 of the 2010 Eastern Conference Semis. Flyers had come back from down 3-0 in the series only to find themselves down 3-0 in Game 7. You may remember Peter Laviolette's "one F---ing goal" timeout tirade. Just as they came down from 3-0 in the series, they did it on the scoreboard in Game 7:

 
The first clip remains the one I revisit the most, though some of that is surely due to differences between Gary Thorne and Joe Betinati. Anyway, it's just a small smattering of the big playoff moments in which Gags was involved as a Flyer.

If you look back through the team's history, you won't find his name at the top of any of franchises' most important lists, but you'll find him on those lists nonetheless. Sure enough, never at the top, but always included with the Flyers' greats is Simon Gagne. Pick twelve forwards in this team's history for an all-franchise team, and you might have to go out of your way not to include him, even if he might have to cede his No. 12 to someone else on the team.

Speaking of lists, there's the very real possibility he could have had his name on another, had he only wanted it. The Derian Hatcher-Peter Forsberg-Jason Smith era was a very strange time for this team in terms of leadership; it also constitutes the prime of Gagne's career. But every time Gagne was asked about the captaincy by the media, and probably the team, he deferred, citing whoever held the title as the guy in charge, even if that guy, Keith Primeau, couldn't play anymore. He never did wear the C, always an A, but was a leader in his own way. Just think of how many injuries he fought through in that one playoff run alone.

That brings us to, of course, the injuries themselves (and we're not just talking about those of the nagging groin variety). It's impossible to discuss his career without thinking about them, and, over time, it got harder to think about them without revisiting Primeau and Eric Lindros. Another Flyer, another leader, with a persistent history of concussions. Those issues followed him out of town to Tampa Bay and, of course, to his current team in Los Angeles. Gagne was absent from the Kings' lineup from late December until Game 3 of the Finals with his latest head injury. Now he's calling on the NHLPA to establish a concussion support group so that he can aid players like himself, and perhaps even receive some help in his own right.

This all leads us back to Games 3-6 of this year's Finals, when he just didn't look like the same guy. Granted, after missing six months and being thrown right back into the Finals, it's going to be tough to get in the flow. But Gagne hasn't looked the like the same player since he left Philadelphia, and his ever-growing injury history isn't helping either. As an ode to a veteran, or perhaps just because they felt they were better with him than without him, even if they were doing just fine (14-2 in the playoffs) without him, he got back on the ice. 

Fast forward to when the Kings finished off the Devils in Game 6 and, yes, he nearly dropped the Cup. There was almost something fitting about it. It's as if he and the Flyers fans had waited so long for him to hoist it, that neither he nor us knew what to do when it finally happened. 

After he handed it off, he was interviewed, while holding his son in his hands. Watching with my dad, I felt old. Simon Gagne was a 20-year-old kid who skated on All-Star line with Brett Hull and, his idol, Mario Lemeuix when I was an even younger kid. And now, he's 32, holding his own child, a hockey prodigy no doubt, and probably looking at the end of his career sooner rather than later given what we're finding out about head injuries and the fact that he doesn't have to chase that trophy anymore.

He will now have his named etched on Lord Stanley's Cup. It just won't be as a Flyer.

Colin Kaepernick refuses to stand for anthem in protest

Colin Kaepernick refuses to stand for anthem in protest

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is refusing to stand for the national anthem before games because he believes the United States oppresses African Americans and other minorities.

Kaepernick sat on the team's bench Friday night during the anthem before the Niners played host to the Green Bay Packers in an exhibition game. He later explained his reasoning in an interview with NFL Media .

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick said. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said Saturday that "players are encouraged but not required to stand during the playing of the national anthem."

The 49ers issued a statement after Pro Football Talk initially reported on Kaepernick's stand, saying that Americans have the right to protest or support the anthem.

"The national anthem is and always will be a special part of the pregame ceremony," the team said. "It is an opportunity to honor our country and reflect on the great liberties we are afforded as its citizens. In respecting such American principles as freedom of religion and freedom of expression, we recognize the right of an individual to choose to participate, or not, in our celebration of the national anthem."

Kaepernick, who is biracial, was adopted and raised by white parents. He has been outspoken on his Twitter account on civil rights issues and in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Kaepernick is not the first U.S.-based athlete to use the anthem for protest. In 1996, NBA player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf refused to stand for the anthem, saying the United States had a history of tyranny and doing so would conflict with his Islamist beliefs. The NBA initially suspended Abdul-Rauf for his stance before it was lifted when he said he would stand and pray silently during the song.

Kaepernick said he is not worried about any potential fallout from his protest.

"This is not something that I am going to run by anybody," he told NFL Media. "I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. ... If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right."

Kaepernick's agent did not immediately return a request for comment.

Kaepernick is in competition to win back the starting quarterback job in San Francisco that he lost to Blaine Gabbert last season. He made his first appearance of the preseason on Friday night after missing two games with a tired shoulder. He finished 2 for 6 for 14 yards and added 18 yards on four runs.

Dorial Green-Beckham out to prove to Eagles he's the gamebreaking WR they need

Dorial Green-Beckham out to prove to Eagles he's the gamebreaking WR they need

He knows how desperate Eagles fans are for a breakaway wide receiver, a gamebreaker, a big-play down-the-field speedster.
 
He knows that a fan base robbed of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin wants nothing more than to see him take advantage of this second chance and become the playmaker they all crave.
 
Dorial Green-Beckham knows how much Eagles fans want this to work.
 
“Yeah, I get a lot of stuff every day from the fans,” Green-Beckham said. “They look forward to seeing what I can do on the field and they look forward to seeing what I can do in this offense.
 
“I just want to go out there and impress everybody and show why I’m here.”
 
Green-Beckham, who joined the Eagles 11 days ago, played a few snaps last Thursday night against the Steelers, but he hadn’t even practiced yet.
 
Now he has a week of practices behind him, he’s learned a good chunk of the playbook and he even knows some of his teammates’ names.
 
And he’s hoping to show Saturday night what Eagles fans have been waiting to see for a couple years now.
 
DGB is expected to get a generous helping of work with the first offense Saturday night when the Eagles and Colts meet in a preseason game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis (see 10 players to watch).

The first group is expected to play into the third quarter, which will be their most playing time this summer.
 
Green-Beckham says he's ready.
 
“Whatever is called, I’ve been through the playbook, I should be able to know what to do, where to line up, things like that,” he said.
 
“It’s just playing football. We’ve been doing it for a long time. Coming from a different organization, you hear different calls. You come here and everything is different. But it’s up to you to putting in the effort and making sure you’re accountable.”
 
Still seems odd the Titans would give up on the 40th pick in the draft after just one year. A year in which Green-Beckham caught 32 passes for 549 yards, sixth-most among rookie wide outs.
 
But here he is, trying to jumpstart a moribund Eagles wide receiver group.
 
It can’t be easy forgetting one playbook and learning another. But that’s his job right now.
 
“I just have to erase those memories from there and put a whole new playbook in my head and try to pick up as fast as I can to be able to help my team,” he said. “And I feel like that’s one thing I’ve done as a young guy, erase the memories that I had there and put in the extra time (here).
 
“Right now, I feel comfortable being around those guys. Using the older guys as a resource. Asking them questions, trying to figure out what I need to do.”
 
With his size and speed, it’s hard to imagine Green-Beckham not helping the Eagles.
 
Then again … the Titans didn’t want anything to do with him just a year after making him the 40th pick in the draft.
 
“He looks good,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. “Just continue to build, build, continue to build.
 
“He's an impressive, physical specimen, obviously. It’s funny. You stand out there as a coach, and they're running routes on air and sometimes as a coach you stand across from the receivers that are running at you. And when he runs at you, his size and speed, it just kind of grabs you.
 
“So really excited about having him here. Just like anybody else though, it's a process. It's a process and we keep giving them little chunks at a time to allow him to play fast and use his ability.
”
 
At 6-foot-5, Green-Beckham becomes the Eagles’ second-tallest wide receiver ever, behind the great Harold Carmichael, who was 6-8. Don Luft, who was with the Eagles in 1954, and Brian Finnegan — who had a drop that cost the Eagles a win in Doug Pederson's first start in an Eagles uniform — were also 6-5.
 
So he’s an obvious candidate to run the fade, which we saw in Pittsburgh.
 
But he wants it to be known he’s more than just a tall receiver who can catch a jump ball.
 
“It starts with being physical, showing that you’re a physical player, showing that you can play other positions besides just having jump balls thrown to you,” he said.
 
“Catching slants, being physical. Looking at the Calvin Johnsons, the Dez Bryants, all those type guys … trying to (base) my game based on what they do.”
 
You try to think of a similar instance of a team giving up on a player so quickly and that player becoming a force with the Eagles.
 
And there really isn’t a parallel.
 
So who knows?
 
Maybe Green-Beckham won’t pan out here either. But maybe he’ll take advantage of this second opportunity and give the Eagles something they’re sorely lacking.
 
“I feel like it’s a great opportunity, especially for me to move from one team to another and me being here a short period of time an being able to play with the 1's (Saturday night), it’s a big opportunity for me to just go out there and show them why I’m here, what I came here to do," Green-Beckham said.
 
“That’s my mindset, just stay focused and try to do those little things and try to impress my teammates.
 
“I feel like the whole team accepted me since I got here, since Day 1. Everybody was glad that I was here, everybody accepted me. They treated me like a brother. For me, that’s big. I feel more like it’s more of a family atmosphere and we all have each others’ backs.”

Union-Sporting Kansas City 5 things: Looking for back-to-back wins

Union-Sporting Kansas City 5 things: Looking for back-to-back wins

Union vs. Sporting Kansas City
7 p.m. on TCN, Pregame Live at 6:30

The Union kept afloat in the Eastern Conference playoff race last weekend by completing the season sweep of the Columbus Crew. Now, they have an opportunity to do something they’ve only done once this season — win back-to-back games. The Union (10-9-7) face Sporting Kansas City (11-11-5) Saturday night at Talen Energy Stadium.

Here are five things to know for the matchup.

1. Rookie power
In a surprising move, Union manager Jim Curtin tapped Josh Yaro and Fabian Herbers to accompany Keegan Rosenberry as starters on the road against the Crew. 

And the 2016 MLS SuperDraft trio, starting for the first time together, didn’t disappoint. 

“If you were to tell me before the game started that we’d get goals from Herbers and Rosenberry, I would probably tell you you were a little crazy,” Curtin said. “But we’re happy for them. I think it’s a big step in a tough atmosphere.”

Herbers opened the scoring for the Union by powering home a deflection off his own original shot. The goal was followed by a Rosenberry game-winning goal from a Tranquillo Barnetta pass into the box. 

“For Keegan, for Josh, for Herbers to step up the way they did in what I would call a big boy game, I think it shows them growing as players,” Curtin said. “It’s a real game out there where a team is fighting and is desperate to make a playoff push, we had to be alert for 90 minutes.”

The three had such an impact on last Saturday’s match that Curtin is likely to go to the kids again against SKC. Herbers made the start in place of Ilsinho, who is currently fighting off a foot injury.

“We’re a club that trusts young players and believes in playing young players,” Curtin said. “They rewarded us.” 

2. Bedoya’s impact
Although he won’t make the scoresheet, in three games, Alejandro Bedoya has impressed Curtin with his poise in the midfield and big-game calmness with the ball. 

“To think he’s in his preseason now is a scary thing,” said Curtin, who has played Bedoya 90 minutes in his last two games. “Three great performances and it’s only going to get better. I can’t say enough positives about him.”

What Curtin likes the most is Bedoya’s ability to keep possession and relax the game, something that helps a club overflowing with young players. 

“He has been a great influence on us keeping possession,” Curtin said. “It’s the simple balls that don’t show up in the stat sheet, where he catches it and just plays it to our outside back. That gives us time to catch our breath — it’s so valuable.”

SKC has noticed it, too. 

“They added a very good player, someone with a lot of experience and commitment to the game, especially in the midfield” SKC coach Peter Vermes said. “He poses a problem for any team they play against. For us, we have to be compact, we have to be smart and we have to take our chances really well.”

3. Tired SKC
The Union are catching Sporting Kansas City at the right time. Vermes’ club is winded after just one home match in its last seven. 

“We’ve had a lot of travel these last couple weeks, so going into this Philly game we want to conserve as much energy as possible,” SKC’s Benny Feilhaber said. “They are a really good team this year, so we’ll have our hands full. But we’re confident we can go in and get something out of it.” 

And the club has a right to be tired. In 11 days from Saturday’s match, SKC will have played in Couva, Trinidad and Tobago, home at Children’s Mercy Park, then away at BC Place against the Vancouver Whitecaps, before traveling cross-country to face the Union.

“Every game is very important, so we have to be able to give everything we’ve got, even though we’re running on fumes a little bit here,” Vermes said. “We’re going to have to dig down deep and muster up something with Philadelphia being as good as they are.” 

4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: It doesn’t appear that Ilsinho will return in time for Saturday’s match, leaving Herbers as a starter on the right side of the midfield. He has two goals and four assists in five starts this season.

SKC: Although Dom Dwyer has four goals in his last five matches, Feilhaber has the ability to get everyone involved. The veteran midfielder has a goal and three assists in his last four matches.

5. This and that
• The Union are 4-5-4 against SKC all-time and an even 2-2-2 at home. 

• Despite being in playoff position, the Union have yet to win back-to-back games more than once this season. The only time they’ve claimed consecutive wins was on March 12 and March 20. And that started with a win over the Crew. 

• Each scoring a goal against the Crew, Rosenberry and Herbers were the first two rookies to score in a match since Colorado Rapids’ Deshorn Brown and Dillon Powers did it in 2013.