2006 in Philly Sports

2006 in Philly Sports

We thought we'd take a look back at some of the Philly sports highlights from 2006 as well as some of our favorite posts from The 700 Level.  I hope you enjoy and thanks for reading.

January

09 - You can buy options on Super Bowl tickets.
10 - The 700 Level was the featured blog at Philly Future.
11 - Caught a Flyers game in East Rutherford, NJ.
14 - Villanova's basketball squad was starting to get praise as a legit contender.
15 - Terrell Owens and his "Get your popcorn ready" first enter our vernacular.  What was Boost Mobile thinking?
17 - The Phillies franchise was voted to be among the most miserable in baseball.
20 - We wished for Freddie Mitchell's safe return to Philadelphia as a member of the Philadelphia Soul.  Our dreams have not come true, yet.
21 - We had Rocky fever way before any sane individual.
24 - Philadelphia Eagles cheerleaders and Poon.
25 - Remember Lee Nailon?  He was on the Sixers.  He also got arrested.
26 - Frank Stallone was in town.
30 - Mike Bartrum got a free vacation to Hawaii to play in the Pro Bowl.
31 - Bode Miller and skiing drunk was all the rage.  We interviewed the Birdman, our local expert on both skiing and boozing, to get his take on the topic.

February

01 - We kind of live blogged the Duke/Boston College game where BC gave Duke a scare.
02 - Donovan McNabb comes out with the whole black-on-black crime thing regarding Terrell Owens.  We're just glad all that is over.
03 - We attended our first ever Wing Bowl.  It lived up to the drunken hype.
04 - We kind of live blogged Super Bowl XL.  The wings were the highlight of the day.
07 - Former Flyer Rick Tochett gets busted for Operation Slapshot, a gambling ring.  That was a fun story.
10 - It's no surprise really that one of the most popular search results that brings people to The 700 Level is Tyra Banks and Chris Webber.
10 - We caught Olympic fever and were ready for the Flying Tomato.
11 - Pictures from the final scenes of Rocky Balboa at the top of the Art Museum.
13 - I proclaim that Kyle Korver sucks and add in some fine photoshop work I did.
13 - McNabb doesn't need to wait in security lines.
14 - Delonte West is a love machine and Allen Iverson is from Uranus.
16 - One of our great discoveries this past year was a video of Olympic figure skater Johnny Weir shopping in Turino, Italy with Philadelphia's own Vai Sikahema.
19 - Andre Iguodala puts down one of the sickest off the backboard dunks at the All Star game but is robbed of the title.
28 - Iverson got shafted from the Olympic team and Philly fans were pretty upset about it.

March

02 - Stephen A. Smith couldn't get anybody to come see his show so somebody in his staff emails me to encourage people to go.
03 - After watching Allen Iverson drop 47 on Gilbert Arenas I write my Internet famous post titled, "Don't Trade Allen Iverson, Ever."  Complete with sick Allen Iverson crossover.
06 - We bet you click on the next link because it had Oscars content but more importantly a picture of Selma Hayek.
08 - World Baseball Classic!
10 - Perhaps the most visited page ever at The 700 Level.  Video of Villanova star Allan Ray in what looked like his eye getting popped out.  He ended up okay, but Yahoo picked this up on their buzz list.
14 - Terrell Owens finally is officially released from the Philadelphia Eagles.
16 - And days after Terrell Owens departs, enter the guy who turned the Eagles season into a success.  Jeff Garcia signed on as backup QB for the Birds.
17 - Jeff Garcia's wife-to-be is a Playboy Playmate.
17 - The first move in to glorious Eagles victories against the Cowboys this season.  Much to the dismay of the Big Tuna, Terrell Owens signs with Dallas.  He also debuted a horrible rap song on his website dissing Philly.
20 - We booked our tickets to the Sweet 16 and loved ourselves some Craig Smith.  Our trip to Minneapolis didn't turn out as well as we would have liked with Villanova beating my Boston College squad.
22 - Mike Missanelli getting fired from 610 WIP turned into the most commented on post here at the level.
28 - The Phillie Phanatic gets painted red.
29 - Geno's cheesesteaks gets officially booted from the ball park in Philly.

April

02 - We started the Rollins Watch 2006 with Jimmy Rollins chasing Joe DiMaggio's record.  We made our first ever opening day appearance to see Jimmy reach 37 games.
06 - I was interviewed and a nice little post about The 700 Level appeared in the Philadelphia METRO.
06 - Rollins streak was ended at 38.
08 - Ryan Howard has a big stick.
10 - Perhaps one of the wackier stories of the year; Darren Daulton proves that baseball players are a strange bunch with his metaphysical mumbojumbo.
12 - Nothing like a toddler learning how to do an Eagles chant... at a Phillies game no less.
17 - The Phanatic shows that big can be sexy.
18 - The Sixers ended their season with little to show for it.  I wondered if it marked the end of Allen in Philly?
22 - Our love affair with Sal Fasano started and wouldn't stop... until he got traded of course.
23 - Our love affair with Ryan Howard, which we hope lasts a life time, kept on trucking with a 496 foot bomb.

24 - Sal's Pals speak out and give the rest of the world a look into their cult.

May

01 - Remember the Eagles drafted that skier Jeremy Bloom?  That was fun, right?  And man, we thought Bunkley was going to be a beast.
02 - We thought Barry Bonds coming to Philly would be our moment to shine.  We had a good view of his ass, but the signage to our left was truly spectacular.  More on Bonds trip to Philly.
10 - Billy Wagner returned to Philly as a Met, but didn't get into the game.
11 - Iverson got deposed.  He wasn't happy.
11 - Perhaps the single most memorable play of the year: Aaron Rowand with "The Catch" video.  He ended up looking like he went the distance with Apollo Creed.
14 - Jeremy Bloom met President Bush and tried to give him a McNabb jersey.  Didn't work so well.
18 - Phillies road trips are fun.  I caught them play the Brewers in Milwaukee.
23 - Alex Gonzalez retired! Thank goodness.
24 - After 5 hours and 22 minutes the Phillies couldn't pull out a 16 inning game against the Mets.
25  - 'Area Athlete Named to Advisory Board of New Indoor Swim Park:' Mike Mamula!
29 - The New York Post does a feature on Sal Fasano and Alex Rodriguez.  I get interviewed by the Post for some Philly perspective.

June

01 - I catch World Cup fever.

Phils owner John Middleton, who still wants his trophy back, reflects on the Ryan Howard era

Phils owner John Middleton, who still wants his trophy back, reflects on the Ryan Howard era

The end of an era has arrived for the Phillies.

Ryan Howard burst on the scene like a comet ablaze and powered his way to becoming the National League Rookie of the Year in just a half-season in 2005. A year later, he had one of the greatest seasons in franchise history when he clubbed a team-record 58 homers and added 149 RBIs in winning the 2006 National League Most Valuable Player award. He was the big bat — or Big Piece, as Charlie Manuel so aptly dubbed him — in the middle of the lineup for a club that won five NL East titles, two NL pennants and a World Series over a five-year run of success that ended on that October night in 2011 when Howard himself fell to the ground in pain and clutched his left ankle as his Achilles tendon exploded on the final swing of the season.

From his seat at Citizens Bank Park, John Middleton watched Howard go down that night and he knew.

Middleton had joined the Phillies ownership group in 1994 and seen his stake in the team rise to nearly 48 percent as the club was rising to the level of baseball elite. He felt elation on the night the Phillies won the World Series in 2008, disappointment on the night they lost the World Series in 2009 and frustration when the team suffered postseason failures in 2010 and 2011.

Howard’s crumbling to the ground on that October night in 2011 came to symbolize the end of the Phillies’ great run. A mighty man had been felled by injury. A mighty team had been brought down.

“They all gnaw at me,” Middleton said of the postseason failures that followed 2008 in a recent interview with CSN Philadelphia. “The opportunity to do something extraordinarily special is rare. And when it presents itself, you need to be able to take advantage of it as much as you possibly can.

“That said, I think '11 was the hardest for me.”

The Phillies won a club-record 102 games that year, but did not make it out of the first round of the playoffs and haven’t been back since.

Middleton, still in ass-kickin’ physical condition at 61, was a wrestler in college. He’d seen injuries. He’d had injuries. As soon as he saw Howard go down, he knew it was an Achilles injury and he knew it was bad. Deep down inside, he just knew that great Phillies team would never be the same, that the run was over.

“When Ryan went down with the Achilles injury at the end of that game, I knew he was going to be out for 2012 and you didn't really know when he was going to be back and how well he would come back,” Middleton said.

Howard’s injury coincided with injuries to Chase Utley and Roy Halladay.

“That was just too many people to lose,” Middleton said.

Middleton has stepped out of the background and taken a more up-front role with the club over the past two years. He was a leader in making the decision to move away from past glory and commit to a full rebuild two years ago, and he remains committed to it today.

The reconstruction of the Phillies has coincided with the deconstruction of the club that won all those games and titles from 2007-2011. Hamels, Rollins, Utley, Ruiz, Werth, Halladay, Lee and others are gone. All that remains is Howard and his time in red pinstripes will come to an end after this final weekend series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

While the failure to do something “extraordinarily special” — i.e., win multiple World Series — still gnaws at Middleton, he will remember the good times that Howard provided.

There were lots of them.

“This wasn't just a guy who was good or very good, this was an elite player,” Middleton said.

Howard has not been an elite player since the Achilles injury. There were times in recent seasons when his union with the club became uncomfortable. He was mentioned in trade rumors, but the fact is there wasn’t much interest in him from other teams. He went from being a full-time player and a star to being a part-time player.

Middleton appreciates the way Howard handled things as his role diminished.

“I think he’s a wonderful human being,” Middleton said. “He's been a terrific player and an even better person. I really will miss him when he's gone.

“Ryan made it easy because he was the consummate teammate. And not only for the other 24, 25 guys on the roster, but for his coaches, for the front office, for the owners. This guy has just been fabulous about it.”

In April 2010, a year and a half before Howard would have been a free agent, the Phillies gave him a five-year, $125 million contract extension. The idea was to lock up a key, productive player and gain some cost certainty. Critics said the Phillies acted too early and they were proven right when Howard blew out his Achilles before the extension even officially kicked in.

Middleton was not the architect of that extension. Former club president David Montgomery and general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. were at the helm then. Both have stood by the decision and pointed to Howard’s productivity — he averaged 44 homers and 133 RBIs from 2006 to through 2011 — as a reason the deal made sense. Both have acknowledged that injuries can change everything in a blink of an eye and, in this case, one did.

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Middleton said. “Had you asked a question and had a crystal ball and knew Ryan was going to have an Achilles injury in October of ‘11 and that would probably limit his effectiveness going forward … that's one question.”

Middleton rattled off some of Howard’s accomplishments: The top 10 finishes in the MVP voting, including the win, the fastest player to 100 and 250 home runs in baseball history …

“This guy was a truly terrific player,” he said. “Over the past 10 years, there's been a strategic move on the part of teams to identify young talent and lock it up early. Ryan's contract was just that. We were trying to identify young talent and lock it up before it hit free agency. Unfortunately, it didn't work out. And in large part, it didn't work out because he had that crippling injury in 2011.”

Howard was still healthy in 2009. In fact, he hit 45 homers and led the NL with 141 RBIs that year. He was the MVP of the NLCS but struggled badly in the World Series against the Yankees, going 4 for 23 with 13 strikeouts.

The performance crushed Howard.

After the Phillies lost Game 6 in Yankee Stadium, Middleton stood outside the clubhouse and wondered if he should go in and comfort the disappointed players.

He finally did and a story that will forever link him and Ryan Howard was born.

Yes, the “I want my (bleeping) trophy back” story is true.

“Completely true,” Middleton said with a laugh.

“We have to go back to that night. Losing the World Series is excruciatingly painful. As great as they have to be to get to the World Series, when you lose, it's just crushing. It really is. I don't know any other word for it.

“So I went into the locker room, obviously very emotional, and there's tons of media around, and I'm trying to talk to each player quietly and privately. I'm trying to thank them for their contribution to the year. I'm trying to get them focused for the offseason and 2010 because I thought we had a great opportunity in 2010. And I look around, and I see Ryan kind of sitting in front of his locker, slumped over with his head in his hands.

“This is my opportunity to go up to Ryan and talk to him without anyone around so I did that. I knelt down beside him and we were talking about the season, the postseason, just a very emotional moment for the two of us and it became more emotional as we talked.

“And at the end, I said, ‘Ryan, I want my … trophy back.’"

The Phillies are still looking to get that trophy back.

Ryan Howard will not be on the team when they finally do.

But he was a big reason they got one in the first place and in a town that loves winners, well, that should not be forgotten as he heads out the door.

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Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

Jeremy Hellickson enjoyed his time with Phillies, now he'll look for free-agent riches

BOX SCORE

ATLANTA — Jeremy Hellickson made his final start of the season for the Phillies on Thursday night.

Now he becomes the team’s first big offseason decision.

Hellickson had long left the game with a sore right knee by the time struggling reliever Jeanmar Gomez was tagged for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in what ended up as a 5-2 loss to the Atlanta Braves (see Instant Replay). The Phillies were swept in their final trip to Turner Field — the Braves will move into a new ballpark in April — and have lost six of their last seven games heading into the final weekend of the season and a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citizens Bank Park.

“It’s a bad time to be in a rut and we’re in a rut,” manager Pete Mackanin said. “We’ve got to go home and snap out of it.”

Besides supporting his rotation mates, Hellickson won’t make any contributions this weekend. The 29-year-old right-hander, acquired in a November trade with Arizona, finished his 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.

Though he left the game in the fourth inning after tweaking his knee while running the bases (see story), Hellickson achieved his season goal.

“This isn’t anything that’s going to linger,” he said, looking down at his knee. “So I came out healthy. That was my main thing, try to throw 200 innings — I fell just short of that — and stay healthy. So as far as those two goals go, it was good.”

By staying healthy and pitching well, Hellickson built himself a nice free-agent platform. But before Hellickson heads out on the open market, the Phillies must make a decision: Do they offer him $17 million to retain him in 2017 or simply let him go. As a rebuilding team, the Phils would love to get a draft pick as compensation for Hellickson’s leaving. But to get that pick, they must make Hellickson that one-year qualifying offer and he must reject it and sign elsewhere. 

It seems likely that the Phils will make the offer to Hellickson. If he takes it, he will return in 2017 and fill the same veteran stabilizer role he did this season. If he rejects, the team will get a pick between the first and second rounds of next year’s draft. The value of that draft pick is significant and was seen as a reason the Phillies did not trade Hellickson in July.

Qualifying offers go out in early November, but general manager Matt Klentak isn’t ready to tip his hand on what he’ll do.

“Both are valuable,” he said, weighing Hellickson's returning on a one-year deal versus picking up a draft selection between the first and second rounds. “For the same reason Jeremy Hellickson was valuable to us this year, Jeremy Hellickson or a player like that could be valuable to us again next year. The draft pick at the end of the first round has a real, measurable, tangible value.”

After Thursday night’s game, Hellickson was asked if he believed he’d made his final start with the Phillies.

“I hope not,” he said. “But I don’t really know how to answer that. I would love to be back here next year. I think everyone knows how much I’ve enjoyed my time here and I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The pitcher was pressed as to whether he could envision himself accepting the qualifying offer if the Phillies made one.

“Yeah, I mean I definitely could see it,” he said. “But …"

Hellickson paused. Then a reporter broke the silence by suggesting the pitcher would rather get a multi-year deal on the open market.

“Yeah, I would love that actually a little bit more,” he said.

The Phillies could look to strike a multi-year deal with Hellickson before he hits the open market five days after the World Series, but that does not appear to be in the club’s plans. The Phils seem to be interested mostly in short-term deals for veterans as they let their kids develop.

In time, this thing will play out.

But for now, the Phillies head home looking to stop a losing streak and scuttle the Mets’ postseason hopes.

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