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Jerry Sandusky to the Eagles: The Top 5 Most Shocking Philadelphia Sports Stories of 2011

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With a little less than a week to go in 2011, the good folks at P2P were discussing the year that was in Philly sports. 2011 provided fans with some great moments as well as disappointment, disbelief, and even disgust.  At times, you had to take a step back to realize the impact of situations that were transpiring, and how they forever made us look at certain individuals (and in some cases humanity) from a less than favorable point of view.

It was a year that saw great expectations come crashing down, a changing of the guard for some of our teams, and the realization that no matter how well somebody in the general public is perceived, what goes on behind closed doors could be another story altogether.

For better or worse, 2011 is not a year we’re going to forget anytime soon no matter how you remember it.

Here they are:

5. Eagles’ “Dream Team” a massive bustDefensive End Jason babin is one Eagle who has lived up to his contract. Photo: daylife.com

This normally would have been ranked higher. But let’s face it: it’s not so shocking that an Eagles team underachieved. After all, we are 0 for our last 51 in championship attempts- the longest drought of any of the four professional sports teams in town (even the Sixers have won multiple titles since then), but I digress.

It all started last summer during the NFL Lockout. There was talk once the lockout ended that the Birds were going to make a big splash on the free agent market as soon as the league office gave them the green light to talk to free agents.

And in a frenzy that put the 2004 off-season to shame, the Birds front office opened their checkbooks and the splurging began. They started by resigning former Eagles’ defensive end Jason Babin, defensive tackle and Super Bowl Champion Cullen Jenkins, running back Ronnie Brown, backup quarterback Vince Young (more on him later), wide receiver Steve Smith, and perhaps the most coveted free agent on the market, cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha. The Birds also acquired cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a trade for Eagles’ failed quarterback prospect Kevin Kolb.

When training camp finally arrived, all it took was a comment from Young, who called the Eagles a “Dream Team,”  and the Birds were instantly set up for a downfall.

Although Young’s comments were most likely taken out of context, there were warning signs from the get-go that this team had some issues they needed to overcome. The lockout gave the Eagles virtually no time whatsoever to get things together in camp with their brand new coaching staff, which included a defensive coordinator who had never coached defense in the NFL prior to this season. It also didn’t help you had a rookie holdout guard (Danny Watkins) who wasn’t able to participate in any OTAs, a rookie middle linebacker they anointed as the starter as camp begins (Casey Matthews), and virtually zero NFL experience at the safety position. Moreover, you had DeSean Jackson mail things in because he didn’t get his contract extension.

Add all of these things together combined with five blown fourth quarter leads and you have the most disappointing as well as disheartening Eagles’ seasons in recent memory.Ronnie Brown and the Eagles...man...

As for their big free agent signings, Babin is currently chasing Reggie White’s single season sack record (although some have accused him of being a one trick pony) and Jenkins has emerged as a team leader, but it has yet to be determined whether Asomugha was a great player on a bad Raiders team, or if he’s being misused by Juan Castillo.

With the exception of a win against the Giants, Vince Young’s season was a disaster while he filled in for an injured Michael Vick. Smith was a total bust, and Ronnie Brown was so productive the Eagles attempted to trade him by mid-season. Just look at his photo and that’s all you need to know about the 2011 Eagles season: a complete and utter misfire. The 2011 Eagles collectively forgot one thing: you can have as many big names as you want, but you still have to play as a team.

Of course, we wouldn’t dare insinuate that Andy Reid had anything to do with the team underachieving. He simply needs to do a better job of putting his players in a position to win.

 

4. Flyers shake up their team: Trade Richards and Carter on the same daymike richards jeff carter
 
Despite the Flyers’ near improbable Stanley Cup run in 2010, numerous rumors concerning team captain Mike Richards and Jeff Carter were never really put to rest going into the 2010-2011 season.

Did the two get along with the rest of the team, or was it a locker room divided? Did Richards get along with Chris Pronger? Were Richards and Carter’s partying hurting the overall play of the team? Why is Richards so surly with the media? Do Richards and coach Peter Laviolette get along? There are more, but you get the idea.

First off, I never got the whole “Richards as the team leader” thing. He did have moments of greatness, but it was a role he never seemed to embrace, he’s not a people person by any stretch of the imagination, he hates the media, and you can get more communication watching an Andy Reid press conference than anything you’ve ever heard him say.

Then the Flyers were embarrassed by the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Bruins in the second round of the playoffs, and that’s when things really seemed to come to a head. Whether it’s fair or not, Richards was saddled with the tag that he had a problem communicating with his team, and there was even talk about whether the Flyers should strip him of his captaincy.  Philadelphia needs to find solid replacements for not one, but two midnight mayors of center city. Photo: www.dirtydangle.com

Apparently, GM Paul Holmgren had seen enough, and started the house cleaning by shipping Carter off to Columbus.

No sooner do I get off the treadmill and arrive at my house minutes later to found out that Holmgren also dealt Richards to the Kings. This was one of the craziest days in Philadelphia sports since the Moses Malone trade in 1986. And oh yeah, amidst all the drama, the Flyers signed free agent goalie Ilya Bryzgalof .

An emotional Holmgren maintained it was a tough decision to unload Carter and Richards , and that they primarily did what they did for ‘salary reasons’ regrading Bryzgalof’s contract. Some of this might be true, but I don’t care what anybody says: this Flyers team needed a change in the culture of the team, and the only way they were going to do it was to shake it up and ship them out of town.

Whether the Carter and Richards trades will come back and haunt the orange and black remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure: it seems this year’s squad actually enjoys playing the game, and their fast start is very encouraging as we approach 2012.

 

3. Phillies ride a staff of aces to 102 wins, then bow out in the NLDS Cliff Lee photo: AP/Gay

After the Phillies were upset by the Giants in the 2010 NLCS, GM Ruben Amaro sought to change the makeup of the Phillies and decided to turn the team into more of a pitching oriented squad. When the Phillies shocked the baseball world by bringing back Cliff Lee shortly before Christmas,  Amaro finalized his goal. And in the process, he assembled one the of greatest pitching staffs of the modern era.

Sure, there were a few small bumps along the way, but for the most part the 2011 Phillies dominated almost everything and everyone in its path en route to 102 regular season wins, the most ever in franchise history. Going into the post season, the team was favored to win it all for the second straight year

But then came the St. Louis Cardinals, whom the Phils technically let into the playoffs on the season's last day.

The Phillies took Game 1 of the NLDS, which featured strong performances by Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard. However, St. Louis tied the series in Game 2 as Lee fell apart and blew a four-run lead. The Phils managed to take the series lead in Game 3 after a pinch-hit three-run homer from Ben Francisco and a strong performance from Cole Hamels. They were all set to clinch the series the next night in Game 4, but the Cardinals got the best of Roy Oswalt and the series shifted back to Philadelphia for the decisive fifth game, one of the most pivotal contests in the history of the franchise.To say that things have been going downhill for Ryan Howard since the 2009 World Series is a vast understatement.

In a pitcher’s duel for the ages, Chris Carpenter beat Halladay in a 1-0 heartbreaker, the Cardinals shocked the world, and the rest is history. To win 102 games in the regular season and manage just three hits in the most important game of the year left the sold-out crowd at Citizens Bank Park in utter shock, as the Phillies’ offense fell silent again for the second straight post season.

To literally add insult to injury, the year once again came down to Ryan Howard, who weakly grounded out to end the series and ruptured his achilles tendon in the process while the Cardinals were celebrating around him. You would be hard pressed to find a more humiliating scenario to end a season. And of course, it had to happen in Philadelphia, because we’re often pioneers for things like that.

Once again, a season of tremendous expectations in this town succumbed to disappointment and heartache. The 2011 Phillies still reminded us that misfortune can still strike in an instant with our sports teams, 102 wins or not.  

If the end of the year fell on October 31st, the Phillies early exit would have topped the list. But nothing prepared us for what transpired next.

2. Bill Conlin Sex Abuse Claims

It’s one thing that a sex abuse scandal recently transpired about an hour and change from the city, but it really hits close to home when a similar story breaks again one month later, and the alleged culprit is one of the most celebrated sports writers in the history of Philadelphia.

Bill Conlin’s 50-year career as a Hall Of Fame baseball scribe speaks for itself. That’s why it’s so hard to fathom that somebody whom many thought they knew so personally in this town could possibly take part in such heinous crimes on behalf of helpless children.

The statute of limitations has since long expired on Conlin’s alleged acts, but there are members of Conlin’s family who attest to having knowledge of these incidents when they happened in the 1970’s. Originally, the claims came from three women and one man (one of them his own niece). Now, the total number of claims has jumped to seven.

Guilty or not, these accusations are too heavy to be taken lightly in any manner. Conlin announced his abrupt retirement earlier this week from the Daily News, but even if he wanted to get back into writing, chances are no publication in their right minds would consider bringing him aboard in the future regardless if he was ever found innocent.

The Conlin story is an absolute shocker, but number one is even more shocking.

1. Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State Child Sex Abuse ScandalJoe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky

Not only is this P2P’s number one shocking sports story of 2011, this is one of the biggest scandals to ever hit a college campus in history.

Where do we even start? The countless accusations that former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky had been doing this for decades to young underprivileged boys? The rumors that he may have been pimping them out to rich donors? Joe Paterno, and what he did or did not report? Paterno’s firing? Mike McQueary and what he saw or possibly ignored when he saw Sandusky and a young boy in the shower?  What did the ‘higher ups’ know at Penn State that they were covering up? Some of the ‘holier than thou’ Penn State fans who rioted when Paterno was dismissed?  Was there a cover up that explains why Sandusky was still allowed on campus despite allegations hanging in the air?

We were able to get one paragraph on just the questions surrounding this case alone. That pretty much sums things up. It won’t take months for everything to be peachy keen in Happy Valley. Drastic action must be taken to regain the trust of the general public, and it will take decades or even more to restore the once squeaky clean image of the institution.

The entire regime of Penn State University who knew Sandusky was being investigated should have resigned in the wake of this debacle. From the looks of it, it seems Penn State cared more about their football program than the well being and safety of children. They tried to sweep the issue under the rug, and it backfired on them worse than they could have ever imagined.

 

Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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