Let’s face it, COVID-19 has been the ultimate sports villain. Everyone who was locked down rejoiced when sports leagues and play started up again, with many fans watching teams and leagues they hadn’t followed before, desperate for something to entertain and celebrate during a pandemic.

But, as often happens in sports, the favorite got too confident, or underestimated the challenger, or was distracted by celebrating fans, or somehow didn’t see the punch coming. The delta variant was a gut punch indeed, but it is omicron that has left sports around the world staggering — not quite locked down again yet, but with entire leagues canceling or postponing games left and right.

The NHL.

The NBA.

The NFL.

Colleges.

The 76ers-Pelicans game on Sunday night was the latest one pushed back by COVID-19 concerns.

We may be rooting for sports to bounce back, but right now, the reality check is that the bell has rung and in various corners, coaches, owners, and administrators are huddled up trying to figure out a strategy to win. Whether that’s more vaccines, more testing, more masks, more distancing remains to be seen — but something different must be done. Because the previous plans aren’t working anymore.

— Inquirer Sports Staff, @phillysport

Tell us: If you were a league administrator, what would your omicron mitigation plan would be? sports.daily@inquirer.com

Early Birds

Now that the Eagles game has been postponed to Tuesday, it appears as if Washington will get some of its players back from the COVID-19 reserve list, while the Eagles will see wide receiver Quez Watkins return. But it also appears as if the Eagles will play Tuesday without rookie starting guard Landon Dickerson, who went on the COVID-19 reserve list on Sunday.

Beyond losing any advantage gained from Washington’s players being out, one of the possibilities was that additional players could be missing on either side. But let’s call this what it is, and columnist Mike Sielski is doing so. If we really cared about NFL players’ safety, we’d have banned football long ago, he writes. But the sport is apparently just too much fun.

“If the safety of those who crack each other’s bones and brains for our entertainment were our primary concern, we wouldn’t need a COVID outbreak in a locker room to give us pause,” Sielski writes.

Off the Dribble

Shake Milton and backup center Andre Drummond joined Georges Niang in the NBA’s health and safety protocols for the coronavirus and apparently their losses were too much for the Sixers to overcome. The game against New Orleans on Sunday night was postponed because the Sixers were not able to suit up the mandatory eight players for the game.

Injuries played a part: Joel Embiid (ankle), Tyrese Maxey (quadriceps), and Danny Green (hip) were listed as questionable on the injury report, and Furkan Korkmaz was out with a non-COVID illness.

The question now? Will the Sixers have enough players to suit up for their scheduled game against the Celtics on Monday in Boston?

On the Fly

With seven teams shut down through Christmas because of COVID-19, the NHL and NHLPA announced Sunday night that the league will continue as planned, despite the recent spike in positive cases over the past week.

The Flyers, who have a five-game point streak, currently have two players in the league’s protocol: Morgan Frost and Max Willman. The recent increase in cases also leaves the NHL’s participation in the 2022 Olympics in limbo.

Next: The Flyers are scheduled to play Tuesday night at 7 against the Capitals (ESPN+).

Fleet Street

For decades, there has nearly always been a constant positive element in the otherwise dips and valleys of the United States’ men’s soccer team — goalkeeping. Matt Turner is part of this. In the win Saturday against Bosnia and Herzegovina, he got his ninth shutout. This bettered Kasey Keller’s calendar-year record for U.S. goalkeepers set in 2005 (8). Turner is now only 38 shutouts away from the all-time USMNT record, also held by Keller. Turner played in 13 games this year, the most by a U.S. keeper in any debut year.

Yet despite his impressive achievements, Turner is arguably still a backup goalkeeper for the USMNT, as Downingtown’s Zack Steffen is counted on by coach Gregg Berhalter for crucial World Cup qualifying games such as the one against Mexico. Goalkeeping competition in the USMNT has often produced heated debates: Meola or Sommer? Keller or Friedel? Now, Turner or Steffen?

One clear winner has emerged, even as she starts her retirement. Carli Lloyd, along with Natasha Cloud, claims the Wanamaker Award.

Worth a look

What you’re talking about

Flyers fans had a lot to say about the team’s infamous Stanley Cup drought. Here’s a sampling.

No great goalie after Hextall. Poor trades, poor management. — Anonymous

The Flyer scouts see a list of players they like and they think will progress and a majority of the time they don’t. The Nolan Patrick #2 pick was a total bust. The #5 pick Cale Mekar (Avs) was the best pick. You win some, you lose some when you’re picking 18yr olds. — Clyde E.

Poor drafting by clueless general managers. Poor scouting system and poor coaches. — Louis R.

The constant groove they wear going to the penalty box, the lack of good 5x5 play, their poor overall defensive play and subpar goaltending! To me, the Flyers are the most predictable team in the NHL. True you have to admire their historical tenaciousness because of Bobby Clarke’s influence that’s in their DNA but they never have the poise or keep their emotions in check. Plus, the predictability of their system — good power play and penalty kill, but not much else. Whenever I watch the Flyers I think if the other team stays out of the penalty box, they are likely to win. I thought they were headed in the right direction during the “bubble” but then they went backwards. I don’t know. They are a mystery to me because they obviously have good players! Maybe new leadership, I thought Hextall was given the shaft! — Tom C.

There are a number of reasons why over the years. At times, it was poor coaching. Other times, a lack of talent. No one since Keith Allen has been an excellent General Manager. Today’s team lacks talent. Outside of Hart and Provorov there is no one on this team that is untouchable via a trade. Chuck Fletcher has not corrected the lack of obtaining a “pure sniper” for the team. No coach exists who can make this current roster a Stanley Cup contender. — Alan