It's that time of the spring when Philadelphia sports worlds deliciously collide.
The Phillies and the NFL draft. The Flyers and Sixers in the playoffs. It's like ordering a Kohr Bros. soft-serve, vanilla-chocolate cone that falls into a vat of multicolored sprinkles. Or something like that.
So in the spirit of this sports cornucopia, here is a sampling of what is racing through my head.
Conference finals. If the Flyers can beat the New Jersey Devils and the Sixers can outlast the Bulls, we could be looking at the first dual conference-finals situation in this town since 1985. And that's not that far a leap. Apparently, the NBA is a little behind the times and doesn't reseed the second round, which means the Sixers would have to beat only the Boston Celtics or the Atlanta Hawks to advance to the conference finals. Very plausible. But the last time the Flyers and Sixers both went to the conference finals, fate dealt them both a nasty blow.
In 1985, the Flyers, captained by Dave Poulin, beat the Quebec Nordiques in the Eastern Conference finals before losing to the powerful Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup Finals. Pelle Lindbergh won the Vezina that season, and Brian Propp and Tim Kerr were both 40-goal scorers. Early the following season, tragedy struck when Lindbergh was killed in a car crash.
That same year, the Sixers, with Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Andrew Toney, Maurice Cheeks, and an upstart named Charles Barkley, reached the conference finals before losing to the Boston Celtics of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, and Danny Ainge. That triggered a downward spiral from which the Sixers took years to recover. Billy Cunningham left as coach after that season. Matt Guokas took over, and the following season the Sixers traded Moses to Washington for Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson, and the No. 1 pick in the draft for Roy Hinson. I know. It still hurts.
Roy Halladay. I don't know what's wrong with the Phillies' staff ace, but I'm not that comfortable right now. Halladay, who got shelled for eight runs and 12 hits in less than six innings in his last outing, is averaging three strikeouts fewer than he did per nine innings last year. His velocity is down, as well. He's throwing fewer and fewer fastballs. About two-thirds of all of the pitches he throws these days are cutters or curves.
Here's what I know: A pitcher's arm, like a car, has only so much mileage in it. Is Halladay not 100 percent physically, or has he just hit the wall?
The Phillies' future. It has been a wonderful era of Phillies baseball. And I still think this team will make the National League playoffs and even win the division again. But what happens from here? With so many guys getting old at once and a farm system that could produce only Eric Kratz as an offensive call-up the other day, what does this team even look like next year? How do the Phillies replenish? Who plays third base next year? Do the Phillies re-sign Shane Victorino, knowing that they've probably been mistaken in giving players in their 30s multiyear deals? What about left field, which right now is manned by Juan Pierre and a spin of the wheel when Pierre sits.
At one point, I thought Hunter Pence would be a cornerstone for the Phillies, but now I'm not so sure. Here's the thing about Pence that confuses me: His batting-practice long balls are legendary. And yet I don't see much of that power during the games. Hunter, with Ryan Howard not in the lineup, this team needs you to drive the ball more, not slap ground balls through the hole.
Donovan McNabb. I'm usually hard on our favorite ex-quarterback, but my thinking is fair-minded on McNabb right now. If the Eagles can announce that they'll retire Brian Dawkins' number 20 in a ceremony, can the retirement of McNabb's number 5 be very far behind? I know we're not thinking in those terms just yet, what with McNabb saying such silly things about why he's worthy of the Hall of Fame. But think about it. If the Eagles can retire the number of Dawkins, shouldn't it be a no-brainer to retire the number of the best player in franchise history at the most important position in the sport, quarterback?
NFL suspensions. Roger Goodell right now is reminding me of the Gene Hackman sheriff character, Little Bill, in the movie Unforgiven, who overzealously enforced the law to clean up a town. But that was the Wild West. This is pro football. A one-year suspension for linebacker Jonathan Vilma for his participation in the NFL bounty controversy is a little harsh, don't you think? If Goodell had any evidence that connected a specific injury with a specific bounty, then I could see it. But come on, man. Bounties have been going on in this league for a really long time. The commissioner has already made his point with the suspensions of the coach and general manager. And perhaps he could have continued that point with maybe a half-year suspension of Vilma. Stay tuned for the lawsuit on this one.
The Kentucky Derby. Spent my Saturday at the Derby, and for my money there is no better sporting event one can attend. The thing about the Kentucky Derby is that if you sip enough mint juleps in the hot sun, it makes you more aggressive at the betting window. Many years ago, when I was working in the newspaper business, I felt some karma for a horse named Editor's Note. So not quite clear of mind, I emptied my pockets at the window, betting Editor's Note to win. At the top of the stretch, my horse started to fade, and I watched forlornly as a horse named Grindstone crossed the finish line first.
A patron next to me noted my depressed look, looked at my ticket, and said, "Dude, you won!" Because of the juleps, I hadn't taken note of the fact that Editor's Note and Grindstone were running as a Wayne Lukas stable entry, which means I got both horses for the price of one. Best track day of my life.