8. The Sixers make history.
For the first time, a t-shirt cannon sends a fan to the hospital. Have you seen Big Bella? She fires 100 tees in 60 seconds. Even the NRA would consider restrictions on that thing. And what’s the background-check process on the guy who pulls the trigger? I’d love to see what the Phanatic could do with that swag bazooka and a case of hot dogs.
9. Darin Ruf wins Rookie of the Year.
Everyone loves a slugger cut from the Babe Ruth cloth, but for a while, the Phils were short on stout long-ball specialists. Then Jim Thome came to town, like Paul Bunyan with a Louisville Slugger, and instantly became a folk hero. Ryan Howard followed, and late last season, we caught a glimpse of the future in 26-year-old Darin Ruf. He won’t be a Gold Glove contender, but as he proved in September, the kid can hit: .333 with 10 RBIs and three bombs in just 12 games in the majors. Ruf’s hot streak continued in the Venezuela winter league, where he racked up nine homers and 19 RBIs in less than a month. Don’t expect the second coming of Mike Trout. (I get verklempt just thinking about the alternate universe where the Millville native is a Phillie.) Do expect to see Babe Ruf in left field on opening day and reprising Howard’s 2005 rookie-of-the-year performance.
10. Donovan McNabb is recognized, at long last, for what he is.
Quarterbacks are like exes—some don’t stick around for long and are quickly forgotten, while others never really go away. Our breakup with Donovan McNabb falls in the latter category. It was an ugly split. We were both a little bitter at the time, and now that he’s on Daily News Live and the NFL Network, we keep running into each other. That’s been awkward, because the conventional wisdom on McNabb has focused on the negatives—questions about leadership, lack of touch on short passes, injuries. That was before this disastrous Eagles season, and to paraphrase a local ’80s hair-metal band, sometimes you don’t know what you got till it’s gone. Compare Michael Vick to McNabb, and there’s really no comparison. Even at the end of his Eagles career, McNabb was a steady presence in the huddle—not capable of his old magic, but not the liability Vick has become.
Then there was Donovan 1.0, the all-pro who once chucked four touchdowns on a broken ankle en route to a win. Remember all of those seasons when he was throwing to guys with names like Thrash, Pinkston and Brown? Reid’s mantra back then was that the Eagles receivers were fine. Then Terrell Owens came in and blew that company line to pieces. Young McNabb had the talent, but not the weapons, to win a Super Bowl. That wasn’t his fault—it was Reid’s, and his stubborn refusal to improve his wideout corps wasted McNabb’s most productive years. Among Big Red’s mistakes over the years, that may be the one that cost the Birds a Super Bowl more than any other. And in doing so, it also altered our perception of McNabb for the worse. This year, as the team continues to search for McNabb’s heir, fans will begin to see him for what he is—flawed, for sure, but still the best quarterback in franchise history.
11. Philly fans don’t make a single national headline for assaulting, vomiting, streaking or being tasered.
Wishful thinking, part two.