The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

The Phils in a pennant race, the Eagles taking the field for a new season. Plus: A few stray thoughts on the Heisman Trophy and pineapples

After reading this blog, I’d like everyone to walk outside and take a big whiff. Smell the autumn air and feel the hazy Indian summer sun and watch the birds pick over fallen tomatoes and fruit and know that it’s the absolute best time for sports in Philadelphia: a baseball team in a pennant race, and the opening of a new, and I really mean new, Eagles football season.

Doesn’t it feel good?

The Phillies are in the playoffs. You can book that in Vegas, write it on your refrigerator Wipe Board, burn it in wood and frame it in your den. They secured that by bouncing back from a disheartening four-game sweep at home to the Houston Astros and winning eight of their next 10 games. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves, as predicted in this space many times during the summer, are faltering, just as any team would who is not used to playing through the pressure of late season baseball. [SIGNUP]

Tuesday night, the Phils took over first place for the first time since late May with a goofy victory over the Florida Marlins. Goofy in that they kicked the ball all over the place defensively, had a balk and then a wild pitch that scored the tying run, then steadied themselves enough to score the winning run with perfectly executed small ball. A bloop hit by Shane Victorino, a stolen base, and a great piece of hitting by Placido Polanco, who fired a fast ball on the outside part of the plate exactly where he should have — to right field to score what would be the winning run.

That’s what good teams, clutch teams, do in September. Meanwhile, the Braves were shutout by the Pittsburgh Pirates, perhaps the worst baseball team in the history of civilization. It was the second straight loss to the Pirates for the Braves. And it’s very telling.

The Phillies playing in September is very exciting. But it’s not as exciting as the opening of the NFL season, the first chapter of a lengthy book that we can’t ever put down. We have been desperately wasting any of our Sundays previous to this one. Now we have a purpose. Up on Sunday morning, coffee and a danish and a newspaper until we look up and it’s 1 o’clock and time for football.

Right now, the Eagles are a mystery to all of us. In the pre-season, they showed us very little. They’ve got a killer schedule and a new quarterback, and I’m not sure any of us can say for certain whether Kevin Kolb can play — despite the hype about his accuracy and his quick release and his background growing up in Texas where he was coached by legends and reared by football parents, and how he’s tough enough to catch 100 fish in one day and still have time to kill a rattlesnake. (Ya think the Inquirer was desperate for story lines?)

But there’s something weird about this first week. The Packers, the team that many experts think can be the NFC’s representative in this season’s Super Bowl, are merely a three-point favorite in Sunday’s game at Lincoln Financial Field. See, the Packers haven’t played well on the road, nor has their quarterback, golden boy Aaron Rodgers. If the line is telling me something, it’s that the Eagles make this a game and Kolb comes out and outplays Rodgers. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but if the Birds can pull this one off, they have a chance to start the season 4-0. And if they start the season 4-0, they could make the playoffs after all.

1. The Eagles have 10 rookies on this year’s roster, two of which will be starting on defense. I think it’s nice that they turned over the roster. However, don’t think we don’t notice, Joe Banner, that it also buys you guys in the front office a lot more time and patience with the fan base. You have already conditioned us to back off the expectations now that a young quarterback has taken over for Donovan McNabb. The fan base this year will almost be content with an 8-8 season.

2. I’ve given the Eagles credit for shedding some guys that they had recently drafted, thereby pointing out that they did make some mistakes in the draft and in free agency. Quintin Demps, gone. Macho Harris, gone. Stacy Andrews, gone. Now, in releasing these names, the front office never actually admitted they made these mistakes. But we’ll take what we can get.

3. The Heisman Trophy committee is going to take away the hardware won by Reggie Bush a few years ago because of the scandal involving Bush and multiple payments he received when he was a student-athlete at USC. This, I don’t get. I understand that it makes the Heisman look bad that Bush won the thing and he did so while receiving illegal cash benefits. But how did receiving that money make him a better player? Now if Reggie Bush took steroids and it made him bigger and faster, then they would have a case. I hate to break it to the Heisman committee, but I guarantee that many of the Heisman Trophy winners received illegal payments as college players. And now that O.J. Simpson is in jail, does that not tarnish the trophy the year he won it?

4. I don’t get the protest of the longshoreman’s union of throwing pineapples into the Delaware River from the Camden docks. I mean, I get that they are unhappy with the DelMonte company for eliminating some longshoreman jobs. But couldn’t they have picked a less expensive fruit? Jesus, have you ever tried to buy a pineapple in a grocery store these days? They’re $5.99 and you can’t even eat the core. Wouldn’t it have been better to throw cling peaches or cans of creamed corn into the river and sell the pineapples to raise money for a nice strike fund? Just sayin’.

Listen to MIKE MISSANELLI weekday afternoons on 97.5 The Fanatic.