Father Time Wins Again: Time for Hopkins To Say Goodbye for Good

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Bernard Hopkins looked as old as the 51-year-old man he is in his loss to Joe Smith Jr. Photo courtesy of sportingnews.com

When Bernard Hopkins was literally knocked out of the ring last weekend,  he learned that even his arms are too short to box with the ravages of time. 

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
About 10 years ago, I did a phone interview with former HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant as part of my coverage of the International Boxing Organization light heavyweight title fight between Philadelphia boxing legend Bernard Hopkins, who was 40-something at the time, and a younger, faster Antonio Tarver.

At the time, I thought that Father Time would keep Hopkins from winning that fight and asked Merchant what it might finally take to convince Hopkins to finally retire from the ring. In order for him to do that, Merchant said, someone would have to “beat him up”.
It took another 10 years, but last weekend it happened.

After a successful career of standing toe-to-toe against a combination of Father Time and guys half his age, Bernard Hopkins finally got “beat up”. In what is hopefully the final fight of a Hall of Fame career, Hopkins lost to light heavyweight contender Joe Smith Jr. by TKO in the eighth-round.

The outcome of the fight was about as embarrassing as it was sad for the now 51-year-old Hopkins as his much younger opponent literally knocked him out of the ring. With that, Father Time helped add Hopkins to the long list of legendary pugilists who mistakenly believed that greatness is immortal.

With all due respect to the man who once dominated the middleweight division and has won a few titles as a light heavyweight, Hopkins looked exactly like the elderly, 50-something fighter he is as Smith pummeled him all over the ring.

It reminded me of the reasons why I refused the offer of a ticket to a closed circuit screening of the Muhammad Ali/ Larry Holmes fight in 1981. I couldn’t stand to see a great fighter when he wasn’t great anymore. If I had gone to that fight, the guys would have been called me an oversensitive punk because I would have been crying like a baby.

It was the same way with Sugar Ray Leonard when he lost to Terry Norris. I’ve also seen film of guys like Sugar Ray Robinson and Joe Louis fighting when they were well past their prime. It’s often sad and hard to watch because you remember when they were kings and when were so invincible in the conquest of their opposition.

Hopkins needed to go out as a conquering hero the way former Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis did when he led the Ravens to the Super Bowl back in 2012. Instead, Hopkins took to the ring as a shadow of his former self and showed that he just didn’t have it.

On one hand, you have to admire Hopkins for doing something he loves even at his advanced age. He was beating up younger guys when he was in his 40s, which further cemented his legend. He had overcome the rough streets of North Philadelphia, a stint in Graterford Prison and a host of other challenges to become one of the best pound-for-pound boxers in the history of the sport. He was on his way to being a first-ballot Boxing Hall of Famer even without the victories he had as a 40-year-old man.

He has nothing else to prove, and I hope that if nothing else, Hopkins most recent defeat shows that to him. He doesn’t need to humiliate himself like that again.

In fact, he’s probably making more money watching other guys fight through his work with Golden Boy Promotions.

Given what happened to Ali when he hung around too long, it might be time that Hopkins stops hanging on to his youth and allows himself to live in our memories as one of the greatest boxers of all time.

His family deserves the best years of the rest of his life.

Run the Damn Ball: Eagles Need to Establish the Run to Help Carson Wentz

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Eagles running back Ryan Mathews attempts to elude a Minnesota Vikings defender. Can the Eagles jump start their running game and protect quarterback Carson Wentz. Photo by Webster Riddick.

By  Chris Murray 

For the Chris Murray Report and The Philadelphia Sunday Sun

In the last two games, Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has thrown the ball over 40 times.

When that’s happening, it’s usually because you’re behind by a couple of touchdowns and a couple of interceptions have been tossed along the way.

When you’re throwing the ball that much, it means that either (a) you  don’t have much of a running game or (b)!you’ve fallen behind by so many points that you have to abandon the run.

Not having a running game can be tough on a rookie quarterback, which is why Eagles head coach Doug Pederson admits that the team needs to expand it a little.

“Obviously, I think it does help Carson where you’re not putting everything, the whole game on his shoulders. We do a lot in the run game,”  Pederson said. “We  ask Carson to do a lot with RPO [run-pass option] things, with the read options, making some checks there. So, I think going forward, yeah, probably should rely on the run just a little bit more.”

Or, in the case of the Eagles, establish a consistent running game designed to  take the pressure off Wentz at the very least. A run game would keep opposing defenders from bringing the heat to Wentz, who threw two interceptions under intense pressure  against the New York Giants.

For the last two weeks, running back Darren Sproles has gotten the most carries. As shifty and speedy as he is, the 5-foot-6 Sproles is not a lead back. On one fourth down situation against the Giants, he was taken down short of the first down marker.

The guy that should have carried the ball in that situation was Ryan Mathews, who’s a more of a power running back.  So far this season, he is averaging close to four yards per carry. He hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time in recent weeks. That might be because of a fourth-quarter fumble against the Detroit Lions in a crucial situation.

And then there’s rookie Wendell Smallwood. At some point this season, I would love to see him as the Eagles lead back.  I think he has the speed and  power to run through people. He reminds me of former Eagles running back LeSean McCoy, but with more of a willingness to run between the tackles.  Like Sproles, Smallwood is a threat to hit the big play in the running game. In other words,  I like his home-run potential.

But because Smallwood had a fumble in a crucial situation against the Dallas Cowboys, the coaches aren’t trusting him. But the fumble problems can be fixed through coaching and practice.  They also need to get Kenjon Barner out there, too.

The bottom line here is that they can’t have their rookie quarterback slinging the ball all over the place at 40 times per game because, that could land him on the injured reserve list eventually. For all the things I like about Carson Wentz, the most important ability he needs to have is availability.

That’s why Pederson and offensive coordinator Frank Reich really need to concentrate on the ground game.  Even if you don’t settle in on one lead back, figure out a way to utilize what those guys do well.

For example, Mathews is a good power back, especially in the red zone and when you need short yardage.  That’s the guy you use in third down and fourth down situations when you need to get a yard or two.

I would definitely mix in Smallwood between the 20s because I think he’s the most versatile back they have and has that big play potential.

Of course, the Eagles patchwork offensive line has to open those holes, but the offensive line is decent enough to be strong in the running game.

More importantly, you have to take the pressure off the quarterback because while Wentz has the tools to be a solid quarterback, he needs the help of a consistent running game.

And if the Eagles want to make the playoffs, they might want to get that together sooner rather than later.

 

One Last Answer: AI Lifted A Generation

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Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Allen Iverson speaks during induction ceremonies at Symphony Hall, Friday, Sept. 9, 2016, in Springfield, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola). Originally appeared in the Philadelphia Sunday Sun.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Allen Iverson’s induction into the National Basketball Hall of Fame last week was the culmination of the hopes and dreams of a generation of young people whose aspirations were often snuffed out before it had a chance to really to blossom into anything special.

As a basketball star and cultural icon, AI was “The Answer” in more ways than one. 

Iverson’s road to the Hall of Fame, to be sure, came from his dynamic basketball prowess. Yes, pound-for-pound he was one of the greatest little men, if not the greatest to ever lace up a pair of sneakers. Iverson’s blinding ferocity on the court against the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Shaquille O’Neal made him popular players in the sport. His jersey sales rivaled that of his aforementioned contemporaries.

Between the 2001 NBA MVP Award, the scoring titles, the All-Star appearances including two MVP Awards in that game and leading an unlikely Philadelphia 76ers team on an improbable run to the 2001 NBA Finals, Iverson deserved to be in the company of the game’s legends. What he did on the court in his career was truly unforgettable.

Along with his legendary skills as a basketball, Iverson was a transcendent icon of an often misunderstood group of young people. Iverson defiantly wore his braids and tattoos much to the chagrin and distaste of the media that covered him. 

To a maligned group of young people who listened to Tupac, Biggie Smalls and Nas while they were being chastised by overly sanctimonious old heads, Iverson was their “folk” hero.  Iverson truly kept it real through the times he was right and through the times he was wrong.  To me, Iverson was the rebel that the late James Dean was to teenagers and young people of the 1950s.

Sometimes words like loyalty to the hood and never forgetting the brothers you met on the way up are not often meant or are thrown around like a punch line from a hood movie or a lyric in a rap song.

Throughout his career, Iverson took those who loved and nurtured him before he became a household name with him on his journey. Iverson was truly loyal to his friends and relatives from the Norfolk,Va.-Hampton roads area — sometimes to a fault.

During his Hall of Fame speech in Springfield, Mass., Iverson mentioned the names of all those friends and family members that put a few dollars in his pocket when he or his mom didn’t have it. That’s true loyalty and true love. That’s not just talking, that’s truly keeping it real.

For those of us here in Philly, Iverson now breathes the same air as the great basketball legends whose statures overshadow the city. As I have always said if you had to build a Mount Rushmore of Philadelphia basketball icons, you would include AI, Julius Erving, Wilt Chamberlain, Earl Monroe and John Chaney.

The memories of Iverson crossing Jordan, scoring and stepping over Tyronn Lue in the NBA Finals, outdueling Vince Carter in Game 7 of the 2001 East Conference finals will be stamped indelibly on the hearts and minds of Sixers fans everywhere.

For the young people who grew up in the midst of the crack epidemic and mass incarceration, Iverson was the Answer those who hoped to make out of their predicament whether it was jail or just the devastation of poverty.

Like Tupac and Biggie, Iverson wasn’t afraid to keep it real and tell his truth for a misrepresented generation of young people.  And so now the final Answer is … a Hall of Famer.

Time for the 76ers to Stop Talking Process and Start Showing Progress

The Philadelphia 76ers won the 2016 NBA Draft Lottery and Will Get the No. 1 Pick. It’s Time to Stop Tanking and Starting Building a Contender. 

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The Philadelphia 76ers have the top pick in 2016 NBA Draft. Will they pick LSU’s Ben Simmons? Photo by NBA.com.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

After several years of tanking, the Philadelphia 76ers efforts at being really bad have finally yielded something good.

On Tuesday night, the Sixers won the NBA Draft Lottery and got the number one pick in the 2016 NBA draft. That means that either LSU’s Ben Simmons or Duke’s Brandon Ingram is going to hold up a white 76ers jersey after their names are called.

Add this to the other two picks the Sixers will have in the first round and you get a team that has the opportunity to get some exciting young players that have the potential to point a Sixers team that badly needs it in the right direction.

If you saw 76ers head coach Brett Brown during the NBA Lottery broadcast on ESPN, he was like a kid at Christmas when he saw his team logo in the No. 1 slot. He seemed like a guy who’s looking forward to coaching a team capable of winning more than 10 games.

“We’ve taken hits for three seasons,” Brown told ESPN. “We’re excited with the position that we’re now in. I love some of my current players. We think we can grow them. I’ve got a real belief in Joe Embiid and I have faith in Dario Saric. I’m thrilled for our city.”

We have to take a moment to acknowledge former General Manager Sam Hinkie and the “process” of serial tanking that brought the Sixers to this moment.

But now that we’ve done that, it’s time to talk about winning. It’s time to stop having prolonged losing streaks. It’s time to stop tanking.

It’s time to start moving forward.

The last time the Sixers got the number one overall pick, it was 1996 and the team used it to draft Allen Iverson. Five years later, the 76ers became a perennial playoff team, made it to the NBA Finals in 2001, and Iverson went on to become a Hall of Famer. While nobody is expecting the Sixers to improve immediately, we’d like to be able to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Shucks, I’m willing to accept five to 10 games below .500 as a show of progress.

The Sixers will also have a heckuva choice between Simmons and Ingram.

The 6-foot-10 Simmons averaged 19 points and 11 rebounds per game. He’s a good ball-handler for a big man, has point-guard-like court vision and averaged 4.8 assists per game. From what I’ve seen, he has an NBA body and reminds me of Magic Johnson with his ability to handle the ball for a big man. But in a game where the three-point shot has become king, his suspect jump shot might give the team pause.

At 6-foot-9, Ingram is a good scorer and can hit the outside shot. He was 41 percent from three-point range, but needs to work on being a ball-handler as a playmaking guard. He scored 17 points per game and pulled down six rebounds and averaged two assists per game.

And the team will also have to figure out how to work with what it already has…and what shape it’s actually in.

Speaking of the 7-2 Embiid, he was reportedly seen at the team’s practice facility at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine working out in the gym, taking some shots and throwing down a few slam dunks.

Embiid is coming off of a couple of surgeries to repair his right foot, and can either be the player that he was projected to be coming out of Kansas and the big man the Sixers need to anchor the low post or the second coming of Greg Oden or Sam Bowie, both of whom had chronic foot or leg problems that stunted their careers. It’s anybody’s guess.

Meanwhile, the 6-9 Saric has let it be known that he is going to be leaving the Turkish team, Anadolu Efes, to play for the Sixers in the 2016-2017 season. He averaged 11 points and five rebounds per game. According to several scouting reports, Saric has become a better at hitting the three-pointer and is shooting 37 percent from behind the arc.

And don’t forget about young guys like Jahlil Okafor, who averaged 17.5 points per game last season, and Nerlens Noel, who averaged 11 points and eight rebounds per game and is a solid defensive presence.

The Sixers have a lot of pieces that could become an interesting puzzle when you add the three new first-round picks they’re going to get this year.

Whether the puzzle is going to look like a lush landscape or a haunted house will determine how many people come to the Wells Fargo Center to see them.

 

 

 

 

The Other Guys The Eagles Drafted

Sure, Carson Wentz got a lot of the attention as the Philadelphia Eagles first round draft pick. But the team picked up a few other pieces in the 2016 NFL Draft.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Wendell Smallwood

Can Wendell Small be the next great running back for the Eagles. Photo by wvusports.com

The 2016 NFL Draft will obviously be remembered for the Philadelphia Eagles wheeling and dealing into the No. 2 spot to get quarterback Carson Wentz, the man they hope will be the Birds next franchise quarterback.

But I thought that there were a few more things that the Eagles needed to do in the draft on the offensive side of the ball in addition to getting a new number one quarterback.

I think they addressed the things that they needed. The only problem is, we won’t really know for quite some time how good the pieces they picked up in the draft will be.

That said, I thought the Eagles did a good job of adding some depth on their offensive line and finding a running back that would fit head coach Doug Pederson’s scheme.

Perhaps the most intriguing Eagles draft  pick in is former West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood (5-11, 208).  When you look at what he did at the collegiate level, Smallwood, a back similar to the Kansas City Chiefs Jamaal Charles is an ideal fit for Pederson’s version of the West Coast offense.

In 2015, Smallwood led the Big 12 in rushing, gaining 1,512 yards and scoring nine touchdowns. He averaged 6.4 yard per carry and ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. Smallwood also caught 26 passes for 160 yards and has experience as a pass blocker.

Smallwood has a good shot to get some playing time alongside guys like Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. He’s definitely a good three-down back and reminds me of, dare I say, LeSean McCoy.

But the downside for Smallwood, a native Wilmington, Delaware, is that he’s had some off-field incidents that have raised more than a few eyebrows. In July 2014, he was arrested for allegedly trying to get a witness change her story implicating a friend in a robbery attempt.  No charges were filed against Smallwood. He’s also made a few offensive statements on social media.

But from most accounts and from the Eagles extensive background checks, Smallwood is a mature young man who has stayed out of trouble since  and is looking to do the right thing.

“We spent a lot of time with him and we feel that this is a good kid,” said Howie Roseman, Eagles vice president of football operations. “He’s got to prove it on and off the field, but we have no doubts about what kind of player and person he is.”

After former coach Chip Kelly inexplicably refused to bring in more offensive linemen last season via the draft last season, Pederson and Roseman made sure that the Birds brought in some beef on the offensive line after the team struggled in that department last year.

Third round draft pick Isaac Seumalo (6-4, 303) played just about every position on the offensive line during his collegiate career at Oregon State.  He will probably challenge Allen Barbre for the left guard spot and some observers are saying that Seumalo could be the team’s next center.

According to Pro Football Focus.com, Seumalo is a solid pass protect who can locate and knock down opposing defenders while on the move. More importantly, Seumalo is probably better than anyone the Eagles currently have on the roster.

Former TCU tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai (6-6, 320), is big enough to block out the sun and most opposing defenders. He has played at both left and the right tackle. He will probably back up veteran Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jason Peters, who’s at the tail end of his career.

Vaitai will eventually be playing at one of those tackle positions if Peters retires or gets hurt during the season. If that does happen, Vaitai would move to the right tackle slot while Lane Johnson would take Peters’s spot.

But let’s not put the cart before the horse here, Vaitai and Seumalo both have to show that they can beat out guys who are already immersed in the Eagles offensive scheme.

But at the end of the day, having solid depth at the offensive line position can only help an offense that couldn’t block many people last year.

 

 

New Manayunk Boxing Gym Named After Legendary Philly Fighter Harold Johnson

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Light Heavyweight legend Harold Johnson, who grew up in the Manayunk-Roxborough section of Philadelphia, is in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and is considered one of the best technical fighters in the history of the sport.

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Even after his storied boxing career faded into sunset, former light-heavyweight champion Harold Johnson always made his presence felt in his old neighborhood of Manayunk-Roxborough.

Whether he was playing with his jazz band at one of the American Legion posts in the racially diverse neighborhood or just talking to the young people he’d see on the neighborhood’s corners, Johnson was a very visible part of the community.

“He cared,” said Joe Mathis, director of the Kendrick Recreation Center. “(Johnson) would ask a kid he didn’t even know, ‘Who are you and what’s your dad’s name or do I know you and who’s this guy’ to a little guy and that would influence that kid. He was the champ.”

Now thanks to a new boxing gym at Roxborough’s Kendrick Recreation Center, Johnson’s name and influence will continue to serve as inspiration for the children of Manayunk-Roxborough.

On Saturday, Johnson’s family joined Councilman Curtis Jones, and Jackie Frazier-Lyde, the daughter of another Philadelphia-based boxing champ, Joe Frazier in dedicating the new Harold Johnson Boxing Gym at the Kendrick Recreation Center. The gym, which cost $500, 000 to build, is an addition to the center.

With this boxing gym, Johnson’s involvement in Manayunk-Roxborough get a chance to hone their boxing skills while learning about a man who was an integral part of the place they called home.

“It’s a place for the youth to go and it’s a great thing,” Mathis said. “This keeps (Johnson) him involved and keeps his name alive. I’m honored to be able to do that for him and now his name is going to be here forever.”

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Joe Mathis, director of the Kendrick Recreation Center in Manayunk-Roxborough, and Rev. John Roberts, the son of Harold Johnson, stand inside the ring at the new Harold Johnson Boxing Gym.

The Rev. John Roberts, Johnson’s son, said he and his family are happy that his fathered is being honored by the city and his old neighborhood.

“It’s a great feeling for me and to the family because dad was a great fighter and it’s nice that Philadelphia recognizes their own,” said Roberts, who is the pastor of the Gardener of Prayer World Prayer Center. “To have this gym named after him is a great honor because this is where he grew up here in Manayunk. … There’s no place like home.”

Jones said Johnson is to Manayunk-Roxborough what basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain was to Overbrook High School and West Philadelphia.

“He was the George Washington of boxing up here,” Jones said. “Therefore, just as important as Wilt Chamberlain was to West Philly and Overbrook, Johnson was as important to Manayunk and boxing.”

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Rev. John Roberts points to a picture of his father Harold Johnson inside the new gym named for his father.

Boxing historian John DiSanto, who runs the website phillyboxinghistory.com, said naming the recreation center after Johnson will give young people in the community the opportunity to know who Johnson was and what he meant to this community.

“It’s way of constantly introducing him to new people and for him to be an inspiration for kids to come into train,” DiSanto said. “The more places his name can be mentioned and included the better, he needs to be remembered.”

As a fighter, Johnson is known for being one of the most technically proficient fighters of all-time. He has fought and beaten some of the best boxers in the history of the sport including Ezzard Charles and legendary light heavyweight champion Archie Moore, who he fought five times. Johnson also beat Cuba’s Nino Valdez, a heavyweight contender in the 50s and 60s, and was a sparring partner for Joe Louis, arguably one of the greatest heavyweights of all time.

The 5-foot-11 Johnson won the undisputed light heavyweight championship in 1962 only to lose it in 1963 to Willie Pastrano on a controversial split decision. He had a record of 76-11 with 32 knockouts.

DiSanto said Johnson was an underrated in his time because of his humble demeanor, his technical fighting style and because he fought as a light heavyweight at a time when all the focus in boxing was on the heavyweights.

“His fights tended to go the distance and he was in a lot of chess matches,” DiSanto said. “He’s in the Hall of Fame and you can’t get any better than that. He’s not a household name, but in this area he’s a local legend for sure.”

Rough 2015 for Philly Sports Pro Sports Teams

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A tough year for DeMarco Murray and the Eagles Photo by Webster Riddick.

Temple, Imhotep Charter CM Report/Philadelphia Sunday Sun Sports City Sports Teams of the Year

Serena Williams, Mizzou Football Team Female and Male Athletes of the Year

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun
When it comes to sports, the year 2015 certainly had its share of exciting moments both on and off the field.
In the City of Brotherly Love, the sports year was awful. Not only did all of the city’s pro sports teams miss the playoffs, the Flyers, Eagles, Sixers and Phillies didn’t come close.
While it made sense that a coach of one of the teams would be fired by the end of the year, few thought it would be Eagles coach Chip Kelly.
But it was. And some fans are still praise dancing in the streets over the news.
The Birds were officially eliminated from the playoffs last Saturday when they lost to the Washington Redskins. Offensive coordinator Pat Shumur was named the interim head coach for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants.
The reason for Kelly’s firing comes down to his making some personnel moves that can charitably described as questionable. From releasing DeSean Jackson outright to trading LeSean McCoy to the Buffalo Bills for a bag of magic beans to signing running back DeMarco Murray and grossly misusing him, Kelly, who was given the General Manager reigns no matter what he said during Monday’s press conference, made a hot mess of an Eagles team that wasn’t all that bad when he took it over from Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid..
At press time, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie was holding a news conference at Lincoln Financial Field. Kelly told ESPN that he’s hoping to catch on with another pro team.
But while the end of the Chip Kelly Era was 2015’s biggest local sports bombshell, it wasn’t the only one.
The Philadelphia Sunday Sun and The Chris Murray Report would like to introduce our Players Of The Year:

Philadelphia Sports Teams of the Year: the football teams from Temple University and the Imhotep Charter School.

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The 2015 Temple Owls Football team has been the only bright spot in a bad year for Philadelphia sports teams.

The only bright spot for Philadelphia sports above the high school level in 2015 was the Temple University Owls football team. The kids from North Philly finished with a 10-4 record, won the American Athletic Conference’s Eastern Division, a berth in the AAC’s championship game and a bid to the 2015 Boca Raton Bowl.
The Owls had some big wins along the way including the season-opener over Penn State. Middle linebacker Tyler Matakevich won several awards including the Nagurski and Bednarik Awards. He was also a first-team All-American.

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Imhotep Public Charter School became the first Philadelphia public school to win a state championship.

The Panthers of Imhotep Charter School, located in Germantown, became the first city public high school to win a state football title when it defeated Erie Cathedral Prep 40-3 to win the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class AAA title.
Led by head coach Albie Crosby, the Panthers finished the year undefeated with a 15-0 record. In the win over Erie Cathedral Prep, Mike Waters and Aamir Brown combined to score five touchdowns for the Panthers.

Serena Williams –Female Athlete of the Year

Serena Williams

Serena Williams is halfway to tennis’s Grand Slam. She renews her chase for immortality at Wimbledon.

Outside of Philadelphia, Serena Williams was no doubt the Female Athlete of the Year.
The younger of the Williams sisters dominated the tennis world. Dating back to the 2014 U.S. Open, she won four majors in a row. After winning the Australian Open, the French Open and Wimbledon, Williams fell short in her bid to win the calendar year Grand-Slam in a stunning upset in the semifinals of the U.S. Open.
Despite the upset, Williams was still the most dominant and compelling figure in the sport in 2015. At 34 years-old Williams is still the No. 1 player in the world. She had 21 Grand-Slam titles and is looking to do more in 2016.
Male Athletes of the Year: African-American Players-University of Missouri Football Team.

MIzzouProtest(KMOV)Finally, the Male Athletes of the Year are the 30 African-American players of the University of Missouri football team who threatened to boycott a football game to show solidarity with their fellow students protesting campus racism and calling for the president of the University to resign.
The African-American athletes of the Mizzou football team were moved to action by the hunger strike of a fellow African-American student.
What makes this protest unique was that those Black players were able to convince their white teammates and head coach Gary Pinkel to join them in the protest. University of Missouri President Tim Wolfe eventually resigned.

Temple Owls: Best Team in Philly in a Bad Year for City Sports Teams

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The 2015 Temple Owls Football team has been the only bright spot in a bad year for Philadelphia sports teams.

 

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

To say that this has been an awful year for Philadelphia’s professional sports teams would be an understatement.

The Phillies spent the entire Major League Baseball season in the National League East’s basement. The Flyers didn’t make the National Hockey League playoffs. We’re not even going to talk about the 76ers and the fact that they haven’t won a game yet this season.

Even the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that most sports fans have traditionally seen as the ray of light in the Professional Sports darkness here in Philadelphia, are giving fans fits. At the beginning of the year, these fans had visions of Super Bowl 50 dancing in their heads.

Now, nothing would make them happier than hearing the news that head coach Chip Kelly is heading back to the college ranks. Especially after the debacle that was last Sunday’s 45-17 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Eagles defense, the team’s lone bright spot, became part of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston’s highlight reel as he threw for five touchdown passes.

Right now, the only thing standing between Philly’s sports fans and collectively jumping off the Ben Franklin and/or Walt Whitman bridges is the Temple University Owls’ football team.

No, you read that right. The college football team that set the record for consecutive losses is the only team holding it’s own right now.

In a year when fans in the city of Brotherly Love have had little to cheer about, the Owls have been the best team in the city and the best FBS college football team in the state.

This weekend, Temple (9-2, 6-1) will be playing for the American Athletic Conference’s Eastern Division title when they take on the Connecticut Huskies (6-5, 4-3) Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field.

If the Owls win, they will take on the winner of the Navy-Houston game in the AAC Championship game. At the beginning of this season, no one would have thought Temple would be the best team playing at Lincoln Financial Field season.

No matter what happens on Saturday night, the 2015 season has been special for Temple and for the city because they’ve given normally cynical, angry fans something to cheer about in a bad year for Philly sports teams.

When the team upset Penn State in front of a packed house at Lincoln Financial Field, you had the sense that this was going to be a different season for Temple football. The team won it’s first seven games, and came within a play or two from upsetting sixth-ranked Notre Dame, another sell-out game that led to a visit from ESPN’s College GameDay and turned the City of Brotherly Love into the nation’s largest college town.

Led by head coach Matt Rhule, a guy who doesn’t come off as one of those college football coaches who cares more about his ego than his team’s success, the team has played with passion. You can’t coach football or any team for that matter in this city without wearing your emotions on your sleeve, and Rhule appears to understand that.

Temple quarterback P.J. Walker is currently the best quarterback playing at Lincoln Financial Field. He’s thrown 17 touchdown passes, only six interceptions, and has passed for 2,209 yards. He has the ability to make plays in the pocket and to extend plays with his feet.

Senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who was recently nominated for the Bednarik Award as the nation’s best defensive player, has been the Owls enforcer in the middle. He leads the team in tackles (107, 65 solo). Matakevich was tailor-made to be a linebacker for a Philly football team.

He’s tough, gritty and takes a blue-collar approach to the game making him a player former Eagles great Chuck Bednarik would appreciate.

Even if the Owls lose to UConn on Saturday or lose in the AAC Championship game, it’s still been a great ride and they’ll still go to a nationally televised bowl game.

But no matter what happens, the Owls have made Philadelphia a college football town again…which considering how the pros are playing, didn’t take a lot…

Bring on the Fighting Irish: Unbeaten Temple Ready for No. 9 Notre Dame at the Linc

TempleNDlogo

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Temple's P.J. Walker has a monumental task ahead of him in Saturday' game against Notre Dame.

Temple’s P.J. Walker has a monumental task ahead of him in Saturday’ game against Notre Dame.

PHILADELPHIA—The City of Brotherly Love will become one of the nation’s largest college towns this weekend with all the pomp and circumstance accompanying the game where unbeaten, No. 21 Temple (7-0, 4-0) will try to prove it belongs among the elite teams in college football when it takes on No. 9 Notre Dame Saturday night at Lincoln Financial Field in front of nationally-televised audience.

As an event, this game is probably the second biggest thing to happen to Philly since the recent visit of Pope Francis. It’s so big that the cast and crew of ESPN’s College Game Day will take over Independence Mall for it’s weekly college football preview show.

That’s right, you’ll get to see Kirk Herbstreit, Desmond Howard and Lee Corso, who Temple fans hope will wear the head of the Temple Owl (meaning he’s predicting a victory for the Cherry and the White.)
In other words, for this weekend at least, the entire city will be Temple University’s Main Campus.

Meanwhile, on the field, the Owls will face their biggest non-conference challenge in a Notre Dame squad that is still in the running for the four-team College Football Playoff. If Temple can pull off the upset, it can make its own case for a seat at that table.

But despite all of the distractions, and let’s face it, College Gameday and everything that goes with it is a distraction, Temple head coach Matt Rhule said the focus of his team is not going to change in terms of doing the things they do well.

“To focus on what we can control and to focus on what’s next and embrace the moment …The only thing we can do is control how we play,” Rhule said. “We have great leadership from our older guys and as I told them it has be to about us and how we play. We can’t control how good Notre Dame is. We can control our preparation.”

The Notre Dame (6-1) squad the Owls will be facing is a team that’s had its share of adversity and has somehow fought its way through it. Even though the Fighting Irish lost starting quarterback Malik Zaire to a season-ending ankle injury, DeShone Kizer has stepped in to fill the void and has done well.

Notre Dame wide receiver and Philadelphia native Will Fuller has the attention of the Temple defense.

Notre Dame wide receiver and Philadelphia native Will Fuller has the attention of the Temple defense.

Kizer has passed for 1,370 yards, completed 65 percent of his passes and has thrown 10 touchdown passes. It also helps that he has some solid weapons at his disposal. Notre Dame’s best receiver is Philadelphia native and former Roman Catholic star Will Fuller, who leads the Fighting Irish in receiving with 32 catches for 702 yards and eight touchdowns.

Temple’s defense, which ranks eighth in the nation in scoring defense, will also have their hands full with running back C.J. Prosise, who is averaging 7.1 yards per carry. He has gained 922 yards and has scored 11 touchdowns.
On the offensive line, the Fighting Irish are led by a pair of mid-season All-Americans in center Nick Martin (6-4, 301) and left tackle Ronnie Stanley (6-5, 315).

“They have a really good offensive line, really solid up front,” said defensive lineman Matt Ioannidas. “They have a really strong tailback, but our defense is going to match up well against them. We’re excited to play them.”

Offensively, Temple has its own set of weapons in quarterback P.J. Walker , who’s having a solid season passing the football. He’s completing close to 60 percent of his passes and had nine touchdowns. In the win over East Carolina, Walker completed 19-of-35 passes for 250 yards and one touchdown. He said his team will be ready for the Notre Dame defense.

“They’re a talented group,” Walker said. “They got a lot of big guys with a lot of speed, but we feel like if we’re playing our game we’ll be alright.”

Running back Jahad Thomas said the Owls have to come into the game focused on beating a Notre Dame defense, led by All-American linebacker Jaylon Smith, who leads the Fighting Irish in tackles.

“It’s not that we’re getting excited to play the Irish, but we know it’s a great opponent ahead of us, but we’ve got to come out and do the things we’ve been doing and just be ready to play,” Thomas said.

Chip Kelly Needs to Address How He Relates to His Players

By Chris Murray
For the Chris Murray Report and the Philadelphia Sunday Sun

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has been accused of racism and being a control freak who does not tolerate dissent. Photo by Webster Riddick.

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly has been accused of racism and being a control freak who does not tolerate dissent. Photo by Webster Riddick.

PHILADELPHIA—By now you all have heard about Brandon Boykin’s remarks regarding Philadelphia Eagles Coach Chip Kelly after he was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a fifth-round draft pick.

What raised eyebrows was a text sent by Boykin to Comcast Sports Net that said Kelly is “uncomfortable around men of our culture.”

It was originally interpreted as Kelly having a problem with African-American players and was viewed in the same was as similar accusations from former Eagles players LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson and former assistant coach Tra Thomas.

A day later, Boykin clarified his remarks saying he wasn’t calling Kelly a racist, but that he has a hard time relating to players.

“He likes total control of everything, and he don’t like to be uncomfortable,” Boykin told Comcast Sports Net. “Players excel when you let them naturally be who they are, and in my experience that hasn’t been important to him, but you guys have heard this before me.”

A recent story by the Bleacher Reports’ Mike Freeman confirms what Boykin was saying about Kelly’s need to have total control over everything.

While Boykin shed further light on what he meant, the perception that Kelly has a problem with African-American players lingers on with more than a few African-Americans fans. On some level it’s understandable, especially from those fans who are still upset over the incident in which wide receiver Riley Cooper dropped a fair amount of N-Bombs at a Country Music concert.

As Black men, society often views us with suspicion, especially if we are seen as outspoken or show any form of anger. Even the most liberal of white people and among African Americans themselves, that perception exists.

That said, I don’t think that either Kelly or the Eagles as an organization are racists.

However, I do think that Kelly is trying to make the Eagles into his image from a football standpoint, and that has led to the clashes he’s had with veteran players. For example, two-time Pro Bowl guard Evan Mathis, who is white, was let go after he started demanding more money.

As for the decision to trade Boykin, it was logical given Kelly’s mantra that says big people beat little people. As good as Boykin as a cornerback in nickel (five defensive backs) situation, he simply did not fit into what Kelly wanted for his defense. Boykin is listed at about 5-foot-9, maybe 5-8.

In the wake of these allegations from his former players, Kelly needs to have a sit-down with not only his Black players, but his entire team just to let them that he’s accessible. One of the complaints that Boykin made was that Kelly couldn’t relate to players outside of football.

Kelly said that he has an open-door policy with his players, but the workday is very structured during the offseason and during the season.

“You can come to talk to me whenever you want to come and talk to me,” Kelly said earlier this week. “But we also have a pretty structured day where guys are in meetings. I don’t just sit and walk around and say, let me go grab him and let’s sit down and have a coffee together. When they get here, they are doing stuff.”

At some point, Kelly is going to have to take a look at how he relates to players, who are grown men and not college kids whose scholarships you can yank if they don’t fit in with your program.

If the Eagles are winning on a consistent basis because of Kelly’s moves, all of this will be forgotten. But if wins don’t result from all of these moves, you’ll hear more noise about Kelly’s relationship with his players.
If that happens, Kelly will be the one having to find a new relationship.