Michael Conroy is a freelance sportswriter and Flyers fan, and a guest writer for Spike Eskin Dot Com. You can find him on Twitter @MichaelConroyPM.
Spring is here in Philadelphia, and the local sports landscape is barren as can be. So I thought now is as good a time as ever to re-examine who the most important athletes in Philly are right now. I based my rankings on how much of an impact each athlete could potentially have on our sports world in the next year. Who holds the keys to the city? Before we answer that question, let’s recap a few key points from last year’s list.
Last Year’s Most Important
How much difference can one year make? You don’t need to look much further than last year’s number nine most important athlete in Philly. For one, he is no longer a member of the Philadelphia sports scene. In fact, he’s about as far from Philadelphia as the league he belongs to would allow him to go. I’m speaking, of course, of Nnamdi Asomugha. I referred to him last year as a “money pit.” This was partially meant as a joke at the time, but Nnamdi proved this label fairly accurate during his last campaign with the Eagles. There’s a lot to regret about how the whole relationship played out in the end, but Eagles fans can find solace in the fact that we no longer have to watch him try to cover someone or ring out Kurt Coleman ever again. Count your blessings.
Another pair of highlights from last year’s list were Andre Iguodala and Evan Turner. This time last year, most of us had thought that Iguodala would have been dealt for something of value and Turner would have blossomed into a beautiful shot-making butterfly. Neither of those things came to fruition and the Sixers faithful are looking at one of the ugliest roster situations in all of the NBA. Good thing Jrue Holiday opted to sign that extension months ago. I’m not entirely sure he would make decision today.
Enough about last year. It’s time to figure out who holds the position of “Most Important Athlete” in all of Philadelphia Sports.
10. Ilya Bryzgalov
This is quite the fall for last year’s number two most important athlete and, to be honest, I struggled even ranking the Flyers’ embattled goaltender. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that any goaltender should make this list so long as the defense remains so ineffective. Bryz hasn’t exactly gone above and beyond as you’d expect from a goalie with his talent, but I’m not sure Bernie Parent, himself could hold up against the mind-numbingly consistent one-on-one situations the Flyers have allowed.
To say that his contract is a problem is lenient. His potential buyout may be the only means of creating the cap space needed to fix the defense. Steve Mason’s exemplary play towards the end of the season may make the decision a bit easier.If he is not bought out and remains with the team, it will be difficult to expect anything better from the Flyers in 2014.
9. Jrue Holiday
It’s difficult to put any member of the 76ers on this list for a very simple reason. The 76ers are not important and won’t be for a few years, save a move or a series of moves that would shock us all. The team gutted themselves involuntarily in the trade for Andrew Bynum. While I was and still am completely okay with that, the state of the franchise on the basis of meaning anything to the NBA is downright bleak.
The reason I’ve included Jrue Holiday has little to do with the position of his franchise. Jrue took massive steps this year, making his first ever all-star game. He became one of the top (uninjured) point guards in the Eastern conference and showed all of us Sixers fans the difference between genuine growth and whatever the hell it is Evan Turner’s doing.
Jrue is also important as an asset. If he does not weather the storm of futility that will be the next 3 years of 76ers basketball, a trade involving the young point guard could net a hefty gain. Whatever the Sixers do in the next few years, at least Philadelphia will have Holiday’s box score to follow.
8. Brayden Schenn / Sean Couturier
So the Flyers have this very highly touted prospect. He is a Center and can play both ways. He came to the Flyers as a result of a trade and performed well above expectations in his playoff debut. Last year, however, Philadelphia witnessed a bit of a downturn in his performance on the ice. He is not the shimmering ray of potential that he once seemed to be. I think it’s time we started seeing some more concrete production out of this young forward. He’s going to have to earn his reputation back.
Was I talking about Brayden Schenn or Sean Couturier? You’re not sure? Neither am I, but I’m not so sure it matters anymore. These were the keys to the Flyers’ rebuild just one off-season ago and Philadelphia simply needs to see more production from them on the ice in 2014. Otherwise, the Flyers might have to rebuild all over again.
7. Claude Giroux
The leader always gets the credit when his team’s doing well. It’s only fair that. having been only the second Captain in the past 17 seasons who failed to lead the Flyers to a playoff berth, he takes some blame. I could make excuses such as his line mates being in flux for most of the year or his wingers missing open shots by embarrassing margins. I could even say that the Flyer’s abysmal defense forced Claude Giroux to focus less on his offensive game than he’d like.
As the Captain, however, there can be no excuses. Giroux set out to lead his team to the playoffs this season and he failed. That’s the way he has to look at it. It’s the way his team must look at it. Whether fair or unfair, the burden of the “C” is undeniable. Claude Giroux is the Captain and undisputed leader of the Philadelphia Flyers for the foreseeable future. This is his story to write and it began with an ugly stumble.
6. Lane Johnson
Lane Johnson or “Lame” Johnson, amirite? No? Okay we’ll move on.
This is more about this year’s draft class as a whole than Johnson on his own but the lineman represents one of the first true football decisions of a new coach. With his first ever first round selection, Andy Reid took Donavon Mcnabb. The two are now synonymous, seminal parts of Philadelphia sports history. Will this be the case for Chip Kelly and Lane Johnson? It’s difficult to compare situations as there is no greater football bond than that between a coach and his quarterback. Nevertheless, this was Chip Kelly’s first draft class and their level of success in the NFL can tell us a couple of things.
First, we will see if it was Howie Roseman or Andy Reid who botched so many draft choices in recent years. If Lane Johnson spends the next two seasons on the bench or struggling to stay afloat, Chip Kelly may survive but Roseman should be on the hot seat. Second, and more importantly, Eagles fans can learn just a little bit more about what makes a #4 overall caliber player in the mind of Chip Kelly,
5, Domonic Brown
He’s finally arrived! Or, wait..no nevermind he didn’t. Oh wait, yeah he definitely did! Can we make up our mind on this guy? Let me rephrase that question. Can this guy make up his mind on this guy? In all seriousness, I cannot tell whether Dominic Brown is a good player or not. One night, he’s a butcher in the outfield who doesn’t look comfortable with a routine fly ball. The next night, he’s flying through the sky like a tiger, lunging to make a Sportscenter top-10 highlight reel catch. Then there’s the matter of his batting which may be half as predictable as his fielding.
At the moment, it seems he’s put together a few good games in a row, but Phillies fans still can’t totally trust him. With such cornerstones as Ryan Howard and Chase Utley losing a bit of “it” every day, the fate of the Phils appears to rest solely upon the shoulders of this confusing young player. That scares me.
4. Lesean Mccoy
Kenjon Barner flourished in Chip Kelly’s system. He ran amok in the Pac-12. This could be a huge year for Lesean Mccoy as he enters his prime under the direction of one of the most progressive offensive minds in football. Mccoy is arguably one of the best backs in the league already, despite a down year in 2012. The opportunity is there for Lesean Mccoy to assert himself as the number one running back in all of the NFL. His success could also mean good things for an offensive line that has less pass protecting to do and a quarterback who has proved incapable of efficiently running a passing oriented offense.
3. Cole Hamels
Cole Hamels isn’t the most important athlete in Philadelphia but he sure as hell should be. He’s the home-grown, MVP ace of the only team to bring Philadelphia a championship since 1983. He gave us all a damn parade. As far as I’m concerned he can have at least the money his contract is worth and be terrible for the rest of his career and I wouldn’t be angry with him. I realize I’m in the minority here, but when you really sit down and think about it, Cole Hamels is an icon in Philadelphia sports and we rarely speak of him as such.
He chose to remain with this declining team last season and leave money on the table. He chose Philly over Los Angeles, over the Dodgers. He’s Philadelphia royalty and number three on my list.
2. Jason Peters
Boy, did the Eagles ever miss Jason Peters last season. The old adage goes:”You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” and it’s completely applicable in Jason Peters’ situation. The offensive line went from being one of the most impressive units in all of football in 2011 to an absolute mess in 2012. Again I say, what a difference a year makes…
When we last saw Jason Peters, he was arguable the best player at the second most important position in his sport. Unfortunately, I don’t think we’ll ever see that player again. His twice-torn Achilles and a year off from the game will likely prevent a full return to power. It’s not all bad news, though as 80% of what Peters was could make 100% of the difference for the 2013-2014 Eagles team and bring stability to a unit that sorely needs it.
I don’t know how far the Eagles can go in 2014, but it’s not out of the question to think that, with a new coach and scheme, a healthy Philadelphia team could catch the league by surprise. Playoffs?! Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs!
Your winner…(long pause)…and STILL reigning champion is
1. Michael Vick
Football is stupid. Every single year, stupid things happen that simply cannot be explained. Whether this is due to the uniquely small sample size of the NFL regular season or the presence of extreme parity throughout the league, you can depend on having ample cause to scratch your head in the coming football year. Don’t kid yourself. A potential third act in the Michael Vick experience is in play here.
Perhaps the Eagles’ presumed starting quarterback’s 2010 season represented the “A New Hope” portion of this trilogy. Then his 2011-2013 years saw the “Empire” strike back. Is Philadelphia due for a “Return of the Jedi” scenario? Does that make Chip Kelly the “Yoda” figure in this narrative? But then who’s the “Han Solo” here? I’ve gotten totally off-track with this analogy haven’t I?
Anyway you slice this number one ranking, you can’t avoid a depressing thought. There really isn’t a great pool of competition this year. Also, when considering the parameters of this list, you’d have to admit that Michael Vick possesses the most potential to affect the world of Philadelphia sports in the coming year. If he can recapture some of that post-reinstatement magic once more, the Eagles can make a significant run. An NFL playoff game in South Philadelphia would blow anything that’s happened in the past 1,210 comparatively flaccid days.