Most Underrated Philly Athletes of All-Time: #11 Brad McCrimmon

Brad McCrimmon was the kind of player that every coach would love to have.  The 5’11” defenseman combined exceptional positioning with hard-nosed play.  “Beast” did all the workman-type, little things that need to be done for a team to be successful, but also contributed offensively when called upon. He sits at #11 on our list of the Most Underrated Athletes in Philly Sports History mainly because he was paired with Flyers-great Mark Howe.  Howe was much more offensive than McCrimmon, and thus enjoyed much more of the spotlight.  However, McCrimmon’s teammates and coaching staff knew that his solid play and defensive mind allowed Howe to roam free without sacrificing the team’s defensive integrity.    

McCrimmon joined the Flyers for the ’82-’83 season and never registered a negative plus/minus in his five years in Philadelphia.  He was integral to the ’84-’85 and ’86-’87 teams that reached the Stanley Cup Finals.  Statistically, the Howe-McCrimmon pairing’s best season was ’85-’86: Howe scored 24 goals, totaled 83 points, and had a plus-minus of 83; McCrimmon scored 13 goals, totaled 56 points, and finished with a plus 83.  Surprisingly, not one other Flyer defensemen finished on the plus side that season.

It wasn’t just Howe who benefited from being partnered with McCrimmon.  McCrimmon’s error-free play and leadership made him a great partner for young defensemen.  In 1987, McCrimmon was paired with young Gary Suter in Calgary.  In 1991, while in Detroit, Brad McCrimmon was partnered with rookie Nicklas Lidstrom.  Two years later he was paired with rookie Chris Pronger in Hartford.

Bill Meltzer interviewed Brian Propp and Mark Howe, who echoed the fact that McCrimmon never got his due:

Brad was a tremendous defenseman and teammate.  He never got as much credit as he deserved, but the only thing he really cared about was winning.

-Brian Propp

He was a horse and an excellent all-around hockey player. I would play 33 and a half minutes a game and Brad played 27. He never got the credit he deserved but if you look at the defensemen playing then – or now for that matter – Brad was the kind of player who is rare to find.

-Mark Howe

The Brad McCrimmon story ends with tragedy.  After his playing career ended he got into coaching. He served as an assistant for various teams in the NHL over the course of a decade and was hired to coach the KHL’s Yaroslavl Lokomotiv just prior to the 2011 season.  Sadly, he was on the plane which crashed on September 7, 2011 and died along with 42 other players, coaches, and staff.


This Date in Flyers History: The 35th Game

On January 6, 1980, the Flyers and Sabres were knotted at 2 heading into the third period. Just 3 minutes and 45 seconds into the final period, Bill Barber scored on Buffalo goaltender Don Edwards to give the Flyers a 3-2 lead.  A lead which the Flyers would not relinquish.  While a win in January doesn’t usually amount to much when looking at the NHL regular season as a whole, Barber’s game winning goal on this date 22 years ago elevated the ’79-’80 Flyers to a place no other professional sports team has ever, or will ever reach.

The win over Buffalo marked the 35th game in a row in which the Flyers were unbeaten, the longest such streak in professional sports.  After a 1-1 start, “The Streak” started with a win in the 3rd game of the regular season.  On October 14th, 1979 the Flyers beat the Leafs at home on a late goal from Bob Kelly.  For the next 84 days, the Flyers would not lose.

Over the course of The Streak, the Flyers won 25 games and tied 10.  They played every team in the league, except the Washington Capitals, earning at least one point in each contest.  On December 9th, the Flyers tied the Blackhawks 4-4 pushing the streak to 24 and surpassing the previous team record of 23.  On December 22nd, they went to the Boston Garden, a building in which the Flyers hadn’t won in nearly 5 years.  However, the tear continued and the Flyers dominated en route to a 5-2 win and their 29th straight game without a defeat.  This win set a new NHL record.  The previous record (28 games) was held by the ’77-’78 Montreal Canadiens.

Finally, on January 7, 1980, the Flyers streak came to an end in a 7-1 defeat at the hands of the Minnesota North Stars

Credit for the streak lays mainly with the Flyers goaltending.  In this case, it was the tandem of Phil Myre and rookie Pete Peeters who carried the team through almost 3 months of unbeaten play.  Myre and Peeters shared duties, with a virtual even split in starts during the 35 game streak.  Fittingly, both played in the 35th game against the Sabres as Myre started but became ill and needed to be replaced by Peeters.  Offensively, Ken Linseman, Reggie Leach, and rookie Brian Propp led the way.

If you watched HBO’s 24/7 series on the Flyers and Rangers Road to the Winter Classic, you got to see the teams celebrate the New Year.  For some reason, I imagine watching the ’79-’80 Flyers ring in the New Year 33 games into their streak with with only 1 loss would have been much more entertaining.


All or Nothing Game 5…in 1980


Friday night’s game isn’t the first time the Phillies have faced an all or nothing Game 5. It’s happened twice before, in back to back years. The 1981 Game 5 provided little drama (The Phillies lost to the Expos 3-0 in a strange NLDS Game 5, thanks to the strike that year.) But by far the most memorable Game 5 came at the end of what was, to the casual baseball observer, the most exciting postseason series the Phillies have ever been involved in. By far. Yeah, Phillies fans might prefer the 1980 World Series or the 2008 World Series, but to the true baseball connoisseur neither of those were half as exciting as the 1980 NLCS between the Phillies and the Astros.

After Steve Carlton won the first game, 3-1, the next three games all went into extra innings, including a Game 3 in which Astros starter Joe Niekro threw 10 shutout innings and still couldn’t get the win (The Astros won 1-0 in 11.) That win gave the Astros a 2-1 series lead.

In Game 4, the ‘Stros were up 2-0 with a mere 6 outs separating them from their first ever Series. The Astrodome was electric. But the Phillies big stars Schmidt and Rose came up with huge hits in the 8th, tying the game at 2. Then Manny Trillo, a Philadelphia legend and eventual MVP of the NLCS, hit a sac fly to give the Phils a 3-2 lead. But the Astros scored in the bottom of the 9th to tie it at 3. In the top of the 10th, back to back doubles by Luzinski and Trillo gave the Phils a 5-3 lead they would not relinquish, setting up a Game 5 that somehow was even more exciting than the previous 3 extra inning games. In fact, MLB Network ranked it as the 18th greatest MLB game of all time.

We tend to view history as an inevitability, but it’s a lot more fun when you try to put yourself in the shoes of the people who experienced it. Matt Stairs home run is not as exciting if we don’t remember the despair we were feeling just a few innings earlier, as a listless Phils team looked a lot like, well, the Phillies team we’ve seen in this years postseason thus far. Such was the case in Game 5 in 1980, as the Phils were down 5-2 with but 6 outs remaining, and pitching legend Nolan Ryan was on the mound. Things could not have looked more bleak. And remember, this was at a time when the Phillies had never won anything, and their fans were still feeling the painful effects of Black Friday. Surely, everyone in Philadelphia was already crying in their beer about another postseason gone down the drain.

But suddenly, they came to life. Three straight singles, followed by a Rose walk, and they had chased Nolan Ryan out of the game. Another run scored. Then with 2 outs pinch hitter Del Unser came in and hit a clutch single. And finally, the immortal Manny Trillo hit a triple, completeing the 5 run inning that saw the Phillies take a 5-2 deficit and turn it into a 7-5 lead. Once again, the Astros weren’t done. In the bottom of the 8th, they scored 2, and the game went into extra innings tied at 7. Del Unser hit a double in the 10th, then Gary Maddox brought him home with another double, and the Phils took an 8-7 lead. The Astros had no answer. Dick Ruthven shut the door on the Astros dreams of a World Series, and the Phillies went to their first Series since 1950. I’m not sure my heart can take a game that exciting tonight.


Rawley Outduels the Doc

On September 17th, 1984, the Phils sent recently acquired Shane Rawley to the hill to take on the most electric rookie in baseball, 19-year old Dwight Gooden. The Doc was as good as advertised, striking out 16 Phillies, but he made a mistake in the 8th that cost the Mets the game. With the score tied at one and one out in the 8th, Rawley got a single, then moved to second on a wild pitch. He moved to third on an infield single, then scored when the young ace got rattled and committed a balk. Rawley went back out to shut down the Mets in the top of the 9th, and the Phils escaped with a 2-1 win.

Rawley became the Phils ace in the mid-1980s, and made the All-Star team in 1986.  In 1987, he got off to a sterling start, and was the frontrunner for the Cy Young heading into September. But after starting 17-6, he staggered to an 0-5 finish with a 7.82 ERA in the month of September, and the award went to his teammate Steve Bedrosian. He never regained his All-Star form, and his career was over by 1989. He currently owns a pizza place in Sarasota, Florida called Shaner’s Pizzeria.

RELATED: Here’s the box score of that game.


Vick vs. Cunningham


A pretty sweet video of some of Cunningham and Vick’s greatest plays.


The Mysterious Eagles’ Male Cheerleader

Is that Clayton Endicott III?

 


Eagles and Rams in 1989 Wild Card Game


The city of Philadelphia was abuzz on the last day of 1989. The pieces were all coming together. The team had finished 11-5, including a 6-2 record at home. They would be hosting the wild card matchup with the Rams at the Vet, the first playoff game in Philadelphia since 1981. The weather was 34 degrees at kickoff, and it was well established that the Rams struggled in cold weather (where have we heard that before? Oh yeah, before that damn Bucs game). It was New Years Eve, and Eagle fans planned on being joyfully drunk for the next 36 hours or so. Five minutes later, it would be dead silent.

Eric Allen was injured, and so the Eagles had no choice but to start Izel “Toast” Jenkins, who more than lived up to his nickname. Jim  Everett quickly connected with Henry Ellard (is that guy still in the league? I swear, he played for the Rams for 25 years) for a 39 yard TD over the outstretched arms of Toast. Minutes later, the Rams scored again, and suddenly it was 14-0.

Meanwhile, it wasn’t defensive mastermind Buddy Ryan who was the innovator in this game. It was Rams defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur (father of new Browns coach Pat Shurmur) who shocked Randall Cunningham, showing defenses no-one had ever seen before .

Shurmur had the Rams stay in their zone the whole game, not once  switching to man-to-man coverage. And he made things tougher on the Eagles quarterback by flooding the field with his best and fastest players, frequently deploying them in an alignment that utilized five linebackers, six defensive backs and not one defensive lineman.

If that ploy had been tried before in the National Football League, nobody could remember it.

For Cunningham, the scheme produced considerable confusion and too many receivers covered by too many defenders in a secondary more crowded than a King Family reunion***.

Since none of the Rams’ defenders were chasing receivers, as they would have in a man-to-man defensive scheme,
they were looking toward Cunningham when he threw or ran with the ball and thus were able to react quickly.

The dangerous Cunningham was completely shut down, and since the Eagles had no other weapons on offense, their offense was a total dud. They scored in the 4th to cut the lead to 14-7, but Rams running back Greg Bell responded with a 54-yard run deep into Eagle territory and then scored on a short run, and the city of Philadelphia entered the 1990s with tears falling in their beers.

***WTF is a King Family Reunion?


A Few SI Preseason Eagles Predictions from Past Years

Big things are expected from the Eagles this season, and plenty of experts have them in the Super Bowl. Let’s go back through the years and see what predictions SI has made in past years. There are some fun ones here. We start with Peter King’s analysis in 2005.

The problems started before camp, of course, when Owens announced that he wanted to renegotiate the seven-year, $49 million contract he signed in 2004. Then he took shots at quarterback Donovan McNabb, calling him a hypocrite; injured his groin; and was se

nt home for arguing with Reid and offensive coordinator Brad Childress. Who knows how this soap opera will play out, but you can be sure that whether Owens plays 16 snaps or 16 games this season, Reid will have the Eagles focused and ready to play.

It didn’t quite work out that way. Terrell Owens singlehandedly destroyed a team perhaps more than any other single player in NFL history. They finished 6-10. In 2002, Peter King saw the Eagles weakness before the season started.

But a funny thing happened on the way to improvement. In the off-season the Eagles lost star middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter, who was released after a contentious contract negotiation with coach Andy Reid. That loss might be crippling if 275-pound Levon Kirkland or unproven four-year vet Barry Gardner fail to be adequate replacements.

It is well worth noting that this year is not the first time that the Eagles have entered the season without a quality middle linebacker. In 2002, letting the Axeman walk may have very well cost the Eagles a shot at going to their first Super Bowl. Who can forget his replacement, Fat Levon Kirkland, futilely chasing Joe Jurevicius in the NFC Championship Game? Things weren’t looking good back in 1994, though there was some new hope thanks to new ownership.

…none of the new guys they brought in this year can match the quality of Seth Joyner and Clyde Simmons, who followed Buddy Ryan to Arizona. And the defensive line, which once was the most feared in football, now reads, from left to right: William Fuller, Andy Harmon, William Perry and Mike Flores…The offense is more flash than smash. The Eagles were 4-0 last season until quarterback Randall Cunningham went down with a broken ankle; then they lost their next six. It was the second major injury in three years for the 31-year-old Cunningham. Two darting runners, Vaughn Hebron and rookie Charlie Garner, should help ease the pressure on Cunningham to take off and leg it.

The biggest plus is new owner Jeff Lurie, who stepped in and made sure that everyone was signed on time. It’s the first time since 1984 that that has happened in Philadelphia, where it’s being said that Lurie has brought a new, aggressive attitude to the team. Now if he could only step in at defensive end.

In 1989, Paul Zimmerman acknowledged that the Eagles were a two man team.

Take away two players and the PHILADELPHIA EAGLES are a sub-.500 team. Despite a mediocre line, quarterback Randall Cunningham had a magical year, practically willing his team into the end zone. End Reggie White was the best defensive player in football. But White missed much of training camp in a contract holdout, and the Eagles were on their way to nowheresville.

When he returned in late August, White said that if Buddy Ryan were not coach, he would never have played forPhiladelphia again. The players win for Buddy, not for the Eagles. Owners don’t like that kind of thinking.

Philly has some noticeable holes. Ryan keeps talking about a heavy running game, but that’s all it has been, talk. Even with White’s NFL-leading 18 sacks last year, the Eagles ended up last in pass defense, giving up the most yards ever by an NFC team. Philadelphia plays on high emotion. Last year it could beat anybody, but it could go in the dumper against anyone too. It will be another nail-biting season in ’89.

SI predicted a 9-7 season. In fact, the Eagles went 11-5, with Eric Allen, Seth Joyner, and Andre Waters taking some of the pressure off Reggie White (The offense continued to be a One-Man Show). In 1979, the Eagles were continuing their climb to respectability, but were being slightly derailed thanks to cocaine.

The PHILADELPHIA Eagles slipped into the playoffs last year on the winged feet of Wilbert Montgomery, only to make a quick exit when they blew a 13-0 fourth-quarter lead to Atlanta. Montgomery’s 1,220 yards rushing erased Steve Van Buren from the Eagle record book, but the guy who knocked down the linebackers for Montgomery last year, 215-pound Fullback Mike Hogan, won’t be around. Hogan and reserve Halfback Boomer Betterson were arrested on cocaine charges…Philadelphia’s strength, especially against the run, is the defensive front seven, led by greatly underrated Right End Carl Hairston, Inside Linebacker Bill Bergey and a comer at outside linebacker, Reggie Wilkes. The Eagles’ first pick in the draft, Jerry Robinson from UCLA, has impressed everyone with his speed (4.6 for 40 yards) and could be a starter at outside linebacker. Another draft pick, Tony Franklin of Texas A&M, seems ready to end the Eagles’ long search for a quality placekicker.

They would ultimately finish the season 11-5 and make it to the 2nd round of the playoffs, where they’d lose to Tampa. And finally, in 1966, things were looking up for the Birds.

The offense again should be hard to stop. Quarterback Norm Snead, after a good 1965 season, had surgery on a weak knee and is in excellent shape. At his best Snead can call a smart game, balancing the strong Eagle running with accurate passes at short and medium range. Behind Snead is King Hill, a certified big league quarterback who has knocked around for eight years but has never been No. 1. Although he has a strong arm he is not No. 1 because he is terribly inconsistent. The Eagles’ No. 3 quarterback is the little-used scrambler, Jack Concannon. Tall and strong, a good runner and a pretty fair passer, Concannon could be valuable as a halfback. He can run well enough, and with the threat of the halfback option pass he could be doubly dangerous.

In any case, the Eagle running can be outstanding. Now that Jim Brown has retired, the other Brown, Tim of the Eagles, is the most versatile runner in the game. He weighs 198 and can burst through the line or sprint around it with equal facility. He is at his fancy best when he breaks clear and shows off his repertoire of fakes or his tantalizing change of pace. Last year Brown was third in yardage (861) and first in average yards per carry (5.4).

Timmy Brown didn’t live up to expectations, rushing for 548 yards for a mere 3.4 yards per carry, Snead threw 8 TDs and 11 interceptions, and the defense allowed more points than the Eagles scored. And yet, somehow, the Eagles finished 9-5 and 2nd in the East Division. Go figure.


This Date in Phillies History: Kevin Gross Caught Cheating

On August 10, 1987, Kevin Gross secured his name in the annals of baseball history as more than just a pitcher with an MVP mustache.  He forever joined ranks with the likes of John McGraw, Gaylord Perry, Joe Niekro and Whitey Ford as one of the biggest cheaters in the game.

The Phillies were leading the Cubs at the Vet by a score of 4-2 in the top of the 5th inning when Cubs manager Gene Michael had a word with home plate umpire Charlie Williams.  Williams gathered the rest of his crew and paid a visit to Gross at the mound.  They asked to see his glove and after a quick inspection, Michael’s suspicions were confirmed: Gross had a strip of sandpaper glued to the heel of his glove to scuff balls.  Although no doctored balls were discovered,  Gross was immediately ejected.

Even though he was caught red-handed, Gross wouldn’t admit to his wrongdoing after the game:  “There was no reason to come out and check the glove for anything.  I’m not saying anything.”  After he was told the umps found the sandpaper, Gross said “I don’t know.  I don’t need anything in my glove.  I’ll have something to say tomorrow.  I don’t know what’s going on.”

The day after the game, Gross was called into Commissioner Giamatti’s office for a 4-hour hearing after which the league handed down a 10-game suspension.  By this time, Gross came around and admitted that he did have sandpaper in his glove, but that he “didn’t use it.”  The pitcher said, “I was not scuffing any ball in the game last night.”  Instead, he was “just fooling” with the sandpaper.

It was later reported that Gross, who had lost 5-6 mph on his fastball, was using sandpaper to compensate.  Gene Michael actually suspected Gross was scuffing balls in a previous game that year, but waited until the August 10th match-up to raise the issue with umpires.

Gross obviously wasn’t paying much attention to the league if he thought he was going to get away with the stunt.  The night Gross was caught, Twins pitcher Joe Niekro was in the midst of a 10-day suspension for having sandpaper and an emery board in his pocket during an August 3rd game against the Angels.

As an aside, I never understood why pitchers who scuffed balls or used foreign substances to get the ball to do wacky things are romanticized, while players who use steroids are vilified.  Why is one considered part of baseball lore, while the other is downright evil?  Pitchers who were notorious for doctoring balls are proud members of the Hall of Fame, but I don’t see Barry Bonds or Manny Ramirez ever being inducted.  I’d argue that doctoring balls is just as bad, if not worse, than using performance enhancing drugs.  Both are against the rules of the game, both are clearly unethical, and both allow the player to do things he couldn’t naturally do.  However, while taking steroids may make you a little stronger, a little faster, and recover from injury in a little less time, it won’t make the ball do impossible things.  Just because it’s nostalgic, doesn’t mean it’s okay.


Joel Youngblood Gets Hits For Two Teams in Two Different Cities in the Same Day

On this day in 1982, Joel Youngblood did something that no player had ever done before, and that no player has done since. It began that afternoon, as he started for the Mets against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. In the third inning, he cracked a single off Hall of Fame pitcher Ferguson Jenkins, knocking in two runs. It would be his last hit as a Met. He had just been traded to the Expos, who were playing the Phillies that night at the Vet. Mookie Wilson took his place in center field, and he hopped a plane to Philly, where the Expos were playing the Phillies that night. In the 7th inning, Youngblood stepped up to the plate. He stepped up against Steve Carlton, and rapped a single. Not only did he have two hits in two cities in the same day. He collected both hits off future Hall of Famers!

The NY Daily News wrote an entertaining piece about it in 2007, celebrating the 25 year anniversary.

And that’s just when the fun began. After showering and packing his bags, Youngblood went outside to catch a cab for Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, where he had quickly arranged a flight to Philadelphia. The Expos were slated for a 7:30 start….“I realized I left my glove at Wrigley Field,” Youngblood says. “And I knew that would take away from the time I had and I was jeopardizing my opportunity to make that flight. But I’d played with that glove for years. So I went back, got my glove, and the cab got me to the airport in probably another 30 minutes. It was a 6:05 flight – 7:05 Philly time.”

At some point before he got on that plane, Youngblood managed to get on the phone to his wife, Becky, who was at home in Greenwich, Conn., with one of her nieces.

“For me, it was pretty exciting,” Becky says. “My niece and I got in the car and went to Philly, and got there when he was coming to bat … It just happened so fast and furious and quick. You just pack your bag and go, and you do, and you’re just there to support him and hopefully things work out. That was it, very fast.”

The Expos also were very fast. By the time he got to Veterans Stadium, the game was already under way, his new uniform was there waiting for him, his name already stitched onto the back. Expos manager Jim Fanning met his new player in the dugout, and sent him to right field in the sixth inning as a defensive replacement for Jerry White. He came up in the seventh and rapped a single in his only plate appearance against the second immortal of the day, Steve Carlton.

He is still the only player in baseball history to get a hit for two different teams in two different cities in the same day.