Saturday, September 29, 2012

Dinner with a Legend: My Night with Brian Dawkins

The first time I was graced with the presence of Brian Dawkins was a cold December night during my freshman year at West Chester University.  Somehow, that mediocre state school managed to get Dawk to come to his first (and only, last time I checked) college event.  I was so excited that I stole one of the fliers the activities council hung up and I pinned it on my wall (and now it hangs in my room at home).

That night, I put on my Dawkins #20 jersey, along with every other item of Eagles clothing I could find in my dorm, and walked through the frigid cold campus to the auditorium.  There were to be twenty students chosen at random to meet Brian after the event, but I was still shaking with excitement at just being in the same room as Weapon X.

This may seem pathetic, but this was a big deal for me for two reasons.  The first, I have never been to an Eagles game.  At 22 years old, I have never been lucky enough to have tickets fall in my lap and I sure as hell cannot afford them now that my college loan waiting period is over.  The second reason is that Brian Dawkins is and will always be my favorite Eagles player of all time.  His intensity and passion were a perfect blend with his skills and talents that made him such a great player, his demeanor was perfect for any Philadelphian to identify with, and he would pummel the shit out of any offensive player that touched the ball.  (Most of his hits would result in fines these days.)

So I sat in that auditorium and watched Dawkins strut across the stage to his chair, I listened intently to his words about his career, his mindset on the field, his family, and who he is as a man.  There was a Q&A period, but I couldn't think of any question that made me worthy of words with this monster on stage.  The time came to pick the winners of the meet and greet and I, unfortunately, did not win.  But seeing that man a few rows in front of me on stage was almost enough for me that night.  (I say "almost" because I waited at the backdoor of the auditorium in the freezing cold for an hour after the event to try and catch him outside).

A few short weeks later, I was home on Christmas break.  I was home alone watching ESPNews when I got up to do something, and a "Breaking News" story flashed across the bottom line.  Brian Dawkins had just signed a 5-year deal with the Denver Broncos.  I dropped to my knees, wept, and cursed the Eagles for throwing away their leader.  I vowed not to watch the Birds that season, even though that was an empty threat.

And as you all well know, the defense has never been the same without that maniac in the center of our huddles.

Fast forward four years.  I'm graduated and on the prowl for a job.  Of course I shot for the moon and gave my resume to the Sixers and Eagles, so when someone from the Eagles left me a message on my voicemail, I got a little antsy.  Turns out it wasn't a job offer, I had just won an invitation to the Eagles "Dinner with a Legend."  I assume this was one of the dozens of online contests I enter on a daily basis.

I was told the event was a meet and greet followed by a dinner.  That sounds cool right? Well, it was better.  The event was held in the SCA Club, which I hope to be popular or financially stable enough to go to again one day.  When we went upstairs, we were greeted by a 4-foot ice sculpture of the Eagle head resting on top of a large "20."  There was an open bar and at least eight different finger foods on rotation (which automatically made this the nicest event I've ever been to).

And then we got to meet him.  Dawkins.  Weapon X.  Number 20.  He walked in to a roaring round of applause.  Everyone moved through the line with various jerseys and helmets and footballs to be signed, and then it came to be my turn.  I had thought of a million things to say to Brian, but when I shook his hand, I basically blacked out.  I congratulated him on such a great honor and a wonderful career.  I thanked him for signing my jersey and the poster everyone received.  Basically, I blew it.  But I met Brian Dawkins and I shook his hand.  This time around, that was more than enough.

However, there was still more to come.  We were invited to the back of the SCA Club for dinner.  To begin, a short Dawkins highlight reel was shown on a big screen projector, followed by the obligatory "EAGLES" chant.  After that, Dave Spadaro introduced the speakers for the evening.  First up was a spokesperson for AAA, who had sponsored the event and also gave the most boring speech of the night.  Second was Merril Reese, who reminisced about his three favorite Dawkins moments with the Eagles (in classic Merrill "play by play" fashion). 

Lastly, before Dawkins, was Troy Vincent, who turned out to be the only teammate to make it to the event.  He started off with something I thought could never be done, which was poking fun at Brian Dawkins.  He explained that he and Bobby Taylor always had most of the field locked up, and that #20 really didn't have to do that much work.

What made Troy's speech even more memorable was that he knew how we felt as fans.  Growing up in Yardley, he was close enough to Philadelphia that he knows what type of people we are.  He perfectly described it, "We grab our lunch pail, we go to work, we put on our hard hats, and we get it done.  And if you don't, we don't like you.  Move on."  It was refreshing to hear a former player say that about Dawk, because that's exactly how we feel about him and the way he played in our city.  (Troy even went the extra mile to connect with us as fans after dinner when he went to every individual, shook their hand, and thanked them for coming out to the event.  Class act).

Troy went on to talk about how Brian was a true role model, and perhaps the last of his kind.   He was never in trouble off the field, and he never gave anything less than 100% on it.  He really made it clear how special of a player we had in our city for 13 seasons.

Troy then introduced the man of the hour.  In true Brian Dawkins fashion, he gave us all something that we could use to better ourselves in our own lives.  He explained that he worked on his body so that he was physically capable of doing everything possible on the field.  But he didn't strive to be the best for himself, he did it so that he could ask his teammates to do it as well.  He did everything he did on the field so that he could ask the men around him to give the same things.  He wanted so badly to have his teammates succeed and bring wins to this city.  The big plays were never about him.  The big hits didn't just make him feel good.  He blew up defenders and ran like hell to sack the quarterback so that he could tell his teammates "I did it.  Three straight downs, I sacrificed my body.  Now you go do it."

That's what legends are made of.  In my lifetime alone, I've seen some amazing athletes do some unforgettable things.  Iverson stepping over Tyronn Lue.  Cole Hamels pitching our Phils to a championship.  And the Flyers making history winning a series down 0-3.

But nothing compares to Brian Dawkins.  He was the ideal football player, the ideal Philadelphian, and the ideal man.  He gave everything he possibly could on and off the football field, and he always did it with other people in mind.  This night was about more than just football.  We were celebrating a great man.  We were celebrating a great leader.

We were celebrating a legend, and I was lucky enough to have dinner with a legend. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Album Review: Chiddy Bang - "Breakfast"

Philadelphia rap-duo Chiddy Bang (comprised of rapper, Chiddy, and DJ/producer/super beat maker Xaphoon Jones) took to the internet last night to release their debut album "Breakfast" a week before it was due.

And now it's time to feast.

While the album hit a few snags along the way (it was delayed about six months), the eagerly awaiting fans were surprised to be gifted with this meal a week ahead of schedule. And it did not disappoint.

The album opens with a smooth intro of what sounds like kids playing around the neighborhood and moves into a mixture of piano riffs, bass knocks, and claps (something the talented Xaphoon probably made by simply sneezing).

The first song is the title track "Breakfast," which follows one of the standards for Chiddy Bang: a creative beat laced with creative lyrics and a hard-hitting, repetitive hook. "Handclaps & Guitars" is where we start to get into the exciting work of the album as we get a slower, anthem-like hook of "Oh, I just came to party" along with Chiddy's faster flow over some guitar riffs.

Tracks four and five are the current two singles on the album in "Mind Your Manners" and "Ray Charles." Icona Pop's "Manners" gets the "Opposite of Adults" treatment as Xaphoon took the catchy hook and sped it up to sound like schoolchildren singing the sample (these upgraded samples have become Xaph's forte). The rest of the song has a head-bobbing beat complimented brilliantly by Chiddy's rhyme scheme that is sure to be a concert favorite. "Ray Charles" differs in sound, but still has the same catchy flow with the soulful piano and hip-hop lyrics, and makes you want to do a funky dance (better than Xaphoon, I hope).

Of course the album needed a slow-paced, love-based song, and "Does She Love Me?" delivers the same components that the rest of the album brings. Instead of diving right back into a snappy beat, the album eases into the silky voice of Shirazi on "Run It Back."

Gordon Voidwell lends a sample to "Out 2 Space" as Chiddy chronicles the groups determination to rise in the rap ranks. "Whatever We Want" is another standard offering of what Chiddy Bang does best. And then we are brought to an interlude, which is a nice little violin diddy.

"Talking To Myself" is a steady track about Chiddy's struggles with balancing and explaining his relationship with a girl and his life as a musician. We are then given "Happening," which will assuredly become a summer jam, as it was inspired by fellow duo Outkast's "Hey Ya." The quick beat and lyrics are matched up well with a Katy Perry-sounding VV Brown chorus, which is almost alluding to the album's delays, saying "It's your choice/What are you waiting for/This is happening."

The final tracks are "Baby Roulette" and "4th Quarter." "Baby Roulette" features Train on the chorus and actually dropped about a year ago, so it was odd to see this make the cut for such a fresh album. "4th Quarter" however delivers just what it promises, which is Chiddy finishing strong.

Overall, this album went above-and-beyond what was expected, but still remained true to what brought Chiddy Bang here in the first place. Hip-hop fans now have the first masterful album of the year and it's good to see the boys from Philly giving the world such a new and unique sound to indulge in.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Should the Sixers Push for Dwight?

The start to the 76ers 2012 season could not have started much better for the fans. In Philadelphia, we finally assembled an exciting, young, energetic, and talented team to finally compete for an NBA championship again.

And then this happened.

In today's version of the NBA, teams are driven by superstars, and thanks to those first free-agents who started the trend of taking their talents to form one big talented swirl of shit, its forcing other superstars to want (and need) to do the same to compete in the league.

As teams like Miami, Chicago, Boston, and Los Angeles (both) come together with several top-tier players, the remaining lone superstars just wait for their chance to ditch their team and sign somewhere else, where another star is already waiting.

Now that Chris Paul has found some footing in Lobs Angeles, Dwight Howard is up next.

The Orlando Magic center has been nothing short of an undeniable force, averaging 18 points and 13 rebounds over the course of his 7 year career. On January 11, he put on a Wilt-esque performance with 45 points and 23 rebounds against the Blazers.

Regardless of the numbers, you cannot ignore his presence in any game (even if its just because of his shiny silver arm bands leading to his watermelon-sized shoulders).

But there is no other forces in Orlando with him. So what does Dwight need to do? Request a trade, of course!

And because superstar players now have the league wrapped around their fingers, Dwight even went as far as to give the Magic organization of list of teams that he would sign a long-term deal with, including the Mavericks, Lakers, and Nets.

Howard prefers to be traded to the Nets because of the opportunity to play with (surprise!) superstar Deron Williams. However, the injury to Nets' center Brook Lopez, who was a center piece to the deal, broke a bone in his foot before the season started.

Now, the Nets are scrambling to get a deal back together, the Lakers were already blocked for trading for Chris Paul, and the Mavericks never really showed initial interest for Howard, so could his list have to expand?

More importantly, can Philly get on the list?

A main goal of new Sixers owner Adam Aron is to make Philly a destination that superstar free agents at least consider coming to. While we have no superstar for Howard to join, the Sixers should at least be showing up on his radar.

Now listen, I'm not saying I want Dwight Howard in Philly, and I'm not even convinced that we need him, but it would be very cool if in the next couple weeks a tweet from him says "jus put Philly on the list, hit me up @Sixers!" To which Adam Aron would immediately respond "HOLY SHIT! BOARDING MY JET TO ORLANDO NOW." To which Philly would respond "We have an NBA team?"

If this were to happen, should the Sixers push for him? Make an offer for a sign-and-trade? I'm no expert on salaries and all this new CBA nonsense, but I'm pretty sure the Sixers have the room to work it out.

Right now, with the Sixers playing the way they are, and winning the way they are, it's easy to tell Howard to suck it and to see how far this team can go with the talent they have this year.

With Spencer Hawes playing up to his I-want-a-new-juicy-contract standard, I feel like my complaints for a dominant center have been stifled (as long as Samuel Dalembert never, ever comes back). And I wouldn't really like to lose any of the young players that we have groomed to play at the level that we've seen this year. (Even after Andre Iguodala clanks another free throw off the rim).

On the other hand, by giving up one or two young players, a shitty contract, and some picks, we could get the most powerful defensive force in the league. A young core in Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner along with Dwight Howard would be quite a sexy team in the East and possibly a legitimate title contender for years to come. And as I have written before, I think that great team play beats out a group of talented a-holes 9 times out of 10.

Picture it: Jrue Holiday and Dwight working a flawless pick-and-roll, Evan Turner getting any missed jumpers cleaned up by the big man, or Lou Williams breaking down his defender and getting to the secondary only to toss it up and have Howard punish the bearings on the rim.

So should the Sixers see if they can get onto Howard's list? If you think they shouldn't, you can't say it wouldn't hurt to at least try. And Adam Aron would get back a ton of lost Sixers fans if he makes an public effort to push for a superstar like Howard.

As for me, I wouldn't want to give up any of our players and ruin the chemistry that we created for this great start to the season, but if the right deal came along, I wouldn't be able to say no.

Howard is an elite player, and while I don't think any team should ever gut their entire core just for one superstar (as the Knicks watch Denver being oddly successful with their whole 2010 roster), I think that making certain moves for a player of his caliber is a necessity at some point.

And not only is Howard a beast on the court, he is just a fun dude. Our city would have a massive talent that loves fan interaction and charity work and who hasn't ever complained about practice or killed a dog.

Not only would the Sixers be well represented, but he would bring our city fresh, positive attention that we haven't seen in quite some time. The Sixers fan base would double immediately and the organization wouldn't have to give away free tickets to fill the seats.

And if this were to happen, Dwight would certainly forgo the Heat-like celebration at the Wells Fargo Center for a much more fan-friendly welcoming party.

I can see it now, holding up his jersey at the bottom of the art museum steps in a grey Sixers hoodie, then turning around and running up the steps like a modern-day Rocky, only to unveil a statue of himself dressed as Superman that he bought with his signing bonus.

But, with watermelon-sized shoulders.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bringing the Sixers Revolution

As I was creating this blog, I wanted to write about a variety of topics going on in Philadelphia, (I don't think a blog like this has been done before, right? ::sarcasm::) but this was brought about by the opportunity that I have this year of being a part of the 76ers Revolutionaries. Long story short, the organization wanted "crazy, passionate, intense fans" to apply for an official fan section. I applied, auditioned, and got a season ticket to the home games this year. (Which severely pissed off the guy that has the row in front of me who spent an absurd amount of money for his seats.) So this season, I'm going to try and do a recap of every Sixers home game and any crazy happenings that occur as we verbally berate opposing teams, along with away game stuff, and other things that happen and interest only people that live in Philly.

After starting the season 3-2, the Sixers traveled back to the Wells Fargo Center to take on the Pistons on 1/6. The Sixers gave a great showing as a team ready to make the leap. Yes, we played the Detroit Pistons, but the fans saw what we expected (and needed) to see. The offense was flowing together, the defense was lock-down, and the bench continued to show that they are the best in the league.
As for the aspects of the opening night atomosphere, it was the best Sixers game I've been to since Iverson came back. New owners Adam Aron and Josh Harris took the game-day experience and juiced it up big time. They added new dunkers, new dancers, new performers, new lights, smoke machines, confetti blasters (that shoot enough confetti to make you think we won the NBA championship already), and your very own Sixers Revolutionaries. The only thing that was noticably missing was the new mascot and new partial team owner Will Smith. (But they now play Gettin' Jiggy Wit It once a game).
As for the presence of the Revolutionaries, we made an immediate impact in the stadium, chanting for the Sixers on both sides of the floor, but more notably picking on the Pistons' bench. Still the scariest player in the NBA, we harrassed Ben Wallace as he sat on the bench and tried to hide his grey hairs. He shook his head everytime we said something, and I put the over/under at 21 minutes until he ran into the stands and dropped the hammer on one of us. Luckily we lived to see the Toronto Raptors the next night.

During that game, the superb play of the Sixers was overshadowed on our part by the presence of Jamaal Magloire. During the first quarter, our section kept repeating the inferiority of the Toronto basketball organization (they fucking suck), and Jamaal's reaction after 2 or 3 chants was to get up, walk toward our section and tell us to "SHUT UP." He would've faired better if he walked over and said "pick on me the rest of the game while I pick the dust off of my warmup jersey."
For the rest of the game, we killed him. We went way past calling him out for sucking so much that he sat the bench for the Raptors, but questioned his sexuality, and made fun of his Canadian heritage. This prompted him to punch his hand and bang his elbow as if we were going to fight (we thought we were.) But then, our section was awarded with this, our first official warning that we violated NBA Code of Conduct, or that Jamaal Magloire ratted us out to the security behind him because we were annoying. Same thing.

The Pacers game on 1/9 was much of the same by our beloved Sixers, most notably the stellar contributions by Vucevic, who is making a big impact off the bench. As for our verbal assault, we were no longer allowed to call out players on the bench, only on the floor. But when Jeff Foster, who just looks like a douche, was stretching next to our row, we decided to chat. We accused him of spiking his Gatorade Prime, which he did not deny (FYI: he drank about six, and played a measly 14 minutes). From there, we basically just tried to get him cut for drinking on the job.

My future posts about game-days will not be this long, I just wanted to recap the first 3 home games because Jamaal Magloire looking me in the eye and telling me to shutup was something to cross off my Philly Sports Fan Bucket List (along with get on TV, get on the jumbo tron, finally get those stupid thunder sticks that are supposed to distract players shotting foul shots, and getting every player to wave during warmups.) I'll come up with a full list sometime soon.

As I close, I just want to leave you with this before I depart to try and get in a fight with DeMarcus Cousins and the Soon-to-be Anaheim Kings.