SPORTS FOCUS: Sports or drama?


So you thought last Saturday’s Philadelphia-Dallas game was a classic. You thought it was one of the most entertaining games played not only this season but in any season.

The Cowboys overcame double-digit deficits and, thanks to two late-game fumbles by the Eagles, kicked a pair of field goals that snapped a 34-34 deadlock and gave Dallas a 40-34 victory in a much-anticipated NFC East battle royale between two of the league’s top teams.

Of course, the game was not without storylines. The modern-day NFL relies on them to add texture and drama to games – especially big games.

The top storyline was the absence of Philadelphia starting quarterback Jalen Hurts, who was a scratch due to a shoulder sprain sustained during a tackle against the Chicago Bears the week before. Hurts seemed to think he was okay, that he could have given it a go.

Instead, the starting quarterback was Gardner Minshew, who while not getting a lot of playing time, still is capable of playing at a high level. He also has arguably the best wide receivers in the NFL to go with a solid running game and the best offensive line in the game.

And the defense? Well, until Saturday, the Eagles prided themselves on shutting down opposing offenses. They’re one sack away from tying a franchise record (62 in 1989).

But Philly’s D was nowhere near Big D on Christmas Eve. Perhaps it was not a big deal. After all, the Birds only need to win one more game to clinch the top seed in the NFC. Entering Sunday’s Week 17 game against New Orleans (which Philadelphia is considered a favorite), the Eagles appear on the verge of winning their 14th game (a franchise record).

With or without Hurts, the Mean Green (13-2) should be a lock to win and lock down home field advantage throughout the playoffs – all the way to the Super Bowl.

Oops. I guess there is no clear favorite to win the NFC. Somehow, the Eagles lost to lowly New Orleans, begging the question: Why do people buy tickets to these games? The quality of play is so bad that I’m questioning the future of the NFL.

At any rate, there’s a lot to be excited about if you’re a Philly fan. It’s been a special year for Philadelphia teams. After witnessing the Phillies’ improbable run through the Major League Baseball postseason, anything is possible.

But what I saw last week was a team that really didn’t want to win. The defense played soft; they played with no pride or effort. In some respects, they essentially “gave” the game to Dallas – the same way the Eagles offense gave the ball to the Cowboys on four turnovers.

The two turnovers late in the game that essentially sealed the win for Dallas were so bad that it could be argued that they were on purpose. Miles Sanders’s mishandling of a Minshew handoff looked like it had been rehearsed.

Could it be that game-week practices are just that – rehearsals? As if the NFL has been transformed into a gridiron version of WWE in which outcomes are somehow predetermined in order to maximize ratings and revenue. Would the NFL sell its soul for the almighty dollar? The real question is: Has the NFL sold its soul for the almighty dollar?

Did the NFL manipulate the outcome of games in order to make sure certain teams advanced and others did not? Like the 2017 AFC Championship game between Jacksonville and New England. The Jaguars led 20-10 and ended up losing 24-20. So blatant was the outcome that even NBC Nightly News aired a story whose premise was that the game was “rigged” in favor of the Patriots.

I’ve seen enough games in my lifetime to come to the conclusion that those I am watching are not athletic competitions but performances between actors in different uniforms. Nothing surprises me.

The Eagles-Cowboys game, to many, was a classic. To me, it was a horrible game. Give me 14-7 or 13-10 anytime. At least I am reasonably confident that it was a closely-contested game with hard-hitting defense and an emphasis on the running game.

Apparently, Shakespeare was prophetic. All the world is a stage. And all the players on the field are actors playing their parts, all making their entrances and exits.

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