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What Is Early Word?
The Philadelphia Inquirer's experimental online "morning show", which began in Sept. 2005, went on hiatus in the summer of 2006, after a gradual shift to putting more of its content directly on Philly.com.



About the Host
Peter Mucha, husband and father of two, grew up in Cherry Hill and is a lifelong Philly sports fan. He's been writing and editing for The Inquirer for 18 years. His motto (at least for today): "If I'm not brief, give me grief."

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The Inquirer's ever-evolving way to start your day. Email. Phone: 215-854-2388.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Why NFL Labor War Means Eagles Better Act Fast
Yesterday, players union chief Gene Upshaw issued some warnings to owners and agents. Without a new collective bargaining agreement, he said, 2006 won't have a salary much more than $92 million, and 2007 won't have one at all. At first blush, this sounds like good news for the Birds. Cap-strapped teams like Washington have to let players go to squeeze under the ceiling by an end-of-the-week deadline, which Upshaw vows won't be extended. That means (a) more free agents for the Birds to sign, and (b) as a team with lots of salary cap room, a big edge in money to do that signing with.

But here's how things could backfire. First, if 2007 will have much more payroll room, that could mean smart teams could sidestep the cap by renegotiating deals to defer lots of money till next year. (On the other hand, the lack of a deal imposes tougher restrictions on bonuses and incentives, an ESPN.com column says.) Second, agents, knowing the cap's likely to rise under a new labor agreement, might wait and delay to do any free-agent deals, as Sports Illustrated's Don Banks points out.

Long term, the Eagles might also seem set up well, since their lucrative stadium deal makes them one of the league's richest teams. So if there is no cap, they could still compete. Ah, but the NFC East could be the league's richest division. Jerry Jones in Dallas and Dan Snyder in D.C. are hypercompetitive guys likely to bid like Steinbrenners for superstars. The New York Giants aren't paupers either.

What's an Eagles fan's best hope? The team strikes while the iron is hot, bidding so aggressively that agents won't dally and the Birds lock up enough talent to stay competitive for years. In an interview, Andy Reid says the Eagles are ready with a Plan A and a Plan B. Let's hope both plans are to be extremely aggressive.

Friday, February 24, 2006

How You Could Golf With Stars, Maybe Even T.O.!
Next weekend, Michael Irvin hosts a celebrity golf outing in South Florida, and among the name-enhanced will be Eagles exile Terrell Owens. Irvin and T.O. have a special relationship, you'll recall. The final verbal straws in the wideout's stormy stint with Philly came when an ESPN interviewer asked if Owens agreed with Irvin that the Birds would be unbeaten if Brett Favre were QB. Owens said yes -- dnnntt! -- wrong answer (and then blasted the front office class for lacking class). Now, Early Word understands it's possible to bid online to get in this tournament, perhaps putting yourself in proximity to T.O.! He's confirmed to be there, but not confirmed to play (or even just demonstrate sit-ups), says Tera Jenkins, an ex-West Chester University prof with Irvin's foundation. But just imagine. What if you had a chance to meet him and pose questions? (Like Letterman did, left.) About not getting tired in the Super Bowl. About recent putdowns by "Chunky Soup" McNabb. About that classic moment when a reporter asked agent Drew Rosenhaus what he'd done for T.O. other than costing him millions and getting him kicked off the team. About future employers -- his celebrity-workout-show deal, as well as a football team -- since he could be cut or traded by then. Here's how maybe, possibly, you could make something happen. (1) There's an online chance, though ibidusa.com, to place your bid (minimum $2,400) to have a foursome in the tournament. Only one group space up for grabs. The other 35 are sold out. (2) Next Friday night, people can bid at a silent auction to play with one of the not-yet-taken celebs. (Don't count on quartetting up with a mega-illuminary like Emmitt Smith, Deion Sanders, Michael Vick, Steve Young and Bernie Mac.) Who's left, Jenkins didn't know. Maybe T.O.? Probably no. But if you're seriously interested in this golf gig anyway, call Jenkins to verify all this at 954-966-6300, Ext. 1295. Oh, and be sure to share any photos and stories with your Early Word pals.

'Oh No, Not Again!'
Deja vu all over the living room.

Sarcasm for Dummies
Awkward situation: You wish someone ill. Or wish them dead.
Do not: Say so explicitly. You might be banned from protesting at the zoo. Or you might get arrested.
Instead: Master the art of sarcasm! In a chat-room posting labeled "For Pete Hoskins," who's director of the Philadelphia Zoo, animal activist Marianne Bessey wished him "nightmares about [isolated elephant] Dulary every night until you die, which should be very soon." Uh-oh. This could be misconstrued as sounding malicious, even menacing! So let's backspace a bit and consider saracastic alternatives, such as:
"... joy on a level experienced only at a Terrell Owens grievance procedure."
"... all the safety and security of being Britney Spears' baby."
"... a thriving career that lasts as long as that foolproof Dubai ports deal."

She also wrote: "Maybe you should be kept in a concrete closet for six months to hasten your demise." Again, let's edit in a bit more obvious insincerity:
"... to hasten your enlightenment."
"... to hasten your being lost in the quagmire that is the Medicare drug plan."
"... to hasten your eagerness to go quail hunting with the Vice President."

See? If you don't say what you mean, or mean what you say, folks are less likely to think you're mean. You are totally right about one thing, though: No reason to apologize. And I mean that just as deeply in my heart as when I said, "I'm glad those Nebraskans won that record $365 million Powerball jackpot, not me."

Do you need sarcasm advice, too? Post your plea here, and I'll try to help.

Idle Threats 2: Ed Snider says he didn't mean it
Ever feel that listening to WIP is like looking at a photo cropped to show only Cindy Crawford's mole? Yeah, the supermodel did have this blemish, but, uh, there's a bigger picture here tells a different story. Yesterday, some callers went into spasms over Ed Snider's snappy remark in a Wednesday interview with Glen Macnow that if the fans can't get past obsessing for championships, "maybe we should move the franchise to a city that would really enjoy the game." Because of the uproar, Snider went back on the air yesterday afternoon, fielding tough questions from Howard Eskin. The only mistake he'd own up to: "I didn't realize your station would take it out of context and make such a big deal about it. But I should have realized, because I know what your station is all about." He owned WIP in its early sports-talk days, after all. "Ed, do really think Allen Iverson makes his teammates better?" Eskin asked. Snider countered by pointing out Iverson has been an MVP as well as an all-star, he's extremely popular not just around the country but even overseas, and he turned around a last-place loser. "Allen Iverson saved this franchise," Snider said. And while saying the team would make any trade that would truly help, Snider summed up: "I don't believe you ever, really, get true value for a superstar unless you get a superstar for a superstar." He also strongly backed GM Billy King, pointing out that King's only truly had the reins for two years, and the team was lacking youth and draft picks because of ex-coach Larry Brown's preference for veteran players. "Larry Brown did what he had to do, and Billy King is still paying for that," Snider said. The Inquirer's Stephen A. Smith and the Daily News' John Smallwood have takes on this, too. King had comments, too.

Ratings for the Olympics Are Off Because ...
Too many sports to keep track of.
They won't specify what's on at 8, 9, 10 or 11, so why bother?
"Artistic" merit, crying areas, gauzy outfits on guys.
Dearth of "blooper" reels.
Close-ups of Bob Costas being bland/poetic/dramatic.
With TiVo and tape, why watch live?
The novelty melted years ago. Figure skating's on year-round now.
Feels like pedophilia to find little girl skaters attractive.
Feels like depression to hear 25-year-olds called "old."
No snowman competitions, snow-dog events, or snowball fights.
Read a whole ratings breakdown.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

NFL Has a Deadline Today, Too
Teams have to designate franchise and transition players by 4 p.m. today. The Eagles are highly unlikely to tag anybody, judging from the team's free agents. Franchising offensive tackle John Runyan, for example, would require a payout of nearly $7 million. (Fans want to keep him, though. See Eagles.com poll.) But look for which players are tagged by other teams, because those players will be removed from the pool of free agents who become available starting March 3. And expect more players to get cut by then, including T.O., who's due a big bonus March 1 if he's still with the team. (Washington and Kansas City are both more than $20 million over the cap, writes the Eagles Dave Spadaro.)
Players who won't (or can't) be tagged: running backs Edgerrin James (Colts), Jamal Lewis and Chester Taylor (Ravens), and Shaun Alexander (Seahawks); quarterback Drew Brees (San Diego).
Players who might get tagged (per ESPN.com): Seattle guard Steve Huchinson, Lions offensive tackle Jeff Backus (club was still trying to sign him yesterday), New England place kicker Adam Vinatieri.
Already tagged: Bills cornerback Nate Clements, Jets offensive lineman John Abraham.
Already re-signed: Colts receiver Reggie Wayne, who inked a new deal this week.

You Be the Eagles GM, Part 1
At the Eagles Web site, you'll find detailed plans created by fans about moves the team should make. Then an Eagles rep, usually Dave Spadaro, responds. What's good: You get an overview of the possibilities, learn names of free agents and draft picks. What's not: Ignored are some major front-office issues: underspending, questionable play calling, staleness of "the system," poor clock-management, money-related morale problems, the need to out-improve foes in an increasingly competitive division.

You Be the Eagles GM 2: Salary Cap Bingo!
OK, to be upfront, you might find this exercise a little lame. It has no bells and whistles or blinking fireworks. But it does have movable chips! (I can tell you're impressed.) Anyway, the idea is to help fans visualize the limitations of dealing with the NFL salary cap, expected to be about $92 million for next season. Where would you spend it? Which positions on the Bingo board below get the biggest chips, those $7 million babies? Which get "peanuts" -- in the low to mid six-figures? Go ahead, click on any chip and drag it into position. You may find, as the Eagles have, it's not easy to pay big bucks for skilled positions if you're giving monstrous salaries to monstrous linemen.
To simulate the Eagles situation for 2006, put your $7M chips on QB, RB and one DE. Put $5M on the other DE and both OTs. Put a peanut at FB; $1M at MLB and SS (strong safety); an extra $1 and a peanut at QB for backups; $2M at FS, C, one OLB, K and both WRs; and $3M at the positions that remain. Toss a few more peanuts here and there, for spots that were rounded down. Now figure out where to spend the rest: Beef up SS to re-sign Michael Lewis? Target bonus squares for now and later to land free agents? See anywhere to save? OT, if Runyan leaves? OLB if Jones (the $3M) is let go? Whatever you do, save at least a couple of peanuts. In case you need to sign stiffs to fill in for injuries.





Oscar Nods Didn't Help
Usually, best-picture nominees get a second life at the box office. Not this year. Over the weekend, with only two weeks till the Oscars, the top-10 box-office draws didn't include a single nominee. More moviegoers warmed up to Eight Below than Brokeback Mountain. To Date Movie fans, Good Night and Good Luck sounded like a line of dialogue. The Pink Panther chased Munich off the map. And Curious George aroused more curiosity than Capote. Meanwhile, the list of top-50 video rentals showed no evidence of a Crash.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Sixers Considering Iverson Trades?
Philly said no to a deal with Denver, KYW-TV (Ch. 3) reported this morning. Think I've found the original source, ESPN The Magazine's Ric Bucher. ESPN.com's Marc Stein writes today: "And perhaps the juiciest nugget, literally and figuratively, comes from my ESPN The Magazine colleague Ric Bucher. I wrote Friday in our blog from All-Star Weekend that the Sixers, if not actively shopping Allen Iverson, were indeed exploring their Iverson options before the deadline. Bucher took it a (big) step further on Tuesday night's NBA Coast to Coast on ESPN2 when he reported that the Nuggets tried to acquire Iverson with a package built around [6-11 center-forward] Nene and [6-1 guard Earl] Watson (and presumably including draft picks as well). The Sixers briefly considered it, Buch says, before declining." KYW ran a clip of Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks smiling and saying he'll be glad when Friday comes and the trade deadline has passed.

Sixers top boss Ed Snider, who had earlier told the Washington Post that A.I. was staying, sounded open to a trade in an interview for Sunday's Inquirer: "If we can make any change that we believe will help our club do better, we have to do it. You can't, in my mind, have untouchables in the situation that we're in."

This just in: Found a DenverPost.com note that makes this proposed swap sound one-sided: "The Nuggets are also believed to have made a longshot run at Philadelphia's all-star guard, Allen Iverson, though talks did not get far there."

Sure Simon Cowell's Not From Philly?
The American Idol judge's barrage of insults last night almost made the show worth watching. A handful of times, after Randy Jackson and Paula Abdul gushed, he virtually vomited. Some of his snappier lines: “I thought it was a really pimpy, third-rate copy of Earth, Wind, & Fire.” “It was as if I was watching the warm-up for the Chippendales.” “If you hear a scream from a hotel room in Las Vegas that’s where Barry Manilow’s watching the show tonight.” He did heap praise a few times, though. Tonight, four contestants go, leaving 20.

'Apprentice' Flop Flap: Stewart's to Blame
Sorry, Martha. As one of the few guys in America to watch your "reality" show (so I could post news about our wacky local contestant), I gotta say: You can't do flowers and wedding dresses and pretty thank-you notes and expect guys not to channel-surf. Competition from Trump's Apprentice hurt yours? C'mon, TV is spinoff city.

Watch What You Say at Harvard
Caving in to criticism, Harvard president Lawrence H. Summers has agreed to go. He was jumped on in academia for briefly suggesting that maybe gender differences play a role in why men outnumber women in science. (Hey, maybe that's a plus -- women tend to dislike being obsessive geeks?) But faculty members insist their lack of confidence was based on other factors, too, like Summers being too bossy. That led to this funny exchange between a CBS reporter and a student:

"Do you have to be nice to be the president of Harvard?"
"I don't know what nice means, but you have to be congenial."
"Isn't congenial just a fancy word for nice?"
"Sure, heh-heh, but I confer congenial."
"That's because you go to Harvard."

It Must Be Smut, I Mean, Sweeps Month
You are not old enough to visit the Web site above, even if you are 87. Especially if you are 87 and have a heart condition. Or have a spouse who might catch you and die of shock or withhold your medication. But I digress. It's February sweeps, so you expect extra sleaze on the 11 o'clock news. And WPVI-TV (Ch. 6) delivered last night, except this story's legit: One of the country's major porn purveyors is proud to be headquartered near the Liberty Bell. Nice co-owner's quote: "People are always surprised that we're right across from the Liberty Bell, but it is freedom of speech and freedom of expression. We're proud of that. We like being in historical Philadelphia." No sexcapades are filmed in the high-security building, but phone sex "actresses" tap wanton wallets while the Internet operation makes money "hand over fist," $20 million a year just from the movie site. We won't link that, but here's the Ch. 6 report, in writing and on FCC-acceptable video.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

You Be the GM, NBA-Style
Check out the Trade Machine at ESPN.com. With 2 days left till the NBA trading deadline, you can call up lists of players, check off who you'd ship out, and have automatically find out if your deal could work under NBA rules. Want to trade Allen Iverson to Orlando for Stevie Francis and Darko Milicic? Sorry, meets with a big rejection: "Darko Milicic cannot be traded in combination with another player." How about A.I. and Sam Dalembert to Minnesota for Kevin Garnett and Eddie Griffin? "Congratulations, your deal succeeded." Meaning it works under the salary cap, not that it's fair talent-wise. Consider swapping Kyle Korver, Kevin Ollie and the unable-to-play Jamal Mashburn for San Antonio superstar Tim Duncan: "This trade succeeded." We could only wish.

Bush: Wowie, Like Oil's Not the Only Energy Source?!
The Prez says coming energy breakthroughs will "startle" most Americans. My reaction: Why does he talk to us like we're uninformed children? Battery-powered cars? Car fuel from crops? Solar energy? America's been hearing about such innovations for decades! What would be startling would an administration truly making a full-fledged effort to end that "addiction" to foreign oil he's starting to worry about, a diagnosis that isn't news to anybody either. George, you want to jump to the front of the parade? Fine, take the baton. But don't pretend the band wasn't playing long before you heard footsteps. Critics say your plan should also embrace stronger conservation measures.

Cheeks Speaks
From Inquirer Q&A: "I think we can get better shot distribution. Andre [Iguodala] can get more shots. Sam [Dalembert] can get more shots. ... Allen taking less shots and getting more assists will allow other guys to get more shots. These next 30 games, I think it will be a focus of us trying to spread it around a little bit more."

Fat Cat
Or is it a mini-panda?

Who Wanted Ricky Williams??
I was hoping to find a picture of those yahoo Philly fans who booed when Williams, a confessed cannabis dabbler now appealing another positive drug test, wasn't drafted by the Eagles in 1999, and put cartoon words in their mouths booing Williams instead of the real pick (and far better pick), Donovan McNabb. But check out this picture I found on McNabb's Web site: Looks as if on draft day '99, he was surrounded by his family during the boorish booze, I mean, boofest. In front of his family? No wonder he took it so personally, even if fans would have booed anybody but Williams. (For the record, not that you care, at the time I favored drafting a QB -- after trading down to get more picks.)

Monday, February 20, 2006

Never Too Old to Give Birth?
She'll have to do it again in five years to set the record.

Was Iguodala Robbed?
Saturday night's slam dunk contest was won by 5-9 Nate Robinson of the Knicks. Or was it? Everyone says Andre Iguodala had the most spectacular dunk, a come-from-behind-the-basket affair that started with an on-the-fly grab of an Allen Iverson-launched bounce off the back of the backboard. Some fans in the arena booed the final decision. WIP callers complained. "Shocked? What's the word for beyond shocked? I'm mad," Iverson said. And on ESPN.com, not only can you see the video, but you can read another opinion that the Sixers swingman was "Nate-Robbed." Also, NBA.com has an excellent series of freeze frames from Iggy's jiggy dunk. Although The Inquirer's account doesn't take sides, you can, in this poll:

Was Iguodala robbed in the dunk contest?
Free polls from Pollhost.com

Another Poll: Vote on Andy Reid's Role
He wears too many hats, most fans think. Players fans voted to cut: Owens, Buckhalter, Detmer, McMahon, McMullen and others.

What the Eagles Could Teach the Sixers
Ed Snider is perplexed. The Sixers' top dog (the Flyers', too) says he doesn't understand why fans don't appreciate how much effort and money the organization has committed toward building a winner.

The easy reply: Fans want results, Ed, not just effort.

A better one: Ed, it's no virtue to waste mega-bucks on overpriced, aging talent! Or even on a star whose unspectacular size means he's the easiest to be replaced. Such spending kills hopes of landing key free agents.

Start with Dikembe Mutombo. He was pushing 40, if not past it (D.O.B. a mystery), and Sixers said, here, have $20 million a year. Huh? Nobody else in the league could have fit him under their cap at half the price. So if you offered $10 million, what was he going to do? Say no? Worried he would sulk? Should have worried he'd break down, which he did. In hindsight, Ed, you gotta admit you should have vetoed that contract.

That blunder led to further wasted fortunes on Keith Van Horn (acquired for Mutombo) and Glenn Robinson (acquired for Van Horn). Consider also Derrick Coleman, Jamal Mashburn and the exorbitant Chris Webber, no longer a power at a power forward. Sure, fans blast the Eagles for being stingy, but stinginess has helped fuel their success. Fans loved Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor and Duce Staley, but the team was better off preparing to replace them.

The Eagles seem to have rules the Sixers would be smart to follow:
(1) Never overpay.
(2) Especially never overpay to keep or acquire declining talent.
(3) Never pay mega-bucks for positions filled by average-size athletes.
(4) Stick to a smart system and find players that fit it.

The last two are also vital. Why do the Eagles rarely pay king's ransoms to running backs, receivers, safeties and linebackers? Because these positions are filled by average-sized guys whose skill sets are much easier to replace than super-sized linemen or super-skilled quarterbacks and cornerbacks. In the NBA, guards are your little guys, the most easily replaced, and yet you're astronomically invested at guard.

Further, that guard and your pricey powerless forward don't play a smart system. Well, you say, how about the year we went to the finals?! Funny, there was a system then ... the shooter played shooting guard, next to a real point guard and other excellent defensive players. Almost all the "effort" since has been patchwork ... haphazard moves and no fiscal restraint, resulting in discouraged fans.

The solution? Pick Joe Banner's brain Seriously. Review the Eagles rules: Negotiate tougher. Let aging talent go. Buck the league, and never pay the max to players who don't play to the max (e.g., play poor defense). Adopt the smartest system you can and play the pieces that fit it best, as you jettison the ones who don't. Evolve into a team. It could take years, and, yes, cost you at the box office. But, ultimately, it's your best hope ... and ours.


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