Let me say upfront that I embrace any opportunity to travel around and see another team and learn about them and write stuff and go on TV to talk about it. It’s the job, it’s fun, and it’s all good. But when I saw Philadelphia on my docket for this week, I smiled a little more than normal.
Ah, the cheeseteak. My favorite road food in an epic grudge match with etouffee of New Orleans. So, another chance to have a cheesesteak? I’ll take it. Oh, I also saw the Eagles practice (and wrote this article and said this on TV).
Want some highlights of my trip to Philly?
— Let’s start with the important stuff. I’ve been to Pat’s, Geno’s, and Jim’s for steaks. All fantastic. I’m actually not down on Pat’s and Geno’s like a lot of people, even though they are tourist traps. Look, I’m a tourist. No getting around it. And the steaks were good. But Tony Luke’s was the choice this time. My brother Steak (AKA, Jake the Steak) made a quick trip from New York to hang for a night, and he arrived just in time for dinner. I had a cheesesteak with whiz and mushrooms (pictured), perfectly greasy and delicious. Heaven, I’d say. He had the wildcard: A roast pork sandwich with provolone. Never would’ve ordered it, but after he had it, I might next time. A carnival of tastes. Plus, nobody gave me the annoyed look for ordering wrong like at, ahem, other places.
— The Eagles practiced, and it was all pretty loud. I know coaches lament how you can’t hit during these minicamps, but several teams (the Ravens, the Saints, the Cowboys, the Eagles) have shown you can still be fast-paced. The Eagles were. I got a kick out of QB Michael Vick praising the defense for making it “almost like a game-type atmosphere,” and all of that helps. They were contesting every pass, and the offense wasn’t dominating. That’s got to be a good sign, right? I don’t know what’ll happen with the Eagles this year, but I wouldn’t be shocked if they are preseason favorites to win that division (for whatever that’s worth). They looked good.
— Philadelphia got all sorts of crap last year for that Dream Team comment, and its season ended up completely off the rails. But how can you control the good feelings this time? There are so many big names, from Vick to WR DeSean Jackson and RB LeSean McCoy to Nnamdi Asomugha and on and on. Will they play their roles? Some stars will have to adjust. But man, there is talent. If No. 7 stays healthy, there really is no excuse for not making the playoffs. Who has more talent than they do in the division?
— The most interesting comment came from Jackson, and no, I’m not talking about his rap label. (Side note: I asked him about his favorite rapper and if he wanted to sign him. Jackson said a name I didn’t recognize, I nodded , quickly wondered why I asked, and we both moved on. I know, good story.) Anyway, Jackson made reference to how coach Andy Reid “knows how important this year is for us.” Was that a reference to Reid’s win-now job status? Or to a team that may break up after this year? Or simply the urgency? I don’t know. But Jackson senses things must happen in 2012.
— I spent three years in Boston, and driving around Philly seems remarkably similar. It’s like both cities are smushed together on lots that are a little too small, and none of the buildings have changed since the 70s. What’s great, though, is that the tidy quarters force residents to be creative with parking. In South Boston, for instance, you learn to park on either side of the street, sometimes with two cars facing each other. In Philly, it seems to be totally cool to park in a line in the middle of the road. Whose idea was this? Did some guy just park inside the yellow line, someone followed suit, and no one told them to stop? So weird to see cars parked right in the middle.
— I wonder if the most underrated move of the offseason was the Eagles acquisition of LB DeMeco Ryans. They didn’t pay a ton for him (besides his salary, I guess) and he wasn’t in a scheme that fit him in Houston. What the Iggles get is a locker room leader and noted smart guy who can prove to be an example for the younger players. Also, he’s got game, and they needed help at that spot. I thought as a rookie he’d be a big star, and he might be in Philly. But he’ll also rub off on the youngsters at his position and on defense. Tough to quantify that, but he’s known as a really good teammate. I liked the move.
— The local flavor in Philly media is strong, and I’d imagine there isn’t a lot uncovered by this beat crew. So, from Thursday’s minicamp, John Tamari of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about backup QB Mike Kafka, Les Bowen of the Daily News examined what was accomplished during the offseason, and Geoff Mosher of the News Journal of Wilmington checked in with rookie Fletcher Cox. And kudos to Jeff McLane and Geoff for taking me to an awesome lunch place. Go check out the Urban Outfitters cafeteria in the Naval Yard for lunch next time you’re there. Stellar.