Back when I lived in Dallas, I met a legendary poker player named TJ Cloutier. Interesting guy. Made most of his money on cards, though there aren't too many games he hasn't embraced.

For years, his peers have regarded him as one of the best in the world. He's smart - knows the odds and the numbers and all that, but as the players are fond of saying, he has a lot of gamble in him.

A friend of mine wrote a story about Cloutier that described how he'd often take his poker winnings to the craps table. When I met him, I asked Cloutier why he didn't just pocket the money and play it safe - maybe deposit a fat check in the bank and save it for down the line in case things got lean. I'll always remember how he responded and the way he looked at me, as though the question didn't make much sense to him.

"That's not what I do," Cloutier said. "I'm a gambler."

Some people are just born that way, willing and ready to take risks. Maybe that's why the Eagles are so frustrating at times. Maybe that's why, as this Donovan McNabb business continues to drag on day after uneventful day (or year after title-less year, if you prefer), a segment of the fan base and the media remains annoyed.

Since Jeffrey Lurie bought the team, the Eagles have generally been a cautious, risk-averse team content to stay under the salary cap and avoid major, high-priced moves. There have been exceptions (Jevon Kearse, Terrell Owens, Asante Samuel, Jason Peters, to name a few), but mostly they've gone the slow-and-steady route. The franchise is careful and methodical, and the Eagles have been competitive for a long time as a result. But the approach has also failed to field a dominant roster or deliver a championship.

Shawn Andrews, Kevin Curtis and some others are out this off-season. Mike Bell, Marlin Jackson, Darryl Tapp and some others are in. Ho-hum. Pass the warm milk.

Across the street, over the last few years, the Phillies have made splashy trades - Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay - and signed high-profile free agents such as Placido Polanco. It's a different way of doing business, and it hasn't always worked out for them (hello, Adam Eaton). But at least you get the sense they're willing to take a chance on someone or something. With the Eagles, you don't always get that feeling.

"During the off-season, every day I think something's going to happen," Eagles general manager Howie Roseman told The Inquirer. "I go into the office every day thinking that. But the process just isn't that quick on anything."

It never is with the Eagles.

They have clear choices now. One safe (keep McNabb, attempt a final Super Bowl run and let him walk after the season), the other risky (commit to Kevin Kolb and the new-era Eagles). The safe play has been tried many times over. The risky play, if nothing else, is a new strategy - something sorely needed after 11 seasons of the same disappointing results.

You have to wonder, as the NFL draft approaches and the McNabb trade talk continues, what the Eagles' front office will do. You have to wonder if they truly have any gamble in them.

ESPN recently conducted a poll of 50 NHL players. The topics ranged from what kind of job commissioner Gary Bettman is doing (80 percent gave him a "C" grade or lower) to whether the players suspect they have gay teammates (42 percent said yes). The survey also asked which city has the smartest fans and which has the meanest. You probably already know where this is heading.

Philly was No. 1 in the meanest category - by a lot (42 percent picked Philadelphia, compared with the 22 percent that went with second-place New York). In the smartest fans voting, Philly didn't make the top eight.

Compared with the other teams in town, the hockey club gets off pretty easy around here. The Flyers haven't won anything since the '70s, and yet the fans still support them and pack the building. Maybe they're the easiest to separate from their money, but Flyers fans can't possibly be the meanest.

By the way, "anywhere in Canada" (2 percent) finished higher than Philly in the smartest fan question. Tough crowd.

More than 5.4 million people signed up for ESPN's bracket challenge, but only 4 percent picked the Butler Bulldogs to beat Syracuse. Even fewer entries (just 854) are predicting Butler to beat Michigan State and advance to the championship. . . . West Virginia coach Bob Huggins looks and sounds grumpier than ever. The Mountaineers are in the Final Four, but the interviews he's given lately have been as happy and upbeat as a eulogy. If West Virginia wins the championship, he may never smile again. . . . Your weekly programming reminder: Tomorrow's regularly-scheduled Ask Gonzo chat will start at 1 p.m. on Potential topics: Reviews on Hot Tub Time Machine, the wild Final Four field, Charlie Manuel's fifth starter, the unfortunate 3-D movie trend and reports that Erin Andrews might be dating her partner on Dancing with the Stars. Make sure to stretch and limber up. Some chats require more exertion than others.

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