Saturday, April 19, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Best of SportsWeek

More than a year ago, the folks at the Daily News decided to conduct an experiment—to try and create a weekly magazine focused on the city’s enduring passion for sports: the fans, the athletes, the stories behind the scores. The result was SportsWeek, which debuted on October 2, 2011 featuring a cover story on Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. To mark our first year, SportsWeek editors put together this collection (see below) of great reads from our first 52 issues.

 

Click here for a gallery of all 52 covers from the first year.

 

Long before he donned the red pinstripes and established himself as unquestionably the greatest manager in the annals of the organization, Charlie Manuel had worked his way up through baseball the hard way, beginning as a bench player with Twins and Dodgers, then as an American abroad in the Japanese leagues, and then as an anonymous minor league manager and big-league batting coach.

He is bald now, the braids of his youth replaced by a cueball head that holds his cap like a storefront window bust. At 32, he is the most veteran fixture on the town's most successful team, and one of the most accomplished shortstops in the history of baseball. Eleven years after he first arrived in Philadelphia, Jimmy Rollins' career has completed an arc that few local athletes ever experience.

His mother abandoned him before he was a year old. He watched his father go to prison three times. He dealt drugs on Chicago's streets as a 12-year-old. He often went to middle school drunk. He ran with a gang. Before he was 14, he was arrested twice. But Jason Avant is the Eagles' iron man, hardened beyond his years, the lodestone that guides the team's players in times of trouble.

He swears it doesn't, but how do Sundays not slip into LeSean McCoy's dreams? Isn't it the basic plot of a nightmare, and the worst one of all? Worse than falling from a great height. Worse than teeth falling out. Or bugs. Worse because of the vulnerability. The harrowing part isn't even the idea of getting caught, the grisly prospect that might await. Being chased is what's so unnerving.

When the book is written on the child-sex scandal that scorched Penn State in the fall of 2011, an important thread of the tale should focus on this: The concentration of power in the hands of too few people for far too long is a recipe for disaster. For surely the end of the Paterno era is tied to his power, tenure and the insularity he helped to build in State College.

In the days surrounding his induction into the United States Hockey Hall of Fame, Ed Snider talked with SportsWeek about his life, his legacy, his love of his plane's landing-gear cam, among other things. Here's a behind-the-scenes look at a man who - love him or hate him - has built one of the most iconic franchises, and successful businesses, in professional sports.

Biologically, they were father and son. But somehow they seemed to be more than that, in a certain way part of the same operating system. Wherever Joe would go, you did not have to look far to find Marvis. Ask anyone who knew the two of them. Of the 11 children Joe Frazier had, none was as special to him as Marvis, who even followed his legendary dad into the ring during the 1980s.

Dajuan Wagner is now 28, at a point in his life when many in South Jersey once believed he'd have a trip to the Basketball Hall of Fame all but locked up. But Wagner wasn't in town last month on an East Coast road trip. He didn't have a few games off from playing with the Cavaliers, or the Warriors, or anybody else. In fact, it's been more than 5 years since he's played in the NBA.

Peter Laviolette’s quest for perfection has led to a Stanley Cup title with the Carolina Hurricanes, a just-missed championship with the Flyers — and two dismissals. He has been praised for his aggressive style of play and judicious use of timeouts; ripped for his ill-timed outbursts at referees, players and other coaches, and for the defensive breakdowns that his high-risk approach invites.

It remains the hardest front-office skill in any sport — not coaching, not balancing the salary cap, but projecting talent to the next level. It is easy with the greatest players, but how many of those are there? For everyone else, the overwhelming majority, there is a level of professional judgment required, a special set of eyes. At age 70, Simon Nolet’s eyes are legendary.

Playing for Ivan Pravilov meant many things: a chance to see the world, an opportunity to escape a bleak future in the Ukraine. But it could also mean a random punch in the eye in a locker room after a bad game, a hand shoving a tear-filled face into an unflushed toilet for some imagined act of defiance. And in that Philadelphia apartment on Musgrave Street, it meant something even worse.

Andrew Austen is 14 years old, with floppy hair that curls up just so, in a way that only looks good on teenage boys and Tiger Beat centerfolds. During the summer, he plays golf, baseball and basketball, along with a healthy dose of video games. Later this month, he'll take part in the Eastern Amputee Golf Association Tournament, where he's the defending Junior Champion.

The players arrive from all over, with varying expectations and number of zeroes on their paychecks. They talk of brotherhood in this sport, of fraternity. Some of that is the product of myth-makers, but some of it is true, and training camp is where it is born: in the communal living, in the relative isolation, in the shared experience of physical torture.

Just past midnight on June 10, Melvin Baker was thrown from the back seat of a rolling car and was killed, horrifically. He was 21. He was also Fletcher Cox's best friend.

 

"He was like my brother," said Cox.