The year is ending, so it's time to take inventory. Everyone does this as Jan. 1 nears, and columnists love to do it. It makes for a timely, easy column topic, and we jump at any chance to make our jobs easier.
Just the other day, for instance, my fellow Inquirer scribe Bob Ford polished off his annual "corrections" column, a humorous look back at several of his articles from the previous 12 months. I've always enjoyed this column and would have liked to write a piece in the same format, but I can't and won't try to pull off the trick here.
For one thing, I'm not nearly as funny a writer as Bob is, and I got a lot more things wrong in 2016 than he did. (OK, OK, so maybe it was a stretch, before the Villanova Wildcats beat Oklahoma and Buddy Hield in the Final Four, to say that "all they had to do was stop Superman." Superman never shot 4-for-12 from the field, even on Krypton.) For another, plagiarism - as the likes of Doris Kearns Goodwin and Mike Barnicle can attest - is one of the most egregious sins in journalism and nonfiction writing, punishable by lifetime banishment to a wasteland of Washington cocktail parties and Charlie Rose talk shows. No one wants that.
Mostly, columnists (the sports ones, anyway) write these year-in-reviewers because they present an opportunity to not write about topics that we feel like we've already covered to death. Believe me, when editors dig into the first paragraph of a June column from Eagles minicamp, roll their eyes, and mutter to no one in particular, Oh, goody, another 850 words about Carson Wentz's progress in setting his feet during a five-step drop against blanket-man coverage, we get it. But hey, you have to give the people what they want, even if you feel like you're writing about the same people and the same stuff all the time.
It does get you thinking, though. Out of my own twisted sense of curiosity, I wondered how many of the 167 columns I wrote this year actually dealt with those people or subjects that seem always at the forefront of this city's watercooler conversation. Though it might feel like you're constantly searching for a way to say something fresh about Wentz or Joel Embiid or the Phillies' rebuild, the reality as reflected in the numbers might be different.
Here goes . . .
"Carson Wentz": 50. That is, 50 of 167 columns - 30 percent - this year either were about Wentz or mentioned him in some way. That's a staggering number, reflective of how the Eagles dwarf every other pro franchise and college team in town (even when one of those teams wins a national championship on an unforgettable buzzer-beating shot). And I'd guarantee that the figures and percentages would be even higher for our Eagles beat writers, Jeff McLane and Zach Berman. Probably not for Ford, though. He has this affinity for long-snappers and fourth-string wide receivers and twisting paths along the highway of life. Hippie weirdo.
"Sam Bradford": 37. Coincidentally, 37 is exactly 1/10,000th of the number of readers who, in emails and Twitter posts to me, considered Bradford a "wimp" or a "wuss" because he had dared to think, once the Eagles began pursuing Wentz, that he'd be better off playing for another NFL team. The most surprising thing was that Ed Rendell wasn't one of them.
"Joel Embiid": 24. That's one mention of Embiid nearly every two weeks, which is pretty much how often he plays. Perfect.
"Concussions": 11. A relatively high number for maybe the most significant subject in sports. The issue kept coming up - from the NFL's handling (or mishandling) of it to former Penn State player Bryan Scott's fears about his memory loss to the choices of two kids in Bucks County. It will keep coming up in 2017 and beyond, no doubt.
The challenge for those of us who cover sports, football in particular, will be the manner in which we address new information and research about concussions and analyze the evolving perspective of the general public. Whenever we discuss head injuries in sports, my colleague and friend David Murphy, of the Daily News, always raises a good point: If you take football away, what will fill the void? Soccer? Ice hockey? Wrestling? Extreme sports? Those sports present concussion risks, too. Or do we want our kids sitting around the house, sedentary on the couch, entranced by iPads and video games and other electronics?
"Rebuild" or "Rebuilding": 31. Given that the 76ers, the Flyers, and the Phillies have admitted to being in various stages of rebuilding, this number seems low. But then, the Eagles have only sometimes admitted to rebuilding, like late in the season after they were eliminated from postseason contention. Other times, like early in the season when they were 3-0, they said they had something special going, and who knew what might happen? A confusing time, 2016.
"Villanova": 15. Seven of them came during the week of the Final Four. Five mentioned Ryan Arcidiacono. Two were on Jay Wright's potential future as an NBA coach. None were on Jay Wright's taste in suits.
The combined totals of "trust the process" and "culture change": Zero. Ohmigod. Those phrases are, like, so 2015.