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Wednesday, August 14, 2002
Updated: August 16, 11:33 AM ET
Boos shouldn't be Rolen in

By Chris McKendry
Page 2 columnist

It's that time of year again.

Scott Rolen
St. Louis seems like a better location for bland Scott Rolen to blend in.
For the second time in as many summers, Philadelphia fans have been rejected by their sports stars. The very men who were supposed to usher in happy times ... nothing makes Philadelphians happier than successful sports teams except on-time SEPTA service ... instead sulked their ways out of town.

It was Eric Lindros last year, and Scott Rolen last month.

Well, says this native Philadelphian, "So what?"

Friday night, when Rolen returns to the Vet with the Cardinals, Phillies fans should say "So what?" too. They should not boo because they should not care. In the big picture, Rolen is a small loss.

With the sports industry being as transient as it is, no town gets to keep all its stars. Thank God Philadelphia has -- so far, at least -- kept the best two. Better that Lindros and Rolen leave town than either Allen Iverson or Donovan McNabb. They are two of the most dynamic and talented athletes in America.

Iverson, for better or worse, is also among the most interesting. By comparison, Lindros is tragic and heartless, and poor Rolen is just plain boring.

Iverson and McNabb have been everything to Philadelphia that Lindros and Rolen were supposed to be.

Allen Iverson
Say what you want about Allen Iverson, but you know he'll play his heart out.
Let me be clear about this: I'm not saying Rolen isn't a great player. He just never made me stand up and cheer. Going strictly by the numbers, he is on par with, and maybe even slightly ahead, of the beloved (now that he's no longer actually playing for us) Michael Jack Schmidt.

Amazing but true. Through last season, five full years into his career, Rolen had averaged 95 RBI per season to Schmidt's 94 at the same point in his career. Rolen's batting average is better, too: .285 to .257. However, Schmidt has Rolen by 39 home runs (and, to be fair, it ought to be noted that this is the offensive era in baseball). And Rolen also already has three -- soon to be four -- gold gloves. So, granted, Rolen is clearly a superb fielder, just like Schmidt.

However, did you ever envision Rolen as league MVP, jumping up and over a pig pile on the mound after a World Series title as Schmidt did in 1980? Didn't think so.

McNabb, however, is a guy who can make titles happen. Of course, it helps that the NFL features parity, but that's another column. McNabb was famously booed as he walked to the podium on draft day. That alone should have been a sign of how good he'd be. Let's not forget that Schmidt was booed constantly during his tenure in Philadelphia.

Let's compare McNabb to the quarterback who, in my opinion, Philadelphia loved too much. That would be Randall Cunningham. Through their first two 16-game seasons, there's really no comparison. McNabb has a better completion percentage, more touchdowns, fewer picks and better rushing totals. Plus McNabb won three playoff games in his first two full seasons. In this past postseason alone, McNabb finished with 627 passing yards and 120 rushing yards. His production put him in rarified company, alongside Roger Staubach, Joe Montana, John Elway and Steve Young as the only quarterbacks with at least 600 passing and 100 rushing yards in a single postseason. Keep in mind, this is only McNabb's third season as starter, which is about when most top quarterbacks in a West Coast style offense really take off!

Donovan McNabb
Donovan McNabb is as exciting as any NFL player, and he's still improving.
But statistics are just numbers and, as I stated above, Rolen's numbers are world class. And Iverson's trophy case is not superior to Lindros'. Lindros was the MVP and took the Flyers to the Stanley Cup finals in 1995. That's eerily similar to Iverson's 2000-2001 accomplishments.

That said, what separates McNabb and Iverson from Lindros and Rolen is emotion. McNabb and AI instill it in their teammates and fans. All-Star Iverson and All-Pro McNabb play with the reckless abandon and emotion of an athlete trying to earn his next start. They seem to understand that superstars don't just play the game, they showcase the game and they entertain!

Rolen, although intensely committed to his "craft," doesn't strike me as the type of guy who cares to engage the fans. Lindros never seemed capable.

Lindros' reticence and emotional distance was exemplified Jan. 12, when he made his return to Philly as a New York Ranger. It was an afternoon game. Lindros skated around, head down, trying to avoid contact ... physical contact with the Flyers and eye contact with the fans, who, by the way, had mixed feelings (Lindros actually received a few cheers). In a similar situation, I can imagine Iverson flipping off the crowd. Hey, at least we'd know that he had a pulse.

Lindros' afternoon game was followed by the Eagles' first-round playoff game at the Vet against the Bucs. McNabb accounted for all but 83 of the Eagles' 334 total offensive yards for the game. The Eagles romped 31-9. What I remember best was McNabb, forced to play from the pocket all season long, scrambling almost 40 yards to set up a field goal. It tied the game at 3 and got the Eagles rolling. (Now that was a "Mike Schmidt ... I'll jump on the pig pile moment"!) The Eagles' victory ignited the city.

Eric Lindros
Eric Lindros must he prove he is still one the of NHL's best.
Lindros' return did not live up to its billing.

Typical.

Former 76er Charles Barkley insists Philadelphians were nicer to him after he left. I can't explain it, but it does work that way for many beloved Philadelphia stars. They aren't truly appreciated until they are gone. While they're in town, the fans are extremely, and sometimes unreasonably, demanding.

Let's be sure to keep Rolen and Lindros in perspective; they were appreciated when they were in town. Now they're gone. End of story.

On Friday night Rolen will expect to hear the boos. He'll hear a few, I'm sure, although I contend they'll be the result of habit rather than real emotion.

But here's my advice to my fellow hometown fans: Save your boos for someone you actually cared about.

SportsCenter anchor Chris McKendry is a regular columnist for Page 2.