Wednesday, January 11, 2006
Updated: January 12, 3:49 PM ET
A glorious game indeed
By Dhani Jones
Special to Page 2
Going into the final game of the season against the playoff-bound Redskins, we were thought not to have a chance. Understandable, given the loss of a star QB, two starting wideouts, and all that had transpired before. Those who know the Eagles, however, knew we'd play hard all the way to the end. Granted, we didn't win the game, but our players showed fight. Pundits, myself included, always like to highlight individual play, but in a season filled with individualism, for the last game I must state we stayed together as a team. The offense continued to produce, the defense provided three-and-outs and the special teams worked hard. It's no secret it wasn't enough, but we never quit.
The off-season is an interesting time. Nothing is forever in the National Football League. And, after a season filled with strange circumstances and soap opera-like episodes, changes are bound to occur in Philadelphia. Coach Brad Childress now dons an ugly purple tie (and there are rumors more of our coaches may follow), coach Marty Mornhinweg was elevated to the position of offense coordinator, ever sturdy Donovan McNabb now faces an off-season of rehab, and the T.O. circus continues with everyone's favorite agent Drew Rosenhaus receiving permission to shop for a trade. But I firmly believe all change is good. It's a natural process in life and it will be so until the end of time. When the playoffs begin, those who are not as fortunate must go home and contemplate the problems of the past.
I'm no different then all of my teammates, except I'll be reviewing the 2005 season from the road, where I'll be working on my ESPN2 show "Timeless" and covering the playoffs for the NFL Network. Now, obviously, if I were to have my way, I would be on the field with my fellow Eagles making history. But, as a player working in the media, I have an opportunity to expand my abilities and refine other talents. And I can tell you that being a correspondent and standing on the sideline is very different than being on the field. Last week, I traveled to New England to work the sidelines of the Patriots/Jaguars game. This weekend, I'm off to Denver for their game with the Patriots. And for the Super Bowl, I'll be flying to London. Now, I'm thinking there's got to be warmer climates that they can send me to. Not that I'm complaining.
Personally, I'm thinking the AFC teams will have a hard time derailing the Super Bowl-bound defending champs. In the NFC, I believe the winner of the Carolina/Chicago game will advance to the Super Bowl. The Chicago defense is tough, but John Fox is a great coach, and while I'm fully aware it might sound crazy, I'm ready to pick the Panthers to advance and win the Super Bowl. Not that I want to hate on the other teams. I support all my friends in the playoffs and hope they all do well. It's hard enough to get into the league. But the playoffs? What an accomplishment.
I wish you all the best of luck in the New Year. And if you get the time, try to squeeze in a great movie about an important issue that changed history:
***** DHANI'S REEL REVIEW *****
Movie: "GLORY ROAD" (in theaters Friday, Jan. 13)
|NCAA's poignant championship highlighted in film by Jerry Bruckheimer and Disney.|
Studio: Walt Disney Pictures (the parent company of ESPN) and Jerry Bruckheimer Films
Director: James Gartner
Stars: Josh Lucas, Jon Voight, Derek Luke
Ideal date: Your girlfriend. It's a fun movie that you'll want to share with someone you love.
"First Down": Moves the chains.
"Sacked": Lost yards. Not good.
"Fumble": Doesn't get any worse.
Ideal date: (1) Girlfriend (2) Cheerleader (3) Teammate (4) The kids (5) Coach
THE GAME PLAN
With racism on and off the court, in a never-ending battle of man versus man, have the challenges of our past been overcome? Will they ever? Sure, changes are being made every day. There's something to be said about destroying the issue of bigotry and establishing a comfortable environment in which all races can feel equal opportunity. We are all still struggling, fighting outside battles while ignoring our own internal problems as a nation. It's an uphill advance that has some caught in a sinkhole.
With each passing decade, we are making strides and opportunities are increasingly being afforded on all levels. For black Americans in particular, the sports industry has opened many doors of success. However, the road to change was not for the weak of heart, and the time has come to remember those who stuck their necks out and put their own families in jeopardy for those they never met and never would.
One of those who took a chance was Don Haskins, a high school coach chosen to ascend the ranks and take over D-1's Texas Western. Armed with hardly any scholarships, he took a trip to the desert to seek out the best players -- regardless of skin color. And the obstacles were plentiful. As a man, he battled racism. As a father and husband, he encountered threats against his family. And as a coach, he struggled to keep a fledgling team together while managing to give it a sense of identity, a new vision and a unifying goal.
I was truly moved by this true story of the first college basketball team to start five black Americans in an NCAA championship. Having played college sports, I imagined a time when I could not have played simply because the unwritten rule said I wasn't competent. How would I have dealt with the circumstances? Would I have been the one who fought for change? Or would I have been one to stand by and allow the turmoil to continue? Loaded with a strong script and talented cast, the movie lets us know just how far we've come. After all, look at all of the starting black American players in the NCAA now. And look how many are in the NBA, for that matter. I suppose there is hope for social change in the future.
Sneak Preview: Behind the scenes of the making of "Glory Road"
Franchise player: It's always difficult to play a real life character. When it's fictional, you don't have to deal with the critical eyes of truth. But Josh Lucas ("Sweet Home Alabama" and "Stealth") gives a great performance as a brave man in a time of distress. He brings something vibrant and real to the character of coach Don Haskins, a young man dealing with racial issues in the South while juggling responsibilities as a coach and family man. It's a perfect part for a talented performer making strides as a dramatic actor.
Player in a contract year: Career crossovers always fascinate me. Once a comedian on MTV's Punk'd and now an actor-come-basketball player, Al Shearer has branched out as Nevil Shed, a sheepish baller ready to come out of his shell. In the beginning, I was a bit unimpressed by his "I'm afraid to play because others are bigger" sob story. Yet, he turned it around into an actual character who made a poignant impact on the entire story. Nevil was another brave man who took a chance to change his team, his life and his destiny.
Benched: It's hard to find a weak link in a well-made movie that dares to tackle important issues. I wish to bench those who may have hesitated and passed on making this movie. Shame on those artists and moviemakers who live their life afraid to talk about social issues that have hindered our country for so long. "Glory Road" is a true story that allows the conversation to emerge so that we can continue to mend our social fabric.
I applaud Jerry Bruckheimer for his vision. At an advanced screening in Philly, he told me that "these stories must be told." He's a man who believes no stone should be left unturned and he deserves all of the accolades. Back in the day, we were a nation that tried to think better, despite the obstacles. A sensational producer, Bruckheimer will no doubt continue this mission.
Coaching in the championship game, the two powerful coaches collide along the sideline. One would never dare play a black American. One would rather play the best player. But when they bump into each other, and we watch in slow motion as Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp (Voight) squirms, the questions start to rush through your head. What is he most troubled by at that moment?
Was it the sweat of black players? Their ability? Their knowledge? It's all in the way director Gartner gets you to focus your attention on that moment. With the help of slow motion and stellar cinematography, he perfectly captures the look on each face to say it all. Up close and personal, the truth reveals itself.
Dhani Jones also is the host of "Timeless," returning for its second season in February on ESPN2. Currently, he's our resident movie critic reviewing what's out on the silver screen.
|It's not all about sports for Eagles LB Dhani Jones.|
Off the field, he's a renaissance man. The Philadelphia Eagles linebacker looks more like an artist and intellect than an athlete. His hobbies include his poetry, music, studying Islam, painting and photography. People magazine rated the pro as one of this year's sexiest bachelors.
More information about Dhani can be found at dhani55.com.