Angelo Cataldi: I come here to bury these Flyers

The Flyers are about to embark on the games that will define their season, but this doesn’t feel like the beginning of anything to me. It feels like the epilogue of a year that began promisingly, and will soon end prematurely.

I’m not going to write a playoff preview today. I’m going to write an obituary. Remember, it was only a year ago when the magic began for these players and their inspirational coach, Peter Laviolette. The Flyers made it into the playoffs by winning a shootout over the Rangers. Instead of going home, our beloved overachievers spent the next two months defying all expectations. They finished two victories away from their first Stanley Cup in 35 years.

From the dizzying heights of those comebacks against the Bruins, we have now plunged to the depths of the past month. The Flyers became so disinterested in recent weeks that they managed to lose six straight home games, five of their last six overall and a conference lead that they had worked half a year to build.

What happened? How could a team that refused to die last spring stop trying? How could a brilliant motivator like

Laviolette preside over this emotional meltdown? Above all, how could a franchise that has always valued hard labor spend a month allowing every team on their schedule to outwork them?

When I asked Laviolette about this puzzling plunge, I got an honest answer, but not a satisfying one. He said he really didn’t know. The Cup-winning coach had tried everything in his arsenal. He worked them relentlessly early in March, then he backed off by giving them a succession of equally fruitless days off. He screamed. He praised. He pleaded. Nothing worked.

The situation reached its lowest point last week, when GM Paul Holmgren closed the locker-room door, rolled out his best Clint Eastwood impression and tried to scare the team back to life. The next night, they lost to Buffalo.

That’s why this column is an obituary. There’s no reason to speculate about another postseason run because it’s not going to happen. The Flyers lost the chance to build on the miracle of last season when they forgot what got them there. They died before their time, of the worst affliction — apathy.

Normally, an obituary ends with everyone telling the deceased to rest in peace. That will not be necessary. These Flyers have been resting for more than a month.

GM, Phils need to stop lying

The Phillies are the best success story this city has had in a generation, and not just because they won a title in 2008. They have mastered the art of respecting fans. They have an atmosphere at Citizens Bank Park that rivals any in our city’s sports history.

So why can’t they tell the truth about injuries? When does “general soreness” become a potential season-ending injury? On whose calendar does “three to six weeks” equal three months? Can the Phillies no longer keep track of their own fabrications?

Chase Utley is out indefinitely. We know this because he’s not playing and there’s no timetable for his return. That’s about as indefinite as you can get. Utley was a day or two away from finally starting to run last week, but then he wasn’t. GM Ruben Amaro Jr. called the report on Fox Sports “miscommunication.”

There’s nothing new about that. Brad Lidge has a partial tear in his pitching shoulder. We know this because Lidge told us so. The GM said Lidge would be out three to six weeks, then Charlie Manuel said he didn’t expect Lidge back until around the All-Star break.

The Phils are better than this. They need to apply the same standards to injury reports that they do in other aspects of their sports operation.

Football fanatics deserve better

The worst thing about this NFL lockout is that we’re all getting to see what our heroes are really like. They are stupid, greedy, selfish and ungrateful. And those are their best qualities.

If there was any doubt that the most ridiculous work stoppage in sports history is about nothing more than the egos of a bunch of billionaires and millionaires, there is none now. Last week we all learned that both factions are willing to resume talks, but only in the venue that favors their side.

The owners want to go back into mediation, while the players want to keep the talks in federal court, where they can include decertification.

(Yesterday, a federal judge ordered them to resume talks in Minnesota).

Hey, I know the fans don’t care about this mess, but there is something worth our attention. It’s the attitude of the owners and players. They don’t give a damn about the fans.

Forget all the rhetoric about their love for the people who made their sport the most popular. If they had any concern for the fans who went into debt to pay for personal seat licenses and team-licensed apparel, they wouldn’t be bickering over where to talk about a new deal. They would be making a deal.

–Angelo Cataldi is host of 610 WIP’s Morning Show, which airs weekdays 5:30 a.m. to 10 a.m.

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