Giving 'Em Fitz: Howe and Dykstra: The best and worst of pro sports

The good: Flyers great Mark Howe salutes the crowd on the retirement of his number.
The good: Flyers great Mark Howe salutes the crowd on the retirement of his number. (STEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 08, 2012

Except for the color orange, the two events had little in common.

This week, in a two-act drama that inspired joyful tears and head-shaking dismay, we all got to witness the perils and rewards of professional sports.

Two Philadelphia icons collided near the intersection of fame and failure.

On Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center, the Flyers retired Mark Howe's No. 2, raising an orange banner to the roof in a ceremony that was as classy as the former defenseman.

On Monday in a California prison cell, former Phillie Lenny Dykstra, in an orange jumpsuit, began serving a three-year sentence for grand theft and other offenses.

It was a sad and telling juxtaposition of professionalism and profligacy.

And nowhere was that difference more striking than in the public comments the two men made on their return to the limelight.

Surrounded by his family, the glow of a spotlight encircling him like a halo, Howe was gracious, his words marked by thoughtfulness and thanks.

Standing before a judge in a cold courtroom, Dykstra rambled, his pleas filled with desperation and delusion.

Howe told 20,000 fans he was "blessed" and "lucky" and provoked a standing ovation.

Dykstra tried to convince the judge he was not a "monster" and earned only a stern rebuke.

Twenty years ago Howe and Dykstra were the faces of two popular Philadelphia franchises. Twenty years before that they were kids with big dreams.

At some point, each came to that metaphoric junction, the place where the two roads diverge in a yellow wood.

Howe chose the harder path. Though it was straight and narrow, it required sweat, discipline, and character to traverse. In the end, he arrived at a place called satisfaction.

Dykstra took the other fork. He found all its shortcuts. His road was lined by the trees of temptation and he sampled the fruits of them all. In the end, it led him nowhere.

We used to think Howe was colorless. Soft-spoken, humble, he was as steady and dependable off the ice as on it. He could play three periods of physical hockey and emerge looking as if he'd been at the library.

Dykstra was viewed much differently. We grew so enamored of his talents that his lamentable excesses became laughable eccentricities. Somehow the dirt on his uniform obscured all the dirt in his life.

The car crash. The restaurant and casino tantrums. The on-the-road intemperance. The narcissism. The sudden physical transformation. That was all just the Dude being the Dude.

If nothing else, the experiences of Howe and Dykstra this week provided future athletes with valuable lessons.

The lucky ones find contentment.

The unlucky ones are tortured forever by memories of squandered gifts, wasted youth, and roads not taken.

Not surprising:

1. Ryan Howard won't be back as soon as anticipated.

2. Freddie Mitchell is in trouble with the law.

3. Yankees milquetoast GM Brian Cashman has a female stalker.

Most enjoyable:

1. The Mets are in worse financial trouble than we thought.

2. Kobe Bryant has to wear a mask.

3. In a few weeks, Dick Vitale will vanish for many months.

NCAA's worst B words:

1. Bracketology.

2. Bubble.

3. Bracket.

Outmoded concepts:

1. Spring training (These guys already spend their offseason working out in Florida and Arizona.)

2. White outfits at Wimbledon. (If they're supposed to symbolize purity of body and spirit, that ship sailed decades ago.)

3. Sideline reporters. (Can't think of a single interesting moment produced by one.)


1. Now that Harvard has an NBA star and NCAA bid, can we expect our next president to be a Murray State graduate?

2. Is it true that on his NCAA pool last year, Rick Santorum picked ITT Technical Institute to win it all?

3. Is there an ex-athlete or coach who is not employed by ESPN?

Contact Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068,, or on Twitter @philafitz. Read his blog, "Giving 'Em Fitz," at


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