The Eagles were a fun team to cheer for last season. Not only did they play well, but there was something about this team that made them easy to like. You can't say that about all pro sports teams. Some teams have a bunch of players getting arrested, sometimes for pretty disturbing things. Other teams just seem to be full of jerks. We've had some Eagles who weren't a lot of fun to cheer for over the years. Ricky Watters’ "For who, for what" moment stuck with him for the rest of his Eagles career. There were times when you just wanted Terrell Owens to shut up. Shawn Andrews’ bizarre behavior brought out the full range of emotions.
This current group of Eagles feels a lot different.
Let's start by talking about linebackers Connor Barwin and Trent Cole. Barwin was new to the Eagles last year, but quickly made himself a key member of the team on and off the field. Barwin had the idea of weekly dinners for members of the front seven. This was a way for the players to bond in a non-football environment. Barwin also embraced the City of Philadelphia. You could find him riding on a SEPTA train around town, just like any fan might do. In a time where a lot of athletes seem to be rich, entitled and out of touch with reality, Barwin is a breath of fresh air. He is a real person who just happens to be a starting NFL linebacker, and a pretty good one at that.
Cole is the team's star pass rusher. He was faced with a tough situation when Chip Kelly took over as coach. Cole had to make the move from defensive end to linebacker. Cole didn't resist the move at all. He could have made life difficult for Kelly by complaining about the defensive shift, but instead Cole embraced the move and set a good example for other defensive players.
Young players are also part of the equation. Listen to an interview with Bennie Logan or Damion Square and you will swear those guys are wily veterans. They can be interesting and insightful. They seem genuine. At the same time, they are careful with what they say. Some young players will say too much and come across poorly. Not these two.
Offensive linemen Jason Kelce and Evan Mathis might be the two most likable players on the whole team. Kelce has a real passion and energy that comes across in his comments. He has a goofy side as well. He seems to be a guy with a great sense of humor, but he's not the class clown. That role belongs to Mathis. Social media has given Mathis a platform to have a lot of fun. He's able to "punk" media members with various tweets that he puts out. The key here is that things never cross the line and become mean-spirited. Mathis is having fun. Eventually everyone figures out the joke and has a good laugh. If only we knew about the funny things that Mathis does to some of his teammates. I bet there are some classic stories from the locker room.
Mathis might be the class clown, but Jon Dorenbos is the team magician. Literally. He is a magician. Dorenbos also has a big personality and will be a media star once his playing days are over. He is a natural entertainer and has to have more Twitter followers than any other long snapper in the NFL. Dorenbos is another funny guy.
Tommy Lawlor, goeagles99 on the Discussion Boards, is an amateur football scout and devoted Eagles fan. He is the Editor of IgglesBlitz.com and was a contributor to the Eagles Almanac.
Nick Foles isn't a comedian, which is good. Bill Parcells will tell you that a good starting quarterback can't also be the class clown. Foles almost seems too good to be true when it comes to intangibles. He won't say anything to the media when they engage him on the subject of a desire for a big contract. When he was the backup to Vick, Foles said all the right things to support his teammate. He could have added fuel to a quarterback controversy, but didn't. Foles takes the blame when things go wrong and dishes out the praise when things go right. He is the ultimate teammate in that sense. Foles talks about his need to get better. Some young players get a taste of success and they quickly think they have figured it all out. Foles remains aware of his weaknesses, but also confident in his abilities. That is a tricky balance.
Foles might sound like a robot based on that description, but he does mix in some personality. He has a resemblance to the movie character Napoleon Dynamite. Foles laughs at those jokes and has even done a pseudo-impression for game intro videos on PhiladelphiaEagles.com. Foles will mix in some humor at his press conferences. He's comfortable with the media. He understands that he is the face of the franchise and that brings with it certain responsibilities. He seems too good to be true in some ways.
Brent Celek is a player who is easy to love on the field. Fans go crazy when he drags multiple tacklers with him as he fights for every possible yard. Celek played while hurt in 2012, but didn't go to the media to brag about his toughness. Celek came into the league as a pass catcher, but is now asked to do a lot of blocking. He embraced the role and is now one of the better blocking tight ends in the league. Celek is a tough, emotional player. He's also that kind of a person. He seems genuinely devastated after a tough loss. Off the field, Celek now runs a successful restaurant, Prime Stache, in Philly.
Vinny Curry is the local guy whom you want desperately to make it. He grew up an Eagles fan and got to live the dream of playing for his hometown team. The best Curry story is that one of the networks came to him prior to the 2012 draft and said they would like to put a camera in his house. The only issue is that he would have to take down the Eagles posters and signs on the walls. Curry said no to that. It would be great for Curry to have a breakthrough season in 2014.
Alejandro Villanueva would be near the top of any list of players you want to see do well. Eagles fans haven't had a chance to really get to know Villanueva, but his story is compelling. He played football at West Point and then served in the Army for several years. He is an officer and combat veteran trying to fight his way onto an NFL roster. This is a man you want to cheer for.
Even the rookie class has some players that seem utterly likable. Jordan Matthews is the ultimate anti-diva when it comes to wide receivers. Everyone is stoked to see him play. Undrafted running back Henry Josey has a very compelling story as he continues his comeback from a devastating knee injury. Even making the practice squad would be a big deal for him.
We'll see how this group of Eagles does on the field, but off it they seem to be really good guys. Chip Kelly has put together a roster of players that from an overall perspective is easy to like and fun to cheer for. Keep winning games and Eagles fans will love this team.