In 2003, the Eagles had a chance to trade two mid-round draft choices to the Atlanta Falcons for fourth-year veteran linebacker Mark Simoneau. They took it.
“I was excited. When I was in Atlanta, I think I had a chance to start maybe seven or eight games and play a lot of nickel and that sort of thing,” said Simoneau, the Falcons’ third-round draft choice in 2000. “I was just looking forward to the opportunity to compete for a starting job and get a chance to play. The main thing going into that situation was learning the defense. It was a pretty complicated scheme. There’s a lot of checks and tons of different blitzes. Coming in, that was the main thing that I had to focus on, just getting the scheme down.”
Simoneau’s focus was squint-free and precise enough to put more than a few opticians out of business. Starting at middle linebacker every game in 2003, he led Philadelphia with 149 tackles and was named as the NFC’s Defensive Player of the Month in October. He was also named to Pro Football Weekly’s All-Improved Team.
Still manning the middle when the following season opened at home against the Giants, Simoneau recorded seven tackles and a half-sack in the victory over the division rivals. The next week during a win against Minnesota, he had a season-high eight tackles. After posting 32 total tackles over the first five games, Simoneau had to sit out of the week six contest in Cleveland because of an ankle injury. Three games later, he was replaced by veteran Jeremiah Trotter and moved to weakside linebacker.
“That was a transition because I never had played at all on the weak side in the scheme," Simoneau recalled. "I had a pretty good feel for the calls, but just from the perspective of a different position it definitely takes a little bit of time to adjust to that. So there was definitely an adjustment period for me.”
Simoneau did a respectable job handling the move and helped the Eagles post a 13-3 record, win the NFC Championship and meet New England in Super Bowl XXXIX.
“It was a team effort; it was about the team jelling together,” said Simoneau. “Maybe we didn’t always win the exact same way, but you knew that you were always playing good defense and the offense was making plays. I think it was just a good mix of guys and everybody came together.
“(Arriving at the Super Bowl) you don’t really know what to expect. Coming from college where you play in bowl games, that’s the only thing you can kind of base anything off of and that’s not anything compared to the Super Bowl. There’s a lot of media attention, but when you’re there for your week of preparation it can be pretty quiet. As you get closer to the game it really builds. And as a player you’re just thinking through your whole career, your whole life of playing the game and that this is something that every little kid dreams about and this is going to be your opportunity to do that. So going into it, it’s a special time and you’re just trying to take it all in and get ready and to play your best game.”
Traded to New Orleans just before the 2006 season got underway, Simoneau spent three seasons with the Saints and concluded his 11-year career with the Chiefs in 2010. Playing in Atlanta, Philadelphia, New Orleans and Kansas City, there was a noticeable difference in the fan support between the cities.
“Each one I enjoyed very much, but every one is different. We loved Philadelphia,” Simoneau said. “We lived in the city our last year and a half there and just loved being in the city. And the fans, they just loved the game. Everybody in the city was all about the Eagles, and that was what was always fun. Other places, especially in Atlanta, it wasn’t quite as much that way. People had a lot of other things and they weren’t really always focused on what the Falcons were doing. New Orleans is a smaller town, it’s not quite the same type of city feel, but they’re very passionate fans, too. But, yeah, it was a great time in Philadelphia.”
Now making his home in Overland Park, Kan., with his wife, Monica, and their young daughters, Livea and Lexie, Simoneau opened Simoneau Sports Performance in early 2011. It is a facility that offers a customized training program for each athlete.
“I wasn’t certain that I wanted to coach football just because of the hours that are involved. I wanted to have something that had a little more flexibility,” said Simoneau. “I still knew I wanted to do something to be able to teach and do things, so it’s something that I had a passion for. I really enjoy watching the kids develop.
“It’s nice to see them put work in and see results and see them see the value in putting the hard work in. That’s the most rewarding part, when you see them light up when they get a result. It encourages them to continue to work at it and continue to try to get better. They see the value in working hard.”
Simoneau’s own admirable work ethic will be recognized on Tuesday when he will be inducted into the National Football Foundation's College Football Hall of Fame. A two-time All-America and three-time All-Big 12 linebacker at Kansas State, Simoneau was also a team captain for three seasons.
“It’s a great honor. I feel like I’m still a pretty young guy,” laughed Simoneau. “I guess you think of the Hall of Fame as something when you get a little bit older and you’re not just out of the game. When I was named, I was humbled. I’ve had an opportunity to play with a lot of great players, so I kind of look at it for me as I’m a representative. I feel very honored as a representative for that era at Kansas State University. It’s going to be exciting for my family and to always have your name in the Hall of Fame.”