Alumni Alley runs every week on PhiladelphiaEagles.com and features a former Eagle who writes about his time in Philadelphia and his perspective after his NFL career ended. This week: Brian Westbrook, who played with the Eagles from 2002-2009 and who knows the Eagles-Giants rivalry very well. His punt return for a touchdown beat New York in 2003 and helped turn the season around. Brian appears on Philadelphia's Comcast SportsNet as an analyst on game days. Follow Brian on Twitter at @36Westbrook.*
Sunday is another game between the Eagles and the Giants, a rivalry that is as intense as it gets in the NFL. It was the biggest rivalry for me when I played because both teams were really good and we always had something at stake. New York's defense was always tough and it was just something special that week. The teams didn't like each other.
I joined the Eagles in 2002 and the team had already had some success and was in the process of becoming one of the best teams in the NFL. I knew all about the Eagles-Giants rivalry, having grown up in Maryland and going to college at Villanova. I knew that it was always a big game and that it was the kind of game where you wanted to be at your best. Most of the time, our games were broadcast on national television, so the whole league was watching us.
That punt return I had in 2003 was a huge moment for me and for the team. For the team, we needed a big play at a critical time in the game and in the season. The ball bounced perfectly, and I had a seam up the sideline and just went, got a lot of great help from my teammates and was able to score the touchdown. John Harbaugh was our special teams coach and he stressed the importance of special teams. He always told us special teams could turn a game around, and it did right there.
For my career, it was very important. That play kind of put me on the map as a player in the league. That was a game-changing play that the rest of the league saw and noticed. I always knew I was a good player and I was already playing pretty well, but that play opened up so many things for me in terms of how other teams played me and the kind of respect I felt and how much confidence I was able to go out and play with.
That return vaulted the team in 2003 and it helped me create more opportunities on the field. I think it opened eyes for those people who hadn't seen a lot of me in the NFL and it let them know that I could do a lot of things on the field as a running back, a receiver and as a return man.
I'm going to be watching on Sunday, of course. Chip Kelly is early in his time here and he's just working his way through the roster and seeing who is going to play the game the way he wants to have it played. It's going to take some time to build it into the kind of program he wants. I didn't think that Chip was a magic man who was going to wave a wand and turn the team around immediately. It takes time. It always does.
At least from an offensive standpoint, Chip is trying to fit Andy Reid's players into his system. There is a lot of promise here, especially on the offensive side, but it all has to come together. It takes some time.
Sunday is a big game, as it always seems to be against the Giants. I love this rivalry and I love still being part of it, even if it's from the media side of things in Philadelphia. Staying connected to the fans is what it's all about for me, and I'm able to do that.