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Brian Westbrook: The Heart Of A Champion


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Chances are, you have your own favorite memories of Brian Westbrook. On the night that he enters the Eagles Hall of Fame, with the New York Giants on the opposite sideline, one may stand out in particular. But so much more went into Westbrook's decorated career than that one moment or the superlative stats that place him atop the Eagles' all-time list in yards from scrimmage (9,785). With that in mind, we look back at what made B-West one of the greatest Eagles of all time.

Brian Westbrook: I think I had a pretty regular childhood. My mother and my father instilled a lot of good values – hard work, discipline, sacrifice and that was before they introduced me to sports. I took to that. I took to the organization type of aspect and also admired those like my parents that much wasn't given to but they worked hard for everything that they had. I learned that from my parents.

I started playing football when I was 9 or 10 years old, and my father (Ron) was my coach. He taught me the game. He had played at Union College in New York, he was an All-American there in baseball and football, and so he was able to teach me the game pretty well and show me right and wrong, how to play the position correctly. But I think most importantly, he taught me how to compete as well as how to respect the game, how to be a good sportsman and how to make sure to be a leader and not a follower and all those things that I'm thinking about now that my parents, both my mother and my father taught me. They were able to apply those things to sports.

The first guy that I always used to watch was Walter Payton. I mean, I literally watched all of his training tapes, I watched what he did in the offseason and saw how he developed his body ... running up and down those hills in those Puma shoes and that headband. That was kind of the same thing my parents were teaching me, that you have to work hard and if you work hard good things will happen for you, things like that. Those were the kind of things Walter Payton was living and those things rang true to me.

DeMatha Head Coach Bill McGregor: Brian came to DeMatha where I was the head coach, as a freshman. In ninth grade, I think he was about 5-foot-3, about 118, 119 pounds. He was actually, and this is so ironic, he was actually the fourth-team tailback on the freshman team.

Brian Westbrook: I didn't play at all. I literally didn't play one snap. And it was really disappointing but it was also a learning lesson. It was a lesson that sometimes you have to work a little bit harder, sometimes you have to put a little more effort into it, you have to be a little more disciplined, you have to be dedicated.

Bill McGregor: As a sophomore, he got up to 145, started on the JV, was the No. 1 tailback on the JV, and then as a junior split time back and forth as a starter.

Brian Westbrook: My junior year I was one of the more highly recruited guys in the area at the time, and so I had a really good year. We won a championship, playing basketball and playing football, kind of living on top of the world.

Bill McGregor: He played varsity basketball and anybody who can play varsity basketball and varsity football, those kids are always by far our best athletes. So he's playing both, he's in a dunk contest over the summer before his senior year, but he tore some muscle off his hip bone on one of the dunks he was performing. So he came into camp really slowed down and wasn't who he could have been.

Brian Westbrook: I tore my hip flexor in the summer, early on in the summer, in summer league basketball in a dunk contest. Then I tore my MCL a little bit later in football practice. So it was a rough time, a rough summer for me.

Bill McGregor: What happened is, we don't have a practice field at DeMatha, at the school. We practice over at a creek, at a public park. Around the public park was a creek. So what happened was, an animal came out and burrowed a hole and we didn't know it was there the night before. He steps in the hole and tears his MCL. It was unbelievable. The hole was so deep, you could actually put one of those stand-up dummies in it. It was amazing he didn't just shatter his leg.

Brian Westbrook: I went from being one of the most highly recruited players in the area to a guy that wasn't being recruited at all. And so that's kind of how I ended up at Villanova.

Villanova Head Coach Andy Talley: Brian was hurt most of his senior year, so it was a difficult evaluation. I think he would have been much more highly recruited than he was. So we went down to see him play basketball and DeMatha had a great high school basketball team, so Brian came out and did like a whirly-bird dunk shot and I went, 'Oh, my goodness.' He was a tremendous basketball player on a team with probably a couple Division I basketball players. So we took him and were happy to have him.

A look back at Brian Westbrook's record-setting career on #WestbrookWednesday. View the full gallery here...

Brian Westbrook: For me, it was a blessing in disguise. I was able to go to a university that had a vested interest in me being successful on the football field as well as in the classroom. And I was able to get an absolutely great education, but also develop and train to be an All-American football player.

Andy Talley: He went on throughout his career here to be a captain. He holds, oh my God, I think he holds about 23 records here at Villanova. Every record you could possibly imagine offensively. And of course during all that time, he was a tremendous academic student, a 3.0 guy in our business school, which is an elite business school.

Brian Westbrook: Probably when I think about the best and my favorite moment at Villanova, I think my favorite is winning the Walter Payton Award. Somebody that I looked up to, somebody that I admired, and now here I am years later, however long it was, and I'm winning an award named in his honor. That was pretty significant for me.

Andy Talley: There's nothing like him. I've been here for 31 years. I've seen nothing like him at this level ever. Ever. There's never been anybody like him at this level. You'd probably have to go back to Walter Payton, and there you go. The Walter Payton Award winner and Walter Payton. You'd have to go back to Walter Payton to see a guy do the kinds of things Westbrook did here. Really. In the return game, the running game, the passing game, I've never seen anyone like him at this level. And I don't know who's like him at the next level frankly. He was just a consummate, phenomenal, all-purpose player that could do everything. ... Never heard a peep out of him, never complained, hardest worker on the team. Probably the best all-time player in Villanova football history.

Former Eagles Cornerback Bobby Taylor: A lot of times with how busy you are playing as an NFL pro, it's hard to keep up with a lot of what guys are doing on the college level. Fortunately for us, with Brian going to school right there in Villanova, basically right there around the block, I know I did personally hear about some of the things that he was able to do in college. So I knew about him leading into the draft and I actually thought that once we drafted him, in the third round, I felt like that was a steal for us.

Andy Talley: I never tried to tell anybody their business in football, but I saw Andy Reid at a social function, we were both at the head table. I walked over to him and I just said, 'Our No. 20 is very special.' And he just sort of looked at me and winked. He didn't say a word.

Former Eagles Head Coach Andy Reid: I had a son that was a huge Villanova fan, and he kept telling me about (Westbrook) from his freshman year on. 'Dad, they got this guy there, I'm telling you, he's going to be a good player.' And then we kept watching him and watching him, and he had a chance to play in the Senior Bowl and Mike Holmgren was the coach of the team that coached him and he spoke highly of him. Obviously his play at Villanova spoke for itself.

Brian Westbrook: I went to work out for the Eagles, they called me in and I remember the day that they called me in. It was cold, raining, wind blowing all over the place. It was really a bad situation. I was able to go in and A.J. Feeley threw me the ball, and I guess at that point Coach Reid had told him, 'Throw him some bad balls and see if he can catch 'em.' And A.J. did and I literally caught all the balls.

Former Eagles Quarterback A.J. Feeley: Before the workout, Andy kind of pulled me aside and I asked him about whether we wanted to put him through the route tree and he told me to make sure I made it tough on him. I was like, 'What do you want, miraculous catches? Do you want the ball behind him?' And he said, 'You know, just make him work.' So we went through the route tree and probably every three passes there was one that was down by his feet and he would snatch it. There were slants that I threw behind him and he would snag those too. He basically caught everything. I remember thinking at the time, 'Holy cow, this is really impressive, he might be a better wide receiver than he is running back.'

Andy Reid: The one that really was the clincher was we took the JUGS machine out and shot him some punts. And it was so windy that the ball blew from one field to the other field and he still went and got it. I mean it was crazy how windy it was and how he was able to just track the ball.

Brian Westbrook: I think, for me, I had a lot of confidence in myself. The big question was could I convince and show other people that confidence and also the player that I really was. Would I have that opportunity? I came into a situation where we had Duce (Staley), we had (Correll) Buckhalter, we had Brian Mitchell, we had Dorsey Levens all in the running back room. So the amount of guys there, you talk about veteran guys, I was the young guy just trying to find a way to get on the football field.

Former Eagles Running Back Correll Buckhalter: When I first saw him on the field, I said, this guy is unbelievably quick and fast. You could definitely tell a difference from the way that me and Duce ran. Every-dimensional player, punt return, kick return, put him in the slot, do whatever you want. He was a special guy.

Former Eagles Safety Brian Dawkins: Well there are times in practice you can sometimes see what a guy's about to bring to the table. The separation that he got when he pressed the button. When he would do his little wiggle move to make somebody miss and then by the third step he's full speed.

Brian Westbrook: Going into 2003, my second year, what happened was Duce, he held out so that gave me and Buck, who was coming off of injury, a great opportunity to impress the coaches and a great opportunity to play. That's what, for us, it was all about, just getting the opportunity and the reps to go play.

Correll Buckhalter: You know what? It was probably the best year that I had in the NFL. Not only just sharing the load with Westbrook and Duce, but we were so cohesive as a unit, as a team. We had so much fun game in and game out and that's why we had as much success as we did.

Brian Westbrook: That was just a great experience because none of us had to carry the load, it was all about us just working together to be the best running backs group. It was a great thing and you don't see that a lot.

Former Eagles Tight End Chad Lewis: I think of two things when I think about Brian. Number one, how unbelievably productive he was. In the rhythm of a game, to run the football and get first downs and to receive the football and get first downs, which were converted into touchdowns. Unbelievably productive. And the second thing about Brian, he had an innate ability to make big plays in big games when it mattered the very most. Case in point was the punt return against the New York Giants that gashed them to win the game up there. It saved our season, sparked our team to go on a big run. It was such an unanticipated stroke of genius on his part. That was vintage Brian Westbrook.

Brian Westbrook: That's definitely the play that I talk about the most.

Brian Dawkins: The offense couldn't do a lot that day. The Giants were playing a great defensive ballgame and they had just enough points that they were comfortable to kind of eat the clock up and they were punting the ball, being safe and hopefully having their punter pin the offense back and have them drive the length of the field which they had not shown they could do that day. And B-West took it (84 yards) to the house. And again that saved our season.

Brian Westbrook: It was a situation where on that play, all 11 guys were in on helping to make that play happen. Ike Reese threw a great block. Sheldon Brown too. Just guys all across the board blocking. That was just a great thing and I was able to make some people miss and it was kind of my coming out party in a way. A situation where that one play gave me so much confidence in myself but it also gave the team confidence in me as well. It was just a great opportunity, a great moment for me in my career.

Former Eagles Cornerback Sheldon Brown: It's just one of those things where you're doing your job and before you know it you're winning the ballgame. That's what you remember as a player. I think the ball took one bounce, and then the next thing you know he picked it up on one bounce and he was up the sideline.

Chad Lewis: I remember in the locker room after the game our whole team going up to him, all of us, and saying, 'Bro, you won that game. You saved our season.' And there was a feeling in that locker room that was, to a man, I want to pick up my game, I want to do a better job with my responsibility. We had tremendous team chemistry on that team and the takeaway in that locker room in that moment wasn't, 'Oh, man, Brian, I'm so glad you did it.' It was Brian's playmaking was contagious and every one of us felt a responsibility to pick up our game. And then we went on a run. I credit him.

Brian Westbrook: When fans come up to me, they also bring up when I took a knee on the goal line against Dallas in 2007.

Chad Lewis: That was something that we talked about all the time in meetings. Like hey, if you have a second and you can kneel down and we win the game, that's all we care about is we win. And what did he do in that exact moment? He did it. The coaching point was a part of his DNA and when he did that, he endeared himself to the team, to the fans, to the coaches. It was like, that right there is a smart ballplayer.

Brian Westbrook: That was the best team play that I could make.

Andy Reid: He's one of the smartest players I've ever coached. Very tough. Loved to play the game. You could put him anywhere and do anything with him. He's a great person on top of all that.

Eagles Tight End Brent Celek: He was the ultimate professional. He was a great leader, a great guy for the young guys to learn from. He was very vocal with the young guys. I have a lot of respect for that guy.

Brian Westbrook: For me, it was all about being an all-around back. ... So that meant working on the parts of your game that weren't as sharp. For me, that was blocking, being able to run between the tackles, being able to catch the ball out of the backfield. Once I developed that skill, they said, 'OK, great, he has that skillset, now we have to put him in a position where we have an advantage.'

Andy Reid: Everybody said he was too small to be a workhorse, but the way he trained, he knew how to play the game. He didn't take a lot of big hits. He's so elusive. But he was never a run-out-of-bounds guy, there was never any of that stuff. He just knew how to get narrow and do all those things that smart players do.

Former Eagles Fullback Leonard Weaver: My coaches in Seattle taught me how to pass block and I felt like I was one of the better pass blockers in the league, for fullbacks and running backs. And for me to come over and see Brian Westbrook when we were doing our blitz drills and going through our blitz pickup, I was kind of really shocked. I hadn't watched film on him, per se, or studied him or anything like that. When I saw him in practice picking up the blitz and the way he approached practice, I was really amazed. Of course, then you think to yourself, that's why he is who he is. That's why he's an All-Pro, that's why he's a Pro Bowler, because of how he approaches things. I'll tell you what, there was no other cat out there who could really do what he did.

Former Eagles Cornerback Lito Sheppard: Knowing that he could stretch out and catch passes out of the backfield, you know that he's a little more agile and athletic than your linebackers. So as a defense, that brings the secondary into play. We loved the way we were able to use him simply because of those matchups.

Former Eagles Center Jamaal Jackson: It was awesome because Brian always made you look better and a clear example of that was when we played in Tampa back in 2006 and it was like 110 degrees, 115-120 degrees on the field. We ran a screen play and none of the five linemen blocked anybody. Brian did everything and scored a (52-yard) touchdown. So that's how exciting it was blocking for him because he made you look good.

Andy Reid: There were so many of those. Every game he'd give you something.

Former Eagles Wide Receiver And Current Radio Announcer Mike Quick: He was as fun as any running back I've ever watched. He was just electric. When I would watch him with his big pads on, I just didn't think that he could move as fast as he moved, but whenever he needed to move, he could get by people.

Brian Dawkins: He was like a sports car that you take out of the garage only on the weekends. Because of the way that he played, he would be nicked up during the week. So a lot of times he wouldn't practice and what Andy would do is, his rule was if you didn't practice on Friday, you didn't play in the game. So what they would do is they would take that sports car out of the garage on Fridays, let him rev up about two or three plays, rev up the engine, and then put him back in the garage for the rest of that day Friday, Saturday, and then he'd come out on Sunday and light the field up with big plays.

Brian Westbrook: It was tough. Part of being a good player is practicing the craft and sometimes I wasn't able to practice throughout the week like I wanted to, just because my body wouldn't allow me to practice and play on Sunday. It was important that during the time I wasn't on the field, I was still doing other things to make me a better player. That's what it was all about for me. But it was tough. It was tough because it kind of goes against everything I grew up doing, working hard.

Brian Dawkins: I think the thing that helped him the most was the fact that he was an underdog. And there's something about us underdogs that the drive that you find in a guy that does not maybe get the accolades that someone bigger than them might get, or is overlooked even though he's had a lot of success.

Brian Westbrook: I think 2007 (when I was an All-Pro and led the league with 2,107 yards from scrimmage) was probably my best year. It was one of those years where I was healthy, I was able to go out and – sometimes a basketball player will say the hoop looks like a hula hoop, like any shot that you take is going in. That season was kind of like that for me. I knew that I could play, my skill, my mental preparation, my physical preparation, it all came together and I was able to set some records.

Eagles Chairman & CEO Jeffrey Lurie: What I remember most about Brian is the class and professionalism he brought to the team every single day. In season, offseason, on the field, off the field, this guy epitomizes it and he continues to represent the Eagles. I couldn't be more proud of how he does that and who he is as a person. I know Ron and Zelda, his parents, have to be awfully proud. This is a special man.

Brian Dawkins: Man, we used to have so many conversations. After practice we would do hot and cold contrast in the whirlpool to help our legs recover and just the conversations, man. It had nothing to do with football. Just hanging out, talking about life. I think the thing that people will not know about Brian Westbrook is how much of a sarcastic dude that joker is, in a funny way. So he can talk about you, can talk trash, he can do that with the best of them.

Bill McGregor: Brian did not have to be a professional football player to be incredibly successful. In any walk of life that he would get into, you knew he was going to be successful because of the kind of person he is.

Brian Westbrook: How do I want to be remembered? I would hope that they would say that I was one of the hardest workers, that I always gave everything I had on the field, that I played with emotion, played with the heart of the champion. That there was nothing that I wouldn't do to try to help this team be successful. That I was dedicated to my team. That I was loyal ... and that I played the game the way it was supposed to be played, the way the fans would want to play if they had an opportunity. That means a lot to me.

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