This is the cover story of the October 7 edition of Gameday Magazine, which will be available this weekend at the Eagles Pro Shop at Lincoln Financial Field and local ACME Supermarkets.
With teammates celebrating around him on an exciting December night, Carson Wentz sat down for a five-hour plane ride from Los Angeles to Philadelphia with a thick brace on his left knee and uncertainty swirling.
The Eagles had just won the NFC East after defeating the playoff-contending Los Angeles Rams 43-35 on the road. It should have been a happy occasion. Wentz helped lead the team to another gritty victory and broke the franchise record for touchdown passes in a season with 33.
But a few plays before that historic score, Wentz's season took a hard left turn. On first-and-goal, he scrambled to his right, found a lane, and dove for the end zone where two defenders sandwiched him.
The ACL and LCL ligaments in his left knee were torn on the would-be touchdown that was called back because of a holding penalty. As he lay on the blue-colored end zone grass waiting for his teammates to help him off his back, he was aware that something was wrong. He just didn't realize that his MVP-caliber season was going to be over.
Wentz somehow stayed in the game for four more plays and delivered a courageous fourth-down strike to Alshon Jeffery for a touchdown. It was his last play in a regular-season game for nine months.
"Mentally, after the injury, there's just a lot of emotions going on and uncertainty with exactly what it was," Wentz says. "But once we got the diagnosis, knew we were done for the season, mentally it was challenging. All of our goals were still before us and to know I wasn't going to be a part of that on the field, that was tough."
What followed was a grueling recovery process that began with a quick mental turnaround for the Eagles' franchise quarterback. The Eagles were still contending for a title and Wentz had to put aside any resentment and disappointment to be there for his team and the Eagles' new starting quarterback, Nick Foles.
"I knew I wanted to still help the team in any way I could," Wentz says. "I just tried to become another set of eyes for Nick, another set of eyes for the offense, and for the coaches, and just be involved as much as I could almost the same way Nick was helping me throughout the season. ... It was challenging, but I thought I did the best I could."
Wentz's mission was a success.
With Wentz in Foles' ear every step of the way, the Eagles marched to Minnesota and captured the first Super Bowl Championship in franchise history. Wentz may not have been throwing (or catching) touchdowns in the game, but he played a vital role.
"It's something you dream of as a kid, playing in that game, being on that field, standing on that podium, and all those things happened other than wearing my pads," Wentz says. "To know I wasn't going to be playing on that field, there's just a lot of mixed emotions and I think that will drive me and motivate me to want to be back there so much more."
As the offseason came around, most players enjoyed their time off as Super Bowl Champions and used the shorter-than-usual break to get rested. But Wentz went right back to work at the NovaCare Complex to get on the field as soon as possible.
He joined linebacker Jordan Hicks, safety Chris Maragos, left tackle Jason Peters, and running back Darren Sproles to form a group dubbed "Club Rehab." They worked together to offer support in each other's recovery mission.
"Coming into rehab, fortunately there was another handful of other guys who was also rehabbing, so we just all kind of motivated each other in there," Wentz says, "and I think it made everyone push each other a little further, a little harder, and it made it more enjoyable at the same time."
With his teammates by his side, Wentz got to work. He said there were small victories like bending his leg for the first time, walking without a brace, and getting into a pool to move his leg, each being a sigh of relief as the progress continued.
He continued to rehab as he missed all of the spring practices, was limited in Training Camp, and did not play in the preseason. It was a grind. But Wentz leaned on his family, his faith, and his teammates as he worked toward his goal of coming back for the regular season.
"I'm motivated to just get back there, to get back to that point to kind of redeem the last so many weeks of last season," Wentz says. "But also, I just know there's a bigger purpose to this. I know that God's using me as his instrument and I truly believe it will be quite the comeback story and more people are going to be reached and I truly believe I will come back stronger and better than ever."
Sunday, September 23, 2018
Lincoln Financial Field
The crowd at Lincoln Financial Field roared as fireworks erupted and white fog filled the Eagles' tunnel. Nine of the 11 starting offensive players had been introduced and Wentz, set to be announced last, stood in the back of the tunnel with tight end Zach Ertz.
Wentz was about to take the field for his first game in more than nine months. He had defied odds and remained patient and hard-working throughout a long process. Ertz took a moment to look at his quarterback – and close friend – and tell him how proud of him he was.
"There was a lot of excitement, a lot of anticipation," Wentz says. "It just seemed like a long time coming and I just really had to channel a lot of those emotions and realize it's still just a football game. Running out of that tunnel, it was just an incredible feeling to see the fans again and be out there on Sunday with my brothers."
Wentz sprinted through the fog and right back into his old form. On the first drive of the game, he moved the up-tempo offense down the field with rhythmic completions before finding rookie tight end Dallas Goedert for a 13-yard touchdown strike. He showed no fear, taking off on multiple occasions when no one was open and even laying out on one run to stretch for the first down.
He did experience struggles in his first game back. Wentz threw one interception and lost a fumble. But the defense had his back and in the fourth quarter, Wentz led a drive that lasted nearly 12 minutes and resulted in the game-winning score. He finished 25-of-37 for 265 total yards and a touchdown.
The hard part for Wentz is over. He stepped on the field in Week 3 fearlessly confident and more motivated than ever. With two games now under his belt, he has laid the foundation in his quest to stand on the Super Bowl podium once again in February.
Only this time, wearing pads.
"The best part about coming back when I did, and just everything that I've done in treatment and therapy all throughout the offseason, is that there was no hesitation when I stepped back on that field," Wentz says. "I wasn't thinking twice about my knee. I wasn't worried in the pocket. I wasn't worried on the run, or moving around, flying, doing everything.
"I credit that to the training staff and everything we did to prepare me. And the good Lord just working through me. It was quite the offseason getting to that point, but I feel great going forward."