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Didinger: Wes Hopkins Was Always A Fighter

It seems like everyone has a favorite Wes Hopkins memory. I covered his entire 10-year career in Philadelphia so, of course, I have memories, too. But my favorite memory is different because Wes wasn't even there.

Let me explain ...

I was in the Arizona Cardinals practice facility one day when they were preparing to play the Eagles. Two of their receivers were reading the locker room bulletin board when one of them, Ricky Proehl, let out a loud, "Uh oh." He pointed to a press release that was just posted. The other receiver, Randal Hill, read it and said, "Oh no." Proehl muttered something and walked away.

Whatever it was, obviously, was very bad news. I walked over to check it out for myself. It was a note announcing that Wes Hopkins was cleared to play for the Eagles on Sunday. If you were a wide receiver, yes, that was very bad news, indeed.

It takes a lot to make pro football players fearful. It takes a lot to make them say, "Oh no," when they read your name. Wes Hopkins commanded that kind of respect. Even the toughest receivers worried when they knew they would be going up against No. 48.

Wes was listed at 6-1 and 212 pounds but he looked bigger and played bigger. He was a fierce hitter who roamed the middle of the field tackling ball carriers and making receivers think twice about reaching for a pass. He teamed with Andre Waters to give the Eagles the most intimidating pair of safeties in the NFL.

"When other teams watch film of our defense, I know what they're saying," Reggie White once said. "They're saying, 'Watch out for number 48.'"

Wes was the Eagles' second-round draft pick in 1983 and he started 14 games as a rookie. He quickly established himself as one of the game's best safeties. In 1985, he led the team in tackles (136) and interceptions (6). He was named the Eagles' Most Valuable Player on defense that year and was a starter in the Pro Bowl.

Take a look at the best photos of Wes Hopkins' Eagles career.

He took pride in the fact that he had to work hard for everything he achieved. He wasn't a top recruit coming out of high school in Birmingham, Alabama. He wasn't recruited at all, really. His uncle talked the folks at SMU into taking him as a walk-on. He was a starter by his sophomore year and an all-conference choice by the time he was a senior. By his own admission, he did not have great speed but he was smart and, oh, was he physical.

In the Cotton Bowl, SMU beat a Pitt team with Dan Marino at quarterback (and held him to three points) and Wes was all over the field. Eagles coach Marion Campbell saw a player who could have an immediate impact on defense so he selected him with the 35th overall pick. Wes salvaged what was an otherwise forgettable draft. The Eagles drafted 14 players that year – including running back Michael Haddix in the first round – but Wes was the only keeper.

Given his style of play, Wes would have appeared to be the perfect player for a coach like Buddy Ryan, but strangely, their relationship was always strained. When Ryan was hired in 1986, Wes was coming off a Pro Bowl season and he threatened to hold out as many players did during the Norman Braman ownership. That annoyed Ryan and when Wes did report, he pulled a hamstring and missed a week of practice.

"I keep hearing how good he is," Ryan said one day, "but all I see him doing is standing around killing grass."

Wes suffered a severe knee injury that year and it kept him off the field for two seasons. Ryan brought in Terry Hoage to play free safety but when Wes returned in 1988, he won back the job. In 1990, Ryan drafted Ben Smith to play free safety but Smith wound up moving to cornerback and Wes was back in the starting lineup. That was really the bottom line: Wes kept coming back and proving to the coaches he was the best man for the job.

"Nothing about this game is easy, nothing in life is easy," Wes once said. "You just can't let it defeat you. Whatever challenge is put in front of me, I'll overcome it. I'm a fighter. I've always been a fighter."

He played 137 games in his Eagles career, tied with Andre Waters for third most among defensive backs. Only Brian Dawkins (183) and Randy Logan (159) played more. His 30 interceptions rank fifth in club history. He also had 16 fumble recoveries. He will be long remembered by Philadelphia fans, as well as Ricky Proehl and Randal Hill.

An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the year for You can read all of hisEagles History columns here.He is also the author ofThe Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition which comes out in October.