The news that wide receiver Jeremy Maclin has been cleared medically to return to the Eagles this weekend, and that it is "very realistic," in the words of head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder, that Maclin can return to the playing field for the regular-season opener against St. Louis is about the best news this football team, this locker room, this organization has ever heard.
Maclin is a terrific young football player, a complete wide receiver who works as hard as anyone on the football field. A first-round draft pick in 2009, Maclin has the skills and the drive and the game to be a Pro Bowl player.
More than that, much more than that, Maclin is an Eagle. He is a kind and personable young man who likes everyone he meets, and everyone who meets him comes away with the same feeling. Maclin's story has been told many times: He was adopted by his youth football coach, who saw the difficult home life Maclin had. The coach, Jeff Parres, along with his wife Cindy, raised Maclin and guided him through his teenage years and into his time at Missouri.
Maclin has since reunited with his parents and has a relationship with them. But he overcame so much as a kid, and it shaped him for the rest of his life.
"I feel like I've gone through a lot of stuff in my life, throughout my childhood," said Maclin. "I feel like there's not much that can really faze me. That's why I feel like I'm fine with anything that's thrown out there against me."
What was thrown at Maclin this was far more serious than a double team from a defense's secondary. He was staring at, potentially, an illness that could end his life early. Described as mono-like symptoms in the spring, Maclin lost about 15 pounds and had his energy zapped and as time went along and training camp opened, Maclin was still sure of his condition.
After a battery of tests, a huge litany of every conceivable test, Maclin has been cleared to return to the team. It isn't like he was ever not a part of things, even though he was away from training camp for much of the three weeks at Lehigh. There were moments of noticeable concern about his teammates and their families when rumors spread of Maclin's condition.
There were whispers that Maclin had cancer, that he was in a life-threatening situation, that he would never again play football. Open sobs were seen among players and among those who know Maclin well.
Now, though, there is a huge sense of relief and happiness. Pure, unadulterated happiness. Maclin is going to be OK.
Wednesday night was the first time the Eagles could speak with any clear definition of Maclin's medical condition. Head coach Andy Reid had been asked about Maclin many times in the recent weeks, and he had no update because, honestly, there was no conclusion to be drawn from what Reid knew.
Burkholder, visibly relieved, spoke about Maclin and his condition.
"All of the tests have come back negative," said Burkholder. "He is going to return to our team this weekend and will return to play sometime in the future here.
"Initially, we were all very concerned right up until today when we got the final results back that we were afraid that he had a life-threatening illness, which we know he does not have. We were worried about him having lymphoma or Hodgkin's, some form of cancer, which he doesn't. And so, we've all stuck together, we're family ... I'm just so excited that he's healthy and he's back."
Burkholder said that it is known what Maclin doesn't have, but there is no absolute certainty about what Maclin does have. Burkholder called it "an inflammatory condition in his body, that he is fighting off, and is fighting his way back to normal health." There is, however, no confirmed medical diagnosis.
Maclin still needs to get into football shape, but Burkholder said the young wide receiver showed as he worked out in training camp -- on the wide, with the players on the Physically Unable to Perform List -- that his weight is nearly back to where it needs to be and that his overall body strength is good.
Now it's a matter of training and preparing for football.
"We'll train him over the next 7-10 days and then re-evaluate him," said Burkholder.
There was a palpable sense of relief among the team on the bus ride from the Pittsburgh airport to the downtown hotel here. Players who have lived with the fear that Maclin's health was in jeopardy breathed deeply and spread the good news quickly.
"He's a well-liked guy in our locker room and in my training room. I've had some sleepless night. I'm glad that this is over with," said Burkholder. "I've been waiting just like he has.
"He's excited and ready to come back. I think this was hanging over the team a little bit. I've had a lot of teammates and former teammates asking, 'What's wrong with Jeremy? What's wrong with Jeremy?' Now that we can tell them that he's OK, I think it will pick things up a little bit. He's a great player. We've added a great player to our team that is looking up and up."
It is all looking up and up, isn't it? The cloud of Maclin's health, one that the Eagles kept quiet, certainly had an impact internally. Now, the good news lifts everyone's spirits. More than a football player resuming his career, a superb young man is healthy with a long, productive life in front of him.