It's more than just touches and punt returns and wow-did-he-just-do-that moments for Darren Sproles. It's the commitment he makes to the game and brings to the team on a daily basis that the Eagles will miss. It's the professionalism he lives in a game that he has made the most of in a career nobody thought he would have.
Sproles suffered a broken right forearm and a torn ACL in his left knee in Sunday's 27-24 win over the New York Giants at Lincoln Financial Field on an early second-quarter run to the left sideline, right in front of the Eagles' bench. He appeared to perhaps get his cleats caught in the grass field as he hitched toward the end of the run, and then as Sproles was tackled by safety Darian Thompson he was kicked in the arm and suffered a second injury on the play.
After some time down as he was attended to by the Eagles' athletic training staff, Sproles walked off the field to a loud ovation and headed into the locker room for further evaluation.
Sproles has gained 19,155 all-purpose yards in his glorious NFL career, ranking eighth in the history of the game in that statistical category. He is the only player in the long and storied life of the NFL to have 30-plus receiving TDs (30), 20-plus rushing TDs (22), one or more kickoff return TDs (2), and one or more punt return TDs (7). A two-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowl selectee, Sproles had talked in the past about making 2017 his final NFL season. We'll see what he decides in the months to come.
In the meantime, we should be thankful to have had the opportunity to witness the remarkable career of a man who, at 5-6 and 190 pounds, has done things that nobody has ever witnessed before. His vision, change of direction, and quickness stand out as extraordinary. The way Sproles approached the game full speed on and off the field made him what he is – a 13th-year player who, until the moment of his injury, was still as feared as anyone in the game with the football in his hands.
"A special player, a special player," running backs coach Duce Staley said of Sproles prior to the regular season. "He does everything full speed and he has a C.O.D. that is something nobody else has."
"Change of direction," Staley said. "Those feet are incredible. He sees things before they happen and he's able to move in that direction and avoid defenders. Special player in every way."
It has been, for every player, coach, and staff member who has worked with Sproles since the Eagles acquired him at the cost of a fifth-round draft choice in a 2014 trade with New Orleans, a privilege to work with him and appreciate what makes him so great. After the Saints dealt Sproles, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees was quoted as saying, "You only see a Darren Sproles type of player come around once in your career."
around the formation, and they like very much what they've seen from rookie Corey Clement. There is some depth at running back, now that the rotation that includes LeGarrette Blount inspired confidence with the big game on Sunday.
As Fipp said, the loss of Sproles will really be felt in the punt return game. Sproles flipped fields. Sproles forced punters to kick away from him. Sproles was a threat to go to the house every time he fielded a punt.
Beyond that, Sproles was a leader and a role model on and off the field. Young players emulated him. Veterans appreciated him. Coaches treasured him. The season moves forward. Another player will have an opportunity to fill the void and create his own legacy.
He just won't be Darren Sproles, as unique a player as has ever stepped on an NFL field.
"I would say that all the time in our meetings, 'Hey fellas, take advantage of this because it's not often that you get a chance to block for a guy like him.' I tried not to take it for granted," Fipp said of coaching Sproles. "I'm sure there were points there that we did, but we knew what we had back there and we tried to make sure everyone was on the same page back there."