It wasn't just the 60 minutes on the field that Nigel Bradham missed as he sat out Thursday's 2018 season-opening game against the Atlanta Falcons. It was everything – the guys, the routine, the meetings, the walks down the hallways, the meals … the Eagles life. He missed the team more than anything, and it was painful.
"It made me feel like I wasn't part of anything," Bradham said on Monday as the team returned to practice at the NovaCare Complex. "It's definitely something I never want to do again."
Suspended for an off-the-field incident that occurred in July 2016, Bradham knew it was coming. That didn't make it any easier to live through. Once the Eagles ended the preseason on Thursday, August 31, Bradham was forced to leave the team facilities. That meant Bradham was not permitted to be part of anything as the Eagles ramped up for the opener to the NFL season. No meetings. No conditioning work with the team. No contact with the coaches.
"That was the hardest part. I was able to spend time with my kids and I made the most of it, but it was still a weird feeling. It wasn't 'right.' I had to deal with it," he said. "I'm glad it's over. It was a short week and it was fortunate on that part. It was a Thursday night game so I was able to be back in the building after that and get my things back in order and get ready for Week 2.
"The guys stayed in touch – J Mills (Jalen Mills) sat in my seat (during the daily team meeting) and small things like that, them staying in touch, made me feel better. I was so happy seeing how Nate (Gerry) and Kamu (Grugier-Hill) and LaRoy (Reynolds) and those guys stepped up and played in the game. They were great. They made tremendous plays. They made an impact."
Bradham stayed in the best shape he could working out at his offseason training center, but he knows there is no way to replicate the work on the practice field during the week. Reps in practice really do mean something in the NFL. Studying X's and O's pays off. Being around the team is what it's all about.
On Thursday night, Bradham gathered in front of a television screen and watched with his family. Imagine the agony.
"My son, he's only 3, so he was all over the place. He is used to seeing me and recognizing me playing so we had to work with him on that," Bradham said. "It was a different feel for me, obviously. It wasn't something I was too fond of. I'm just happy to be back with the guys. That was a huge win for us against Atlanta. That's a championship-caliber game we played and we won. We're still a resilient team. We don't let anything get us down."
The game on television is a lot different than on the field, of course. The armchair quarterback has it made.
"It's much easier to see when you're sitting on the couch," Bradham said, smiling. "You see a couple of things that might happen, you see formations, but there's nothing like being on the field in the middle of the action."
Bradham did feel the electricity coming from the stands at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday. He thought the goal-line stand to halt Atlanta's first drive "set the tone, even the commentators said so," and that the fans "never let up throughout the whole game."
"I just missed being in the Linc with them yelling," he said. "I can feel the vibrations and stuff."
For the most part, Bradham said he was "iffy" as he watched the game. There was some yelling and screaming both happy and not quite as happy. It was a one-time thing and Bradham is glad the moment is behind him.
"I'm going to be back to doing my thing," he said. "I'm working on my game every day. The guys picked it up and now I'm here to do my part. I see us as being stacked. We're only going to get better and better."
That starts Sunday in Tampa, about a two-hour drive from Bradham's hometown of Crawfordville, Florida. He's got family and friends and his high school coach attending. It's his 2018 debut, and there is no stopping Bradham now. He's here to stay. All systems are go.
And he will be tough to contain all week with his energy level. Come game time ...
"I'm gonna be a wild man," he said. "That's the plan. Balls out, 100 percent every play and do what I'm supposed to do and make plays and be impactful."