The entire Eagles organization participated in the 16th Annual Eagles Playground Build at Comegys Elementary School in Southwest Philadelphia on Wednesday, a day you have read about before. It's a remarkable day when the Eagles can go out into the community and transform a playground that is rundown and rotted into a sparkling, state-of-the-art fun spot for kids who need somewhere to go that is safe and promising.
Of all of the things Eagles Youth Partnership and the Eagles do, the annual playground build provides immense instant gratification. Hundreds of elementary school kids and their teachers and some parents gather and honk horns and sing songs of appreciation and truly, honestly love everything the Eagles do for them. The build is a year in the making and a day -- plus several to button everything up -- to construct.
The Eagles make a difference. You know that. You know of all the great work the organization does in the community, enough to be named the Sport Team of the Year worldwide by Beyond Sport in 2011, and the Eagles know how much the fans appreciate the efforts.
But what about the players? Wouldn't it be easy for them to just blow off these kinds of events? Couldn't they just tell the coaches, "Hey, I'm here to play football. The rest of that stuff isn't in my contract."
Well, no. The Eagles are very up front with their players. It is required that they take part in community activity throughout the season. There is no choice given.
"We were talking about how in Green Bay they don't do this, and how in Oakland we didn't do this and how the Eagles are so different from what we're used to as far as on and off the field," said Nnamdi Asomugha, talking about the lunch-table conversation with his teammates. "It's new for us. It's beautiful. I love it."
Asomugha was the keynote speaker a week earlier at the Eagles Youth Partnership's Top Achievers Awards ceremony that honors area high school football players who achieve in the classroom. He said it the day he signed to join the Eagles: What this team does off the field was important to him in making his decision as an unrestricted free agent.
So now he's here, almost a calendar year into being an Eagle, and he gets it. He understands the full scope of how the Eagles run their business of football and how they demand that the players aid in the numerous events in the community.
In Oakland, for example, the Raiders did their work in the community and asked the players, "Does anyone want to go?" That's not the way it is with the Eagles. Mandatory is mandatory.
"It's genuine and I expect it from an organization," said Asomugha. "This is what professional sports teams should do. We have an opportunity to make a difference and the Eagles make sure we maximize our platform."
Team Chairman/CEO Jeffrey Lurie did is part for the 16th straight year, and he took a moment out from painting a mural on the side of the school to talk about the players and the program and how the two succeed so brilliantly.
"It's important that one of the first things a player does when he becomes an Eagle is the Playground Build, because it sets the tone for what we do," said Lurie. "When you walk into the NovaCare Complex you see our Hall of Heroes, and there are no football players there. That's the example we try to set. It's one thing to be a popular football franchise, and that's great, but it's who you are as a person that truly matters.
"The over-arching priority is to win a Super Bowl, but we also want to make a difference beyond the game. Philadelphia and the region need our help and part of our legacy as a sports franchise is to help as much as we can. Our players understand that. And these guys really get into it, because in many cases this reminds the players of their childhood, whether they were rural or urban, and the struggles they had to overcome to reach this level. The idea is to give kids here hope, to let them know that they can succeed and we are here to offer all the help we can."
The players didn't have the opportunity to build a playground last year with the work stoppage, so there were plenty of wide eyes and smiles when the buses pulled up to Comegys and the children lined up and screamed and danced and swarmed the team.
These are the days that remind everyone in the organization that football is a game, entertainment and, yeah, it means a lot to everyone, but there is something far more important out there. These neighborhoods in which the Eagles build playgrounds are devastated by poverty, by drugs, by the lack of discipline on the streets.
The best way to change that is to reach out to the youngsters and bond with them and give them a day to remember and a playground to love. At one point during the day, players were dancing with kids in a huge dance circle, kicking it new school. It was a great, fun, honest, genuine scene.
"It's the expectation of being an Eagle," said Cullen Jenkins. "They take the initiative of everybody and I think that's a good thing. We have a chance to reach out to people and help them and make an impact for these kids. I have gone through a normal year as an Eagle and have been exposed to everything. I feel part of the organization and everything the Eagles do on and off the field.
"Last year, we got it started in training camp and it was all football. I didn't know much about the rest of the organization. This offseason has been great to learn about all of the great things the Eagles do. I feel like if I can reach one person, one kid, then I've made a big difference and I've done my job."