When you're selected in the eighth round of a 12-round draft, the writing is pretty much on the wall: The NFL doesn't think too much of you. They see something they like, but not a whole lot. You're basically feeder for Training Camp to give the players expected to make the team a chance to rest their legs. You're the dreaded TCB.
"Yeah, I was a Training Camp Body," Seth Joyner says now, with a laugh. "Absolutely. Anybody drafted past the fifth round looked at themselves that way. There were no guarantees. When I look back at it retrospectively, I feel that way. Back then, I was a 20-year-old kid, the youngest player in the league. I probably had some delusions that I was going to make an immediate impact."
The year was 1986, the head coach was Buddy Ryan and the Philadelphia Eagles were looking for some bite, some toughness. Ryan was in his first year in Philadelphia and he knew his team needed some snarl. So in the eighth round of that year's draft Ryan took Joyner, a linebacker from the University of Texas El-Paso, and then followed up in the ninth round, 25 picks later, by selecting Western Carolina defensive end Clyde Simmons.
They came in together as Eagles and today they are honored together as the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame Class of 2018 inductees.
"It goes way beyond just being drafted and going into the Hall of Fame together," Joyner says. "We're great friends. What people don't know is that during the whole first year of the offseason program we lived in the same hotel down the hall from each other and hung out together and ate together. We said, 'Let's get an apartment and live together.' Every day we were at the facility together working out. We ate together. We went to the movies together. We were roommates on the road together my entire Eagles career and for two years in Arizona when we both played for the Cardinals. There's a deeper connection than me being an eighth-round draft pick and Clyde being a ninth-round draft pick. We've had a friendship and a bond for quite some time."
The story of Seth Joyner is an inspiring one.
He grew up with a singular goal in mind, and that was to become a professional football player. He wrote a letter to his mom at the age of 10 saying that very thing, and then Joyner went about the business of making himself into a great one. He let nothing stop him on the way to greatness and a spot in the hearts of Eagles fans forever. UTEP wasn't exactly a hotbed for NFL talent, but Joyner didn't let that deter his dream. Nor did the fact that Joyner was cut after that first Training Camp, only to be re-signed later in the season.
Given another chance, Joyner stayed for good. He didn't want ever again to feel the sting of rejection. He wanted to dictate his career on his terms.
"I think I played well enough to have made the final roster," Joyner says. "It was a logistics thing from my conversations from Buddy. The team had drafted (running back) Keith Byars and was trying to trade (running back) Earnest Jackson. That took some time. Someone had to go. It was me. So, for those two weeks, not being on the team was very tough for me. It turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to me. It created something in me. It drove me my entire career.
"I was pretty miserable for those two weeks. The Eagles played Chicago and then Washington and I'm sitting at home watching these games feeling I'm missing out. I felt I should be there. Once I re-signed with the team after two weeks it fueled in me this understanding that there's a balance in the NFL between what you're worth to a team and how a team values you. As a guy who is not a starter, you are dispensable. I resolved that I would never be dispensable again. I had to level that playing field and put myself in a position of power. I had to make it so the team needed me as much as I needed them."
Joyner played for the Eagles from 1986-93 and in the span of 120 games established himself as one of the greatest all-around linebackers in the NFL. Joyner was tough and physical against the run. He could chase down the football sideline to sideline. When Ryan, and later defensive coordinator Bud Carson, asked him to rush the quarterback, Joyner got home (his 37 career sacks are still the most by a linebacker in Eagles history).
Playing on a defense that had so many spectacular parts – Reggie White, Jerome Brown, and Eric Allen were previously inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame – Joyner stood out for his fire and the finishing power of his game. A dominating defense through the Ryan years and into the seasons when Carson oversaw the defense, Joyner was a do-it-all linebacker who was put into positions all over the field. He was asked to win one-on-one matchups, and he did just that.
Along the way, Joyner and that defense formed a love affair with a fan base that had been down on the Eagles for several disappointing seasons.
"Early on, I really didn't understand it," Joyner says. "You have to understand that it took us two years to learn the defense. We were basically chickens running around without heads as we learned it. Once we figured it out and played a hard-nosed, take-no-crap-from-nobody, we're-trying-to-bloody-your-nose defense, it changed the relationship with the fans. All of a sudden, we were a defense that exemplified the blue-collar mentality of the city and that's when the love affair began. It grew from there.
"It's amazing how people, even now, still talk about that defense. It's been a generation since then, and today even young people say, 'I grew up on that defense.' It shows how special that defense was and how much it resonated with the fans. It was special then and it's just as special now."