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Spadaro: Trent Cole, Hugh Douglas a perfect pair for the Eagles' Hall of Fame Class of 2022

Dave Spadaro On the Inside 1920

Each of them had similar reactions early in their careers at Eagles: "What? Us? Here? How is this going to work out ...?"

For Hugh Douglas, who came via a trade with the New York Jets in 1998, he wondered about the team, the football culture of the city, and "take no offense at this," Douglas told a packed house at Lincoln Financial Field on Saturday for the Hall of Fame Brunch, "how dirty Philadelphia was. I was like, 'Maybe this place isn't for me.'"

For Trent Cole, a fifth-round draft pick in 2005, the introduction lasted a bit longer. He was a 225-pound defensive end used as a throw-around toy by offensive tackles Tra Thomas and Jon Runyan and there were times Cole wondered if he would make it. "They were huge. They were monsters. They just beat me up every day," Cole said. "I felt, 'Is this the way it's going to be in the NFL?' I didn't really know if I was cut out for this league."

Of course, Cole was more than up to the challenge and, yes, Douglas learned very quickly that he fit in perfectly with Philadelphia's gritty, grimy, passionate landscape and fan base. Together, Cole and Douglas form the Eagles' Hall of Fame Class of 2022 and both will be honored at halftime of Sunday night's game against Green Bay. Their inductions are more than merited as each carved a special niche among the pantheon of great Eagles defensive ends in franchise history.

Acquired in a trade – the Eagles sent second- and fifth-round draft picks – with the New York Jets in 1998, the team that selected him with the 15th overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft, Douglas became a perfect fit in the Eagles' attacking defensive scheme that first season, and then took his game to a new level when Head Coach Andy Reid and Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson came on board in 1999. A three-time Pro Bowl end and a two-time All-Pro selection, Douglas played in Philadelphia through the 2002 season, spent a year with the Jaguars in 2003, and returned to the Eagles to close out his career and help the team reach Super Bowl XXXIX in 2004. Douglas recorded 54.5 quarterback sacks in his six seasons here – one of which he lost to injury and including 2004, when he played in a rotation at end – including a monster 15-sack season in 2000.

Cole played from 2005 to 2014 with the Eagles as both a hand-in-the-dirt end and an outside pass-rush linebacker and was incredibly productive with 85.5 career sacks, second in franchise history behind Reggie White's 124. Cole made two Pro Bowls and was once named an All-Pro, but there was always the sense that he was a bit underrated outside of Philadelphia. The Eagles understood his value, and knew that he was the guy on defense to take control of games.

"That's what made me the happiest," Cole said. "Going out there and just dominating and taking over games. I wanted to be that guy, so there were times when I was able to do my thing and just be me. That's what made Jim Johnson such a great coordinator. He let us be ourselves. He played to what we did well, at our best. When we got after it, we were hard to stop."

Part of what made Cole so great was his ability to adapt. Nicknamed "The Hunter" for obvious reasons and for his passion to spend time, even during the day of a night game, in the wild hunting turkeys or deer or whatever was in season, Cole also thrived after Andy Reid left as the head coach and the defensive philosophy changed under Head Coach Chip Kelly. Instead of playing as an edge rusher coming out of a three-point stance (one hand on the ground), Cole lined up as a stand-up edge linebacker.

It wasn't an easy transition, but Cole handled it with his trademark hard work and dedication.

"That's the only way I knew how to do it. Every time I was on the field, I was going hard. I was there to win," Cole said. "I was a smaller guy and I knew I had to play harder to win. You just couldn't stop me. I would fight, I would scratch, I would claw. Anything to win."

Douglas was the same way and that is one of the reasons this Class of 2022 is so special: Douglas became the "smaller" edge rusher who essentially turned the job over to Cole, another "smaller" end. One was a first-round draft pick who came to Philadelphia via trade and learned to love the Eagles and what the world of Eagles fans were all about. The other was a fifth-round draft pick who beat all the odds to become a Hall of Fame pass rusher, second only in team history to the greatest defensive end in the history of the game.

Both go in together at halftime on Sunday night and it couldn't be more perfect.

"Every day here, I loved it. I truly did," Douglas said. "The fans were great to me and I know I wouldn't be here without them. My teammates, I will never forget them and the great times we had. I loved nothing more than whipping another man's (butt) out there on the football field. That was my goal on every single snap and being an Eagle allowed me to become the best player I could be.

"This is so special for me. I'm loving this. I can't wait to get out there in front of the fans again and hear them. Such an incredible football city. This is my home. I don't live here right now (he lives in Atlanta, working in sports-talk radio), but this is my home and always will be."

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