It was every Eagles fan's worst nightmare. There was a collective silence among the sold-out crowd at Lincoln Financial Field.
All-Pro running back LeSean McCoy was on the ground grabbing his lower right leg. He had used his world-class cutting ability to gain 18 yards on the stout Kansas City Chiefs defense, but the leg got caught under a defender. McCoy immediately recalled a painful memory and thought he was re-living it all over again.
As a senior at Bishop McDevitt High School in Harrisburg, Pa., the undefeated Crusaders were set to take on neighborhood rival Harrisburg in 2005. McCoy was a star recruit, who was named the best player in the state as a junior. Big-time college programs lined up to offer a full scholarship to play at their schools. The one thing that McCoy wanted to deliver was a state championship.
However, the game of football is cruel. It doesn't care who you are or what you've accomplished or what your dreams are. The physical punishment can instantly sideline even the most confident, and strongest of players. With the Crusaders marching down the field for the go-ahead score late in the game, McCoy suffered a compound fracture of his right ankle. McCoy's high school career ended right then and there. Bishop McDevitt would not win the state title that year. McCoy's high school coach, Jeff Weatcher, still has the cleat worn on that day. McCoy still says to him that the cleat should be a championship ring.
"You feel like your dreams are all crashing down," McCoy said. "Each day, I went out on that field and played, and all that I could think about was going to the NFL and playing ball in college and being on TV playing ball. When that injury happens, you don't know where your life will go, or where your career will go."
The injury quickly taught McCoy the business side of the game, which can be as harsh as the physical toll of the sport.
"I had about seven or eight schools who wanted me, and then getting injured and seeing so many schools back off of me, that just rubs you the wrong way," McCoy said. "I think since then, my attitude has been so different. I feel like coaches and people may trust me, but I gain their trust and respect when I play the game, because anything can happen. That's why I pray every day that I can play in this game and I can take care of my family, and it's all a blessing. I'm happy to be here, but I know that you have to be humble. You have to work hard, because any day anything can take it from you."
McCoy did not experience a case of déjà vu with his ankle injury. He returned in the second half and showed no ill effects from the injury. He gained 30 yards on a run in the third quarter before bursting through a wide-open lane for a 41-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. McCoy finished the game with 158 rushing yards for his second 100-yard rushing performance of the young season.
When Chip Kelly was hired as the team's new head coach, the juggernaut offense that he brought from Oregon was expected to be a perfect match for McCoy. At 5-foot-11, 208 pounds, McCoy has the most nimble feet, as he can disappear from the grasp of would-be defenders. He has the physical frame and toughness to run between the tackles.
"When coach first got here, I wasn't too sure how everything was going to work out, and now I kind of know. I've seen it, I've practiced it, I've ran it, I've studied it and I'm in love with it," McCoy said. "It's simple. We kind of have an answer for everything, as far as throwing the ball and running the ball. Being able to make plays in space, I think any playmaker would love that, and I sure do love it. We have so many guys that can make plays at any given time, and why not put in an offense like this when we have the ability to do it."
McCoy was a prep standout in Harrisburg, Pa. He played his college football at the University of Pittsburgh. Now, he's an All-Pro running back for the Philadelphia Eagles. It's rare for a superstar to enjoy his entire career so close to home. It might not have happened if it wasn't for that injury eight years ago.
"It's a little blessing and some luck," McCoy said. "I think my parents (Ron and Daphne) have seen all of my games, which is amazing. I don't have a situation where I have to call from miles and miles away. I might be going through something where my parents can come see me and it's just great. Growing up in Harrisburg, there are so many Steelers fans and so many Eagles fans that go nuts, and to actually physically be on the team and to actually say that I'm a Philadelphia Eagle, that means a lot."