It is 7:00 AM. on an Eagles game day, long before Lincoln Financial Field is filled with screaming, midnight green-clad fans, and director of equipment operations Greg Delimitros and his staff are already in the locker room, preparing for a long day and night. This is a labor of love, and Delimitros, named this week as a co-winner of the NFL's annual Whitey Zimmerman Equipment Manager of the Year award, loves the labor like nothing else.
"I have the greatest job in the world," he said. "I love waking up every morning and coming here and working with a lot of great people. It's a busy job, but I know I'm here to help the team."
Delimitros is quick to credit his staff, which includes full-time equipment men Edward Miller, Craig Blake and Peter Gould, and a game-day crew that includes up to 12 helpers, for the award. And it's true: The canvas that Delimitros oversees is vast, and the action moves so rapidly, and the commitment is one that is demanded for seven days a week during the football season.
"I was very excited to hear about the award and to know that it is coming from my peers," said Delimitros, honored along with Allen Wright of the Kansas City Chiefs for the award named after Zimmerman, the Atlanta Falcons Equipment Manager from 1966 to 1994, when he passed away due to a heart attack. "This wouldn't happen without my staff, so it's not just me. It's for my staff and for the entire organization that supports what we do.
"We come in and work with the players, the coaches, the staff and taking care of everybody. We're in the business of customer service and the football team and the organization are our customers, whether it means setting up and then breaking down practice every day or getting ready for game day."
You see the players in their perfect-fitting uniforms every day, and maybe you take it for granted. The truth is, there are many hours put into making sure the players are 100 percent equipped every time they step on the field. Their helmets have to be snug, shoulder pads must be laced tight and jersey and pants worn to league standards. Players need to have the right fit and grip from their cleats and gloves must be precise for the hands and fingers.
Quarterback Carson Wentz, upon hearing of Delimitros' honor, offered his support.
"Greg's the man. He's always looking out for us and taking care of everything we need, not just on game days, but also during the week," Wentz said. "He and his guys are a big part of what we do."
Game days are a frantic three hours during which helmets can get dinged, jerseys torn, mouthpieces knocked loose. The equipment staff oversees the game footballs – 72 of them are prepared and ready to go for pregame warmups and another 24 are at the officials' disposal once the game begins. Additionally, Delimitros is responsible for the communications system that allows the coaching staff to communicate with the quarterback and a single defensive player.
Want more? He and his staff are responsible for the visitor's locker room, the officials' locker room and the chain gang. Basically, as you see, Delimitros oversees much of what happens on the sidelines, in the bench area and in the locker areas.
Delimitros and his staff are at the ready at all times.
"We have many different things that we are responsible for and so we're on top of everything," Delimitros said. "It's a big production. Fourteen years ago, I used to get all worked up. Now I'm calm and ready for anything. A couple of years ago Fletcher Cox's helmet broke twice in one game, but we have extra helmets so we were ready to roll. We have extra jerseys in case a player tears his. That happened last year with Carson Wentz. We have extra gloves and shoes. Anything and everything that happens, we are ready."
To be successful in this role, you need to be extremely organized and you must work well with people and communicate with everyone in the organization. Delimitros fits the bill with his vision and his personality, and this job is something he's been preparing to do his entire life. He began as a student manager for sports teams at Bellport High School in Bellport, N.Y., and then was the student equipment manager at Stony Brook University before working for two seasons at West Virginia University, where he earned his Master's Degree in physical education.
Since 2004, Delimitros has been with the Eagles, for eight years as an assistant and now in his sixth as the head man, and now he's become the cream of the crop in the NFL.
"I always wanted to become a professional athlete, but I wasn't athletically talented," said Delimitros, laughing. "This was my niche in the business."
It's not an easy job. The glamour of the NFL fades quickly, and the level of excellence must be high every day. Those early-morning report times for 1 p.m. games become late-night calls as well, as Delimitros and his staff work as late as 9 p.m. finishing the laundry. When the Eagles land their charter plane at the airport after a road game, players, coaches and staff hop in their cars and call it a night. The equipment staff waits for two hours to unload their equipment trunks, 72 in all, and then return to the NovaCare Complex to complete the laundry and prepare for the week ahead.
"It's a grind, but that's OK with me," Delimitros said. "It's the NFL, so you have to be ready every week, and you have to have great practices, so anything we can do to help the Philadelphia Eagles, that's what we are here to do."
The organization, top to bottom, appreciates the effort and the dedication.
"Greg is big part of the Eagles organization and off-the-field team," Howie Roseman said. "A lot of the work he does is behind the scenes and not necessarily visible to the fans, but he helps this team to get ready to play every day and our players, coaches, and staff appreciate everything he does. This is a well-deserved honor, not just for Greg but for his entire staff as well and we are lucky to have him with our team."
Now comes some recognition. It's a "cool" job, and we see the product on Sundays, but the real work and reward comes behind the scenes with Delimitros and his staff working long hours to make a difference – and they do.