On a day when quarterback Carson Wentz continued to shine with his ramped-up practice involvement and the Eagles enjoyed a crisp workout in Phase 3 of their Organized Team Activities, the scene in the locker room after practice was the big story. There weren’t a whole lot of juicy sound bites for the media, all of them, so many of them, to dig their teeth into. Rather, the players accomplished something routinely extraordinary, something that we’ve become accustomed to but something the national media saw for the first time: A team that is mature, extremely unified, and very much intent on not allowing the Non-Trip-to-the-White-House story to become anything more than a blip on the radar screen.
“We had a great day of work today and that’s what was important to us,” defensive end Chris Long, surrounded by cameras and reporters. “We’re a very close team. We showed that last year. Nothing is going to come between us, so I think that’s kind of a takeaway for me. This is not a distraction for us. Today’s goal was to have a good practice and we did that. Really, that’s kind of the end of the story.”
Long wasn’t planning to attend any sort of celebration at the White House, anyway, as he made clear long ago. He’s focused instead on football and on giving back to the community, as he’s shown many times in his brief tenure with the Eagles. A leader on the team and as respected as any man in the NFL, Long last season was named the Players’ Association recipient of the Byron “Whizzer” White Award for community service. He needs to apologize to no one, nor does he need to legitimize his community and off-the-field endeavors.
Nobody on this team needs to that. The Eagles have long been one of the most philanthropic organizations in all of sports, so there’s that. And besides, we’re getting off track here. The moral of the story is this: The Eagles are galvanized, in the all-for-one, one-for-all kind of way that marks a championship team.
“I don’t think this is a locker room that is going to let anything take away from the unity and the character of this team. The thing that made us special last year was the unity and the bond we had as brothers in this locker room,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “I don’t think anything could separate the bond and love we have for each other.”
Then there was safety Malcolm Jenkins. He was inundated, naturally. But instead of speaking, Jenkins held up signs – about 10 of them in all – ranging from messages on social injustice to stats and figures on players and what they’ve given back to the community. It was a brilliant and creative approach to the visual medium of television and social media, and Jenkins, silently and powerfully, got his message across.
Those who spoke did so with great conviction. For the most part, it was Long, Jenkins, Ertz, wide receiver Nelson Agholor, center Jason Kelce, and guard Brandon Brooks who stood in front of the cameras and answered questions.
“We’ve had a really, really good locker room here,” Kelce said. “The NFL is like this beautiful microcosm of a melting pot. You have guys from all over the country, from different walks of life, from different areas and I think you all try to put those differences aside. You try to get out on the field and do something greater than yourself. It’s been a blessing to get to know each and every one of these guys, to work with people I might have never ended up getting to know without going through this business and being with this organization.
“We just have a really, really good team. Obviously, we won the Super Bowl last year with the vast majority of this team. We’re a very tight-knit group. It’s been an honor to play with each and every one of these guys.”
Truly, the Eagles said they did not allow the story or the resulting coverage get in the way of a strong workday. Head coach Doug Pederson forcefully set the tone in the morning, saying that the White House story “is over. It is behind us.”
The players confirmed that by brushing aside the media’s attempt to drag out the story in the afternoon.
“We’ve always been a family. We always preach it and we live it each day,” Agholor said. “It’s about us. It’s about the Philadelphia Eagles, it’s about the guys in the locker room, it’s about our fan base. We take care of ours.
“We’re grinding. That’s the most important thing right now. We’ve already won the big game last year and now we’re trying to focus to put ourselves in position to have the opportunity to do it again.”
And that’s that. The Eagles handled it beautifully on Wednesday, not allowing a national media story to take away from the locker-room love and the sense of purpose for 2018.