The Philadelphia Eagles didn’t catch Florida State’s All-America defensive tackle Corey Simon by surprise when they selected him with the sixth overall pick in the first round of the 2000 NFL Draft.
“It was cut and dry for me. I knew I was going five to Baltimore or six to Philadelphia,” says Simon, who will be Sunday's Honorary Alumni Captain presented by Santander. “When I woke up on draft morning, I saw that the Ravens had signed (veteran free agent) Sam Adams. At that point, after my meeting with (then-Eagles head coach) Andy (Reid), he had said, ‘Corey, if you’re there at six, you’re our guy. We’re not having this conversation with anybody else but you.’ I trusted him on that.
“I was excited, of course, because it’d always been my dream to play professional football. But I was also excited about the opportunity to come play in a city that was so passionate about the game. You always want to play somewhere that gets fired up about football, and there is no other fan base like the Philadelphia Eagles' fan base.”
Simon quickly gave the fan base something to cheer about by sacking Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman on his first play from scrimmage. He set a team rookie record with 9.5 sacks for the season and soon realized what made Eagle fans different from other fans around the league.
“For one, it’s a blue-collar town. It’s the folks that save their pennies to make it to the game every weekend,” Simon says. “It was just the passion of the city. There’s something to be said when you wake up after a win and the city is buzzing or when you wake up after a loss and the city is down. You feel like their heart is in it. That’s what Philly is, it’s all heart.
“They’re not fly-by-night fans, they’re there when times are bad and they’re there when times are good. Thankfully, we never had any bad times during my tenure in Philadelphia.”
Beginning in 2001, the Eagles won 48 out of 64 regular-season games over four seasons and reached the NFC Championship Game each year. They met the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX after winning the NFC title in 2004. What was the key to the team’s success?
“I think it was a great mix of guys,” Simon recalls. “Veteran guys and young guys that really bought into the system and really loved and cared about each other. We spent time together. It was a close-knit bond. We were a team and that’s why we were successful.
“Everybody in the NFL has great players, but great teams are hard to come by. And in my time in Philadelphia, we were united as a team. The team always came first. So, I think it made it easy for us to go out there and play for one another realizing that we were in it for each other more than ourselves.”
Simon recorded 270 tackles and 32 sacks during his five seasons with the Eagles from 2000-04. He started every regular-season and playoff game for the Eagles except for two games in 2002 because of an ankle injury. He was chosen to play in the Pro Bowl following the 2003 season.
“The thing that makes me the most proud is having the opportunity to play with the guys that I played with,” says Simon, who also played in Indianapolis and Tennessee. “The relationships that I built, that’s what made it what it was. And I’ll be honest, when I left Philadelphia, it wasn’t the same. When I look back at my career, it was those five years that I spent in Philadelphia that gave me the most, not only success on the field, but just the passion for the game.
“When you’re on a team with guys who aren’t selfish, guys who just want to go out there and win and play for each other, those are the things that you look back on and you’re like, ‘Man, I’m so glad I had that opportunity.’”
Now making his home now in Tallahassee, Florida, Simon helps coach the Maclay School football team, which his son, C.J., plays on as a freshman defensive tackle. Simon also oversees the local Pop Warner youth football program.
“I get a chance to watch these young people come out and play the game that they love and try and teach it a different way,” Simon says. “I think that the game now is as safe as it’s ever been and it’s because of what Pop Warner and programs like the Heads Up program that the NFL has partnered with USA Football, teaching these kids how to tackle and block properly.
“You want to see the game that you love survive. And in order for it to survive, it has to be implemented in a different way. And to see these kids now perform some of the things that they do on the field, the new techniques that we teach, that’s what I’m passionate about. I’m passionate about this game. I’m passionate about young people playing it, but playing it as safely as possible.”