Hollis Thomas may have been born in Texas, raised in Missouri, and went to college in Illinois, but the moment he signed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 1996, he became one of Philly's native sons.
A 6-foot, 300-pound defensive tackle, Thomas' goal while at Northern Illinois was to play in the NFL. But when teams didn't come to him, he went to them.
"My agent at the time said, 'Put a little highlight reel together and send it to all 30 teams,'" Thomas says. "I got the audio-visual department to make me one. It wasn't too long and it wasn't too short. I was just trying to give them pretty much a highlight of what I do in games.
"They made 30 copies and I sent it to all 30 teams. A few teams responded: San Francisco, Denver, the (New York) Jets, Carolina, and the Eagles."
Yes, the Eagles responded and their head coach was impressed.
"I talked to Ray Rhodes before I committed to come here," Thomas says. "And one of the things that Ray told me was if I came and did the things that I did in college, that I will make the team. No ifs, ands, or buts."
Thomas couldn't have gotten a better guarantee and made his way to Philadelphia's Training Camp, where he made sure to keep his eyes open and pay attention.
"I was lucky because I came to a veteran team," Thomas says. "We had William Fuller, Ronnie Dixon, Greg Jefferson. There were so many guys that had been in the league for a while and knew how to be professionals. I just pretty much watched to see what they did.
"When I came to the Eagles, I had one thing in mind. I wanted to show them that they made a mistake by not drafting me. I pretty much wanted to show everybody that they made a mistake by not drafting me."
He hammered that point home the following season by co-leading the Eagles in tackles. An immovable object in the middle of the defense as his nickname, "Tank," would suggest, Thomas didn't budge from his starting position when Andy Reid replaced Rhodes as Philadelphia's head coach in 1999.
Thomas says Reid brought organization, discipline, and "great preparation. There was so much stuff that we prepared for that when you're doing it in practice, you don't realize it until you're in a game and you're in that situation."
Under Reid, the Eagles were soon in a situation to win. Beginning in 2000, they had a string of four consecutive double-digit win seasons. The key?
"Basically believing. Believing that we would win," Thomas says. "Going out and believing in what (Defensive Coordinator) Jim Johnson and Andy were teaching us. And seeing that it works. Toward the end of their first season, we won two games in a row, and we were kicking people's (butt) with what they were telling us would work all along.
"And once we won those last few games, it seemed like it was just momentum. So when we came back the next season, everybody was healthy, and man, we just felt like we were going to shock everybody."
The 2001 season started a four-year streak of reaching the NFC Championship Game. In the 2004 NFC Championship Game against Atlanta, Thomas stepped up with four tackles and a key second-quarter red zone sack, which helped the Eagles reach Super Bowl XXXIX.
"I didn't know how big that play actually was until Coach (Reid) told me because if they had scored a touchdown there, the game's a little different going into halftime," Thomas says. "I felt like that was one of my biggest plays.
"That was the only NFC Championship Game with the Eagles that I played in. I was hurt for the other three. I got a couple of calls from some of my former teammates. Bobby Taylor was one. 'So that's what we needed to get on top, just you being healthy.' And I'm like, 'Nah, I'm just one person.' We had a nice camaraderie amongst the players. We cared about each other. I still talk to a lot of the guys today."
With the Eagles for 10 seasons before finishing his 14-year career with New Orleans, St. Louis, and Carolina, Thomas feels that Philadelphia gave him as much as he gave its fans.
"I think what happened when I got here was I kind of grew up and became a man in Philly," says Thomas, who remains involved with the Philadelphia sports scene as a broadcaster. "Philly taught me how to be myself. I was already myself, but I was a little bit reserved when I first got here. Because as a rookie, you don't want to come in and think that you're the top dog because you really don't know what's about to transpire. I just listened and learned."
The father of two daughters – Hydeia, 24, and Hallie, 13 – Thomas continues to call Philadelphia home 16 years after his final game as an Eagle.
"Everybody still remembers me as No. 78 in the green," Thomas says. "The one thing that you never want to do is treat people without the respect that you expect back. When people come up to you, they're not bothering you or anything. You were a part of their life at one point and sometimes people will just come up and say, 'Hey, I remember when you did this or that.'
"It takes a lot to be a (jerk) and it takes nothing to be nice and kind to somebody. There's nothing wrong with stopping and just saying, 'Hi, how ya doing?' At some point, nobody's going to recognize you, so you're relishing it now and enjoying it."