Extra Points: Eagles training camp memories
By DAVID WEINBERG
My current situation is such that I no longer have to worry about attending Eagles training camp.
While the players, coaches and media were reporting to the NovaCare Complex Monday, I was drinking coffee, reading Twitter, checking Facebook and doing Wordle - it was a cinch that I would get it in three (hint, hint) - before teeing it up at Cape May National.
I've seen enough training camp workouts to last me a lifetime. To put it in perspective, Tom Brady was a 16-year-old junior in high school when I covered my first camp at West Chester University with coach Rich Kotite and quarterback Randall Cunningham in 1993. Fletcher Cox, 31, was in about to enter Kindergarten in Yazoo City, Mississippi when I schlepped to Lehigh University to do stories about coach Ray Rhodes and running back Ricky Watters.
For who? For what?
I attended 27 Eagles training camps from 1993 to 2019. It featured trips to West Chester (1993-95), Lehigh (1996-2012) and Philly NovaCare (2013-19). There's no truth to the rumor I was at the Eagles first training camp at Bader Field in Atlantic City 1933.
West Chester's practices were conducted in a bowl surrounded by grassy hills that cut off the breezes. Players ran sprints up the hills at the end of the two-a-day sessions. It was commonplace to see them crawling at the end, sweat pouring from every orifice.
Thousands of fans would show up at Lehigh for training camp. They included the late "Eagle" Joe Brown. Brown, who passed away in 2012 at age 62, worked at ACME Supermarkets in Media, Pennsylvania. He used up all his vacation days each year to attend training camp, starting in 1975 at Widener University.
The Eagles decided to follow the growing trend in the NFL and move camp to their in-season facilities at the NovaCare Complex in 2013 under rookie coach Chip Kelly. Music blared from speakers while players sprinted from drill to drill while athletic trainers supervised sleep studies and documented sweat patterns.
Here are a few other memories from training camps, including one that just made me shed a tear.
*Big Dog - One of first the players I interviewed at my first Eagles training camp in 1993 was new safety Erik McMillan. McMillan, who had been the AFC Rookie Defensive Player of the Year, had joined the Eagles after a five-year stint with the New York Jets. I asked him about his expectations for the upcoming season and he replied, "I want to be a big dog." I wasn't sure what he meant until I realized I was wearing a "Big Dog" baseball cap. He was more Chihuahua than Saint Bernard, however. McMillan lasted just six games before getting cut.
*Still Watters run deep - New owner Jeffrey Lurie had fired Rich Kotite after he lost the final seven games of the 1994 season and replaced him with Ray Rhodes, a former defensive coordinator for the 49ers. Their biggest offseason acquistion was running back Ricky Watters, who followed Rhodes from San Francisco. Watters arrived at West Chester and spoke about his popularity in his hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
"People are always coming up to me and asking me for my autograph and things," Watters said. "I get mauled at the mall."
*Breakfast of champions - Lehigh was all abuzz in 2004. Thousands of fans packed the stands to cheer for new wide receiver Terrell Owens and other new players such as defensive end Jevon Kearse, who was nicknamed "The Freak" because of his combination of size and athleticism. Practices were conducted in brutal heat that affected many players. During one workout, Kearse came over to the sideline, bent over and lost his breakfast.
"How you like them eggs?" he said.
*T.O. for T.O. - This was by far the most bizarre training camp of my tenure. Owens, unhappy with his contract, showed up for training camp in 2005 wearing camouflage as if he was ready to do battle with management and brought along agent Drew Rosehaus. He soon blamed quarterback Donovan McNabb for a lack of support and was quickly reprimanded by some teammates, including defensive end Hugh Douglas.
A few days later, Owens skipped a wide receivers autograph session. Coach Andy Reid banished him from camp for a week. Owens retreated to his in-season home in Moorestown and proceeded to do situps in his driveway while helicopters hovered above.
*Tragedy - Garrett Reid, the 29-year-old son of then-Eagles head coach Andy Reid, was found dead in a Lehigh dorm room in August of 2012. The younger Reid, who had served time in jail for heroin-related offenses, was at training camp working with the team's strength and conditioning staff in an unofficial capacity at the time of his death.
*RIP Kendall - The image will last with me forever.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and other players were headed to the locker room at the end of a 2018 training camp practice. Several paused near the entrance and signed autographs for waiting fans. One of them was then-Somers Point resident Kendall Williamson, who was there with her mother Cindy and grandfather Stanley. Kendall, who was 7 and a half at the time, had been diagnosed with metachromatic leukodystrophy when she was 2. MLD is an incurable genetic disease that aggressively attacks the nervous system. Over the years, Kendall had lost the ability to speak, eat and move.
Foles climbed over a rope, walked into the hospitality tent, and posed for pictures with the family.
"When you see parents and children in those situations, it just breaks my heart," Foles said. "There is more to life than this game. If I can put a little bit of joy in someone's life who is going through tough times, that's more important to me than any pass I complete."
Kendall was not expected to live past age 5, so the family celebrated her birthday every six months.
Cindy and the family were put in touch with the Casey Cares Foundation, a Baltimore-based organization that works with families of critically and terminally ill children to help ease the pain and provide some happiness.
Over the years, Cindy and Kendall visited Hershey Park and made two trips to Eagles training camp. In 2017, Kendall went to her first Phillies game.
Sadly, Kendall passed away June 12 at age 11.
"I always wanted to be able to teach my daughter about the world," Cindy said in 2018. But she's taught me more than I could have ever hoped to teach her."