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 reported to the NovaCare complex on Monday, I was drinking coffee, reading Twitter, checking Facebook and doing Wordle – it was child’s play I’d get it in three (hint, hint ) – before launching it at Cape May National.
I’ve seen enough boot camp workouts to last a lifetime. To put it into 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 about to enter I was in kindergarten in Yazoo City, Mississippi when I went to Lehigh University to fuss over coach Ray Rhodes and running back Ricky Watters.
For who? Why?
I attended 27 Eagles training camps from 1993 to 2019. Those were trips to West Chester (1993-95), Lehigh (1996-2012) and Philly NovaCare (2013-19). There is no truth to the rumor that I was at the Eagles’ first training camp at Bader Field in Atlantic City in 1933.
West Chester workouts took place in a bowl surrounded by grassy hills that cut through the breezes. Players ran sprints up hills at the end of the two-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 died in 2012 at the age of 62, worked at ACME Supermarkets in Media, Pennsylvania. He used all of his vacation days each year to attend boot camp, beginning in 1975 at Widener University.
The Eagles decided to follow the growing NFL trend and move camp to their in-season facility at the NovaCare Complex in 2013 under rookie coach Chip Kelly. Music blared from loudspeakers as players sprinted from exercise to exercise while athletic trainers supervised sleep studies and documented sweating patterns.
Here are a few more memories from training camps, including one that just made me shed a tear.
*Big Dog – One of the first players I interviewed during my first Eagles training camp in 1993 was new goaltender Erik McMillan. McMillan, who had been the AFC Rookie Defensive Player of the Year, joined the Eagles after a five-year stint with the New York Jets. I asked him what his expectations were for the coming 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, however, more Chihuahua than Saint Bernard. McMillan only lasted six games before being cut.
* Still going all out – New owner Jeffrey Lurie fired Rich Kotite after losing the final seven games of the 1994 season and replaced him with Ray Rhodes, a former 49ers defensive coordinator. Their biggest offseason acquisition was running back Ricky Watters, who followed Rhodes from San Francisco. Watters arrived in West Chester and spoke of his popularity in his hometown of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
“People always come up to me and ask for my autograph and stuff,” Watters said. “I’m getting mutilated at the mall.”
* Breakfast of Champions – Lehigh was abuzz in 2004. Thousands of fans filled the stands to cheer on new receiver Terrell Owens and other new players such as defensive end Jevon Kearse, nicknamed ‘The Freak’ in due to its size combination. and athletics. Training took place in brutal heat which affected many players. During a training session, Kearse approached the sideline, bent over and lost his breakfast.
“How do you like these eggs?” ” he said.
*TO for TO – This was by far the most bizarre training camp of my tenure. Owens, unhappy with his contract, showed up to boot camp in 2005 in camouflage as if ready to do battle with management and brought in Constable Drew Rosehaus. He quickly 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 receiver autograph session. Coach Andy Reid banned him from camp for a week. Owens retreated to his season home in Moorestown and began doing sit-ups in his driveway as helicopters hovered overhead.
* Tragedy – Garrett Reid, the 29-year-old son of Eagles head coach Andy Reid, was found dead in a Lehigh dorm in August 2012. The younger Reid, who had served time in prison for related offenses on heroin, 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 stay with me forever.
Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and other players were heading to the locker room at the end of a practice at training camp in 2018. Several stopped near the entrance and signed autographs for fans who were waiting. One was Kendall Williamson, then a Somers Point resident, who was there with her mother Cindy and grandfather Stanley. Kendall, who was 7½ at the time, was diagnosed with metachromatic leukodystrophy when she was 2 years old. 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 a rope, entered the reception tent and posed for photos with the family.
“When you see parents and children in these situations, it breaks my heart,” Foles said. “There’s more to life than this game. If I can put a little joy in someone’s life who is going through tough times, that’s more important to me than any pass I make. “
Kendall was not expected to live beyond 5 years, so the family celebrated her birthday every six months.
Cindy and the family were connected with the Casey Cares Foundation, a Baltimore-based organization that works with families of critically ill and terminally ill children to help ease the pain and provide a little happiness.
Over the years, Cindy and Kendall have visited Hershey Park and made two trips to Eagles training camp. In 2017, Kendall went to her first Phillies game.
Sadly, Kendall passed away on June 12 at the age of 11.
“I always wanted to be able to teach my daughter about the world,” Cindy said in 2018. But she taught me more than I ever could have hoped to teach her.