Tag Archives: Jason Kelce

Countdown to Eagles Football — 43 Days: How Did Chip Kelly Do in HIs First Offseason with Full Control of the Roster?

Editor’s Note: This is the second installment of a 44-day series counting down the days until the Eagles season begins. The first part can be found here

Unlike yesterday’s question, the answer to this one is a lot more complicated and significant in terms of determining both the Eagles short and long-term outlook.

When Chip Kelly demanded final say over all roster decisions thus removing Howie Roseman’s title and responsibilities as Genera Manager in early January, he did it with one motivation in mind:

To make personnel decisions that would help take the franchise from good to great. Despite back-to-back 10 win seasons and an NFC East title in 2013, Kelly made the determination that the Eagles were too much of a fringe playoff contender and not close enough to competing for a Super Bowl where a few roster tweaks could get them there. He needed something more.

The merits of Kelly’s estimation can certainly be argued. As a counterpoint to Kelly’s findings, the Eagles beat a Colts team on the road that won 11 games and advanced to the AFC Championship.

They hung with the then defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks on the scoreboard in December before succumbing to a 24-14 defeat but were thoroughly outplayed and beaten up throughout the game.

Perhaps the biggest game in favor of Kelly’s argument was the embarrassing 53-20 mid-November loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field where Kelly’s Eagles were outclassed by a Green Bay team that ended up being minutes away from reaching the Super Bowl over Seattle.

Regardless of how the determination was made, it happened, and Kelly set out to overhaul a roster that will have at least 10 new starters come September 14th in Atlanta.

After three wild trades, some controversial departures, several free-agent acquisitions, thousands of Marcus Mariota rumors and one surprisingly calm draft, how did Kelly do in his first offseason running the show?

On the surface, it appears Kelly made parts of the Eagles better. The addition of Kiko Alonso in the LeSean McCoy trade gives the Eagles their most talented inside linebacker since Jeremiah Trotter’s first stint in midnight green.

Whether or not DeMarco Murray can come close to repeating a career year in 2014 remains to be seen, but him and Ryan Mathews give the Eagles more running back depth while simultaneously weakening their biggest division rival.

Byron Maxwell is an instant upgrade in the secondary, one that was in desperate need of improvement when facing Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham, and DeSean Jackson twice a year.

Rather than overpaying to retain the services of Jeremy Maclin, Kelly elected to go the cheaper route and attempt to replace him with rookie first round draft Nelson Agholor. Had the Eagles overpaid for Maclin, they may have been unable to afford a guy like Maxwell.

All of these moves on paper make sense. On the opposing side of things, Kelly did not do much to upgrade offensive line depth or talent at the safety position, two spots that are glaring question marks as the Eagles head into camp. Any injury to the likes of Jason Peters, Lane Johnson, Jason Kelce, or Malcolm Jenkins could spell doom for the birds rather quickly.

Then, there’s the biggest move of all. Kelly’s first offseason will largely be defined by the successes or failures of Sam Bradford in his system and Nick Foles in St. Louis. Kelly did not simply elect to swap quarterbacks with him getting the less accomplished one. He also surrendered a 2016 second round draft pick for the oft-injured Bradford who is scheduled to make 13 million dollars this season in the final year of his rookie contract while Foles is scheduled to make less than two million with the Rams.

The previous two sentences underscore the biggest question mark about Kelly as a GM. It is abundantly clear to anyone who has watched the Eagles over the past two seasons that the man can coach, and his ability to identify talent going back to his Oregon days is impressive.

The unknown lies in the asset management component of being a genera manager, something that can often be overlooked but essential in ensuring that the team is set up well for both the present and future.

Would a more experienced GM have been able to execute the Bradford-Foles trade without giving up the extra draft pick, something that maybe could have enticed the Titans more in an offer for Mariota. When Kelly signed Maxwell and Murray, was he bidding against himself in those negotiations and did he need to pay them as much as he did?

When Roseman had heavy influence in the draft, there are stories of Kelly overvaluing certain players like Jordan Matthews, Josh Huff, and Taylor Hart, wanting to select them a round before most other teams would have, and having to be walked back by Roseman, assuring him that they would be available when they picked again.

Maybe veteran GM’s wouldn’t have the guts to do what Kelly is doing, and if Bradford stays healthy and turns into the franchise quarterback that the Rams once hoped he would be, no one will care very much about the lost second round pick.

Still, football players are not acquired in a vacuum. There is an opportunity cost, both present and future, to every decision made, and whether or not Kelly can master the asset and resource allocation part of the job remains to be seen.

As I have stated previously on Twitter and in 10 Things I Think I Think, I don’t believe Kelly’s offseason has the Eagles worse than the 2014 season, but there is a small fear that he rearranged chairs on the Titanic as opposed to strengthening the collective roster.

Ultimately the Eagles are in better shape with Kelly doing everything as opposed to Kelly coaching somewhere else and doing nothing at all. Time will tell whether he is as capable of a general manager as he is a coach.

The first seven months have sure been something

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Five Numbers I Hope to See in the Box Score When Eagles-Titans Concludes

Good morning, good morning, good morning, dawgies.

Let me tell you, I feel like a kid on Christmas morning right now, about two hours away from heading down to Lincoln Financial Field for my first game since the Week 16 Bears beatdown on Sunday night last season.

As you already know, there is no Cody Parkey kickoff contest today because we will be singing the Eagles fight song as the birds are lining up for them, but we do have our five numbers post.

The Eagles have some awful recent history against the Titans that we won’t devote a ton of space to mentioning. Know that it’s bad, and know that these are five numbers I hope to see that could reverse it today and give the Eagles their tenth straight regular season victory at the Linc:

  1. At least one interception thrown by Titans quarterback Zach Mettenberger — The Titans sixth round rookie signal-caller has thrown one interception in all four games he has played in. Good timing for a defense that had to deal with Aaron Rodgers last week.
  2. Less than 50 rushing yards for Bishop Sankey — The Titans will use another rookie to try to make things easier for Mettenberger and keep Chip Kelly’s high-powered offense off the field. Aside from one big run by Eddie Lacy last week, the Eagles run defense held their own and has done so for most of the season. That will ideally continue today.
  3. Mark Sanchez completing at least 60 percent of his passes — For the Eagles to get to where they want to be over the next month with Sanchez steering the ship, he has to be more accurate. In his first two games as a starter, he is completing only 56.8 percent of his passing attempts. While that is actually higher than his 55.3 percent average throughout his career, he has missed open receivers a bit too often. I would feel much better if this can improve even slightly to reach 60.
  4. LeSean McCoy averaging more than four yards per carry — I have not mentioned the Eagles running back in this space a ton simply because I expected him to get back on track with the return of Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce, but that hasn’t happened with him only totaling 107 yards on 35 carries since four of the five projected starters on the offensive line have been back together. McCoy has only averaged four yards per carry in four of 10 contests this season, but the Eagles are 3-1 in those games. Let’s push it to 4-1 today.
  5. My dude Zach Ertz eclipsing 70 receiving yards — After a couple down weeks with limited snaps, Ertz seemed to get back on track some with a 55-yard performance on four catches last week. He has not eclipsed 60 since posting 86 yards against the Colts in Week 2, and the Titans secondary should give him an opportunity to finally do that again today.

There you have it, folks. One, 50, 60, four, 70, and hopefully several renditions of ‘Fly Eagles Fly’ as the home winning streak reaches double digits.

Let’s go to the game.

Fist Pump GIF

 

Sole Possession of First Place Haiku

I thought it would be difficult to get weirder than Eagles-Cardinals last Sunday, but this came real close between the injuries, interceptions, and penalties.

Thankfully this game had a different end result. The Eagles are back in the win column and once again have sole possession of first place in the NFC East. It may have come with a price though — a price that cannot yet be measured.

A determination will not be made there until we hear about Nicky Foles and the extent of his shoulder injury. A lot of Foles haters wanted to see Mark Sanchez play. The results were uneven with a few beautiful throws and some inexplicable ones. Sound familiar?

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 4.02.20 PM

Sanchez looked pretty incompetent at times, but he won, and made a big throw in the fourth quarter to do it (bless you Jeremy Maclin). I give Foles credit for doing those things, so I have to extend the same sentiment toward Sanchez.

Still, some of the bad was really bad, and I wouldn’t be too comfortable with Sanchez having to quarterback this team for an extended period of time.

Thankfully either quarterback will have the services of Darren Sproles, Jason Kelce, and Evan Mathis, but the defense may have lost its leader in DeMeco Ryans on a fluke play that had me flashing back to NaVorro Bowman in the NFC Championship game last season.

They survived no Kendricks for a few weeks, but depth at inside linebacker is one of the biggest issues on this team and has been for some time.

The win feels good, but this will be a few days filled with uncertainty as a Monday Night date with the Panthers looms. Let’s try to enjoy being in first place again and hit the haiku as we hold our breath for injury updates:

Awful injuries

But Maclin ain’t one of them

Get well soon Nicky

Eagles Bye Week Haiku

For the first time since Labor Day Weekend, we have a Sunday (or Monday) sans Eagles football.

As I wrote last week after the birds shutout the Gants on Sunday night, this is a great time for the bye week from an injury standpoint, but emotionally it’s a bit of a drag because this team has been really fun to watch and were really clicking last week.

In 2013, the Eagles bye fell after Week 10 and put them in a position to be fresh for December. It obviously arrives earlier this year, but with Jason Kelce, Evan Mathis, Darren Sproles, and Mychal Kendricks all trying to make their way back, a Week 7 vacation isn’t so bad.

The Eagles come out of the bye with road contests at 4-1 Arizona and 3-3 Houston. If they can split those two contests and be 6-2 through eight games, I’d be more than content. That is exactly where I thought they would be before the season.

Unfortunately University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale has not been kind to the Eagles. They were blown out 27-6 in a Week 3 contest back in 2012, and I still have nightmares of Larry Fitzgerald running wild through the Eagles secondary during the first half of the 2009 NFC Championship Game.

The Eagles enacted a little revenge last season with a 24-21 victory at Lincoln Financial Field, helping to eventually keep the surprising Cardinals out of the playoffs, but next week will be one of their toughest games.

We can worry about that tomorrow though. The Eagles are 5-1, so let’s enjoy the somewhat early bye week, root against the Cowboys, and of course, hit the haiku.

Time to get healthy 

Demons await in Zona 

Go Giants today

Mike Freeman’s 2013 Eagles Training Camp Preview is HiLOLarious to Go Back and Read

If you have ever read this blog previously or actually met me in-person before, then you know that I have a really good memory.

Sometimes it’s a blessing; other times it’s a curse, but I don’t forget things, so naturally, I remembered last Sunday that it was the one-year anniversary of me being blocked on Twitter by then CBS Sports and now Bleacher Report NFL columnist hack Mike Freeman.

Freeman 4

That will all be explained later for anyone who doesn’t know the story, but this memory recall led to me re-reading Freeman’s Eagles training camp preview from last summer, and holy shit, is it embarrassingly bad.

Here’s the full thing, but we’re going to go through it a few paragraphs at a time to examine just how awful this truly was.

If the Eagles can find a decent quarterback (and that’s a big if), and if they can keep that quarterback healthy (if it’s Mike Vick, that’s a huge if), and if Chip Kelly’s offense can work (gigantic if) then the player who could have a monster year is wide receiver DeSean Jackson.

There continues to be talk that Jackson has a chip on his shoulder and this offseason he’s worked as hard as ever. Jackson is still an intimidating weapon and if there’s a miracle, and Kelly can reproduce a reasonable facsimile of his college offense, Jackson could be the one to benefit the most.

Man, you sure love the word “if,” Mike. Overall though, this started off not terrible. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that DeSean Jackson had a chip on his shoulder after missing five games due to injury in 2012, but he was correct about that. It gets better, I promise.

Key changes

For the first time since 1999, Andy Reid will not be coaching the Eagles. Think about that for a moment. This is a landmark year for the organization and it is also potentially a chaotic one. Chip Kelly is the coach now and he promises a more up-tempo style of offense. But many a college coach has promised to transform the NFL with their college-y ideas and many have failed. See: Spurrier, Steve, among others.

Ah, a Steve Spurrier reference. That’s about as lazy as you can get right there, Mike. At least drop Dennis Erickson’s name or something, makes you sound slightly less unoriginal.

Kelly does inherit a team with talent. The cupboard, despite Philadelphia’s dismal record last year, is not bare. LeSean McCoy missed four games last year but still had 1,213 total yards and five scores. What Kelly will have to do is patch an offensive line that was constantly injured last season. The quarterback situation is a mess. It’s basically an open competition that Mike Vick will likely win but even if he does, Vick doesn’t stay healthy. Fourth-round pick Matt Barkley will see playing time, maybe a significant amount.

The Matt Barkley line is the easy target, but more of that will be coming later, so let’s focus on the offensive line sentence. Can you name the starting offensive line, Mike? If you could, you would know that it was set going into camp last summer. Were there injuries in 2012? Yes, but “patch” is a pretty poor verb to describe a unit comprised of four previous starters (one of which was a five-time Pro Bowler) plus the fourth overall selection in the draft.

The most interesting thing to watch will be Kelly. He wants to run 80 to 100 plays a game, which will never consistently happen. For the past 30 years, the average number of offensive NFL plays has been in the 60s. The Patriots last season once ran 92. That was considered Haley’s comet territory. To run that many plays weekly is impossible and would lead to Kelly’s offense being physically battered. There wouldn’t be enough players to finish a season.

Alright, 80-100 plays might not be doable, but the Eagles ran 70+ plays four times and aside from Vick whose injury history predates even Kelly’s time at Oregon not once did an offensive starter miss a game due to injury.

Position battles

The quarterback spot. That’s the biggest. There are players on the Eagles who believe that Kelly will do everything in his power to name Barkley the starter.

LOLWUT. Your #sources were pulling a fast one on you here, buddy. Barkley took third-team reps just about all minicamp, and you would have known this had you done even a hint of research.

New schemes

For all of its alleged fast pace and openness, Kelly will utilize two (and sometimes three) tight ends to shore up a shaky offensive line. It’s yet another attempt by a team to duplicate the Rob Gronkowski/Aaron Hernandez tight end tandem that was the best in football until injuries and homicide charges destroyed it.

All indications are that the team will switch from a 4-3 to a 3-4. Philadelphia wants to do on defense what the Eagles will try on offense — keep the game up-tempo and the team in attack mode.

All indications = Chip Kelly prefers a 3-4 base defense, and defensive coordinator Billy Davis has ran it throughout his career. Also, two mentions of a shaky offensive line doesn’t make your false claim any more true.

Bubble watch

Tight end Clay Harbor spent time this offseason practicing at outside linebacker. Jason Avant, a wide receiver, practiced several times in the secondary. When the new coach puts a player at a different position, well, that does not bode well for the future of those players.

For the sake of fairness, I’ll acknowledge that neither player is still on the Eagles roster, but Jason Avant played 841 snaps at wide receiver and zero in the secondary during the 2013 season.

Unheard-of-guy to watch

Isaac Sopoaga was a crucial free-agent pickup because he’s a ferocious run stopper.

Isaac Sopoaga was such a ferocious run stopper that he and his 10 total tackles scared the Eagles away. They traded him eight games into the season, inserted rookie Bennie Logan as the starting defensive tackle and watched him record 21 total tackles and two sacks as the defense surrendered 21.4 points per game during a 7-1 stretch compared to 26.4 in the first half.

Biggest concerns

Where to begin? Can Vick stay healthy? Can the offensive line? Can DeSean Jackson?

Most of all, will Kelly’s schemes hold up?

 

No. Yes. Yes. Yes. Let’s move on to the best part now.

Something to prove

This is for certain: Around the league, few coaches think Kelly will succeed. Coaches are a highly cynical bunch. They think the daily rigors of the sport will beat Kelly’s schemes into oblivion and he’ll be chased back to college. It will be up to Kelly to prove them wrong.

So sneaky, Mike. Thought you could slip a cliché ‘this ain’t #college’ reference in at the end hoping no one would see it.

Upon first reading this a year ago, I was left with some questions. Which coaches? If you really did talk to coaches, wouldn’t one have fed you some anonymous quote to use? I didn’t expect to find that out, but curious, I decided to ask Freeman something else.

Freeman 5

He “answered.”

Freeman 6

Well Mike, that really doesn’t tell me anything. I tried again.

Freeman 7

I responded once more.

Freeman 8

Unfortunately, he never got it.

Freeman 9

Likely receiving some way less cordial reactions than the one I thought I provided, he followed up with this:

Freeman 1

Freeman 2

Please tell me which of these categories I fit into, Mike. Do I like the Eagles? Yeah. Was I high on Chip Kelly as a hire? Yeah, but if you come with some loosely sourced claim like that, you better be able to back it up and not act like an arrogant prick, especially when Bill Belichick, the best and one of the most influential NFL coaches of this generation, had picked Kelly’s brain and was on record that he would succeed.

A classic win-win situation for the columnist. If Kelly goes 5-11 last season and his offense averages 17 points a game, Freeman can high-five himself and say ‘I told you so.’ If Kelly succeeds like he did, there’s the ‘I never believed that. One or two coaches just mentioned it to me in passing’ way out.

More troubling, this is a perfect example of the ‘you need me more than I need you’ attitude that plagues part of sports media into falsely thinking readers and commenters aren’t important. He can question all he wants, but don’t you dare try to question him.

People who write about sports make mistakes all the time, myself included. I said Domonic Brown would hit 30 home runs this season. He’s lucky if he reaches 15.

When I covered Penn State football for Onward State, I wrote a piece essentially saying that former defensive coordinator John Butler would be a head coach within five years. While I still wouldn’t be shocked if that happened, he wasn’t as successful as I expected in his first — and only — season running Penn State’s defense. There are a few people who dislike both me and Butler who likely love that I wrote that article and talked him up as much as I did.

It’s one of the beautiful things about sports that despite all of the information and data readily available, we can still get stuff so wrong.

The thing is though, Freeman didn’t simply get predictions wrong. Had he wrote something like ‘Trent Cole will record less than five sacks and struggle transitioning to linebacker in a 3-4 defense after playing defensive end in a 4-3 for eight seasons,’ I could let him off the hook, but these aren’t incorrect prognostications. It’s a bunch of half-assed, uninformed, logical fallacies that could be thrown together in 15 minutes and does nothing to inform readers.

The worst part is should Freeman ever come across this, he’ll treat it as ‘Punk TwentySomething Takes Shot at Established Writer,’ and the exact same type of lazy journalism will be produced again and again.

Deep breath. We’re done, right? Nope. But Drew, that was the end of the article. What else could there possibly be to say here?

I don’t know, maybe that the buffoon DIDN’T MENTION NICK FOLES ONCE?!?!?!

Matt Barkley, a fourth round rookie coming off a separated shoulder taking third-team reps a month earlier in minicamp was referenced twice while Freeman pretended that Foles didn’t exist.

As surprising as Foles’ season was, it didn’t come completely out of nowhere. Foles quarterbacked the team for seven games in 2012, and while he didn’t win many contests, he did throw for six touchdown passes to only five interceptions and completed 60.8 percent of his passes as a rookie.

Perhaps more relevant, Foles and Vick split first-team reps evenly all throughout minicamp. While Vick may have been the perceived favorite, Foles pushed hard enough that Vick requested to no avail that Kelly name a starter going into training camp.

Apparently, Freeman chose to ignore all that. I guess someone eventually clued him in on who Foles was though because we got this hot garbage after Foles tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes against the Raiders.

Go screw, Mike. Go screw, and I’d leave these two clips off your resume.

Freeman Resume

The First Round of the NFL Draft is Tonight, and that Brings Back Memories

Aside from brief infatuations with “American Idol,” “Survivor,” or “The Amazing Race” over a decade ago, reality television has never really been my thing.

Unless that is, you put the NFL Draft under that umbrella. In that case, I enjoy reality TV a whole lot.

It is an argument that can certainly be validated. For a league that branded itself partially on bone-crushing hits and physicality for decades, this event is about as dressed-up and soap opera esque as things get, completely driven by media consumption.

Still, for as much as its haters claim it’s dragged out and overhyped, there’s something uniquely special about a name scribbled on a card possibly determining the direction of a franchise and then hanging on every syllable of for years Paul Tagliabue and now Roger Goodell as the pick is read.

I love the NFL Draft. I’ve loved it since I was a young child. I could ramble about random draft memories all day, but no one cares. Here’s just two quick anecdotes to demonstrate what I’m talking about before I get in to why I am really writing this post.

It was April 29, 2006. This was back in the old-school format of the draft when the first round started at noon on a Saturday and took almost seven hours to complete (I kinda miss that style to be honest). Typically when I was in 9th grade, Saturday afternoons were spent playing wiffle ball, basketball, or capture the flag. We had a group of 10 or so people all pretty close in age who lived only a few minutes apart and would round everyone up and get a game going.

A few of my friends knocked on my door a little before noon on this particular morning, and the conversation went something like this.

“You wanna play something?”

“Can’t today, sorry guys. NFL Draft is on.” 

“Well, when will it be over? Can you play in a couple hours?”

“Nope, sorry. It goes all day.” 

“Wait, why are you wrapped in a blanket when it’s 65 degrees?” 

“Because you rang the bell and answering the door without pants on would have been weird.” 

“Why aren’t you wearing pants?”

“Because I’m gonna spend the next 12 hours in front of the TV watching the draft.” 

“Alright, cya in school on Monday. And you should probably put pants on.” 

“You got it, cya soon.” 

Now, fast forward to 2008. The weekend of the draft also coincided with my junior class trip. I had committed to going on the trip but hadn’t missed watching the draft live in years. This was before smartphones had gone really mainstream, so I set up a system with my friend Tarbell from home. He too loved the draft and said he would text every few picks to keep me updated.

“You ready to go?” I texted him about five minutes before the Dolphins were on the clock with the first pick.

“Been wearing Eagles shit all day and just flew through my neighborhood to get home. Let’s do it.”

Word had spread that I was doing this, and a few different times, kids who I went to school with but hardly ever spoke to asked me about the latest update. An assistant principal even wanted to know a few picks at one point. Later that night, as my friends and I were about to get on a roller coaster in Busch Gardens, the Eagles took DeSean Jackson in the second round. If that’s not some type of metaphor, I’m not sure what is.

I didn’t watch one pick on TV that weekend but still felt as if I was all caught up. Thanks, buddy. This also led to my family switching over to unlimited texting because I came close to exceeding the monthly limit in one day.

I had told myself many years prior that one day I would get to New York and see a draft in person, but that was obviously easier said than done.

It is now April 23, 2011. Another draft is less than a week away, and on a Philadelphia sports blog that regularly read, I stumbled upon a contest to win tickets.

Draft Contest

I submitted the form without thinking much of it and continued on with my weekend. The next part of this story might be about as #college as things get.

It was the final week of classes at Penn State, and I had to deliver a speech in my CAS 100 class that Tuesday morning at 8 a.m. Some people will do everything possible to avoid an 8 a.m. class, but I never minded getting up early too much and figured it’d be good practice for my summer job.

My next class wasn’t until 4 p.m., so typically I would stay up until 3 a.m. or so Monday night, wake up for class, and then I would have a few hours to nap if needed. This was before Onward State happened, and sleep was still an option most of the time.

Not on this Monday night though. On this Monday night, similar to my two other speeches earlier in the semester, it was 10:30 p.m. and I had yet to even really start. Part of it was natural procrastination, but I also enjoyed the adrenaline rush from writing and rehearsing a speech under a tight deadline.

Pulling an all-nighter for an assignment like this wasn’t the best plan, but I had essentially done it two times before and knew I could do it one final time. I wasn’t the best public speaker in the class — far from it — but I knew how to go about it and was pulling off A minuses while some kids were struggling just to stay above the C range.

My professor was a graduate student. She was cool and could relate to the busy lives that a lot of us lived, but she was also pretty demanding. On speech days, presenters were required to wear a suit. If you rolled out of bed and gave your speech in a hoodie and sweatpants, you were getting docked at least a letter grade and maybe more.

After being up all night, I showered, put on my suit, walked to class, and gave my speech. I killed it, but once I sat down, the second wind of energy began to wear off. I was ready to crash.

Back in my room once class ended, I did exactly that. I hung the suit jacket up, tossed the pants somewhere, and collapsed onto my bed with no intentions of waking up for at least four hours.

Two hours into what I hoped would be a prolonged nap, I stirred and decided to check my phone before trying to go back to sleep. There were a few run-of-the-mill text messages but nothing that seemed to warrant an immediate response.

The most recent one was from my friend Kevin who lived about 15 minutes from me back home. He attended a different high school, but we had become good friends in college through some mutual people. His text read:

“HOLY SHIT! YOU WON THE CROSSING BROAD CONTEST!”

That’s cool, I thought to myself while placing the phone down and subsequently my head a few seconds later. Probably won some T-shirt or something, too out of it to realize what he was actually talking about.

I thankfully woke up 20 minutes later and again saw the message. Wait a minute. Contest, I entered a contest the other day. I grabbed my laptop as fast as I could. Sure enough, there it was: 

Draft Winner

An email offering me free VIP NFL Draft tickets had been in my inbox for a few hours already, and I was passed out cold the entire time.

The tickets were mine, and a GMC representative would be waiting outside Radio City Music Hall Thursday night, but if I wasn’t able to attend, I had to let them know so they could offer them to someone else.

I touched base with Crossing Broad editor Kyle Scott, asking if he could give me until 4 p.m. to sort things out. He said that was fine, and now came the hard part of figuring out how to get from State College to New York. My car was four hours away at home, but I knew Kevin had a car and was as obsessed with the draft as me.

“DUDE, YOU GOT A CAR HERE. I HAVE TWO TICKETS. DO YOU WANT TO GO?”

“I HAVE AN [EXPLETIVE] EXAM FRIDAY MORNING AT 8 A.M.”

Dammit. My next plan was to ask my freshman year roommate Alex who I was also going to live with the coming fall. He initially said yes and then backed out a few minutes later after thinking about it more and looking at the rest of his week.

It’s not easy to get people to leave campus towards the end of the semester. Between studying for finals less than a week away and enjoying the last few days in State College, there’s a lot going on. In this instance though, none of that mattered to me. I’d prepare for finals when I was back on Saturday and Sunday. Movin’ On just wasn’t my thing. No disrespect to the people who work hard to make it happen, but I never went to one of them in my four years. (If that makes me a bad Penn Stater, someone let me know)

At that point, I began to worry a little and called my dad, half to tell him that I won the tickets, half to see if maybe he would want to go. My dad wasn’t a huge draft guy though aside from maybe tuning in when the Eagles were on the clock. He used to think I was nuts for watching as long as I did, jokingly calling it the “NFL Geek Show.”

He said that he really wasn’t interested but to call him back if I got real desperate. Before I had my license — and even after — my dad had taken me to so many baseball games. I couldn’t drag him to this if he didn’t want to go.

By that time, I had posted on social media about winning the tickets and received a congratulatory text from Ryan Beckler. Over the next two years, Ryan would become my best friend working together for Onward State, but at that time, we were more acquaintances who occasionally did homework together or texted about sports.

I honestly can’t remember if I called him or responded to the text but either way pretty much conveyed, Do you want to go? i have free tickets but need a way to get there. 

He told me he’d have an answer in half an hour. If he said no, I had no idea what my next move would be. Luckily, I didn’t need one. Ryan was in, and on Thursday around 1 p.m,, we were off.

Details about the ride are hazy for me. All I distinctively recall is rush hour traffic getting the better of us as we got close. Originally hoping to arrive around 5:15 p.m, it was well past 6:30 by the time we found a parking garage. Once we realized we would be way later than anticipated, we got in touch with the GMC person who would be waiting for us outside. Carrying nothing but the printed email saying we had won the tickets, we walked towards the entrance of Radio City Music Hall when a security person stopped us.

“Where you guys supposed to be?” he said. I showed him the email, and just as he glanced over it, some woman appeared and recognized us from the descriptions we previously gave.

“They’re good. They’re with me,” she said, whisking us away into some fancy elevator and handing us our credentials. We got out, walked through some sort of cocktail party, past a room where chefs were laying out food, and bam, there it was. After all that, we made it.

For the Eagles, the draft was a complete dumpster fire. Only Jason Kelce, Alex Henery, Casey Matthews, and Julian Vandervelde remain three years later, and you can make an argument that three of those players shouldn’t be on the current team. It was worse than 2010, which was pretty underwhelming itself, and one of the final nails in the coffin of the Andy Reid regime that ended 20 months later, but for someone who had never been, it was a blast.

What an unforgettable five hours. Upon returning to State College, I wrote about the experience which will be posted below.

I’m not a huge fan of the way I wrote this but other than one or two grammar tweaks, it appears just as it did a few years ago, and the message encouraging people to go to the draft hasn’t changed.

One caveat: Someone should slap me across the face for saying I didn’t like Cam Newton. What an exciting player to watch.

Merry Christmas, Mel Kiper and Todd McShay.

Here’s the post as promised:

Ninety seven dollars, 24 hours, and 10 plates of free food later, I’m back from the first round of the NFL Draft at Radio City Music Hall. I could use this space to give you my amateur analysis of the first 32 picks:

I don’t like Cam Newton.

Patrick Peterson will be a stud.

Christian Ponder was a major reach for the Vikings.

The Lions defensive line is flat out scary with Suh and Nick Fairley.

I wanted Prince Amukamara in midnight green, and the Giants stole him from me.

But I don’t think that’s what anyone really wants to read about, nor is that what last week was really about.

I have loved the NFL Draft since I was old enough to understand football. My first real draft memory is being a wide eyed 8- year old kid sitting in front of the television with my dad watching Eagles fans boo Donovan McNabb. When I was lucky enough to win these tickets through GMC, I knew that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity. Class on Friday? Three finals next week? $4.00 for a gallon of gas? Screw it. Nothing was stopping me from getting to New York City, and that is what I’ll most remember: Being there and seeing fans of 32 NFL teams (I think the Bills still have fans right?) come together.

I’ll remember watching in awe as my friend Ryan Beckler navigated NYC roads the way Roy Halladay goes through an opposing lineup making sure no amount of Lincoln Tunnel traffic or NYC taxi drivers were stopping us from picking up our VIP passes. “I don’t think we’re in State College anymore.”

I’ll remember meeting Von Miller’s father outside and the “Fuck You Maclin’s” I got from Giants fans walking up to the entrance. For the record, I was wearing a DeSean Jackson jersey, but I’ll give Giants fans the benefit of the doubt that they can indeed read, and were simply trying to forget this:

Or this

I’ll also remember the people who I spent the night around — A mix of hard core football fans and high-up GMC corporate people. From the gentleman to my left who knew exactly what teams were thinking and could break down Muhammad Wilkerson’s Temple career better than most Jets fans to the couple to my right who didn’t know the difference between Kevin Kolb and Kentucky prospect Randall Cobb but were two of the friendliest people anyone will ever meet.

In a GMC gift bag, a radio was provided to listen to the ESPN and NFL Network guys, but this was not a night to hear analysis. This was a night to soak everything in.

As any of my friends will tell you, I have a really good memory, so I may remember 10 years from now that the 49ers took Aldon Smith from Missouri with the 7th pick, but I’ll more remember sitting 20 feet away from the ESPN set and getting Jon Gruden to acknowledge us after chanting his name  (Mel wouldn’t budge).

I’ve watched football games at The Vet, The Linc, and Beaver Stadium which are three of the best atmospheres in the country to watch a game (If anyone wants to take me to an Eagles game next year I’m 5-1, and the only loss was the meaningless Week 17 game against the Cowboys last year — Just throwing it out there). I saw Peter Forsberg score his first goal as a Flyer, Allen Iverson win a game against the Wizards on a fast break steal, and several significant Phillies games, but Thursday night will always be one of my favorite memories as a sports fan.

If you’re young enough where you can still drop everything for a day, make sure to attend a draft. Forget the free steak kebabs and rolls.  Just find a way to go. If you’re older, take your kids and let them share the memory with you.

I’m not preaching being financially irresponsible, but this an event all NFL fans should experience even if it puts a slight dent in your wallet.