Eagles

Carson Wentz has Eagles fever permeating his North Dakota roots

Carson Wentz has Eagles fever permeating his North Dakota roots

FARGO and BISMARCK, N.D. — The Wentz Wagon has made its way across the mighty Mississippi — and it's loaded with No. 11 Eagles jerseys. 

Everyone in Philadelphia wants a piece of Carson Wentz, just one brush with the city's newest celebrity or one high five from No. 11 after a bad day at work. The Eagles’ phenom has excelled beyond all expectations, leading the Birds to a surprising 3-1 record while mashing a slew of rookie passing records in his wake. 

On the other side of the Mississippi, the Wentz Wagon, loaded with No. 11 Eagles jerseys and chugging through the Badlands, has rolled into North Dakota in reverse. 

In Fargo, they can't stock enough Eagles gear. Sam, a junior at North Dakota State University (NDSU) working at a local Scheel's store — a mesmerizing sports emporium near NDSU's main campus — says they are completely sold out of Wentz bobbleheads, 150 gone in under four hours last week. Those No. 11 Eagles jerseys are on the racks, too, and selling fast. 

"We're selling tons, trying to keep up with the demand," Sam says.

That's because everyone in North Dakota is wearing them. Kids, grandparents, bar owners — even former coaches. 

Ron Wingenbach, Wentz's high school coach at Century High in Bismarck, where he has served as head football coach for the past 27 years, has one. He intercepts the question before it's asked. 

"I have one, oh yeah. I didn’t buy it," Wingenbach says. "Carson got it for me. It’s up on the mantle, not touching that one, autographed in a display case."

It’s telling for Wingenbach, a self-admitted lifelong Vikings fan. He is planning to wear it when he visits Philadelphia on Dec. 11 to watch his prized pupil — yes, Wentz was a straight-A student at Century High where Wingenbach taught him pre-calculus — lead the Birds against the Washington Redskins. Century High's head coach will be joined by a group of five to seven of Wentz's former Century High coaches on the trip. 

Look for them at the Linc, singing the Eagles' fight song and yelling E-A-G-L-E-S for the first time. 

"Eagles chant? I can find it online?" Wingenbach says. "OK, that will be neat. That’ll be fun, if we get an opportunity to go down there and see him."

If it happens, since the flight isn't booked yet, it will mark Wingenbach's first visit to Philadelphia — and first time he has seen Wentz since he left for spring OTAs. Other than on TV, where he has been watching Wentz dissect NFL defenses. Even Wentz's biggest supporters didn't see this coming. 

"At the end of his junior year in college, I told my wife that he’s got a shot to play on Sundays," Wingenbach says. "Now, to play on the opening Sunday, I would have never expected that.

"I mean, you just look at the number of reps, from the preseason and collegiate, he just doesn’t have the volume of reps that these other guys have and I thought until he gets at least somewhere close to that, he’s going to be your traditional backup or third string or whatever. But, to come out of the gates like this — oh my gosh, it’s just phenomenal what he’s doing."

Yes, the Bismarck and Fargo areas are showing Eagles games. And cheering for their hometown hero.

"My perspective, here at the school, I’ve had teachers come up to me and tell me, 'Hey, I’m not even a football fan but on Sunday, I’m watching Carson and the Eagles,'" Wingenbach says.

Back in Fargo, at Herd & Horns restaurant, the wagons are circling even harder. Co-owner Brent Tehven is encouraging Eagles fans to hang out and puts the games on in the bar every Sunday, adding a No. 11 cheesesteak special. 

Consider it a North Dakota version of a City Wide. It includes a Philly-style cheesesteak and pint of beer. Sorry, a shot of cheap whiskey costs extra here. 

"It’s $11 for a pint of beer and a cheesesteak,” Tehven explains. “I wish I could get Yuengling!"

Tehven, a former linebacker-defensive end hybrid at NDSU from 2000-2003, has seen a rush of Eagles fans invade his bar to keep tabs on Wentz. He loves it and business is booming. 

And, despite being a Vikings season-ticket holder himself — yes, North Dakota is mostly Skol Country, minus a few Packers and handful of Broncos fans — Tehven has embraced the Eagles in full, even buying a No. 11 jersey for his 6-year-old son, Noah. Tehven will be taking his dad to the Oct. 23 game against Minnesota. He wasn't sure if Noah was ready for the rowdies at the Linc.

“There are a lot of kids walking around with Eagles jerseys. I think the coolest thing, being a parent myself, is having my kid wear a No. 11 Philadelphia Eagles jersey,” Tehven says. "There is one security guard over at the FargoDome that always wears a Bison hat. [For Wentz’s homecoming celebration], he was wearing an Eagles hat."

Herd & Horns showed Wentz's unofficial debut, in that Aug. 11 preseason game in which he busted a rib. GM John Wilson went so far as to call the Eagles' media relations department, just to make sure he would be able to broadcast the game in the restaurant. They told him to stream it live on Apple TV— and Herd & Horns enjoyed one of their busiest nights to date. 

"Fargo is a blue-collar town and North Dakota is a blue-collar state — and Philly is blue collar,” Tehven says. “I think it’s a match made in heaven. I think they see that in Carson."

'Carson being Carson'
The place has become pretty synonymous with Wentz these days. ESPN and NFL Network have both broadcast from there. And Wentz held a private party in their back room last Saturday night, right after watching his alma mater roll to a 31-10 win over Illinois State. The party was a low-key affair, but waiters and bartenders were still swapping stories days later.

"As I was waiting on him, I had to look up. He is so tall,” says Rachel, a junior at NDSU who works as a server at Herd & Horns. "He was very humble, especially as a guest. He didn’t treat anyone like they were below him or anything.”

(In case you're wondering, Wentz picked up the entire tab, $1,000 and left a $500 tip. He was whisked off by his cousin in a 1996 Chevy pickup truck. No frills.)

Down in Bismarck, they are rooting for Wentz, too. At Fireflour, a hip pizza and craft beer joint a few miles away from Century High, Mike and Ben are working a slow Wednesday lunch shift when they begrudgingly confirm that Eagles fandom is on the rise. They have seen tons of No. 11 shirts all over town. Foam fingers, too. They are proud of Wentz and the hype Bismarck is getting — all that, despite being Cowboys fans themselves.  

"Sorry, I got a Dez Bryant jersey. Go Cowboys," says Ben. 

Ben has never met Wentz, but sees his parents sometimes at Evangel church on 14th Street. One of Wentz's former college teammates works at Fireflour. It's a small town, six degrees of separation is the norm.

Still, no one has a negative word to say about Wentz. He's the anti-Odell Beckham, shutting his mouth and crediting teammates after big or improbable wins. Wentz has somehow remained in the news cycle, 24/7, even though his inner circle has been limiting interview requests these days. 

"I think as he finds his way, he’ll open up a little bit more,” Tehven says. “It’s not him being egotistical or anything like that. It’s just Carson being Carson."

Wingenbach can't think of any off-the-wall or funny moments about his former quarterback. He was never a big talker, not a rah-rah guy in the locker room, he just knew how to gut out a win. 

"I always go back to practice," he says. "He just practiced so well and when the quarterback practices well, your team practices well. He seemed to bring that every night to the practice field, and with that, also his leadership and determination."

One funny moment: Wentz was involved in a trick-shot video that went viral on YouTube back in September. The video showed Wentz doing a "Crazy Paper" toss, where he was shooting crumpled-up pieces of paper into trash cans in a variety of ways, including hitting them with a baseball bat. Interesting side note: Wingenbach's son, Kameron, was featured in that video.

Wingenbach recalled: "Kameron came home and told me they had made that film and I was like, 'Oh my goodness.' They are really good friends."

When asked to provide any kind of zany insight into the intensely private Wentz's life, Wingenbach thinks hard. Then, thinks more, fervently trying to recall a moment that might give Philly fans some small nugget to latch onto. Sorry, nothing. 

It's another matter of "Carson being Carson," a common phrase around these parts.  

Wentz's rise to 'role model'
Winning is another common phrase in Fargo, where NDSU is more legendary than Alabama or Notre Dame. Hopefully that winning tradition can rub off on Wentz's new team. He's got an entire state cheering for a championship-starved city 1,600 miles away.

No one expected Wentz's meteoric rise up the NFL stratosphere. No colleges came knocking down his door until the end of his senior season, after Central Michigan reached out. 

Not wanting to lose homegrown talent, North Dakota State rushed in with the full-court press. They flew in from Fargo to visit with Wentz in 2012, leaving right after to play in a playoff game against Missoula. 

The rest is history, one that is being told through the sale of No. 11 Eagles jerseys throughout the Dakota Territory. Those jerseys are shining a bright midnight green spotlight on North Dakota, brighter and noisier than the prairie dogs out on the Great Plains. 

"He's a role model," Tehven says. "It isn’t Johnny Manziel making it rain.”

Is there a better story in the NFL? Probably not. Is there a better story in North Dakota? Not yet. But there might be one coming soon. Century High is in the process of retiring Wentz's high school jersey.

"You know, that was 2010, so we are waiting on a replica," Wingenbach says. "Already six years ago, it was a Russell athletic jersey, so we got a little while."

When that happens, maybe all those new Eagles fans living in North Dakota will make the 70-mile trek south, down the turnpike, to Wingenbach's hometown. 

There, maybe they can get Wentz to pose in front of the welcome sign — appropriately reading: Welcome to Carson, North Dakota. 

NFL Notes: Ezekiel Elliott reportedly getting an emergency hearing

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NFL Notes: Ezekiel Elliott reportedly getting an emergency hearing

A person with direct knowledge of the situation says attorneys for Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott are set for an emergency hearing in federal court in New York as they try again to stop the running back's six-game suspension over domestic violence allegations.

Elliott's legal team filed a request for a temporary restraining order Monday and will get a hearing Tuesday in the Southern District of New York, the person told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the filing hadn't been made public.

Last year's NFL rushing leader is suspended for Sunday's game at San Francisco after a federal appeals court overturned an injunction that had allowed him to play this season.

The case is shifting to New York because the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ordered the dismissal of Elliott's lawsuit in Texas. Elliott's attorneys have indicated they are still pursuing the case with the New Orleans court.

The person told the AP that U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty would hear arguments Tuesday in New York because the presiding judge, Katherine Polk Fialla, is out of town (see full story).

Packers: Rodgers to have surgery on collarbone
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy says quarterback Aaron Rodgers will have surgery on his broken right collarbone, and that his season could be over.

McCarthy said Monday that the two-time NFL MVP would have surgery in the near future. He says that there is no timeline for his potential return.

"The key is to get Aaron healthy, it's not to develop a timeline," McCarthy said.

Rodgers got hurt in the first quarter of the 23-10 loss on Sunday at Minnesota.

Brett Hundley is now the starting quarterback. The Packers also promoted third-stringer Joe Callahan from the practice squad to become the backup quarterback.

Cornerback Quinten Rollins was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury to make room for Callahan (see full story).

Steelers: Bryant downplays reported trade demand
PITTSBURGH -- Yes, Martavis Bryant wants a trade.

To the Golden State Warriors.

Otherwise, the Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver insists he's just fine even after multiple reports that he asked the team to ship him elsewhere.

Asked Monday if he'd like a change of scenery, Bryant reiterated he's happy in Pittsburgh.

"I'm doing fine, everything is good," he said.

Even if -- at least statistically -- in his return from a year-plus suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy has been underwhelming.

Bryant caught two passes for 27 yards in Sunday's 19-13 victory over Kansas City and has just 17 receptions and one touchdown through six games for the first-place Steelers (4-2). His 13.6 yards per catch is more than 4 yards below his career average while splitting playing time with rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster (see full story).

Raiders: Linebacker Bowman signs 1-year deal
ALAMEDA, Calif. -- NaVorro Bowman will make a short move following his release last week from the San Francisco 49ers, signing a $3 million, one-year contract with the Oakland Raiders on Monday.

"It's a refresher for me," Bowman said after taking part in a walkthrough with his new team. "It's a new picture, new scenery. The guys are a special group of guys. You can just see the talent they have on the offensive side of the ball. I'm excited to go out there and play for an offense that is eager to score points. I look forward to it."

Bowman visited the Raiders on Monday and then signed the deal shortly after that, cancelling a planned visit to the Dallas Cowboys. He went right into meetings with the assistant coaches and could be ready to play when the Raiders (2-4) host the first-place Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.

Bowman said he will do extra work this week to learn the defense and said he plans to play this week if he's prepared enough. The Raiders will be happy to get him on the field to add some experience to a young group of inside linebackers (see full story).

Redskins dealing with numerous injuries heading into Week 7 vs. Eagles

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Redskins dealing with numerous injuries heading into Week 7 vs. Eagles

ASHBURN, Va. — Quinton Dunbar takes pride in the way Washington Redskins defensive backs coach Torrian Gray makes every member of the secondary prepare as though he's starting.

"When you get in, you are expected to play like a starter," Dunbar said.

That approach has come in handy this season. Already 2015 All-Pro Josh Norman, fellow cornerback Bashaud Breeland and safety Stefan McClure have gone down with injuries, and second-year safety Su'a Cravens left the team to contemplate retirement.

It's possible Breeland, who sprained his left knee Sunday against San Francisco, and Norman, who has been out with a broken rib, play Monday night.

If they can't go, Washington will lean heavily on Dunbar, Kendall Fuller and rookies Montae Nicholson, Fabian Moreau and Joshua Holsey against quarterback Carson Wentz and the NFC East-leading Eagles.

"It'll be a great challenge because he's playing extremely well," Gruden said.

"Our guys will have to step up. That's just the way it is. There's a lot of teams around the National Football League this time of year that are dealing with key injuries at certain positions and we just had a couple of them at the corner spot. Fabian, Dunbar, they'll have to step up and play well (along with) Holsey, Fuller."

Breeland began the 49ers game as the top cornerback with Norman out and took a block at the knee from offensive lineman Joe Staley. Gruden said Breeland escaped serious MCL damage and is a quick healer, so he could be ready to face the 5-1 Eagles.

Norman will ramp up his running and exercise this week, and Gruden said "there's a chance" he plays Monday.

The news isn't so good for rookie defensive lineman Jonathan Allen, who could miss three weeks or more with a Lisfranc sprain in his left foot, and kicker Dustin Hopkins, whose right hip rotator muscle strain will force the Redskins to work out free agent kickers this week.

Even with all the injuries in the secondary, Washington hasn't yet had to look for external help because it has four 2016 or 2017 draft picks on the roster and able to take on extended roles.

"We are as strong as our weakest link and we always talk about not having the drop-offs," said Fuller, a 2016 third-round pick. "Anybody who is in there, we trust to make plays."

The Redskins have had no choice but to trust their young players, including Dunbar, a 25-year-old converted receiver. Injuries to D.J. Swearinger and Nicholson on Sunday almost forced Fuller to move from cornerback to safety where he saw no snaps at practice, and Moreau had to take over on the outside when Breeland was hurt in the second half.

Moreau, a third-round pick who missed the start of training camp with a torn pectoral muscle, said players follow Swearinger's lead to be ready for any situation.

"We got dogs," Moreau said. "We all trust each other. We all feed off of him, and we know that."

Of all the young defensive backs, no one has made a bigger leap than Dunbar, who was a receiver at Florida. Gruden joked that Dunbar isn't "really smart enough to know the magnitude of the situation he's in" and just goes out and plays.

Dunbar said after what he went through growing up that football's a pleasure for him and he doesn't blink. But he has made incredible strides since shifting to cornerback.

"Mentally I'm a thousand times better," Dunbar said. "I always had the physical attributes, man. It was more mental for me -- just breaking down the offenses, learning what's coming and stuff like that."

That'll come in handy against Wentz as the 3-2 Redskins try to close the gap and keep this a competitive division race.

From the coverage to the pass rush, Washington's defense must be better against Wentz than it was in a 30-17 loss in Week 1.

"We've got to figure out a way to contain Wentz," Gruden said. "He killed us with the off-schedule plays, and he's been doing that consistently throughout the year. That's why they're 5-1. It's a big game for us. We know that."