In a business where nobody stays anywhere for 11 years, Brent Celek was an Eagle for 11 years.
Think about the landscape of the Philadelphia Eagles when he arrived for his first rookie minicamp.
Jim Johnson was the defensive coordinator. John Harbaugh was the secondary coach. Brian Dawkins was still here. Donovan McNabb was the quarterback and Kevin Kolb was his backup. The Eagles had just acquired Montae Reagor, Takeo Spikes and Kevin Curtis.
It’s like reading an Eagles ancient history book.
For 11 years, for 184 games, Celek wore an Eagles uniform, and for 11 years, for 184 games, nobody wore it with more class and more pride.
Celek loved being an Eagle, and we loved him because he played the game exactly how we want our athletes to play. How we demand they play. With reckless abandon, with no regard for personal achievements, with an eye only on team success.
What impressed me the most about Celek is how he transformed himself over the years from one of the NFL’s top receiving tight ends to one of the league’s best blocking tight ends.
From 2009 through 2013, Celek averaged 54 catches, 696 yards and five touchdowns per season, and only five NFL tight ends had better numbers during that stretch — Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, Antonio Gates, Vernon Davis and Jimmy Graham. Some all-time guys right there.
Then Zach Ertz blossomed in 2014, and Celek all of a sudden was asked to stop catching passes and start focusing on blocking, and it never mattered to him because all he wanted to do was help the team win football games. Whatever it took.
That fierce team-first mentality carried over into the locker room and helped make Celek a natural leader and fan favorite. And that unselfish spirit really drove the 2017 Eagles, so although his stats may not have looked like much this past season — career lows of 13 catches and 130 yards — Celek was a huge part of what this team accomplished.
And it’s fitting that the 184th and final game he played as an Eagle was the franchise’s greatest triumph in the last 50 years.
Nobody was happier in the locker room at U.S. Bank Stadium on Feb. 4 after Super Bowl LII than Celek, who has spent a third of his life working for one, single goal and got to experience it being achieved.
And his teammates kept talking about how happy they were for Celek.
This is a franchise that has been around for 85 years, and only David Akers, Dawkins and Harold Carmichael have played more games than Celek.
Of the 17 players in Eagles history who have spent 11 or more years here, only eight played their entire career here.
Chuck Bednarik, Bucko Kilroy, Vic Sears, Jerry Sisemore, Bobby Walston, Randy Logan and Pete Retzlaff.
And — as of now — Celek.
That’s the company he’s in.
Celek still wants to play, and if there’s a team out there that needs a smart, tough, savvy backup tight end, I can’t think of a better candidate.
But like Dawkins or Reggie White or Carmichael, he’s one of those guys that would be really tough to see in another uniform.
It’s funny. In 2009, when Celek finished 29 yards shy of 1,000 for the season, I was really upset. I wanted him to get that 1,000 yards. Which he never did get. And when he finished this past season with 4,998 career yards, I was gutted. I couldn’t imagine him leaving Philly two yards short of 5,000.
But when I think about it now, Celek probably doesn’t even care about that stuff. He would just shrug and shake his head and say numbers don’t matter.
What does matter?
He’s a winner. He’s a champion. He’s an Eagle. And he always will be.