We were tucked in the bowels of U.S. Bank Stadium late on the night of Super Bowl LII, hidden away from the confetti-littered field in a cement box that became a makeshift interview room. On the other side of the walls, there were crisp, Arctic-like Minnesota-Winter temperatures, but in that tight, cramped room, it was hot, sweaty and the musk of a football game followed the players in.
I watched in amazement as Brent Celek enjoyed a feeling he always wished for and maybe thought would never come.
Aside from the sounds of camera shutters and scurrying reporters shouting questions, it was eerily silent. No one really knew how to act.
Long past his time as a star or even a starter, the Eagles’ longest-tenured player, the guy who embodied everything it meant to wear the jersey, sat down at a podium with an ear-to-ear grin, followed by a look of bewilderment. He was wearing a Super Bowl champions t-shirt over his shoulder pads. The shirt was so fresh, the reflective sticker on his shoulder kept catching the light from cameras and bouncing it across the room.
It was a truly perfect moment.
There will be a lot of things I remember about Celek, but at the top of that list will be the very first thing he said to me after he finally achieved his goal of winning the Super Bowl.
“I’m so excited for my team, this organization, but man, I'm so excited for these fans,” he said. “I can't wait to get back to them and party.”
Celek was on the top of the world but he knew the real party was a thousand miles away, back in the city that took him in and that he made a home. Celek was selfless. Celek was respected. Celek was about one of the toughest SOB’s to ever put on an Eagles uniform. And everyone loved him for all of it.
Celek officially announced his retirement on Friday morning with a heartfelt good-bye (see story). He played 11 seasons in the NFL. He played for one team during those 11 years. And he went out as a Super Bowl champion.
I wrote this later that Super Bowl night, but it best sums up Celek’s relationship with Eagles fans: Celek just gets Philly. And Philly gets Celek.
A few weeks before Celek’s final football game, just before the Eagles’ first playoff tilt against the Falcons, Doug Pederson had a few of his players who had previously won Super Bowls speak to the entire team. That meant guys like Malcolm Jenkins and Chris Maragos and Chris Long — all great speakers — told their stories. But one other guy spoke too and that guy was Celek, who isn’t nearly as eloquent a wordsmith as any of them. But Celek crushed it. It was his speech — about hard work and waiting so long for this chance — that resonated the most with his teammates.
"He's truly the definition of the word 'Eagle,' you know what I mean?” said Tim Jernigan, who understood it during his first season in Philly. “When he got up and spoke, I think it sat well with all of us.”
The Eagles, of course, beat the Falcons and then plowed through the Vikings like a wet paper towel to punch their ticket to Minnesota. That week, Celek was focused on the game, but he soaked in everything. He knew he had some football left in him, but he also knew this might be the last shot.
At the circus of media night, Celek had fun on the surface, answering silly questions from comedian J.B. Smoove, but you could see the tension in his eyes.
"I want to win as bad as you want to win anything," Celek said that night. "I want to win a Super Bowl. It means everything. I know it means everything to the city, it means everything to our team, this organization. We gotta do it.
"Like I've said many times, it's not just about getting here. We've got to win this thing. That's what our goal is: do everything in our power to win this game."
Brent Celek went out a champion. How perfect is that?