Malcolm Jenkins went to the Super Bowl in his first NFL season with the Saints. At the time, he assumed reaching and winning the big game would be the norm.
It’s a trap his young Eagles teammates cannot afford to fall into this week. They need to play with urgency every snap, for the contest’s entire 60 minutes, as if it will be their last shot to win a Super Bowl – because, in some cases, it just might may.
“I remember my mentality as a rookie that year was, ‘Oh, this is easy,’” Jenkins said last week. “I thought it would come, and it’s been nine since years since I’ve been back on that stage.”
Jenkins is fortunate. Some players go their entire career without a trip to the Super Bowl. The Eagles’ safety finally made it back, though his journey speaks to the fragility of this moment.
Just don’t expect Jenkins to sit down the 11 rookies and first-year players on the Eagles’ roster and lecture them about the rarity of this opportunity. In fact, their credulity could even work in the team’s favor.
“They tell you everything about it, but it’s nothing like living through it,” Jenkins said of his rookie year. “As much as I can relay stories or talk about messages, they won’t get it until they get there.
“That’s part of the game, but I think it’s a good thing because they don’t even know how big a deal it is. They just focus on playing and competing, which, for some young players, I think it’s going to be good for them.”
The Eagles have an experienced squad with plenty of leaders and even veterans of Super Bowls. Jenkins is one of six members of the team who already have a ring.
As for the rookies and first-year players on the roster, there are six who played significant roles this season – Corey Clement, Mack Hollins, Derek Barnett, Rasul Douglas, Jake Elliott and Rick Lovato. They have no way of knowing or appreciating the full scope of the pressure that will be on come Sunday.
“I don’t think I’ll realize it until next year, or the year when I don’t make the Super Bowl that I’m like, ‘Oh, this isn’t how it’s supposed to work,’” Hollins said.
“My mind right now is this is how it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to go to the Super Bowl every year. I’m lucky and all the rookies are lucky to have this opportunity, so I want to take advantage of it.”
The message from veterans to young players like Hollins has been fairly simple.
“They just said, ‘Play it like it’s any other game,’” said Hollins, who had 16 grabs for 226 yards and a touchdown and contributed on special teams this season.
“Don’t let the excitement and the hype around the game distract you from what you’ve been doing and what we’ve been doing for the last 17 weeks, however long it’s been. Continue to prepare the same, continue to work the same and expect the same results. Don’t change something just because it’s a bigger stage.”
Most rookies stressed the importance of focusing on the task at hand rather than the hoopla around the game. Others, like the kicker, are almost inviting the pressure.
“That’s what I signed up for,” Elliott said. “That’s my job and that’s why I love doing it. You get called in those certain situations where there is a lot of pressure, and that’s kind of where you have to thrive.”
While Jenkins can preach as to how difficult it might be to return to the Super Bowl, Brent Celek is evidence of how momentous it is getting to one. After all, it only took the Eagles’ tight end 11 seasons to get here.
And like Jenkins, and like the team’s rookies, Celek doesn’t sound worried about his young teammates being wide-eyed and awed when they hit the field. They worked hard to reach this point, and probably don’t need any big speeches to prepare them.
“Don’t take it for granted, but I don’t think these guys are,” Celek said. “I think everyone understands it wasn’t easy getting to this point.
“We’re a lot of weeks in. This is the big one. Everyone understands that.”