PHOENIX – Imagine your lifelong dream comes true. Your team reaches its ultimate goal and you get to experience the thrill of Super Bowl week and life atop of the NFL world, but since you’re on the practice squad, you don’t get to play.
Now imagine that happening again five years later.
That’s the reality for Greg Ward, who was a 22-year-old rookie on the Eagles’ practice squad in 2017 and is now a 27-year-old sixth-year veteran back with the Eagles and back on the practice squad and back at a Super Bowl.
“To be honest, I’m completely blessed,” Ward said Monday. “I can’t complain about anything. I’m not worried about whether I’m playing or not right now. I know God has a plan for me, and I know what’s going to happen for me in the future.
“The way I work won’t change, the way I prepare won’t change, the way I keep getting better won’t change, and I just have to stay focused on that.”
Ward might not be on the active roster, but he’s a true Eagle and his journey truly represents what this franchise is all about, what this team is all about.
He converted from college quarterback to receiver. He was released eight times. He played for a couple months in the now-defunct AAF. He was the Eagles’ leading receiver during the 2019 late-season playoff run, and then in 2020 he led the team with 53 receptions, 3rd-most in franchise history by an undrafted player.
He’s a sure-handed slot receiver, a willing blocker, a natural leader. You might think he feels unlucky to be on the practice squad for two Super Bowl runs.
He actually feels the opposite.
“When you go the first time, it’s a feeling that you want to keep happening over and over and over again and then five years later you get to another one? I just feel so fortunate,” he said. “I’m just going to be in the moment, enjoy today, and then I’m going to enjoy tomorrow. I’m going to enjoy it all.
“There’s not many people that ever go to one Super Bowl in their whole career so to go to two? I can’t complain at all.”
Ward is one of only nine players left in the organization from the Eagles’ win over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII after the 2017 season. The others are either linemen – Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Isaac Seumalo – or specialists – Jake Elliott and Rick Lovato.
He’s the only Eagle ever who’s had separate practice squad stints five years apart and presumably the only player in history who’s been on two Super Bowl practice squads five years apart.
Incredibly, he’s the first Eagles receiver to spend six consecutive years on the roster since Riley Cooper from 2010 through 2015.
But the reality is that with A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins and Zach Pascal, there just isn’t room on the 53-man roster for Ward.
The flip side of that reality is that Ward brings tremendous value to the organization, and there’s definitely a reason he’s still here.
“There’s something about me they like I guess, I don’t know,” he said with a chuckle. “I show up, I do my job, I do it to my best ability. I love being around the team, I love the organization, I love my teammates, I love how we grind, this is a great organization, and I’m lucky to be here.”
And the Eagles are lucky to have him.
Doug Pederson hired Aaron Moorehead as Eagles receivers coach in February of 2020, and it didn’t take him long to realize how special Ward is.
“I walked into a very unique situation here in 2020,” Moorehead said Monday. “I was in my office for a few weeks, we went to the Combine, I came back, and we got sent home for months because of COVID.
“So I was trying to learn the offense through Zoom, which was tough, and now I’m trying to teach the receivers the offense through Zoom, and we had three rookies that year, a couple free agent guys, and then some veterans with Alshon and DeSean.
“But when we were in receiver meetings and I misspoke or if something happened that I needed to clarify, Greg was the one who helped me through that.”
It was Ward who caught Jalen Hurts’ first career touchdown pass – a 32-yarder in the final minutes of the loss to the Packers at Lambeau after Hurts replaced Carson Wentz.
His career numbers may be modest – 88 catches, 768 yards, 10 touchdowns – but his impact on the people around him sure isn’t.
“I have a great appreciation for what he is and how he goes about his business on a daily basis,” Moorehead said. “One of the first guys in the building in the morning, in the weight room, taking care of the young guys, making sure they see the work ethic.
“He’s a guy who puts himself before the team, and he’s one of the leaders of the receivers room, even though he’s not playing.”
Ward hasn’t played this year and only caught seven passes last year. He knows a lot of Eagles fans don’t even realize he’s still on the team.
But whether he’s starting, like he did late in 2019 and in 2020, or on the practice squad, like 2017 and 2022, nothing really changes.
He works as hard as he can, he mentors the young receivers, he practices as if he’s going to be playing and he’s ready to play when he gets the call.
He’s as much an Eagle as anybody. He just won’t be on the field Sunday.
“Of course I want to be out there,” he said. “As a competitor, as someone who works extremely hard, you always want to be out there playing. But I know God has a plan for me and I’m just going to continue to work, and I know my opportunity will come.”