Remembering when Kobe Bryant taught Super Bowl Eagles the Mamba mentality

Remembering when Kobe Bryant taught Super Bowl Eagles the Mamba mentality

I’ll never forget the looks on the faces of so many Eagles players when I asked them about Kobe Bryant. They lit up. 

Back in December of 2017, about two months before the Eagles won Super Bowl LII, Bryant visited the team on the Friday morning to cap the week they spent in Orange County before facing the Rams. Bryant was an Eagles fan and talked to the championship team before they were champions about his Mamba Mentality. 

I have never seen a group of professional athletes so in awe of someone. 

On Sunday, as we heard about the crushing losses of Bryant, his daughter Gianna and seven others who died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, I remembered that day in the Angels’ locker room. These NFL players are celebrities, they’re normally the biggest of deals; and just about every single one of them was completely in awe of Kobe. I’ll never forget that. 

Here’s my story from Dec. 9, 2017, the morning after Bryant spoke to the entire Eagles team

ANAHEIM, Calif. — Rodney McLeod broke into a huge grin as he passed along the explanation from Kobe Bryant.

Bryant, an Eagles fan who grew up in Lower Merion, Pennsylvania, spoke to the entire Eagles team Friday morning at their hotel in Costa Mesa, California.

How did Kobe explain his "Mamba mentality?" 

"A killer mentality," McLeod said. "He said literally every time he stepped on that court, he wanted to be the best. He wanted to go out there and kill the guy lining up across from them and make him feel like he didn't deserve to be on the court. Like literally, those were his words. 

"He wanted to make them feel like they shouldn't be a basketball player, they should be an accountant. That's what he said. And you see it when you watch him play. When you have that mindset, it's hard to beat a guy like that."

It takes someone truly great to leave a group of 63 professional athletes and their coaches in awe. Bryant is one of them. McLeod also said Michael Jordan, LeBron James and Derek Jeter would make the list. 

McLeod brought in a pen and pad of paper to take notes, but he ended up recording Bryant's talk and Q&A session in his brain. He didn't get an autograph, but he did get a photo with Bryant, which was good enough for him. 

"It's a dream come true, really," McLeod said. "Electric feeling for me. You just feel the energy and his presence as soon as he came in and talked to us." 

In the Eagles' media guide, McLeod lists Bryant as his favorite childhood athlete. Even though McLeod grew up in Maryland, Bryant's play and mentality won him over at a young age. McLeod considers Bryant to be the greatest basketball player of all time. 

A few thousand miles away from McLeod's childhood home, Kenjon Barner and Joe Walker grew up near Los Angeles, where Bryant was one of the best and most famous players in the NBA with the Lakers.

"It was really cool to see him walk in," said Walker, who, like Barner and McLeod, has Bryant listed as his favorite childhood athlete in the Eagles' media guide. "Growing up a little kid in L.A., I mean, he pretty much built this city."

Friday was the first time Walker had ever been around his childhood hero. But it wasn't the first time for Barner, who had actually met Bryant a few times before. 

Because Barner's cousin is former NBA player Andre Miller, he has been around NBA players for a long time. He doesn't really get starstruck, but the first time he met Bryant, it was something special: "It just makes you say, 'damn!'"

Upon overhearing Barner talk about all the times he had met Bryant before, fellow running back Wendell Smallwood gave him some grief in the overflow locker room at Angel Stadium. 

"He's so cool, Kobe isn't cool to him," Smallwood said. 

Barner stepped in. 

"It's still cool, man," he said. "It doesn't change."

Head coach Doug Pederson said there wasn't really an interesting story about how the Eagles got Bryant to their team hotel. The Eagles simply checked in with him to see if he was available. Bryant was, so he showed up. 

Pederson said a lot of Bryant's message was about focusing and paying attention to details.

That was the part of Bryant's talk that really seemed to stand out to Nelson Agholor, who is recognized as one of the hardest-working members on the team. 

"He's also a guy that has that dog in him when it's time to step on somebody's throat, he'll do that," Agholor said. "I think that was something I'll never forget." 

How Andy Reid’s life has changed since winning the Super Bowl

How Andy Reid’s life has changed since winning the Super Bowl

INDIANAPOLIS — If you were expecting Andy Reid to win his first Super Bowl and turn into a different guy, you don’t know Andy Reid.

At the NFL Scouting Combine on Tuesday, Reid spoke to a huge gathering of reporters at the first big NFL event since his Chiefs beat the 49ers in Super Bowl LIV.

And guess what?

Not much has changed for Big Red.

“I stay in the office, so I’m isolated a little bit that way. There’s not much change there. I’m sure the players, if you talk to them, they’re out there and being recognized as world champs. 

I have gotten a couple free meals. That was nice. But I’m not out there that much to where I’m affected by it too much.”

Gotta love when Andy plays the hits.

Reid said he and his staff enjoyed the Super Bowl for a few days. They had a parade and reveled briefly but then it was back to business as usual. The focus then had to immediately switch to free agency and the draft in what was now a suddenly short offseason.

“Maybe someday when we get a little older and we’re out of the game, you can sit back and go, hey, you know what, we did pretty good there,” Reid said. “But right now, it’s buckling down and making sure we take care of business."

During the Chiefs’ run to the Super Bowl, Reid was very aware of the support he was receiving from Philadelphia, where he spent 14 seasons as head coach. Not everyone was rooting for him but it seemed like a large portion of Philadelphians were happy to see Reid hoist the Lombardi Trophy.

On Tuesday, Reid was asked if he’s heard from folks in Philly since winning the big game.

"Yeah, I’ve talked to all those guys. I’ve stayed close to the organization,” Reid said before scanning the crowd in front of him. “Guys like Les (Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Les Bowen) I’ve stayed close with.”

Les gave a wave.

“There are a couple other guys here that are Philadelphia here,” Reid continued. “I spent 14 years there. I appreciated every bit of it. Jeff Lurie, I appreciated him being at the game and supporting me there, too."

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Why the Eagles should consider keeping Alshon Jeffery

Why the Eagles should consider keeping Alshon Jeffery

If Alshon Jeffery is back with the Eagles in 2020 — and that's a big if, salary cap implications notwithstanding — it wouldn't necessarily be the worst thing. 

In fact, hanging on to Jeffery could prove beneficial, however unlikely that sounds.

In a perfect world, the Eagles wouldn't need to think twice about moving on from Jeffery. He's 30, his production has declined, he can't stay healthy, he counts for $15.7 million against the cap this coming season, he doesn't have the greatest chemistry with Carson Wentz on the football field and he's believed to have been critical of the franchise quarterback off of it.

Jeffery would probably be gone already, except his release will cost the Eagles around $26 million in dead money against the cap.

In other words, better prepare yourself for the possibility he's going to be here.

The Eagles do have options, and we'll get into those, but here's a thought: is it really so bad if Jeffery returns?

Less than ideal, sure.

Bad? Maybe not.

At this point, Jeffery's performance isn't even the most divisive issue. The desire to see him go is rooted in large part in the theory he's the anonymous source who bashed Wentz in the media.

Never mind it hasn't exactly been confirmed Jeffery made the comments in the first place. Let's just assume he was the anonymous source. Was what Jeffery said so awful? Was it even untrue?

To paraphrase, the source said the Eagles should simplify the offense, Wentz needed to check down more and Zach Ertz was targeted too much. The point about Ertz aside, these were legitimate gripes back in October, when the Eagles were 3-3 and the likes Mack Hollins and J.J. Arcega-Whiteside were fixtures in the lineup. Heck, some of that could be interpreted as more of a shot at the coaching staff than the quarterback.

Is Wentz taking it personally? When questioned about Jeffery's relationship with his quarterback at the combine on Tuesday, Eagles coach Doug Pederson didn't exactly deny the receiver said those things. Yet, Pederson's answer was almost an admission the offense was a mess at the time.

"I think one of the big things where Carson really took a big step was in that leadership approach the past year," said Pederson. "Getting everybody on the same page and on board.

"It's just unfortunate. We had a lot of high expectations as an offense going into the season. Then when pieces started to drop out, it was just unfortunate that way. But there were no issues between those two."

Pederson isn't going to come right out and reveal a problem between two of his players, so believe what you want. Supposing the relationship between Wentz and Jeffery is frayed though, it doesn't automatically mean there's a distraction.

First of all, Jeffery should be motivated to perform, because even if the Eagles do retain his services, 2020 essentially becomes a contract year. His 43 catches, 490 yards and 11.4 yards per reception last season were his lowest totals since he was a rookie, not to mention the whole media circus.

If Jeffery wants to get paid, he needs to prove he can still play.

Then there's the question of how much Jeffery will even be around the team. He's currently recovering from a Lisfranc injury and may not be ready to go Week 1, meaning he could spend his spring and summer rehabbing before potentially starting the season on the physically unable to perform list.

Not only will Jeffery's presence in the locker room be minimized during that time. If and whenever he is ready to play, he'll be fresh for an Eagles playoff run and have every reason to bring his A game.

Even if he only made one catch even close to impactful as the one he made to help the Eagles beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, it will have been worth it.

For what it's worth, Jeffery's agent also Tweeted his client wants to continue playing for the Eagles.

None of which is to say the Eagles shouldn't explore avenues to get rid of Jeffery.

If the NFL and its players union agree to a new collective bargaining agreement in place before the start of the new league year on March 18, the Eagles will be able to designate Jeffery a post-June 1 cut and spread the cap hit over two years. Don't rule out an inventive trade where a team with ample cap space agrees to eat that guaranteed money in exchange for draft picks, either.

Or, the Eagles can just eat a record $26 million in dead money for 2020.

None of those options is more palatable than simply keeping Jeffery though. The Eagles are paying him one way or another, no matter how the money is shifted or if draft picks are exchanged, so they might as well get something out of him.

Hopefully, Howie Roseman will be the adult in the room here and realize, yes, Jeffery needs to keep his complaints in-house — if it was truly he who went to the media — but overreacting could be more detrimental to the team than moving forward amicably.

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