Eagles

Carson Wentz has Eagles fever permeating his North Dakota roots

Carson Wentz has Eagles fever permeating his North Dakota roots

FARGO and BISMARCK, N.D. — The Wentz Wagon has made its way across the mighty Mississippi — and it's loaded with No. 11 Eagles jerseys. 

Everyone in Philadelphia wants a piece of Carson Wentz, just one brush with the city's newest celebrity or one high five from No. 11 after a bad day at work. The Eagles’ phenom has excelled beyond all expectations, leading the Birds to a surprising 3-1 record while mashing a slew of rookie passing records in his wake. 

On the other side of the Mississippi, the Wentz Wagon, loaded with No. 11 Eagles jerseys and chugging through the Badlands, has rolled into North Dakota in reverse. 

In Fargo, they can't stock enough Eagles gear. Sam, a junior at North Dakota State University (NDSU) working at a local Scheel's store — a mesmerizing sports emporium near NDSU's main campus — says they are completely sold out of Wentz bobbleheads, 150 gone in under four hours last week. Those No. 11 Eagles jerseys are on the racks, too, and selling fast. 

"We're selling tons, trying to keep up with the demand," Sam says.

That's because everyone in North Dakota is wearing them. Kids, grandparents, bar owners — even former coaches. 

Ron Wingenbach, Wentz's high school coach at Century High in Bismarck, where he has served as head football coach for the past 27 years, has one. He intercepts the question before it's asked. 

"I have one, oh yeah. I didn’t buy it," Wingenbach says. "Carson got it for me. It’s up on the mantle, not touching that one, autographed in a display case."

It’s telling for Wingenbach, a self-admitted lifelong Vikings fan. He is planning to wear it when he visits Philadelphia on Dec. 11 to watch his prized pupil — yes, Wentz was a straight-A student at Century High where Wingenbach taught him pre-calculus — lead the Birds against the Washington Redskins. Century High's head coach will be joined by a group of five to seven of Wentz's former Century High coaches on the trip. 

Look for them at the Linc, singing the Eagles' fight song and yelling E-A-G-L-E-S for the first time. 

"Eagles chant? I can find it online?" Wingenbach says. "OK, that will be neat. That’ll be fun, if we get an opportunity to go down there and see him."

If it happens, since the flight isn't booked yet, it will mark Wingenbach's first visit to Philadelphia — and first time he has seen Wentz since he left for spring OTAs. Other than on TV, where he has been watching Wentz dissect NFL defenses. Even Wentz's biggest supporters didn't see this coming. 

"At the end of his junior year in college, I told my wife that he’s got a shot to play on Sundays," Wingenbach says. "Now, to play on the opening Sunday, I would have never expected that.

"I mean, you just look at the number of reps, from the preseason and collegiate, he just doesn’t have the volume of reps that these other guys have and I thought until he gets at least somewhere close to that, he’s going to be your traditional backup or third string or whatever. But, to come out of the gates like this — oh my gosh, it’s just phenomenal what he’s doing."

Yes, the Bismarck and Fargo areas are showing Eagles games. And cheering for their hometown hero.

"My perspective, here at the school, I’ve had teachers come up to me and tell me, 'Hey, I’m not even a football fan but on Sunday, I’m watching Carson and the Eagles,'" Wingenbach says.

Back in Fargo, at Herd & Horns restaurant, the wagons are circling even harder. Co-owner Brent Tehven is encouraging Eagles fans to hang out and puts the games on in the bar every Sunday, adding a No. 11 cheesesteak special. 

Consider it a North Dakota version of a City Wide. It includes a Philly-style cheesesteak and pint of beer. Sorry, a shot of cheap whiskey costs extra here. 

"It’s $11 for a pint of beer and a cheesesteak,” Tehven explains. “I wish I could get Yuengling!"

Tehven, a former linebacker-defensive end hybrid at NDSU from 2000-2003, has seen a rush of Eagles fans invade his bar to keep tabs on Wentz. He loves it and business is booming. 

And, despite being a Vikings season-ticket holder himself — yes, North Dakota is mostly Skol Country, minus a few Packers and handful of Broncos fans — Tehven has embraced the Eagles in full, even buying a No. 11 jersey for his 6-year-old son, Noah. Tehven will be taking his dad to the Oct. 23 game against Minnesota. He wasn't sure if Noah was ready for the rowdies at the Linc.

“There are a lot of kids walking around with Eagles jerseys. I think the coolest thing, being a parent myself, is having my kid wear a No. 11 Philadelphia Eagles jersey,” Tehven says. "There is one security guard over at the FargoDome that always wears a Bison hat. [For Wentz’s homecoming celebration], he was wearing an Eagles hat."

Herd & Horns showed Wentz's unofficial debut, in that Aug. 11 preseason game in which he busted a rib. GM John Wilson went so far as to call the Eagles' media relations department, just to make sure he would be able to broadcast the game in the restaurant. They told him to stream it live on Apple TV— and Herd & Horns enjoyed one of their busiest nights to date. 

"Fargo is a blue-collar town and North Dakota is a blue-collar state — and Philly is blue collar,” Tehven says. “I think it’s a match made in heaven. I think they see that in Carson."

'Carson being Carson'
The place has become pretty synonymous with Wentz these days. ESPN and NFL Network have both broadcast from there. And Wentz held a private party in their back room last Saturday night, right after watching his alma mater roll to a 31-10 win over Illinois State. The party was a low-key affair, but waiters and bartenders were still swapping stories days later.

"As I was waiting on him, I had to look up. He is so tall,” says Rachel, a junior at NDSU who works as a server at Herd & Horns. "He was very humble, especially as a guest. He didn’t treat anyone like they were below him or anything.”

(In case you're wondering, Wentz picked up the entire tab, $1,000 and left a $500 tip. He was whisked off by his cousin in a 1996 Chevy pickup truck. No frills.)

Down in Bismarck, they are rooting for Wentz, too. At Fireflour, a hip pizza and craft beer joint a few miles away from Century High, Mike and Ben are working a slow Wednesday lunch shift when they begrudgingly confirm that Eagles fandom is on the rise. They have seen tons of No. 11 shirts all over town. Foam fingers, too. They are proud of Wentz and the hype Bismarck is getting — all that, despite being Cowboys fans themselves.  

"Sorry, I got a Dez Bryant jersey. Go Cowboys," says Ben. 

Ben has never met Wentz, but sees his parents sometimes at Evangel church on 14th Street. One of Wentz's former college teammates works at Fireflour. It's a small town, six degrees of separation is the norm.

Still, no one has a negative word to say about Wentz. He's the anti-Odell Beckham, shutting his mouth and crediting teammates after big or improbable wins. Wentz has somehow remained in the news cycle, 24/7, even though his inner circle has been limiting interview requests these days. 

"I think as he finds his way, he’ll open up a little bit more,” Tehven says. “It’s not him being egotistical or anything like that. It’s just Carson being Carson."

Wingenbach can't think of any off-the-wall or funny moments about his former quarterback. He was never a big talker, not a rah-rah guy in the locker room, he just knew how to gut out a win. 

"I always go back to practice," he says. "He just practiced so well and when the quarterback practices well, your team practices well. He seemed to bring that every night to the practice field, and with that, also his leadership and determination."

One funny moment: Wentz was involved in a trick-shot video that went viral on YouTube back in September. The video showed Wentz doing a "Crazy Paper" toss, where he was shooting crumpled-up pieces of paper into trash cans in a variety of ways, including hitting them with a baseball bat. Interesting side note: Wingenbach's son, Kameron, was featured in that video.

Wingenbach recalled: "Kameron came home and told me they had made that film and I was like, 'Oh my goodness.' They are really good friends."

When asked to provide any kind of zany insight into the intensely private Wentz's life, Wingenbach thinks hard. Then, thinks more, fervently trying to recall a moment that might give Philly fans some small nugget to latch onto. Sorry, nothing. 

It's another matter of "Carson being Carson," a common phrase around these parts.  

Wentz's rise to 'role model'
Winning is another common phrase in Fargo, where NDSU is more legendary than Alabama or Notre Dame. Hopefully that winning tradition can rub off on Wentz's new team. He's got an entire state cheering for a championship-starved city 1,600 miles away.

No one expected Wentz's meteoric rise up the NFL stratosphere. No colleges came knocking down his door until the end of his senior season, after Central Michigan reached out. 

Not wanting to lose homegrown talent, North Dakota State rushed in with the full-court press. They flew in from Fargo to visit with Wentz in 2012, leaving right after to play in a playoff game against Missoula. 

The rest is history, one that is being told through the sale of No. 11 Eagles jerseys throughout the Dakota Territory. Those jerseys are shining a bright midnight green spotlight on North Dakota, brighter and noisier than the prairie dogs out on the Great Plains. 

"He's a role model," Tehven says. "It isn’t Johnny Manziel making it rain.”

Is there a better story in the NFL? Probably not. Is there a better story in North Dakota? Not yet. But there might be one coming soon. Century High is in the process of retiring Wentz's high school jersey.

"You know, that was 2010, so we are waiting on a replica," Wingenbach says. "Already six years ago, it was a Russell athletic jersey, so we got a little while."

When that happens, maybe all those new Eagles fans living in North Dakota will make the 70-mile trek south, down the turnpike, to Wingenbach's hometown. 

There, maybe they can get Wentz to pose in front of the welcome sign — appropriately reading: Welcome to Carson, North Dakota. 

Eagles mailbag: Derek Barnett's potential breakout, Carson Wentz's durability and contract concerns

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Eagles mailbag: Derek Barnett's potential breakout, Carson Wentz's durability and contract concerns

Part 1 touched on Sidney Jones, Josh Adams and my pick for Eagles Rookie of the Year.

Part 2 answered questions about Corey Clement, UDFAs and Big V’s future as a guard.

Here’s Part 3:

I guess this answer depends on your definition of “break out year.” Barnett’s 2018 season ended prematurely with a shoulder injury that hampered him before the Eagles shut him down. But early in the year, I thought he was the best defensive end on the team (by that point Michael Bennett hadn’t played well and Brandon Graham was getting over his ankle injury). In six games, Barnett had 2 1/2 sacks. But before the shoulder injury, he had 2 1/2 in four games before he missed Week 5 with the shoulder injury that eventually ended his season. So Barnett was on pace for 10 sacks before the injury. With plenty of opportunity this season, I think Barnett can be a double-digit sack guy. Sure. That’s a good bar to set. Before Fletcher Cox did it in 2018, the last Eagle to top 10 sacks was Connor Barwin in 2014.

One thing is for sure: this is a big year for Barnett. The Eagles traded away Bennett, Chris Long just announced his retirement (see story) and the Eagles passed on taking an edge rusher early in what was supposed to be a historically deep class. Barnett needs to not just be a starter, but be extremely productive in Year 3.

This is an interesting question and there really aren’t many contracts from this offseason that even qualify. So many of these contracts done by Howie Roseman are one-year deals. The long-term ones were: DeSean Jackson, Malik Jackson, Brandon Graham, Isaac Seumalo. Seumalo’s deal is cheap enough that I won’t count him.

If I had to pick the most likely, it would be DeSean Jackson’s deal. He’s 32 and his game is predicated on speed. So even though we haven’t seen it, there’s a chance that speed disappears and the Eagles are left with a speed receiver sans speed. That’s possible. For the record, I’d be willing to take that risk, as the Eagles did, because Jackson’s speed was exactly the element the Eagles needed. I was tempted to say Graham because the Eagles did kind of overpay him, but even if he can’t get after the QB, he can at least stuff the run. If Jackson loses his speed, what good is he?

Yeah, eventually they’ll return as an alternate in my lifetime, which would make me thrilled because I could finally stop reporting on a jersey color. (Just kidding, love you guys.) The hold-up here is that the NFL has this antiquated rule that won’t allow teams to have more than one helmet for each player. It’s an old safety rule. Jeff Lurie says he wants kelly green jerseys, but they don’t want them without matching helmets. Before you bring up the Rams, they use the same helmets with different decals. The Eagles say decals aren’t an option for them. It’s alternate helmets or bust. A couple of years ago, competition committee chairman Rich McKay told me he was optimistic this rule would eventually be changed. For now, we wait.

I’ll say 14 or 15. I really don’t know. I think he’ll be healthy at the start of the season but maybe he gets hurt during the year and misses a game or two. I can’t see the future.

It’s fair to say the Eagles are in win-now mode, but none of their contracts really tie their hands long-term. That’s the interesting thing about what the Eagles have done. They have some real flexibility with their roster. They are clearly playing to win a Super Bowl this year, but they’ll have the ability to keep signing free agents and should have plenty of draft picks coming up. That’s important because they’ll need cheap talent to surround Wentz when he’s making $30+ million per year soon enough.

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Eagles defensive end Chris Long announces retirement

Eagles defensive end Chris Long announces retirement

After a few months of contemplation, Eagles defensive end Chris Long has made his decision.

He’s calling it a career.

The 34-year-old announced his official retirement from the NFL on Saturday night and he did it, of course, on Twitter.

Not long after his official announcement, the Eagles congratulated Long, who became a fan favorite in Philly during the two years he played here.

Back in 2008, Long was the Rams’ No. 2 pick in the draft out of Virginia. He played his first eight years in St. Louis, before winning a Super Bowl in 2016 with the Patriots and then winning again in 2017 with the Eagles. He reached legend status in Philly during that Super Bowl run for helping create the dog mask phenomenon and for then rocking out during the parade down Broad Street.

And it was Long who pressured Case Keenum to throw that pick-6 to Patrick Robinson in the NFC Championship Game. In two seasons in Philly, he had 11 1/2 sacks and forced six fumbles.

In his 11 years in the NFL, Long piled up a clean 70 sacks to go along with 15 forced fumbles.

The Eagles will miss Long on the field and off it. Aside from being a highly productive player in his two seasons with the Eagles, Long was also a very highly respected member of the locker room. He was a favorite among teammates and his sense of humor — he created a Nick Foles shrine last year — was infectious at the NovaCare Complex. (The funniest part of the Foles shrine was watching Long’s mischievous smile as he watched a bunch of reporters gobble it up.)

Long had a long and productive football career, but, really, his legacy will be the work he’s done off it. That work is not finished.

Long was named the 2018 Walter Payton Man of the Year for his charitable efforts through the Chris Long Foundation. He clearly deserved the honor.

He’s given away his salary, raised millions for educational initiatives in cities across the country and, through his Waterboys initiative, has provided access to clean water for communities in East Africa for years.

While his teammates and coaches will be happy for Long, his departure does leave the Eagles a little light at defensive end. To his credit, Long told the Eagles to plan as if he wouldn’t be back. Long wasn’t interested in returning for a reduced role, which the Eagles told him he would have in 2019.

Without Long, the Eagles have Brandon Graham, Derek Barnett, Vinny Curry, Josh Sweat and Shareef Miller, Daeshon Hall and Joe Ostman as their defensive ends. Malik Jackson, signed this offseason, will play on third downs as a defensive tackle, taking stress off the ends, but the Eagles will still miss Long, who had been a third-down specialist during his time with the Eagles.

Last season, the Eagles entered the year with Long and Michael Bennett as their top rotational defensive ends. That was incredible depth they won’t have this season unless they make another move.

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