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. 

Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

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Eagle Eye: Eagles facing a unique situation with Darren Sproles

In the latest edition of Eagle Eye, Derrick Gunn and Barrett Brooks discuss Darren Sproles' upcoming retirement. Does it put the Eagles in an awkward position on game days? Why do players care so much about their ratings in Madden? Also, Barrett shares how he decided on his jersey numbers throughout his football career?

1:00 - Derrick is back! What did he do with his time off?
5:30 - Barrett spent time with his grandson ... who ate pancakes with ketchup.
10:00 - Darren Sproles says 2018 will be his final year.
15:00 - Why do players care so much about their Madden ratings?
19:30 - If you can script your career, how would you want to retire?
22:30 - How did Barrett decide on his jersey numbers?

Subscribe and rate Eagle Eye: Apple Podcasts / Google Play / Stitcher / Spotify / Art19

Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

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Howie Roseman using what he learned from Andy Reid

One thing Andy Reid was spot on about during his long tenure with the Eagles was the importance of building around both lines. 

Big Red always made the offensive and defensive lines a priority, and during the Eagles’ stretch of deep playoff runs — from 2000 through 2009 — the O-line was anchored by guys like Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Jermane Mayberry and Todd Herremans and the D-line by Corey Simon, Trent Cole, Mike Patterson and Hugh Douglas.

During that 10-year stretch, the Eagles had the most wins in the NFC and the third-most wins in the NFL, and the one constant during that stretch was solid line play. 

Donovan McNabb was very good when healthy most of those seasons, and the Eagles always had good running backs and corners, but the heart of those teams was up front.

Just look at how Big Red drafted. Eight of his 11 first-round picks were linemen. After taking McNabb in 1999, all six of Reid's picks in the first half of the first round were linemen.

They obviously didn’t all work out, but Reid was committed to both lines, and Howie Roseman, then a young, rising personnel executive, was paying attention.

The Eagles have done a lot of things differently in the five years since Reid's final season here, but one thing Doug Pederson and Roseman believe in is building around the lines, and it sure paid off last year.

According to figures on salary cap website Spotrac, the Eagles in 2017 were the only team ranked among the top five in the NFL in both offensive line and defensive line spending.

And the only team that had a parade in February.

And they’re only going to spend more this year.

The Eagles will spend 22.36 percent of their 2018 cap money on the offensive line, fourth most in the league, and 28.84 percent to the defensive line, fifth most.

That’s more than half their 2018 payroll on the big guys up front.

The Jets — sixth in O-line spending, 10th in D-line — are the only other team in the top 10 in both.

Seven of the Eagles’ 10 highest-paid players last year were linemen, as are eight of their 13 projected highest-paid players in 2018.

And five of those guys — Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, Jason Kelce, Vinny Curry and Jason Peters — are actually holdovers from the Reid era.

Think of them as Reid’s parting gifts to the 2017 championship team.

Creating a Super Bowl roster was a complicated process for Roseman, and to be able to make this sort of financial commitment to the two lines means you just don’t have much money left for everything else. 

The only way to make that work is to build with cheap labor elsewhere. 

And that means younger players on bargain-basement rookie contracts, cheap but productive quarterbacks and low-round picks and undrafted players with cheapo contracts excelling.

It means drafting well and making exceptional free-agent decisions without overspending.

It’s a crazy juggling act, and Roseman juggled all those things magnificentely last year.

In fact, according to Spotrac’s data, the two lines are the Eagles' only positional groups ranked even among the top 15 in the NFL.

The secondary and QB positions rank 16th in cap allocations, tight end 18th, running back 21st, wide receiver 27th, linebacker 31st and special teams 32nd.

These numbers are all based on the 53 highest-paid players currently under contract, so they will change slightly once the final roster is set, but they won’t change much.

The Eagles were very good in a lot of areas last year — really, in every area — but their offensive line was the best in football and the best in Eagles history, and the defensive line was easily one of the two- or three-best in football.

Everything the Eagles did, everything they accomplished, started up front.

Put Peters back on the O-line and add Haloti Ngata and Michael Bennett to the D-line with an increased role for Derek Barnett, and both lines could conceivably be even better this year.

It’s going to get harder for Roseman to keep paying the Eagles’ linemen the way he has. Once Carson Wentz signs his next contract, the Eagles’ entire salary cap balance will change. 

Those $25 million annual cap hits for one guy have a tendency to make roster decisions way more challenging.

So it will be tricky for the Eagles to re-sign Graham. He wants a fortune, and he deserves a fortune. 

But even if Roseman can’t get that done, Barnett has three more years on his rookie deal, and that’s the key to making this whole thing work. 

You can’t re-sign everybody, so if you want to remain elite, you have to draft well so you can replace the people you invariably lose.

You lose Patrick Robinson, you have Sidney Jones waiting. You lose LeGarrette Blount, there’s Corey Clement ready to go. You lose Mychal Kendricks, you hope a Nate Gerry can contribute. Trey Burton leaves, and Dallas Goedert is cheaper and better.

You get what you pay for. And the Eagles right now are paying for the best in the business.

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