“Nobody respected us as a defense. Gimme some respect right now...I’ll tell you what. I wanted to set a tone. We wanted to set a tone as a D. It’s not just me, it’s dem Defense, it’s my line, it’s Burgess, it’s Kearse, it’s all them Boys, Trott. We came and we brought it every doggone play.”
Those are the words of Mr. Brian Patrick Dawkins just moments after the last Philadelphia Eagles home NFC Championship Game. For those who are too young to remember, or perhaps have forgotten due to fits of hysteria because Andy Reid didn’t know how to run a two-minute drill a couple weeks later, the Eagles and their fans spent the week leading up to that game listening to a lot of national media telling us just how great some fella named Mike Vick was.
The commonly-held belief was that Vick and the Atlanta offense was going to come into The Linc and run circles around an Iggles defense that, many had forgotten, had been Super Bowl quality the entire 2004 season.
And here we are, nearly a decade and a half later, and history appears ready to repeat itself.
Sure, the characters have changed, but the theme remains the same; this Eagles defense, which has been number one against the run all season long, which is allowing just 13 PPG at home this year, and which just held the reigning MVP Matt Ryan and football’s best wide receiver Julio Jones to a paltry 10 points (all of which were aided by turnovers on the offensive side, mind you).... That defense is being told they are the underdogs (again), that their season will end on Sunday, and that they have not done enough to earn the respect of the national media.
And hey, this didn’t just start this week. Go back to Los Angeles on December 10th, when Wentz went down. All of a sudden, the Eagles were guaranteed to be a one-and-done come the postseason, even as the D clearly lifted the Birds to victory that Sunday against the ‘high-flying’ Rams offense. Sure, the assumption that the Iggles were done had more to do with Nick Foles than anything else, but it also tied back to the reality that as a whole, nobody outside of Philly saw this defense as Super Bowl quality.
Ask Brian Dawkins how he felt when Terrell Owens went down in 2004 and people started counting the Birds for dead.
But hey, for this defense, disrespect comes with the territory. This is a D built with rejects, cast-offs, and the underappreciated. They are led by a defensive coordinator, Jim Schwartz, who has been told by both the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills that he wasn’t good enough to work for them. Not exactly the most prestigious of franchises to be fired from, like being told you weren’t good enough of an actor to be on “Jersey Shore.”
Then there’s Malcolm Jenkins, Rodney McLeod, Ronald Darby, Tim Jernigan, and Nigel Bradham: all guys spurned by the teams that drafted them, yet all starting and contributing in a major fashion to the success of the best defense in the NFL.
There’s Jalen Mills, the 7th-round pick most people wanted to drive to the airport last season, who inserted himself into Philadelphia Eagles lore by knocking Julio Jones to the ground last Saturday.
There’s Mychal Kendricks, who has spent so much time on the trading block, he’d be better off buying, and who’s snap counts have been less consistent than the President’s twitter feed.
There’s Vinny Curry, who had to fight for playing time for the team he grew up rooting for.
There’s Beau Allen, another 7th-round pick who has already had a tenure longer than Bennie Logan, a guy at the same position drafted four-rounds earlier.
There’s Dannell Ellerbe, an undrafted linebacker turned Super Bowl champion who was out of the league just a few weeks ago, now starting in the middle for the NFC East Champs.
There’s Patrick Robinson; a former first-round bust who the Eagles nearly cut in training camp, and yet reinvented himself as one of the top slot corners in the league and has led this D in interceptions.
There’s Chris Long, the dog-mask-wearer himself, a former second-overall pick who had to be picked off the NFL free agency scrap heap this summer, showing he can still produce at age 32.
Even arguably their best player, Fletcher Cox, had to watch as a nose tackle was valued, and drafted, right before him back in 2012.
And I write ‘arguably’ next to Cox because I, for one, am done underappreciating and devaluing the contributions and play of Brandon Graham. There’s no one in recent Philadelphia sports history that has been more disrespected than he. Drafted by Andy Reid at a spot most experts considered a reach, the guy many Birds fans knew as “Not Earl Thomas” was nearly traded by Chip Kelly. He’s come back from an ACL injury, he’s switched from defensive end to linebacker to defensive end again, and he now leads a team one win away from the Super Bowl in sacks and tackles for a loss. And BTW, he had as many tackles-for-a-loss this season as Aaron Donald, and more than guys like Demarcus Lawrence, Khalil Mack, and Bobby Wagner.
From "overreach" to "first round bust" to “trade bait,” and now arguably the best player on what could potentially be a Super Bowl defense. And yet still not getting the respect he deserves.
Is there anything more Philly than that?