If we’ve learned anything from Eagles training camps, it’s to expect the unexpected.
From the outrageous behavior that got Terrell Owens kicked out of camp in 2005, to the introduction of the Dream Team in 2011 to the tragic drug overdose taking the life of Andy Reid’s oldest son Garrett in 2012, you never know what’s around the corner.
The Eagles report to camp Wednesday glistening from their Super Bowl LII win over the New England Patriots. Something tells me there’s going to be a lot of celebrities dropping in for face time.
Here are a few training camp memories culled over the years of covering the Eagles:
Live tackling: When Doug Pederson took over as head coach in 2016, he promised a physical camp with live tackling, not the namby-pamby pushing that went on during Chip Kelly’s three years.
How could you not look forward to that?
On the first day of the much-anticipated tackling, starters Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz got hurt, and Marcus Smith (remember him?) sustained a concussion. By Monday, Pederson ended the tackling.
“It’s not about getting somebody hurt,” Pederson said. “But it’s about protecting the guys out here. They have been doing an excellent job. These last six days have been tough. I wanted it to be tough on them.”
A pretty good decision considering that the Eagles didn’t seem to lose anything forgoing live tackling in their Super Bowl season.
The autograph man: Randall Cunningham was 32 and trying to reinvent himself under Ray Rhodes and offensive coordinator Jon Gruden in 1995, when the Eagles still camped at West Chester University.
Bushed and mentally beaten, the verbiage of Gruden’s ridiculously complex system overloading the circuits, Cunningham was making the trip from the players’ dormitory to the cafeteria when he motioned me over.
“See that guy over there?” he said nodding toward a bench. “He gives those kids money to get autographs from me. He does it every day.”
Cunningham didn’t appreciate it. He signed anyway. And the kids who hounded him for his signature later got together with that creepy guy.
Except for the public practices at Lincoln Financial Field, you kind of have to know somebody to get close to the players for autographs these days. The West Chester availability was the end of an era
The T.O. training camps: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times in back-to-back years with T.O.
Terrell Owens drew a record crowd of 25,000-plus to Lehigh for his autograph day during the 2004 camp.
Reid was late to practice despite a police escort because the Goodman Campus and surrounding area had become a massive parking lot.
The following year, Owens was so upset that the Eagles wouldn’t redo his contract — after all, he wasn’t the one who got sick in the Super Bowl — he gave almost everyone the silent treatment, starting with Donovan McNabb.
Owens, wearing headphones, and agent Drew Rosenhaus walked across the parking lot on Day 1 surrounded by an army of paparazzi who asked only one question, that by Jack McCaffery: “Are you happy T.O.?”
Owens smiled. Eventually he blew up on offensive coordinator Brad Childress, was kicked out of camp for his surliness and sent home to South Jersey. There he performed pushups and sit-ups in full view of reporters.
When Owens was allowed to return to practice in South Philly, a plane circled the field towing a “T.O. Must Go” banner. Later he was suspended and kicked off the team.
You win with guys like Max: Those classic words were spoken by Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg in 2008.
Frustrated by questions about the camp absence of Pro Bowl talent Shawn Andrews and swatting away the bugs at Lehigh, Mornhinweg spouted, “You win with guys like Max Jean-Gilles. OK?”
No disrespect to Big Max, but it was tough to keep a straight face. The backup guard later ballooned to 400 pounds and needed bariatric surgery.
The Dream Team: Back from the lockout in 2011, the Eagles went on a spending spree landing them high-profile free agents in Jason Babin, Nnamdi Asomugha, Vince Young, Cullen Jenkins, Ronnie Brown and Steve Smith. They acquired Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a trade.
“Dream Team,” Young quipped.
The moniker stuck, unfortunately. What then club president Joe Banner didn’t think of was that Reid needed at least a full offseason to get them on the same page. And Big Red’s judgment was a bit off as he made offensive line coach Juan Castillo his defensive coordinator.
The Eagles went 8-8.
Training camp legends gone: Life, not just camp, hasn’t been the same without defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who passed away in the summer of 2009 from cancer.
The Newtown Square resident was a brilliant coach and a great guy who had no problem poking a little fun at a highly rated prospect like Quinton Caver (“The Range Rover had a flat tire today”) or telling you who really had the coverage on that back-breaking Joe Jurevicius catch (Bobby Taylor) in the 2002 NFC title game over a burger at Five Guys in Lawrence Park.
In 2008, media legend Larry O’Rourke covered his last training camp for The Allentown Morning Call.
What O’Rourke thought was a sprained ankle turned out to be the killer disease that took him in 2011. No one covered the Eagles at Lehigh with the fervor of O’Rourke. No one was more helpful, or cared more.
And in 2012, “Eagle” Joe Brown passed away, marking the end of the era for one of the greatest Eagles fans ever.
Brown, 62, attended every Birds training camp since 1975, much of the time right there on the sideline near the players. A humble man, he worked at the ACME near Granite Run Mall.
“He bled green,” Reid said.
Tragedy: Reid’s oldest son, Garrett, by many accounts, was on the road to recovery after a back-and-forth battle with heroin addiction. He was assisting the Eagles during the 2012 camp.
One morning his body was found in a Lehigh dormitory after a drug overdose. That would be the last year of Andy Reid’s tour with the Eagles, who stayed on as coach of the team, and the franchise’s last camp in Bethlehem.
Contact Bob Grotz at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @bobgrotz.