LAKE FOREST, ILL. - Trey Burton knows that the play that defined his tenure as an Eagle will follow him forever.
He just doesn’t want the Philly Special to define him as a player.
Burton embraces the trick play that fooled the Patriots and launched his fame: The direct snap to Corey Clement, who ran left, then flipped the ball to Burton, who was running right as he lofted a touchdown pass to Nick Foles on fourth down just before halftime of Super Bowl LII.
Burton wore a T-shirt with a diagram of the play and reenacted it when he threw out the first pitch at a Phillies spring training game on March 13.
He posted a still shot of the play atop his Instagram message that thanked the Eagles and the city for his first four seasons on the day he joined the Bears as a free agent, for four years and $32 million.
He had a picture and diagram of the play stitched into the lining of the Eagle-green sports coat he wore to the ESPYs in July.
But enough has been enough.
As he prepared to host his former team Sunday in the wild-card round, Burton declined three interview requests seeking to relive the play in detail and examine its effect on his life.
He instead opted to address the press en masse Wednesday. It’s almost as if bringing up “Philly Philly,” as Doug Pederson and Nick Foles mistakenly called it during the Super Bowl, insults his current employer.
“It will always be a part of my life. My family’s life. No one can ever take the Super Bowl away from us. It was an unbelievable time,” Burton said.
“But now, I’m here.”
He’s here because, in part, the Eagles declined to make him an offer, which, he said in March, made him a bit bitter. In reality, the Birds never would have come close to the $8 million per year the Bears are paying him.
Here, he is a different player, asked to do different things. He isn’t an undersized, third-string tight end clinging to a roster spot as a core special-teamer playing 26.5 percent of the snaps like he did in 2017.
Here, he’s a starter who, in 16 games, caught 54 passes for 569 yards and six touchdowns, almost as much production as he totaled in all 61 games for Philadelphia. He was on the field 80 percent of the time with the Bears' offense this season.
That was by design. Adding Burton was the subject of the first roster-upgrade conversation between new coach Matt Nagy and Bears general manager Ryan Pace. They discussed him on the plane ride from Kansas City to suburban Chicago.
“He’s been everything, plus, from what I knew,” Nagy said. “He’s exceeded my expectations.”
The discussion between Nagy and Pace happened in early January, so it didn’t include Burton’s trick-play resume. In fact, the Philly Special was still in its incubation stages, and it didn’t seem like it ever would see the light of day.
“The first three times that we called it in practice, Trey Burton airmailed the ball over Nick’s head,” Pederson said in August. “And Trey’s a former high school quarterback ... just a tremendous athlete. And he just airmailed the ball over Nick’s head the first three times.”
That might explain why, a month ago against the Giants at the Meadowlands, Burton declined to repeat the play for Nagy. The Bears called it “Oompa Loompa,” and designed it for Burton to throw to former Eagles backup quarterback Chase Daniel, who started in place of injured Mitch Trubisky.
Except Burton couldn’t bring himself to throw the pass.
"I got crazy anxiety,” Burton told reporters after the game. “I was kind of freaking out a little bit, just because a ton of unbelievable memories come back to mind from the Super Bowl. … I remember not really saying much and going out in practice and trying to do it, and I just couldn’t. Physically, there was some type of block that wasn’t letting me do it.”
The Bears instead placed Burton in the backfield to approximate Clement’s role. He got a from pitch Daniel and ran left, then flipped it to running back Tarik Cohen, who filled Burton’s role as passer. Cohen actually bypassed Daniel, who was covered, and found receiver Anthony Miller for a touchdown.
The circumstances weren’t the same as the Philly Special. It was run against a 3-8 team, in the regular season, and no one’s going to build a statue of Nagy and Daniel like the one Bud Light built of Pederson and Foles. Still, it was a gutsy call, by a rookie coach, on the road, trailing by a touchdown with three seconds left in the game, to force overtime. (The Bears lost.)
Maybe Burton’s anxiety surfaced because the play reminded him of all that he’d left behind.
Burton made the Eagles as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and had to claw his way onto the roster every season. But his role in the locker room was much larger, primarily because of the ubiquitous Christian brotherhood.
He participated in the weddings of cornerstone players Carson Wentz, Jordan Hicks, Jordan Matthews, and Zach Ertz. A more mature Christian than many of his teammates, he served as team pastor and baptized six teammates in 2016 and 2017.
He has followed the Eagles' season, especially Ertz’s successful pursuit of Jason Witten’s single-season record for receptions by a tight end. He is surprised neither by the Eagles' resilience in the face of injury nor by Ertz’s achievement.
“Extremely happy for Ertz,” Burton said. “I called him multiple times, congratulating him as much as I could. It’s something that I knew eventually he was going to be able to do.”
Communication between Burton and his Eagles pals waned last week, he said, as the Bears prepared to play the Vikings. The Bears' win helped the Eagles make the playoffs. Now that they’re facing each other, expect full text-message silence. Not that a week of no texting will lessen their bond.
“We have a relationship that goes way beyond football,” Burton said.
Whether he plays for the Bears, or even the Cowboys, Philadelphia and Trey Burton will always have a relationship that centers on the most famous play in Philly sports history.
“I’ll never get sick of it,” Burton vowed.
He’s not alone.