Here’s what happens after the Super Bowl: The NFL’s media-relations people turn the stadium’s ground level, the corridors and bowels near the teams’ locker rooms, into two large interview areas, using curtains to cordon them off and erecting risers on which players can sit while they answer questions. The risers are for the players who did something significant during the game. They’re for the quarterbacks, the veteran leaders on the offense and defense, the skill-position guys who score touchdowns, the goats who made big mistakes.
Trey Burton wouldn’t have fit any of those descriptions, not really, but he sat at a riser after Super Bowl LII anyway. He’s not a quarterback, though he did throw a touchdown pass in the Super Bowl. He was not a veteran leader on this Eagles team in the same way that, say, Brent Celek and Malcolm Jenkins were. He did not score a touchdown in the game, technically, and he certainly wasn’t any kind of goat. Yet there he was, with his elder daughter, Ariella, on his right knee and his son Jaxon on his left, still glowing after both the Eagles’ 41-33 victory and his role in one of the game’s most important plays — and certainly its most memorable. You know the name by now. “Philly Special”: an undrafted rookie running back (Corey Clement) pitching the football to an undrafted backup tight end (Burton) who throws a touchdown pass to a backup quarterback (Nick Foles) on fourth-and-goal. With a moment of immortality comes a pedestal.
“You ever see a play-call like that in a Super Bowl?” Burton said. “I haven’t.”
His wife, Yesenia, didn’t see it, either. She had been up in the stands at U.S. Bank Stadium, with the rest of the Eagles’ family members, with her and Trey’s three children – including baby Kaia. She had her hands full, even with a nanny there, too, and at times on Sunday the Super Bowl was her second-most-important concern. “The little one might be losing her mind,” Yesenia said, “and the other two are just trying to hold it all together to support their dad. They rallied. Those kids are troupers. They’ve been doing this the whole time. They were born for this, and they do it well.”
Now she was standing near the riser, Kaia strapped into a black carrier and nestled against her chest, as she watched and listened to Trey talk about “Philly Special.” The two of them were college sweethearts at the University of Florida, and for much of their lives together, what they were experiencing late Sunday night must have seemed too improbable to imagine, a dream that they’d never touch.
Trey was an excellent player at Florida, a jack-of-all-trades who played three different positions, caught 107 passes and carried the ball 153 times, and even scored six touchdowns in one game. But NFL teams, in general, like their players to be highly specialized: He’s a third-down pass-rusher. He’s a third-down back. He’s a nickel cornerback. No one drafted him. The Eagles signed him, and over his first three seasons with them, he gradually earned more playing time. He wasn’t merely a special-teamer, but how much more was he? A third tight end? A sometimes slot receiver? It wasn’t until the Eagles made him a restricted free-agent tender offer during the spring of 2017 that he knew for certain that they wanted him back.
Now, he has become one of those household names that the Super Bowl often creates, the fulcrum of what is likely to go down as one of the most famous sequences in NFL history. No matter where Burton goes or what he does, “Philly Special” goes with him.
“This whole ride has been step by step,” Yesenia said. “He’s had to fight for everything he’s gotten, and this is a tremendous, tremendous moment for him. I could not be happier to see this come full-circle — coming undrafted to Philly, last year not knowing what was going to happen, and here we are.”
Where they’ll go from here is an open question. Burton is an unrestricted free agent. Retaining him would require the Eagles to do some roster paring to fit him under the salary cap, not that football-operations chief Howie Roseman is opposed to such maneuvering, not that the Eagles would be opposed to increasing his role. But another team might feel the same way, and it might offer him more money over a longer contract. He has a young family. A new world may be open to him, to them. These are the considerations that seemed so far in the distance Sunday night, but they’re real. This is what happens after a championship season. Players and coaches retire, take different jobs, leave of their own accord. That special group is never quite the same again.
“That’s what you accept when you take on this dream,” Yesenia said. “You know. We adjust really well. As long as we can keep our family together and ride this, we will.”
They were all together Sunday night, in a scene that captured the greatest night in Philadelphia sports history as well as any, as Trey Burton sat on that riser and bounced two of his children on his lap and talked about the Eagles’ first Super Bowl victory.
“It means everything,” he said. “These two are why I play this game. They might not realize it right now.”
He leaned his head down to talk to Ariella and Jaxon.
“You know we just won the Super Bowl? We won the Super Bowl!”
He said it as if he kept saying it, someday it would sink in. Maybe someday it will, for him and for everyone else.
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