THEY SHOW UP and pull on a hat and climb on a stage and sit under the lights and begin to speak their dreams.
NFL draft choices arrive as dreamers, they always do, and Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy are no different. Except that they are.
For Maclin, it was a knee injury, a torn ACL, an injury described as "grotesque." For McCoy, it was an ankle injury, a broken ankle, an injury so bad that it made his stoic father cry. Maclin's happened in July of 2006, before his freshman year at Missouri. McCoy's happened 10 months earlier in a high school game in Harrisburg.
Both are still 20 years old. They are the NFL's version of trust-fund babies now, except that there seems to be little sense of entitlement.
They cannot afford entitlement. They know.
In all the years of listening to these guys, have you ever heard a 20-year-old say at his first real NFL press conference, "At my position, as a running back, you only get a certain amount of hits in this game and I always wanted to enjoy my time in the NFL?"
Guys who are 28 say that. Guys who are 32 say that. Kids do not say that on the day after they are drafted, but McCoy said it yesterday. That one sentence explained everything.
And his father and mother nodded.
"We were at the game," Ron McCoy said. It was Bishop McDevitt against rival Harrisburg High. It was the fourth game of LeSean's senior season.
"He broke his leg - it went this way and that way," Ron said. "I've always seen him get up from any type of hit. But this time, this hit was serious. He didn't get up. I remember running on the field and he said, 'Dad, I'm done. I'm done.' "
"He thought it was over," said his mother, Daphne. "He told me that yesterday."
"I said, 'No, it's not. It's an injury,' " Ron said. "The ambulance came and took him on. From there on . . . that was the first time that tears came out. I was hurting so much for him. He was set up to do so much and then, all of a sudden, one snap, it was done."
"It was an ankle," Daphne said. "The bone came out. It was a compound fracture. It was sticking out. He told me yesterday, he said, 'I thought this was never going to happen when I was in the hospital.' He didn't even think he was going to college. It was his senior year. He was getting ready to break all these records . . . I think that kind of helped to make his [NFL] decision.
"He told us that he got to thinking that he was in the same place as he was in high school, that everything was going good for him . . . and, bam, it was all over."
It is a terrible lesson, one that every football player learns at some point. Rarely, though, does it make such a profound impression on players so young. Yet here the Eagles are, with Maclin (the first-round wide receiver out of Missouri) and McCoy (the second-round running back out of Pittsburgh) both coming out of college after two competitive seasons, both yet to turn 21, both so clearly focused on today because of frightening injuries in the past.
McCoy's parents said that the tipping point in their son's decision to leave school early was that broken ankle. Maclin was not as clear, but you could hear the influence of that awful practice field knee injury in his words.
"It was very humbling," Maclin said. "It was something that I never want to experience again. They never told me this, but apparently I was never supposed to play football again. Knowing that now, and knowing that I was that close to damaging a nerve in my foot and have my foot drop, is terrifying."
There is debate in the land today about whether Maclin is redundant for the Eagles, another DeSean Jackson, not Anquan Boldin, etc. Fair enough. He is a little bigger than Jackson, an inch smaller than Boldin, likelier to have a longer learning curve but maybe with a bigger upside. At least that's what the Eagles hope.
One measurable: Boldin ran a 4.71 at his NFL scouting combine and Maclin ran a 4.45. (Jackson ran a 4.35.) Speed isn't the be-all, but it is a nice building block. With that, we'll see. And you really do have to wonder why nobody else wanted Boldin, either.
Maclin needs to contribute this year, that's all, and so does McCoy. Neither becomes a crucial piece unless the player in front of him gets hurt - McCoy especially. Again, that's all for later. Here and now is all about guessing, and about first impressions, and about the experiences that shape perspectives.
"I just learned to live life day by day and don't take anything for granted," Maclin said. "The thing you worked for all of your life can get taken away from you the next day." *
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