sports

How Eagles' Carson Wentz survives in the Philadelphia fishbowl

Zach Berman, STAFF WRITER

Updated: Wednesday, September 6, 2017, 11:41 AM

Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie (right) with star quarterback Carson Wentz.

Carson Wentz shopped at the Deptford Mall in the spring. A man approached to speak with him, and Wentz obliged. They talked for 20 minutes until Wentz realized what awaited: a line of 20 other shoppers hoping for the same interaction.

Local teens from the Y Achievers program at the Columbia North YMCA. 1400 N. Broad St. Philadelphia wait to get their foam football signed by Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz during a March 2017 event. ANTHONY BELTRAN / Staff Photographer
Carson Wentz shows off the buck he killed while hunting during the Eagles' bye week. From Twitter, Sept. 28, 2016 Twitter
Photo Gallery: How Eagles' Carson Wentz survives in the Philadelphia fishbowl

‘Guys, I literally have to go,” Wentz told them. “This isn’t going to work.”

This is the life of the Eagles’ franchise quarterback. Wentz knew what he signed up for when he arrived in Philadelphia in 2016, but he’s now experienced it for a year. As much as there’s been a transition from North Dakota State to the NFL, there’s also been learning how to survive the adjustment from the Fargo fishbowl to the Philadelphia fishbowl.

Wentz has made strides to insulate himself, creating a cocoon after leaving a cocoon. He bought property in rural South Jersey 30 minutes from the team’s South Philadelphia facility. He can hunt and play with his dogs on his own land. He lives alone. His brother and his sister-in-law live 10 minutes away. Most days, Wentz drives to work and returns home while avoiding the trappings of stardom. A Joel Embiid reality series would be far more compelling.

“I feel like what I am and who I am is kind of out there,” Wentz said. “I’m pretty simple. I do like being low-key, I do like being private, for the most part. I think this business, this world that I’ve come into, is really cool, but it can be a lot sometimes, and sometimes it’s just nice to go home and be chill and be away from everything.”

Wentz started a foundation. He’s outspoken about his faith. He posts online videos of his hunting exploits with his brother. He’s also active on social media. So it’s not as if he’s reclusive. But he’s admittedly careful and unabashedly private. And beyond the enormous platform and responsibility that comes with being the Eagles’ franchise quarterback, he’s an otherwise down-to-earth 24-year-old living 1,600 miles from home. There are times he wants to get a nice meal or needs to make a quick detour at Target. Can he do it successfully?

“Sometimes,” Wentz said. “Trying to keep my head down or stay on the phone.”

Bringing North Dakota to New Jersey

Due respect to Philadelphia, but Wentz prepared for being stopped in a shopping mall. Go to Fargo, and he’s recognized wherever he walks. Wentz’s senior year at North Dakota State and the lead-up to the 2016 draft offered an understanding of the mania he prepared to encounter.

In Philadelphia, it’s just bigger. That’s why Wentz has sought a routine.

“Where I live, for example, I’ve gone to some places down there a number of times where it’s starting to get normal a little bit, where I can kind of be fairly casual for the most part,” Wentz said.

He picked where he lives and how he lives by design. It would be more noteworthy if Wentz found a Center City condo or decided to spend this portion of life in a suburban cul-de-sac. In an article he wrote for the Players’ Tribune, offensive tackle Lane Johnson described Wentz as “North Dakotan as hell,” arriving in the locker room “looking like he’s ready to scale Kilimanjaro — camo hat, boots, backpack with a bunch of hooks on it.” Johnson didn’t mention the Birkenstocks, which are also a Wentz staple.

North Dakota is dear to Wentz. When he brought the wide receivers together for a passing camp during the offseason, he didn’t seek a beach like the previous few years, when some Eagles trained in San Diego. He hosted them in Fargo. And he has seemed to make his life in New Jersey as North Dakotan as he could.

“To some extent,” Wentz said. “It’s just the things I like about North Dakota, that’s who I am. I’m not going to let the culture I live in and where I live kind of change me. I’m just going to keep being me. If other people embrace it, that’s cool. If they don’t, I’m OK with it because I’m comfortable with who I am. Like the hunting and all that stuff, I’m fortunate enough that I can do that out in New Jersey. I can kind of get that peace of mind to get away from the game. It’s kind of just who I am and what I’m about. Not going to let where I live and the circumstances change that.”

When he goes into the city or other dense areas, Wentz is prepared for what to expect. But some of it can still surprise him. During the preseason, his brother, Zach, went to a small Italian restaurant in Philadelphia. Zach received a free dinner because the servers thought it was Carson. He tried telling them he wasn’t that Wentz.

“They were like, that’s cool you’re related, and they took care of it,” Wentz said.

In the spring, Wentz joined his brother and sister-in-law for dinner. A fan walked by his table and exclaimed, “You’re the [expletive] man!” But the fan might not have gotten his point across, so he decided to start an Eagles chant. Then others joined, until Wentz realized the whole street participated.

“That’s Philly right there,” Wentz said. “That’s what they’re all about. It was hilarious.”

Morning and night in the life

During the season, Wentz arrives at the team facility around 6 a.m. Unless there’s traffic, he makes it to his parking spot in 30 minutes. He listens to worship music or a sermon podcast on the ride.

“It kind of just gets my mind right,” Wentz said.

He recently started to mix in audio books, including Forgotten God by Francis Chan.

The first two hours of work are his. He’ll watch film and grab breakfast before meetings around 8 a.m. His workday concludes around 6:30 p.m., when he drives home.

Wentz doesn’t cook often. His sister-in-law comes over to cook twice a week. Otherwise, he’ll bring food from the team facility. He goes out to eat with the offensive linemen about every other week during the season.

When home, Wentz spends times with his two dogs. He takes them out to his backyard and drives an electric bicycle. They chase him or play fetch.

“I have a little space, a little land,” Wentz said. “I’m free out there to some extent, give me a little peace of mind.”

When it gets dark, Wentz calls friends, family, and agents. He’ll try to read each night. On Mondays and Thursdays, he watches the NFL. That’s the only time he’s focused on football at home. If the television is on, it’s usually the Outdoor Channel. Wentz looks for ideas for his YouTube channel about hunting.

He avoids any discussion about how he’s playing. He doesn’t read the Inquirer or Daily News, doesn’t watch Comcast SportsNet, doesn’t listen to sports-talk radio. He usually can tell the story line du jour or the reaction to how he’s playing by the nature of the questions during his news conference.

“Sometimes, having to talk about it, to call a spade a spade, can be really annoying at times,” Wentz said.

When speaking with friends and family, he doesn’t like football as a conversation. There will be times his mother asks about his day job, and he changes the subject.

‘Mom, I’m going to hang up,” he’ll say. “I’ll call you to see how you’re doing, but I don’t want to talk about football.”

Even his brother knows not to talk about football unless Wentz brings it up himself. It’s part of how Wentz has insulated himself, how he keeps swimming in the fishbowl. Wentz is notably aware — of his status, of the responsibilities, of the expectations, and of his own personality. One year into it, he’s discovered his best way to survive.

“Honestly, what people know about me, that’s who I am and what I am,” Wentz said. “And really, not a lot more to it.”

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Sign up for “Early Birds,” our new Eagles newsletter by Zach Berman, at philly.com/earlybirds.

Zach Berman, STAFF WRITER

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