The Eagles will step off a plane in Minneapolis Sunday afternoon, a mere 187 days removed from the start of their 2017 training camp. One-hundred-seventy days will have passed since their preseason opener, 139 days since their regular season began with a 30-17 victory over the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field.
“It’s my first time playing this long, and I like it,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said Saturday after the NFC champions wrapped up their last NovaCare practice of the season. “I’m not tired. I’m motivated. Everything I’ve ever wanted is here right now, and the opportunity is there for us, so there’s no time for me to get tired or anything. To me, it feels like the season is just getting started.”
Super Bowl week is just getting started, but the season most assuredly is not. The Eagles will return to NovaCare on Feb. 5 either as the first Super Bowl champions in franchise history or as runners-up for the third time in the Super Bowl era. Either way, when they next visit their practice facility locker stalls, they’ll be packing the contents into boxes.
“The answer is yes,” right guard Brandon Brooks said when asked if it feels as if he has been playing a very long time this season. “Just because I’ve never played this far in my career ever. … We’re tired. I’m sure the Patriots are tired. Let’s be honest, the wear and tear throughout the season. … But you get the extra boost of energy knowing you have an opportunity to win a Super Bowl. The adrenaline is that much higher.”
“It’s kind of tough to look back on the journey while you’re still on the journey,” said defensive tackle Beau Allen, who bought 15 Super Bowl tickets for friends and family. They will make the 30-minute drive from Allen’s hometown of Minnetonka, Minn., to Minneapolis for the game. “I think it’s been a hell of a ride for a lot of us in this locker room.”
Allen started training camp recovering from surgery to repair a torn pectoral tendon — he has a pink scar on his left shoulder to remind him should he ever forget. He was ready for the regular season opener but missed the preseason grind.
“I think I’m maybe one of the only guys to get healthier as the season has gone on,” he said.
“This is the best I’ve felt at the end of any football season,” right tackle Lane Johnson said. Johnson, 27, said he has learned to take better care of his body as his career has progressed.
Wideout Nelson Agholor said even if he wasn’t practicing and playing, he’d be working out, getting ready for OTAs. So being on the field in late January doesn’t seem odd.
“For most of us, we practice football. That’s what we do for a living,” he said. “I’m not really a guy that goes and takes a lot of weeks off. I just get back to training. So I think this is great for us, and it’s something that you’re blessed to do, to play the game this long.”
Special-teams standout Kamu Grugier-Hill said: “Your body feels like it’s been a long time [since training camp], but mentally it’s kind of flown by. It’s easy when you’re winning, I guess you could say.”
Grugier-Hill, 23, is in only his second NFL season. He is a bit amazed to be thinking about playing a game in February, for the first time in his life.
“Last year I got hurt for four games, so I only played 12 games.,” he said. “Now I’ve played more than an NFL season. This is going on 23 games because I played all the preseason games, too. This has definitely been a lot, but there’s no other place I’d rather be.”
At 33, Brent Celek is the oldest Eagles position player.
“I feel pretty good. These bye weeks help out a little bit,” Celek said. “For being late in the season, yeah, I do feel really good. … We ought to be doing this every year.”
Jalen Mills is only 23, but he played 661 snaps, 90 percent of the defense’s total, in the regular season, and he has played all 130 postseason snaps.
“Nobody’s as fresh as they were Week 1, either team,” Mills said. “I think Coach [Doug] Pederson is doing a great job of keeping us fresh. At the same time, I think the Super Bowl hasn’t really hit me yet. It’s just been us going out there and competing [in practice] every day, trying to get better and fine-tune the little things. It’ll really hit me and a lot of other guys on the team once we touch down in Minnesota.”