CLEARWATER, Fla. — It was a Special kind of day here Tuesday.
Four hours after $75 million starter Jake Arrieta joined the Phillies to throw for the next three years, the man who made perhaps the most important throw in Philadelphia history stole the show.
Super Bowl hero Trey Burton wound up on the mound as Ben Davis, former big-league catcher, crouched behind the plate … then took off running. Burton hit him in stride.
— Trey Burton (@TreyBurton8) March 13, 2018
“I ran the Philly Special!” Davis said later. A Malvern Prep graduate and a Phillies broadcaster, Davis grinned broadly, glad to be connected with his hometown team’s Super Bowl triumph.
It’s the last throw Burton will make for a Philly team in the foreseeable future. He’s headed to Chicago.
Burton, who played tight end for the Eagles, threw a trick-play touchdown pass to quarterback Nick Foles in Super Bowl LII. It came on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and happened near the end of the first half, but it was a crucial play in the 41-33 win and it was the signature play of a charmed season. It made Burton, a third-stringer, a Philadelphia legend.
“It’s been a whirlwind since then,” Burton said. He’s seen replays of his TD pass, but, he said, “I haven’t even had a chance to watch the game.”
It will be his Eagles legacy.
Burton acknowledged that he has agreed to terms with the Bears on a free-agent contract, reportedly for four years and $32 million. He declined to confirm the specifics of the deal, since the NFL was still within its legal tampering window, but it will become official Wednesday at 4 p.m.
He spoke excitedly about joining the Bears. Sporting a T-shirt with the Philly Special diagrammed on it, he spoke regretfully about the Eagles.
“I really wish they could have made it happen. I was kind of disappointed that they didn’t offer me anything,” Burton said. “I didn’t get one deal [offer] from them.”
That’s understandable. An hour after Burton threw his Philly Special first pitch on Tuesday, the cap-strapped Eagles released second-string tight end Brent Celek to save $4 million. The realities of the business give Burton little comfort.
He’s an avid sports fan and has been paying attention to the rebuilds of the Sixers, Flyers, and Phillies. On Tuesday, before he became the third first-pitch Eagle of spring training — oratorial center Jason Kelce and since-traded receiver Torrey Smith precede him — Burton chatted on the field with promising young Phillies outfielders Rhys Hoskins and Roman Quinn, both of whom played football in high school. Burton’s going to miss that Philly vibe.
“The team, the organization, the city — just everything that’s being built right now. It’s just a lot of fun to be a part of. I’m definitely going to miss them,” Burton said. “I really, really, really wish they could have made it happen.”
Burton made it happen for himself in Philadelphia.
He signed with the Eagles as an undrafted free agent out of Florida in 2014. As a Gator, he mainly played tight end where he got tips from Jordan Reed, who now plays for the Washington Redskins, but Burton also saw time at fullback, wide receiver and, of course, at quarterback, where he starred at Venice (Fla.) High. He mainly played special teams his first two NFL seasons but he got steady time at tight end after the Eagles hired Doug Pederson in 2016. Playing behind Zach Ertz and Celek, Burton caught 60 passes for 575 yards and six touchdowns the past two seasons. He wanted more.
“On the inside, it did hurt, a little bit, not being able to play as much. I wanted to play every snap. I didn’t care if it was at guard. Wide receiver. Quarterback,” Burton said. “But you’ve got to put your pride aside. Because you’re winning. I had to embrace my role.”
Burton is only 26. He believes his role can now grow exponentially.
“I can see myself as a Jordan Reed. I can see myself as an Ertz. Being used that way,” Burton said. “I’m going to try to model my game after them.”
Reed went to the Pro Bowl in 2016. Ertz made it this year as the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce made his third consecutive AFC team. Burton expects to join them soon.
“I think it helps being mentored by Ertz and playing with Jordan Reed, seeing guys like Kelce,” Burton said. “Look, I haven’t done anything to say I’m close to their skill set. I have a lot of work to do and continue to improve as a player.”
Burton, who has an offseason home in Tampa, said Chicago is an excellent place to improve. New coach Matt Nagy followed Pederson as Andy Reid’s coordinator in Kansas City, so Burton will know the bones of the offense. The Bears are developing quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who was a rookie last year, and will add Jaguars free-agent receiver Allen Robinson.
“Any time you have a chance to go to a team that has a really similar offense is key. You don’t have to learn everything all over again,” Burton said. “I wanted a young team that could win now. Once you’ve been to the pinnacle, dude, you want to go back as much as you possibly can.”
The Bears seem unlikely to reach any pinnacles anytime soon. They were 5-11 last season and had the worst passing attack in the NFL, but winning potential and offensive potency were just some of the factors in Burton’s decision. He also wanted his new town to feel like his old one.
“One of the things I looked for in free agency was, are there good people at the heart of the organization? Good history? Good conditions? That was huge, because I’ve been in Philly,” Burton said. “If I’d started somewhere else, I might not have cared too much about that. Just being spoiled; being in that fan base; the awakening that I had coming to Philly was special.”