ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mike Trout was only available to them in bobblehead form this week, not in person, but the Eagles found an even bigger California sports celebrity from the Philly area to address the team Friday morning at the team hotel in Costa Mesa.
Eagles coach Doug Pederson said the message to the team from Lower Merion High’s Kobe Bryant was “pay attention to details. Do your job. Focus on your assignment. … Be aggressive.”
Players described the short speech, followed by a Q&A, more pungently.
Running back LeGarrette Blount said Bryant talked about having a “mamba mentality,” which he defined as “wanting to kill whoever’s on the other side of the ball, whether it’s LeBron, Jordan, whoever … that that’s the mentality we should take.
“As a basketball fan and a Kobe fan growing up, it was a special moment,” said Blount, who added that the players who grew up in California were especially enthralled.
One thing you learn hanging around NFL players is that many of them, if not most, would rather have played in the NBA if they were a little taller or had a better jumper. The money is better. It’s guaranteed, and nobody worries about CTE. There are Eagles players who only took up football when it became apparent they didn’t have long-term basketball futures.
The team made up a special No. 8 midnight green jersey that Bryant donned. Punter Donnie Jones, who will be wearing No. 8 Sunday against the Rams, said he made sure to get a photo of them together.
Safety Rodney McLeod said Bryant told them the objective is to make the guy across from you wish he was an accountant.
Linebacker Najee Goode said Bryant “gave us pointers on how you’ve got to stay steadfast in your detail no matter who you’re preparing for. … Pay attention to little things like we did against the Panthers, the Broncos and other teams we beat.”
This is hardly something the players were hearing for the first time.
“These aren’t things that we didn’t know, but it’s always good to hear a different aspect from it, from a different sport,” Goode said. “No matter who … that’s how elite athletes become elite. You still got to pay attention to that stuff.”
If you’re not of their generation, it’s easy to forget the cultural frame of reference these players have. To 28-year-old Brandon Brooks, Bryant, 39, is “a childhood idol,” not a contemporary. “How he viewed the game, how he practiced, how he did everything day by day, it was awesome to hear,” Brooks said.
Wide receiver Nelson Agholor, identified by teammates as a huge Bryant fan, said in his all-time NBA pantheon, Bryant is “tied for 1, with Mike. … A legend was in front of us, today.”
“After listening to him today, what he had to say about it, I would have to say they’re tied,” Agholor said, when questioned about the fact that he previously has stood up for Bryant as the best ever, ahead of Michael Jordan, in boisterous locker room arguments. “He would say that the player he [became] is because of Mike, so I have to give respect for his view.”
Agholor said Bryant “is a guy that’s very cerebral about his approach in everything he does. He’s also a guy who has that ‘dog’ in him, where, when it’s time to step up and let go, he’ll do that. And when it’s a time to prepare … he doesn’t just do things, he really thinks through. … The questions we got to ask him and the things he shared were great. He’s a legend to me. He walked in, and I was like, ‘Wow, he really is here. That’s Kobe Bryant.’ ”
Some players said they were surprised by the appearance. Others said they knew it was coming.
“I knew. I had my phone ready, pen and pad and all that,” McLeod said. “I didn’t get a chance to get an autograph, but I got a picture, so I’m good with that.”
McLeod said he asked about Bryant’s greatest moment.
“He said it was his last game that he ever played,” on April 14, 2016, Bryant scoring 60 points. “He said it kind of reminded him of how he started his career off, kind of struggling in the beginning. He said regardless of what he put up in that game, it didn’t matter. He was comfortable with going out however it was. But knowing that he did go out scoring , no better feeling.
“He said having his kids there was his motivation, too. They didn’t really get to see him when he was at his peak, so just seeing how intense he was [that night], he said his kids were up there like, ‘I didn’t know you were like that.’ He was like, ‘You better go check the tape.’ ”