Tight end Dallas Goedert, the Eagles' top draft pick this season and the team's most prominent rookie, will begin his NFL career Thursday night at a sold-out Lincoln Financial Field, in front of the largest crowd to ever watch him play and a national NBC Football Night in America audience.
"Playing Thursday, the first game of the NFL season, prime time, that's a dream come true," Goedert said this week. "That's when you want to be playing. Really excited … We played some big games in college [at South Dakota State], but nothing to the extent of this. Obviously, this will be the biggest game of my life."
If the airline schedules work reasonably smoothly, his mother and stepfather, Mary and Gary Carlson, will be among the throng at the Linc, having flown in from Britton, S.D., population 1,241 as of the 2010 census.
You can't actually fly out of Britton, which Mary Carlson classifies as "an agricultural community," where farmers grow "corn, soybeans, a little bit of wheat." They were planning to leave around 1:30 a.m. Thursday for the 110-mile drive to Fargo, N.D., and a 5 a.m. flight to Minneapolis, which would connect them into Philadelphia by noon or so.
"Very, very excited. It's hard to find the words," Mary Carlson said Wednesday over the phone. "It is a big stage. I would say I'm more excited than nervous … He definitely has the capability to do great things."
Eagles season preview: The long, arduous countdown to Carson Wentz's comeback | Marcus Hayes: Eagles' biggest hurdle in repeating as Super Bowl champs will be overcoming loss of Frank Reich, John DeFilippo | 50 things to know about the upcoming season | Which Eagle, who didn't play in the postseason, will have the biggest impact? | Eagles' roster reconstruction reveals they have a type: Experienced players on short-term deals | What roster holes should the Eagles worry about? | Previewing the NFC | Previewing the AFC | Bob Ford: Repeat as Super Bowl champs? The Eagles can learn from teams that did. | David Murphy: Do the Eagles have what it takes to establish a dynasty? | Super Bowl carryover – good for this year's Eagles or bad? | Will Carson Wentz return to MVP form? | Nick Foles is starting for now but is OK with eventually stepping into background | Eagles 2018 roster: Breaking down the depth chart | A recipe for repeating: What the Eagles need to do to win another Super Bowl | Mike Sielski: The Eagles won a Super Bowl by being innovative. So what's next? | What will determine if the Eagles contend for the Super Bowl? | Which NFC East team poses the biggest threat?
All of her kids were athletic — daughters Emily and Megan played college basketball and volleyball, and are now high school coaches — but Mary said she never thought about anything like this as Dallas grew up.
"To be honest, he was a very athletic young kid, extremely competitive, but it's a one-in-a-million opportunity. So many things have to go just right to make it to where he's at," she said.
Mary was the one who gently suggested to Britton's top high school basketball player that given his physique, he might think more in terms of football as a ticket to college.
"He has talent. But being 6-foot-5, it didn't really put him as a point guard — he wasn't quite quick enough. As a shooting guard, he wasn't quite the shot that you needed to play at the next level, a Division I [school] anyway," said Mary, who played high school basketball. "And he wasn't big enough to play the inside game."
Football also was problematic, though, in that Britton-Hecla High was and is tiny — 148 students in grades 9 through 12 last year, about 19 players on the football team when Goedert played there, he said. It was not the sort of program that gets you noticed. He ended up walking on at South Dakota State, where for the first time in his life, he was introduced to a weightlifting program, and filled out to his current 256 pounds. Everything went pretty quickly from there, Goedert eventually drafted this spring 49th overall, in the second round, by the Eagles. They did not have a first-round pick.
So far, Geodert's assimilation into the NFL couldn't have gone more smoothly. He runs routes and catches passes like a veteran. The blocking part he is still figuring out, but he has the build for it, and the will. It will be surprising if Goedert isn't targeted at least a few times in his debut, playing behind and at times in formations alongside Zach Ertz.
"It's a really cool feeling," Goedert said, when asked if he's relieved or surprised to earn a solid role in the defending Super Bowl champions' offense as a rookie. He said he sets high standards for himself. "It's nothing I didn't expect."
Eagles offensive coordinator Mike Groh was asked this week what he is looking for from Goedert.
"He's going to have to be a major contributor for us throughout the course of the season," Groh said. "As a rookie in his first game, he's done a nice job in the preseason, and we've got to get him in there and get his feet wet a little bit and get him into the game. But I feel comfortable when the ball goes to him, he is going to make plays."
His mom agrees.
"It seems to have gone flawless for Dallas," she said. "He gets yelled at, called a rookie from time to time, but he is a rookie."
Asked about his expectations coming in, Goedert said: "It's honestly a lot better than I thought. You hear a lot of stories about how the NFL's a true business, how people in the locker room are kind of playing for themselves, but that's nothing like it is here. It's a true family, everybody cares about each other. It's really exceeded my expectations."
Mary and Gary Larson both work at Horton Manufacturing, Britton's largest private employer, where their son said "they both worked their way up from the assembly line" to supervisory positions. Mary said the plant makes cooling systems for semi trucks and larger equipment.
Before deciding to fly out for the opener, they considered driving so they could bring Dallas his 2002 Pontiac Grand Am, sort of as a joke but also as a reminder to stay humble. Dallas will have a little spare time this weekend, with the Eagles not playing again until Sept. 16 at Tampa, and Mary and Gary figure they will go car shopping with Dallas, who has been driving a rental. Also they'll get their first look at how he has furnished the apartment out near Villanova that they toured with him on an earlier visit, when he was trying to find a place to live.
"I don't know that I worry about him any more than I do my other two kids, who live in Britton," Mary said. "That's what we do, as parents. I'm not sure I'd want to uproot and move to Philadelphia, but as a 22-or 23-year-old, it's a great life experience.
"I asked him, 'Do you feel like you're a long way from home? Is the city overwhelming?' He said, 'I don't know that I feel any different than I did when I was at Brookings [on South Dakota State's campus], I just go to practice, do what I need to do, and I go home.' "
Dallas said he has barely had time to get his bearings, let alone immerse himself in big city nightlife.
"It's a cool city," he allowed. "They got a lot of history and stuff, but I'm kind of a homebody."
Thursday, he said he'll probably sleep in, "until 10 or so, then get some breakfast." He'll have meetings from 11:30 to around 2. Then he'll get to spend a little time with his visitors, take a nap, and head over to the Linc around 5:30 for the 8:30 game.
"It's going to be crazy. I'm sure I'll have a lot of emotions going through," Goedert said. "Ever since I was little, that's what I wanted to do. So to be able to step out there Thursday night, that's going to be incredible."
2017: Defensive end Derek Barnett, a first-round pick (14th overall) had two tackles and a quarterback hit in 26 snaps, as the Eagles defeated the host Redskins, 30-17.
2016: Quarterback Carson Wentz, a first-round pick (second overall) started and completed 22-of-37 passes for 278 yards, two touchdowns and a 101.0 passer rating in a 29-10 Eagles victory over the visiting Browns.
2015: Wide receiver Nelson Agholor, a first-round pick (20th overall) started and played 58 snaps, catching one pass, on two targets, for 5 yards, in a 26-24 Eagles loss at the Falcons.
2014: Defensive end Marcus Smith, a first-round pick (26th overall) was activated but did not get on the field in a 34-17 Eagles victory over the visiting Jaguars.
2013: Right tackle Lane Johnson, a first-round pick (fourth overall) started and played all 80 offensive snaps in a 33-27 Eagles victory at Washington.
2012: Defensive tackle Fletcher Cox, a first-round pick (12th overall) did not start but played 28 snaps and sacked quarterback Brandon Weeden in a 17-16 Eagles victory at Cleveland. Extra credit if you knew the Eagles' starting defensive tackles that day were Cullen Jenkins and Derek Landri.
2011: Guard Danny Watkins, a first-round pick (23rd overall) was inactive for a 31-13 Eagles victory at St. Louis.
2010: Defensive end Brandon Graham, a first-round pick (13th overall) started but recorded no stats in a 27-20 home loss to the Packers, which is notable because it was the most recent occasion on which the Eagles have worn kelly green uniforms. This was before the league made snap counts available.
2009: Wide receiver Jeremy Maclin, a first-round pick (19th overall) played but did not start and was not targeted with a pass in a 38-10 Eagles victory at Carolina.