Wednesday, February 24, 2010

It was a Great Ride Down West 36

Yesterday marked a sad day in Philadelphia Eagles history. One of the most versatile backs the NFL has ever seen was let go by the only franchise he has known. Brian Westbrook is no longer a Philadelphia Eagle. That just doesn't sound right.

Eight seasons of the pounding NFL running backs take finally caught up to him. After several seasons of knee and ankle troubles, this past season everything finally came to a head. The explosive, dynamic, game-changing back — who led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2007, who racked up two 1,200+ rushing seasons, who could block, catch, run outside, run inside, who caused opposing defensive coordinators and linebackers nightmares, who carried the burden of being the best receiver on the team the first half of his career, who became beloved in this city — was no more. A bum ankle, a swelling knee and two concussions took away the Brian Westbrook we all knew and loved, the Brian Westbrook the Eagles relied on as their offense. Add that up with being on the wrong side of 30 and making more than $7 million, and the Eagles pretty much had no choice. The Brian Westbrook era had come to an end.

The departure of Westbrook is just more proof that the end of an era is drawing near. In the past decade, the Eagles and the Andy Reid era have been identified by three players more than any others: Brian Dawkins, Brian Westbrook and Donovan McNabb. Now, two of them are gone, and the rumors have been whirling that McNabb is next. While some people understandably welcome the impending change, I can't help but feel a little sad. After all, that trio had more success together than any trio of my lifetime. Sure, they only reached the Super Bowl once and never won it, but every year, with those three in the fold, it felt like the Eagles had a chance.

Now the pieces are falling. Dawkins was the first to go … and for the first time during the Lurie/Reid/Banner tenure, it proved to be a mistake. The 2009 Eagles sorely missed Dawkins, while the Broncos improved drastically — at least in the first half of the season — defensively with B-Dawk roaming the secondary. The Eagles never settled on his replacement, and the safety position struggled all year long.

It's hard to fault the Eagles for letting Westbrook go, however. The past two seasons, he simply hasn't been the same. And the concussions are definitely cause for concern. But something about it still doesn't feel right. That doesn't make it wrong, necessarily. But it certainly is odd knowing Westbrook will no longer be in Philadelphia. He's been here so long. Hell, he went to college at Villanova. He's been in the area since he was a teenager. And now he's gone, just like that. For so long, Brian Westbrook was synonymous with the Philadelphia Eagles — the same way Dawkins was, the same way Andy Reid and Donovan McNabb are. Now he's just another run-down back looking for a job.

There will undoubtedly be people who look back on Westbrook's career and see a player who was always at risk for injury. But what I'll remember most, what most Eagles fans will remember most, is that Brian Westbrook was one of the greatest running backs in Eagles history, one of the most complete, explosive backs in the entire NFL. He was a game-changer. He had no weaknesses in his game. None.

He began as a situational back who split time with Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter … and at the same time was one of the most dangerous punt returners in all of football.

His talent shone through so much that he forced his way into a feature back role, size be damned. He carried the rock through the tackles, running hard and strong. If he got to the edge, defenders stood no chance. And if ever there was a back suited for not just the West Coast offense, but an Andy Reid West Coast offense, it was Westbrook. He had the hands of a wide receiver, catching anything McNabb tossed his way. There wasn't a safety or linebacker alive who could cover him, and that created more matchup problems than opposing defenses could handle. Even in the years where the Eagles had no threat at receiver, they were nearly impossible to stop —  mainly because of Westbrook. And you'd be hard-pressed to find a more devastating pass blocker at the tailback position. Despite his small frame, Brian Westbrook laid blitzing linebackers out, always making the proper read to keep his quarterback clean and buy him that extra time.

He was as complete of a back as they come. For two years (2006-07), he was as good as any back in the league —  Marshall Faulk 2.0. He gained over 600 yards receiving four straight seasons, setting up his blockers on screens better than anyone the NFL has ever seen. He's second only to Wilbert Montgomery in rushing yards in team history and third behind Steve Van Buren and Wilbert in rushing touchdowns. Amazingly, he's also third in receptions behind Harold Carmichael and Pete Retzlaff, with 426. He is, without question, one of the greatest Eagles to ever play.

Beyond that, he was a guy you never heard anyone utter a bad word about. His teammates loved him. Opponents respected him. And the city of Philadelphia embraced him. Things just won't be the same without Westbrook out there. Both the Eagles and the fans will miss him. I know I will.

Thanks for the memories, Brian.

BallHype: hype it up!

1 comment:

  1. man i watched that entire Eagles clip at the very end with all the heartbreak and then finally beating the falcons on the way to SB39...ish gave me goosebumps.

    Long live #36...