2013 was many things for the Philadelphia Eagles. It was a gut check. It was a successful season. It was the first year of head coach Chip Kelly. It was a playoff year. But before all that, it was a season of controversy. It was a season of doubts. It was a season of uncertainty. It was a season where NFL rookies and veterans had to embrace the untried unfamiliar regiment of the former head coach of the University of Oregon. That regiment dictated how much they would sleep, what they would take into their bodies, how fast and for how long they would practice. And to do so, the Eagles had to rely upon their team leadership – players who had earned the mutual respect of their teammates through integrity, upstanding reputation. A team filled with individuals and egos would need to momentarily suspend their uniqueness for a common good, a single purpose.
Leaders rise to authority by a trial by fire. And 2012 was such a year. A team with high hopes found itself at the bottom of the NFL and as a punch line in Monday quotes from their opposition. Teams under that much pressure can crack, self-destruct. But the Eagles had strong leadership who would not let that happen. Wide receiver Jason Avant and quarterback Michael Vick held the team together.
The strongest sign of leadership appeared when the Eagles faced the irresponsible act of a young wide receiver Riley Cooper. Despite the potential friction that might have resulted, Jason Avant stepped forward to challenge the media:
“I think you guys [the media] need the healing process more than the team, You guys got to cover it, so you keeping going, making the story go, but as far as our team, I think guys are definitely over it and we talked, we’ve had dialogue, we’ve accepted his apology. The only thing he can do is apologize. What else can he do? When a situation happens like that, there’s not too many things you can do but apologize and be sincere about it. Now you guys have to get over it.”
And during a beat-down loss to the Minnesota Vikings, cameras caught wide receiver DeSean Jackson upset on the sidelines with Avant acting to calm him down. When asked afterwards, Avant shared:
“The football family is dysfunctional at times, At times, it gets strenuous. Sometimes the cameras catch that, but it was not a big deal. I was just trying to calm DeSean down. I did not get over there in time, so I don’t know the situation. But when I was talking to him, I told him that people were looking.”
In 2014, there will be no Jason Avant to assure cooler heads prevail. Nor will there likely be the calm voice of Michael Vick. Two strong leaders of the Philadelphia offense will no longer be able to keep this team focused. In 2014, it will be up to offensive tackle Jason Peters, quarterback Nick Foles, and running back LeSean McCoy to keep the team focused, and to keep personalities in check – both in training camp and during the season.
It was time for the team and Jason Avant and Michael Vick to part ways. But look beyond the stats. Two men who were there in our darkest time, in times of greatest need, stepped up for their team and kept things together. If you have any sense of being a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, you will know both in your head and in your heart, that type of leadership is awfully difficult to come by.