This time, it wasn’t Shelton Gibson with a towel over his head, wearing Kamu Grugier-Hill’s No. 54 jersey and standing at Grugier-Hill’s locker. It was Grugier-Hill himself, trying to explain Friday how he became the focal point of a week in which the Eagles must upset the host Dallas Cowboys to keep their hopes of winning the NFC East alive.
“It’s a rivalry game. I didn’t think too much about it,” Grugier-Hill said. “Obviously, I didn’t mean to disrespect this organization or Doug Pederson. I’ve just got a lot of confidence in our guys, confidence in myself, going into this game and we’re ready to play.”
Scroll back to Wednesday, when Grugier-Hill told NBC Sports that “the Cowboys always choke, so we’ll go down there and make them choke.”
This pronouncement, from a third-year linebacker who was mainly a special teams guy until this season, did not go over well in Dallas, or in parts of the NovaCare Complex.
In response, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott quoted Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett as often saying that “winners worry about winning and losers worry about winners.''
Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said Thursday that he and the Eagles have “respect for that team and what they are doing this year. We watch a ton of their defense. They do a lot of things well. They fly around and they make it tough on offenses. I don't want to dive into [what Grugier-Hill said]. I just wanna say personally and as a team, we have a lot of respect for them and we are excited for this one.”
Grugier-Hill wasn’t available in the locker room Thursday, but Gibson, a wide receiver, tried to fool reporters into thinking Grugier-Hill was about to speak. After several of them gathered in front of him, Gibson whipped the towel off his head and laughed as he bounded away.
On Friday, Eagles coach Doug Pederson was even stronger than Wentz in disassociating himself from any slight toward the Cowboys and their head coach, Jason Garrett. Eagles fans like to bring up the fact that Garrett has won just one playoff game since taking over for Wade Phillips in Week 10 of the 2010 season; one could infer that Grugier-Hill was impugning Garrett’s leadership.
Pederson emphasized the respect he and the organization have for the Cowboys, and for Garrett, whom he has known since they were NFL backup quarterbacks a few decades ago.
“It's unfortunate that the comments were made,” Pederson said. “I talk to the team a lot about how we don't need to post anything that can be used on [an opponent’s] web site or bulletin board. It's unfortunate that happened. We still have to go play. They have to play. It's going to be a good football game.”
Pederson said a lot of things get tossed back and forth on social media today and that what Grugier-Hill said wasn’t going to change anything on the field.
“Guys understand. They know what type of game this is, and it just comes down to us versus them and vice-versa and back and forth,” Pederson said.
Pederson said he pulled Grugier-Hill aside and “just talked to him.”
Grugier-Hill, asked about that meeting, said: “I just apologized, because obviously, I put him in a hard spot ... He understands. It’s a heated rivalry. We all know that. It’s just going to be a great game.”
Grugier-Hill agreed with his coach, that his remarks would not be any sort of factor in the game.
“Not really. Like I said, we’re confident in our guys, confident in ourselves, and our team and our abilities, going into this game,” he said. “We’re ready.”
Left unexplained is why Grugier-Hill, a normally calm, level-headed player, who has never done anything like this before, felt the need to talk trash. Someone suggested to him Friday that the Eagles have gotten a little of their pride back, with two divisional wins in a row since that 48-7 loss at New Orleans.
“That’s really what it is … Everything is going to be on the field and how we play, that’s going to be our main swagger, but our confidence levels are on high, we know what we can do as a team, and like I said, we’re ready to play,” Grugier-Hill said.
Not everyone disavowed Grugier-Hill’s comments. Right tackle Lane Johnson, who has said a few things that stirred the pot over the years, said: “I’m on his side, I’ll tell you that much. I’m not going to go out and trash-talk, but we’re definitely on his side … We’re all in his corner. Him saying it is like every one of us saying it. We’re going to go out their and bust our ass for him.”
Grugier-Hill said it wasn’t his idea to have Gibson do the media misdirection.
“He did that himself,” Grugier-Hill said. “I heard about it. I heard it was really funny.”
Someone pointed out that Gibson fooled several people despite being listed as 5-11, to Grugier-Hill’s 6-2.