Greg Ward is living proof of the power of persistence, the power of believing in yourself, the power of getting knocked down but always, always getting back up.
Three times the former University of Houston quarterback went to training camp with the Eagles and tried to make their roster as a wide receiver, and three times he was released and wound up on their practice squad.
Last year, they even cut him from that. He ended up in the short-lived spring league, the Alliance of American Football, where he caught 22 passes in eight games for the San Antonio Commanders before they turned the lights out.
The Eagles re-signed him last spring after the AAF folded. He went to training camp and outplayed Mack Hollins. But Hollins had been a fourth-round draft pick. So Hollins made the team and Ward wound up back on the practice squad.
He was promoted for a couple of minutes in September when Alshon Jeffery missed a game with a calf injury, but played just two snaps in the Eagles’ 28-24, Week 3 loss to the Lions, and was sent back to the practice squad.
He waited and he waited, and kept working hard and kept believing that his time would come. And late last month, it finally did.
After spending the week before the Eagles’ Week 12 loss to Seattle impersonating Russell Wilson on the scout team, he was signed to the 53-man roster two days before the game.
Ward played 37 snaps in the 17-9 loss, catching six passes for 40 yards. He caught just one pass for 5 yards last week against Miami.
But Monday night, he helped save their season with clutch catches on the Eagles’ game-tying and winning touchdown drives.
He had a 12-yard catch that gave the Eagles a first down at the Giants’ 1-yard line on their game-tying drive, and then had a big 8-yard reception on a second-and-10 at the Giants’ 26 in overtime.
The Eagles needed everything Ward could give them Monday night. They lost Alshon Jeffery early in the second quarter to a foot injury. The Eagles curiously entered the game with just three wide receivers — Jeffery, Ward, and rookie J.J. Arcega-Whiteside — though tight end Josh Perkins is a former wideout. Still, they basically played most of the game with just two wide receivers, one a rookie and the other a guy who was on the practice squad three weeks ago.
Ward played 77 snaps against the Giants. Arcega-Whiteside played 80. Ward was targeted nine times, second to tight end Zach Ertz’s 13. He finished with just four catches for 34 yards, but the two down the stretch were big.
“Just trying to do anything to help, man,’’ Ward said after the game.
Ward was one of three former Eagles practice-squad players who played big roles in Monday night’s win. The other two were Perkins, who had five catches, just three fewer than he had in his previous 18 NFL games, and running back Boston Scott, who had 128 yards from scrimmage and a 2-yard touchdown run.
“Me, Boston and Perk, we always talk about these kinds of moments,’’ Ward said. “We been talking about this for a long time."
Ward twice almost had his first NFL touchdown catch. He caught a 9-yard pass in the end zone from Wentz in the second quarter, but a holding penalty on right guard Brandon Brooks wiped out that score. The Eagles ended up having to settle for a Jake Elliott field goal, which accounted for their only points of the game until late in the third quarter.
Early in the fourth, on a third-and-11 from the Giants’ 29, Wentz went to Ward again in the end zone. But Giants safety Antoine Bethea managed to get a fingertip on the ball at the last second and it fell incomplete.
“He came over the top and got a hand on it,’’ Ward said. “But we never stopped believing we could come back. At halftime, everybody was encouraging each other. We knew what we had to go out and fix. And we went out there and fixed it and came out with the win.
“We all believed in each other. We made our adjustments and went out there and did it.’’
If the Eagles are going to run the table these next three weeks and win the division, Ward is going to have to continue to make plays like he made in the Giants game, and probably more of them.
Jeffery likely is lost for the season. Nelson Agholor missed his second game in three weeks with a knee injury. So there’s Ward and there’s Arcega-Whiteside and little else, though you can probably expect another NovaCare visit from Jordan Matthews this week.
The trust Ward earned from Wentz with those two late catches will be important going forward.
“It’s very important for the trust to be there with everybody on the team,’’ the young wide receiver said. “Him having faith in me, we just rally together, believe in each other.’’
Ertz, who capped both of those last two critical drives with 2-yard touchdown catches from Wentz, said he has been impressed with Ward.
“G-Ward is a baller for sure,’’ he said. “I’ve watched him the past two years [on scout team] going against the defense every day, consistently getting better, consistently working his butt off to become a receiver.
“It’s a new position, obviously, for him. The guy asks a ton of questions and is eager to learn. He’s a guy I’m really proud of, being able to go in there and let us lean on him to make big plays in the fourth quarter and overtime and help us win the game.
“All the work he’s put in the past two years has obviously paid off. He’s going to be a really good player for us.’’
While many of the Eagles dressed and headed into the night after the game, Ward lingered by his locker, replying to texts from friends and family and just soaking in the experience of being a contributing member of an NFL team. He’s waited a long time to experience that.
“A lot of patience went into it,’’ he said. “A lot of faith. A lot of hard work. Just trusting the process, honestly. Just praying a lot and thanking God for the opportunity. My faith has grown through the whole process.’’
Despite getting released three times by the Eagles, Ward said he never, ever doubted he would eventually get his opportunity.
“Not at all,’’ he said. “I never thought it wasn’t going to happen. It was just a matter of when.