MIAMI – LeSean McCoy looked around Marlins Park and soaked in the Super Bowl Opening Night atmosphere. He was at the Super Bowl for the first time and it wasn’t lost on the running back that he was standing, rather than sitting behind one of the dozen podiums reserved for the Chiefs’ star players.
McCoy signed with Kansas City just before the season -- and after the Buffalo Bills had cut him – knowing that his touches would decrease. But he didn’t see the last two months coming, when an injury and the subsequent play of his replacement would relegate the veteran to the bench.
How could he argue? His backup, Damien Williams, kept producing, the Chiefs kept winning, and McCoy, after 11 NFL seasons, finally has the opportunity to win a championship when Kansas City faces the 49ers Sunday.
“It’s a test of your character,” McCoy said Tuesday. “I’m still a team player. I could be bitter mad. But look at this place. Look where I’m at. I’m at the Super Bowl. I got rushing titles. I got Pro Bowls. But I’ve never been to the Super Bowl.”
Two years earlier, McCoy watched the Eagles win a title. He said he cheered on his former team and teammates, but he admitted that his departure from Philadelphia nearly five years ago still stings.
But he doesn’t hold that long-ago trade against anyone still with the franchise. In fact, he said that when he finally hangs up his cleats, he intends to do so as an Eagle.
“I’m going to retire as an Eagle,” McCoy said. “Right now, I’m a Chief. I’m doing my thing here. But when it’s all said and done, that’s home for me. It’s weird because places I play at, people know that.”
Time travels like an arrow in the NFL. It wasn’t so long ago that McCoy was one of the elite running backs in the league. He was voted to three Pro Bowls with the Bills from 2015-17. But McCoy built his reputation, his cut-on-a-dime legend, with the Eagles.
In just six seasons, he set the franchise record with 6,792 rushing yards. He also caught 300 passes for 2,282 yards and scored 54 total touchdowns. He was a workhorse tailback and the Eagles haven’t had one since. (Although Miles Sanders, whom McCoy praised, could be the next.)
And then following the 2014 season, then-coach Chip Kelly dealt McCoy to Buffalo for linebacker Kiko Alonso. He was blindsided.
“I was real hurt in Philly when that happened,” McCoy said. “That hurt me for a while because I was the best player on the team, especially on offense. And that was like home for me. My hometown is an hour away.”
Raised in Harrisburg, McCoy wasn’t necessarily a fan of the Eagles growing up, or of any team, for that matter. He followed individuals. The Detroit Lions’ Barry Sanders was his favorite running back. And in basketball, the 76ers’ Allen Iverson and the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant were his heroes.
McCoy said he found out about Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash Sunday as the Chiefs flew here.
“I’m still emotional about it,” McCoy said. “It took a lot of joy out of this trip.”
Long before Bryant, a Philly native and Eagles fan, wore McCoy’s No. 25 jersey on fall Sundays, McCoy used to watch the hoopster’s YouTube highlights as motivation. He said he didn’t meet Bryant until he attended a Sixers-Lakers game in 2011, his third season.
“I was young … and I see him and he was like, ‘Oh!’ And he called me ‘Shifty Shady,’” McCoy said. “I remember that like it was this day. I texted my mom, ‘Dang, Mom, Kobe know who I am!’”
McCoy admitted that Bryant’s death resonated because he had seen the 41-year-old shift into his post-basketball life and fatherhood seamlessly. McCoy, 31, said that he can see his career nearing its end and he’s tried to embrace the role of elder statesman.
“I’m going to have a great career when I’m done,” McCoy said. “But when people talk about me, I want them to say, ‘Yo, not only was Shady McCoy really good, but he was a solid person in the locker room. He helped us out.’”
In his first eight games this season, McCoy rushed 69 times for 362 yards for a 5.2-yard average. But he suffered a concussion, missed a game, and when he returned averaged only 3.2 yards. He didn’t play in the final two games of the regular season, the divisional playoff and was inactive for the AFC title game because he had the flu.
“He’s handled [a lesser role]. He’s handled that well,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who drafted McCoy with the Eagles. “He’s 31 years old now. … Remember when he came to us? He was just a young buck, youngest kid in the draft. And now he’s old.
“The life expectancy of those running backs is three years, and he’s made it longer than that.”
McCoy indicated that he wants to play beyond this season, but as Reid said, the shelf life for running backs is brief, especially for elite ones who have never played special teams. But McCoy proved that he still had agility and burst pre-injury. He could be called upon Sunday.
If not, and the Chiefs still won, he said he’d be happy.