LeSean McCoy never wanted to leave Philadelphia. He has expressed that sentiment many times since he was traded more than six years ago. But Friday he got his wish -- one he first expressed two years ago -- to return to the team that drafted him and retire as a member of the Eagles.
McCoy, 33, expressed his gratitude to the franchise, the other three teams he played for, and the many individuals who helped make his childhood dream of becoming a star running back a reality. And he spoke of the many highs in his career, his candidacy for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and his future plans.
But it wouldn’t have been within McCoy’s forthright nature if he didn’t also acknowledge the lowest point of his 12 years in the NFL.
“My only regret I have is not being an Eagle in my prime,” McCoy said on Friday. “At the time when I got traded, I felt like I was the second guy, other than maybe [Eagles tackle] Jason Peters.”
While an argument could be made that most of his prime years were in Philly, McCoy would have three Pro Bowl seasons with the Buffalo Bills. His greater argument was that he was denied the opportunity to be identified as synonymous with the Eagles -- he offered the Arizona Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald as an example -- because he didn’t spend the bulk of his career here.
“In the short time I was here, you kind of feel like that,” said McCoy, who arrived as a second-round draft pick out of Pittsburgh in 2009. “But I think that if I was here for three more years, around that 10th year, that’s something I would have had with this franchise. … I was still hot when we parted.”
McCoy doesn’t harbor ill will toward anyone currently with the organization. His ire, of course, has always been directed at former coach Chip Kelly, who spearheaded the deal with the Bills in March 2015 for linebacker Kiko Alonso.
But McCoy didn’t mention Kelly by name, and might not have brought up the subject had the question of regrets not been asked. He spent most of his time Friday at the Lincoln Financial Field podium reflecting on his career and legacy with the Eagles.
“I want to be remembered as the best running back to ever, ever play as a Philadelphia Eagle,” McCoy said.
While Steve Van Buren, Wilbert Montgomery, Duce Staley, and Brian Westbrook might also have claim to that title, McCoy, as the franchise’s all-time leader rusher (6,792 yards), is certainly in the argument.
The Eagles have yet to reissue McCoy’s No. 25 jersey since he was dealt. Owner Jeffrey Lurie and general manager Howie Roseman maintained relationships with the running back, with McCoy confirming long-ago reports that the Eagles had conversations with the Bills about bringing him back.
“We tried,” McCoy said.
But Roseman helped engineer this return and the timing, so that McCoy would be honored at halftime of Sunday’s game at the Linc against Kansas City, the team with which he won his first Super Bowl in the 2019 season, and against Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who drafted and developed him.
McCoy won another Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season, and said he had opportunities to continue playing this season. But he said he didn’t like the offers and that he was willing to only play for championship-caliber teams or the Eagles.
“I just felt like the time was right,” an emotional McCoy said.
McCoy cited his young son and daughter and future endeavors in real estate and broadcast television as additional reasons for retiring. He played sparingly with the Chiefs and Bucs and didn’t even get in either Super Bowl game. But he mentioned his mentorship during those years as some of proudest accomplishments.
“As I got older, I had to contribute in different ways,” he said. “So it was more teaching young guys. Because physically I could have went out there and did my thing. Before I got to those two teams I did really well, but I never won anything.”
He was not without his individual moments, though. He was voted to six Pro Bowls and was named to two All-Pro teams. He won a rushing title in 2013 (1,607 yards) and scored the most rushing touchdowns in the league in 2011 (17).
Overall, he rushed for 11,102 yards, finished with 15,000 yards from scrimmage and scored 89 touchdowns. He ranks 22nd all-time in NFL history in the first category, 26th in the second, and tied for 39th in the third.
In rushing yards, only five running backs ahead of him aren’t in the Hall of Fame, and the first two -- Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson -- are likely to get in once they’re eligible. Fred Taylor, Steven Jackson, and Corey Dillon are just several spots ahead.
“I think that I have the numbers,” McCoy said. “I look at a lot of guys that go in. I’ll just say that I think I’m as good as some of those guys. … The things you need to get in there: Super Bowls, I got stats -- I got a lot of stats if you want to do that game.
“And then it’s very important to discuss players in their time. How did you compete with other guys? And I was one of the best players of my decade.”
Comparing players from different eras is always difficult. But McCoy was named to the NFL’s all-decade team for the 2010s along with Peterson, Gore, and Marshawn Lynch. He finished first in rushing yards, scrimmage yards, touches, and touchdowns for that period.
Ups and downs
Off the field, he was a gregarious figure, although not without incident. There were allegations of his misconduct toward a woman on a party bus he funded, a bar fight with an off-duty Philadelphia police officer, the infamous 20-cent tip he left at a Northern Liberties restaurant, among other controversies.
He also got into trouble with his coaches for public comments about defensive end Osi Umenyiora (“He’s a ballerina in a Giants uniform”) and former Denver running back Knowshon Moreno, who he once said “[stinks],” partly out of spite because he had been drafted 12th in 2009, 31 spots ahead of McCoy.
But on the field there weren’t many players as dynamic. McCoy could cut on a dime like no other modern running back. He was one of the best receivers out of the backfield. And he did the dirty work, as well.
Asked to name some of the highlights of his career, he singled out the Miracle at the New Meadowlands, the Eagles’ comeback over the Giants in 2010 that featured DeSean Jackson’s game-winning punt return. McCoy had only 14 touches, “But, man, I had some key blocks,” he said.
McCoy said he wanted to be remembered most as a player “who loved the game.”
He grew up 90 minutes away in Harrisburg, imagining all the things he wanted to accomplish through football, and most of them occurred here in Philly, even if he was here for only six years.
“There might be different things I could change,” McCoy said, “but overall, I’ve completed my dreams as a kid.”