Zach Ertz watched the United States’ opening game in the Women’s World Cup on Tuesday at home with a jersey that said “Mr. Ertz” on the back and blue-starred shorts.
His teammates were in meetings at the team facility after their first practice of mandatory minicamp, but coach Doug Pederson sent Ertz home. Pederson excused Ertz so he could watch his wife, star defender Julie Ertz, realizing that the moment was more important than anything discussed in the offensive meeting rooms in June.
On Sunday, when the United States plays Chile, Zach Ertz will be in Paris. He was scheduled to fly to France on Friday to support his wife (and her teammates) for his summer vacation. He’s not planning to come home anytime soon.
“The return flight is after the final,” Ertz said.
Ertz is among the NFL’s best tight ends, with his reputation in Philadelphia entrenched after he set an NFL record with 116 catches last season and caught the game-winning touchdown pass in the Super Bowl the year before. But he’s just as comfortable being Julie Ertz’s husband, a role he’ll revel in during the World Cup.
It’s also why Ertz is not shy about defending the U.S team, especially after criticism for running up the score in a 13-0 win over Thailand.
Ertz first noted that the top tiebreaker for the group stage is goal differential.
“So it would be a crime for them to take their foot off the gas and then finish second in the group because they took their foot off the gas,” Ertz said.
Then he mentioned that the best way to develop chemistry is to celebrate success together, referencing the group celebrations the 2017 Eagles created while scoring touchdowns on the way to the Super Bowl. He also knows how the excitement had been building for so long, he said, with the women training for four years, and how it was the first World Cup game for many of them.
Ertz traveled to Canada for the 2015 World Cup, so he’s seasoned in watching high-stakes games. It doesn’t make it easier, as long as it’s not a 13-goal rout.
“As an athlete, I feel like I have a little bit of control — or a lot of control — of the situation,” Ertz said. “When you’re the in the stands, you have no control of the situation. You’re just praying (a) she’s healthy, (b) she’s having fun and successful. It’s definitely more nerve-racking watching than playing.”
But Ertz knows he can’t spend three weeks in Paris eating baguettes and watching soccer. He pledged that he won’t forget his day job while overseas.
Ertz typically takes off the first week after the offseason program to allow his body to recover. But he has invested time in ensuring he can still train with a joie de vivre in Paris. The Eagles had a rookie wide receiver last offseason named Anthony Mahoungou, a Paris native who didn’t make the team. Ertz remained in touch with Mahoungou and sought his help in finding places for workouts.
Ertz has a tough act to follow. Pederson singled out Ertz as one of the players who was a standout this spring.
“This guy is a pro's pro the way he attacks just the offseason,” Pederson said. “It's like Week 9 for him. When I say everything matters, with Zach Ertz, that's what I'm talking about.”
Ertz has liked what he’s seen this spring, too. This will be Ertz’s seventh NFL season, and he’s been on three playoff teams, including the Super Bowl winner. But Ertz said this year’s roster is second to none of those he has played with.
“There’s a lot of expectations internally with us,” Ertz said. “Obviously, it’s early, it’s June ... but you look around the locker room, in terms of talent, I’ve never been on a team like this. Just top to bottom of the roster, guys competing at a high level.”
Ertz likes how complementary the pieces are on offense, illustrated by a play in practice Wednesday when the safety went to cover Ertz, opening space downfield for DeSean Jackson to roam free for a touchdown.
But Ertz added that it requires more than talent to win. What separated the Super Bowl team, Ertz said, was that the players came together and built chemistry.
That’s what Ertz will try to see in Paris for his wife to win another World Cup. He saw the first step while sitting on his couch — he was grateful for Pederson, who said, “You don’t get these times back” — but he didn’t want to miss any practice time. Now that practices are finished, he’ll get to see the games in person.