MIKE MAMULA ended up a cautionary tale dotted with four-letter-word adjectives.

Donovan McNabb still feels the sting of his 1999 NFL draft experience.

Freddie Mitchell went from People's Champion to Paper Champion to substitute teacher.

Jerome McDougle has been plagued by injuries, but he hasn't exactly been overrun with get-well cards.

The Eagles' first-round draft roster reads more like a list of chewed-up and spit-out victims than a who's who. There are cities where newly minted NFLers can establish residency as well as their footing before the vultures start circling in a rabid swarm of expectation.

This isn't one of them.

If a player has the pleasure of hearing his name called early on that April Saturday, he also has the pain of mounting pressure. The spotlight shines and a guy either stars and stays or stinks and slinks out of Dodge.

All of which makes Mike Patterson an interesting case study. The Eagles' first pick of the 2005 draft, Patterson somehow has flown under the radar. It could be his less star-studded position as a defensive lineman, though McDougle would beg to differ. It could be that his Southern California attitude helps him deal better. Mitchell, though, would see it differently.

Or maybe the reason is simpler.

Maybe it's because Patterson has done his job so well there is really nothing to carp about.

"Patterson, to me, is really having an exceptional year," defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said. "He doesn't have the sacks and stuff like that, but he's been a force in the nickel situation."

Patterson is the fourth-leading tackler on the team with 61, tops from the defensive line, and hasn't been altogether shut out in the sack category, with three on the year. On Sunday, he scooped up a Brandon Jacobs fumble to set up the Eagles with a first-and-goal at the 8. That the Birds failed to capitalize when a defense that has struggled all season to create turnovers finally handed them the ball isn't his fault.

But it is what Patterson, alongside first-round bust turned first-round success story Brodrick Bunkley have done against the run that really is setting him apart.

To call the Eagles porous against the run last season would be kind. They ranked 26th in the NFL, allowing 136.4 yards per game including an even uglier 4.5 yards per carry. There has been a concerted effort this season to change those numbers, and they have - the Eagles rank ninth in the league, giving up just 97.8 yards per game.

Much of the explanation for the change belongs to Patterson, of whom former USC quarterback and now NBC announcer Pat Haden once memorably said, "He's like hair in a sink. He just kind of clogs things up."

A high school wrestler who only gave up the sport because his high school wrestling coach insisted he choose between football and wrestling - tough choice, what with the plentiful options of professional real wrestling - Patterson still thinks like a wrestler. Much like Trent Cole, his so-called undersized counterpart at defensive end, he stays low to keep his balance and he looks as his job on the line much like he looked at a wrestling match, as a mano a mano battle for superiority.

"You have to keep moving your mind, be one step ahead," he said. "You're trying to keep yourself alive out there."

Patterson will be the first to say he is lucky to be where he is, but unlike so many times where those words are mere hyperbole or cliche, he really is lucky. Not fortunate, downright lucky.

He had the good fortune to have a cousin, Jorrel Knight, who played football. While visiting Knight, Patterson tagged along to a football camp in the summer before his freshman year of high school. He liked it so much, he asked his parents if he could stay in Southern California, a 6-hour ride from his Sacramento home, and attend football power Los Alamitos High.

Fortune smiled on Patterson again, when they agreed to let him stay.

Four years and high school All-America honors later, Patterson opted to play for USC. It was 2001 and in perhaps the biggest stroke of luck, the Trojans had just hired a new coach by the name of Pete Carroll.

USC won two national championships while Patterson was in school. The trophies were nice, but playing for a guy like Carroll ultimately proved even more valuable when Patterson transitioned to the NFL.

"It was easier for me because of the system I came out of with Pete," Patterson said. "He's always trying to teach his guys. It wasn't just give you a play and you go out and do it. It was teaching us. He talks to you like a man. He doesn't look at you as a kid or talk to you like a kid. The lingo he uses, it's very professional. Everybody knows Jim's stuff is tough to learn, but I think I had it a little easier."

Patterson never stopped to think what he would have done if football had not fallen fall in his lap, but admits a likely choice would have him in his father's kitchen. Six years ago, Tyrone Patterson, a longtime restaurant chef, realized his own dream when he opened Touch of Class, a soul-food restaurant in South Sacramento. A decent cook as long as he has a recipe, Patterson doesn't quite have his dad's creativity but he's not intimidated in the kitchen.

But fortunately with his strong play earning nothing but goodwill - and a 7-year contract extension in 2006 - in Philadelphia, Patterson need only worry about cooking for himself.

Patterson is no ostrich. He knows well that his radar-skimming arrival is unusual, if not altogether unprecedented, but he will be the last guy to call attention to himself. A quintessential laid-back Californian, Patterson still is acclimating to the fast-paced, in-your-face East Coast.

"To tell the truth, I didn't know what to expect," he said. "I hear people saying things about my teammates, but you just have to ignore it. You can't focus on that. You have to worry about doing what you're supposed to do. My thing, as long as the coaches are happy with me, I'm happy. I call this place home now and I'm not planning to leave anytime soon."

And surprisingly, no one is pushing him out the door. *