Takeo Spikes turned 31 on Monday, and for his present from the Eagles, he got an MRI exam.
Well, happy birthday. See you next year.
The test revealed a torn rotator cuff in Spikes' left shoulder, a tear that occurred in the fourth quarter against Dallas when the linebacker reached out to make a tackle and the tendon ripped like a curtain. Spikes finished that series of plays, but he was done after that, for the game and, ultimately, for the season.
"It was frustrating," Spikes said of the news. "It's still frustrating . . . and I can only imagine it's going to get worse."
Spikes knows this because there isn't a player in the NFL as familiar with a long off-season of regret as he is. This was Spikes' 10th year in the NFL and his ninth on a team that couldn't muster a winning record. The lone exception, the Buffalo Bills in 2004, went a lofty 9-7. Hoo-wee.
It isn't the kind of thing you like to bring up with Spikes very often, because he gives you the same look he gives running backs before flattening them, but Spikes holds the current NFL record for most games played without taking part in a single postseason contest.
For a player of average temperament, that would be a tough thing to accept. For Spikes, whose intensity is a little scary, it is difficult to convey how the 140-game streak eats at him.
"I just want to win," Spikes said last spring when he joined the team for minicamp. "This is my 10th year. I'm more close to going out the door than coming in. So I want to win at all costs."
He did what he could. He picked up the complex schemes of Jim Johnson, teamed with a couple of other linebackers who were new to their positions, and the defense finally came around. It came around particularly when Brian Dawkins and Lito Sheppard got healthier, and when Johnson stopped waiting for Jevon Kearse and Darren Howard to anchor the line, but the linebackers were in the middle of everything.
Omar Gaither leads the team in tackles (149) and solo tackles (95). Spikes is second in both categories, with 139 and 90. From a consistency perspective, Spikes has been there every game. He had nine or more tackles in 12 of the 14 games.
But it wasn't enough. Now he has to look forward to his 11th season, and to the knowledge that the exit door is ever closer.
"I do everything I can possibly do. You put in all the little detail time, as far as staying after practice, coming in early, getting the guys together to do extra work," Spikes said. "To know you progressed [through] 14 games . . . and you have two games left and you can't do anything about it, I just wish we had the opportunity to go to the playoffs."
Andy Reid indicated Spikes would have surgery on the torn rotator cuff tomorrow. Even if the Eagles were still alive for a postseason slot, that would be the case, according to Reid. Even if the Eagles had already clinched the postseason, that would be the case, even "as much as he was opposed to it," Reid said.
Spikes didn't sound so sure.
"I don't think I could deal with that," he said.
Someone asked Spikes if he would have tried to talk Reid into letting him forgo the surgery and continue playing.
"I would have to do something else more than talk," Spikes said, and it didn't sound like idle speculation.
All that is moot now, however. The Eagles aren't going anywhere this season, and Spikes is going to the operating room. Then he will settle back and watch the Eagles finish this depressing year without him. And then, if he can deal with it, he will watch another postseason filled with players not named Takeo Spikes.
The toughest part, really, might be not getting a chance to play against Buffalo in the final regular-season game. The Bills traded Spikes during the off-season, intimating that the linebacker (who had missed 17 games to injury in the previous two seasons) was pretty much done. Head coach Dick Jauron and general manager Marv Levy, both of whom joined the organization in 2006, shipped Spikes to the Eagles in a deal that included Darwin Walker.
"I wanted that game badly," Spikes said. "When I left Buffalo, I still had a lot of great and true friends there. Dealing with some other people who came into the building, they weren't so true to me. If you have any competitive fire in you, you want to play that team you used to play for, just to show them and let them know what you're capable of doing."
Spikes will have to satisfy himself with the knowledge that everything he did this season, all the hits, all the tackles, are preserved forever on film. When teams try to figure out how to stop the Patriots and Cowboys, Spikes said, they'll pop in the tape of the Eagles' defense.
"The film doesn't lie," he said.
Yes, but the film from next month's playoffs won't include the Eagles, and that's no lie, either. It won't include Takeo Spikes, who did everything he could to get there, only to be frustrated once again.
He is not a happy man. But he isn't beaten. Not yet.
"I should be back for minicamps," Spikes said, and then he was gone.