Amid all of the holiday hustle and bustle, former Eagles running back Ricky Watters was back in the area yesterday handing out turkeys to senior citizens and the less-fortunate.
No, that isn't a misprint.
The 6-1, hulking man who was hugging and kissing older ladies was the five-time Pro Bowler who was as known for his mouth, bandana, and bad-boy image as his speed and elusiveness in the backfield. This was the same Watters who remains the only NFL running back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season with three teams. Undoubtedly, it was the identical Harrisburg native who, according to rumors, retired in 2001 to avoid air travel after Sept. 11.
Everyone, of course, remembers his introduction to Philadelphia after his first game with the Eagles. How could we forget? After winning the Super Bowl in 1995 with San Francisco, Watters jumped ship to Philadelphia as a free agent. In the season-opener at Veterans Stadium - a 21-6 loss to Tampa Bay - he allegedly "alligator-armed" a reachable Randall Cunningham pass to avoid getting clobbered by a defender.
When asked about it after the game, Watters infamously responded: "For who? For what?" - words that have become legendary in this town.
That headline-making comment helped cement his image across the NFL.
But at the LaMott Community Center in Elkins Park yesterday, a different side of Watters emerged. The side rarely reported or even entertained. The side hidden underneath the tattoos, earrings, and his Super Bowl XXIX ring.
Watters' famous passion and emotion from the playing field was alive at LaMott.
"This makes me feel alive," Watters bellowed, after the seniors in attendance asked why he decided to get involved.
Since retiring from the NFL after the 2001 season, Watters, 39, has kept a low profile. He lives in Orlando, Fla., with his wife and two sons - 8 years old and 19 months. But after getting "bored" from just hanging around, Watters decided to get involved in some serious charity work.
"I'm retired, like you," Watters said to the crowd. "But I am just retired from football, not from life."
He is a motivational speaker and mentors children, who like himself, are adopted. On Wednesday, Watters traveled around the Harrisburg area to deliver turkeys.
"It felt really good to go around in the neighborhoods that I grew up in," Watters said. "Some of the people that still live there, and knew me when I was young, to be able to help them out was great.
"They need help at this time of the year. Especially this year with the economy."
Yesterday, LaMott was one of six local community centers that Watters visited.
"But to come here [in Philadelphia], where all of the fans and my friends are, it is really special," Watters said.
But in Philadelphia, home of that comment?
This year, NFL Films did a top-10 show of the best players who are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Watters, whose 10,643 rushing yards and 103 career touchdowns are better than some of those already in the Hall, ranked seventh on the list. Many critics say his comment and attitude overshadowed his play and could prevent him from ever getting elected.
Does he regret how things turned out? While Watters would not admit one way or the other, remorse was apparent.
"Really, I have moved on from it," Watters said. "It was 13 years ago. I was young, angry, and upset that we lost the game.
"I was just upset. I never would have thought that it would get taken the way it was in the media. It blew up pretty quickly."
But Watters doesn't dwell on the past, wondering if he did enough to be voted in.
"I try not to worry about," he said. "I figured that I already did what I could do. I know that I had a great career. I think that it is a great honor just to be named. I'm glad that people appreciate what I did on the football field."
For now, Watters continues to stay active in the community.
"It is something I have always done," Watters said. "This is just the first time I have done it down here."
Watters isn't lying: In 1994 he was the American Cancer Society's Humanitarian of the Year. But there was little or no press surrounding that. *