Want to start a shouting match in the Eagles' locker room?
It's easy. Just bring up college allegiances, conference superiority, and this week's rivalry games, then stand back as the fire spreads through the kindling of intensely competitive and proud young men. Yes, they are all professionals, but as the college season reaches its climax, school loyalty brings out the fan in the Eagles.
Take this exchange between Michigan alumnus Brandon Graham and Kurt Coleman, from Ohio State, as their schools prepared to play. They're both rookies, barely removed from one of college's most intense rivalries.
"I let him know, don't talk to me," Graham said early this week. "I don't know you, you don't know me."
All he wanted to hear from Coleman, a safety, were defensive play calls.
That kind of fever has spread through the locker room.
On Friday, center Mike McGlynn, a former Pittsburgh Panther, shouted at the television as his team gave up a touchdown to archrival West Virginia. "Terrible!"
Winston Justice said his USC Trojans were so dominant over Notre Dame that he didn't need to talk about it to Trevor Laws, a former Irish star.
"He's just silent," Justice said. "It's a quiet understanding of what's about to happen to him."
Antonio Dixon, a former Miami Hurricane, trudged through the Eagles' complex wearing an ill-fitting maroon Virginia Tech hat. Days earlier, he had been sporting bright orange Miami shorts, but that was before his school lost to Darryl Tapp's alma mater, and Dixon lost a bet.
"You've just got to have fun," Tapp said. "We're in hotel rooms all night the night before our games, so we've got to watch them," he said of the college games.
In a room of competitors, school success is just one more way the athletes stack themselves up.
Quintin Mikell, a Boise State alumnus, talked up his small school's undefeated record. Once an undrafted free agent, Mikell epitomizes Boise's underdog status, and likes to take a poke at the giants of college football. One favorite target is Coleman, a former Ohio State captain.
"I give him crap all the time," Mikell said.
He led reporters to Coleman's adjacent locker and began rifling through it, pulling out a 2010 Rose Bowl backpack Coleman carries, and mocking the rookie for it. "He only wears it when they win," Mikell said.
Coleman emerged from the shower, towel around his waist, to find Mikell standing in his locker, reporters gobbling up the scene. Coleman began to respond, criticizing Boise State's lower-tier schedule.
But Mikell was still going. One stall over he donned a blue Boise State shirt and hat, their tags still on, and continued his rant for the rolling cameras. After putting down Ohio State some more, he said: "At Boise State we get a good education and shirts and stuff."
Omar Gaither, who went to Tennessee, has turned his locker into a mini-shrine to the Volunteers. He has a small statue wearing a tiny Tennessee helmet, books on his alma mater, and cuff links with orange-and-white checks that match the famous end zones at Neyland Stadium. When he goes to practice, he wears Tennessee shirts under his Eagles pads.
"Once you go there, you start bleeding orange," Gaither said, and quickly delivered none-too-flattering assessments of the schools of fellow linebackers Moise Fokou (Maryland), Keenan Clayton (Oklahoma), and Akeem Jordan (James Madison) as they sat nearby.
"James Madison, that's like a homecoming school," Gaither said, as he pulled on a Tennessee hoodie.
Soon the four linebackers, who usually amiably chat at their stalls, were in a full-blown argument, shouting over one another, voices and pitches raised.
The NFL is business. College pride, though, is something different.
"It's a job now," Gaither said. "But you choose your school."
Inside the Eagles:
Read the Eagles' blog, "Birds' Eye View" by Jeff McLane and Jonathan Tamari at www.philly.com/eagles.
Blog response of the week
Subject: What should the Eagles be thankful for?
Response from tacklinjoe at 10:50 a.m. Thursday:
"Without Shady's blocking, the Giants might have won 27-7, with 3 interceptions. That was a back's nightmare, with blitzers coming from all over the place. The guy paid attention when Westbrook was playing."