The list of Eagles for whom the 2012 season will be remembered as a positive is not a long one. There are rookies who have established themselves and a very few veterans who improved their standing as NFL players, but you could hold a meeting of the This Wasn't All Bad Club in a pretty small room.
And then there is Colt Anderson, the smallish safety who has been doubted at every level and who began the season still recovering from surgery to repair a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
Anderson was only even-money to make it back onto the field, and maybe less than that to last the season, but he has done much more. On Thursday, the Eagles announced that Anderson, now a starter on defense, was selected their recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award. It is an award selected by player voting and it is meant to honor that member of the team who overcomes adversity with a greatest balance of sportsmanship and courage.
"Getting an award from your teammates is a big deal," Anderson said between practice sessions. "I went through a lot coming back with my ACL and it was the guys who motivated me to keep going. That's why I was able to keep going. It's an honor."
There's no doubt his teammates encouraged him during the long months of rehabilitation when Anderson barely missed a day working out at the NovaCare Complex, but to keep going is really what he is all about. Anderson, listed a little generously at 5-foot-10 and 194 pounds, didn't receive even a partial scholarship to the University of Montana after starring at Butte High School.
He made the Montana team as a walk-on - eventually earning a partial, then a full scholarship - and cleaned gas stations to pay the rent as he waited for his break. Undrafted after college, Anderson was on the practice squad of the Minnesota Vikings for 2009 and half of the 2010 season before being cut loose.
The Eagles were looking for special-teams players at that time and coordinator Bobby April recalls being shown film of Anderson.
"I looked at the film and said, 'Jeez, this guy can play for anybody, and he's playing for nobody? Absolutely, let's get him. What are we waiting for?'" April said. "He can just play. He's under-appreciated."
Anderson is under-appreciated not because he can't play, but because, in the cold eye of talent evaluators, he doesn't look like he should be able to play. With the Eagles, he played eight games, almost solely on special teams, in 2010 and his impact on his teammates was so immediate they voted him the special-teams captain for their playoff game that season.
Last season, he was having another great year on special teams, looking possibly at an All-Pro berth for that work, when he blew out his knee on Dec. 1 in Seattle. Despite missing the final four games of the season, Anderson was still selected as the team's MVP for special teams.
Anderson missed the first game of this season as he finished the final stages of his knee rehabilitation, but once he returned, he was the same fearless tackler and full-speed blocker he was before. When safety Kurt Coleman missed the two most recent games with injury, Anderson stepped in and played so well that he will remain in the starting lineup now that Coleman is back. Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles decided to bench Nate Allen and leave Anderson on the field.
"He has football instincts and you can't teach that. It makes up for a lot," Bowles said. "You won't see those things at the combines when they run the 40's, and when they do the height, weight and speed thing. Guys like that get put on the back burner. It doesn't mean they can't play, it's just that you always want bigger, faster, stronger. Then someone gets hurt and you get to see what they can do. It's a joy to see."
Anderson understands how the game works and he knows there will always be players coming along who do better with the stopwatches and the tape measures. All he asks is a fair chance and he's getting one now.
"Being tough is not just about being physically tough," Anderson said. "It's about being mentally tough, and I believe I'm a mentally tough guy. I can get through things. I know my role and whether it's on special teams or on the defense, I'm going to bring the same energy every day and try to lead by example."
The example he set this season is that you can still make something good out of a bad situation and that adversity is just opportunity in disguise. And, you have to admit, it was quite a disguise for the 2012 Eagles.
Colt Anderson saw through it, though. He has made a habit of that during a football career that wasn't even supposed to happen. The stopwatches and tape measures say he can't keep it going, but they've been wrong before.