Mark Sanchez received a text message from Pete Carroll during the preseason. Carroll, Sanchez's coach at Southern California who now leads the Seattle Seahawks, told Sanchez he was happy that his former quarterback was back having fun.
"That means the world to me," Sanchez said this week.
It was a departure from January 2009, when Sanchez bypassed his final season of college eligibility for the NFL draft after a sterling performance over Penn State in the Rose Bowl. Carroll disagreed with Sanchez's decision, and he made that clear during a news conference while mentioning the hurdles for quarterbacks who leave college early.
Sanchez became the fifth overall pick in the draft and went to the AFC championship game during his first two seasons with the Jets. He flamed out in 2012 and is now reviving his career under Chip Kelly in Philadelphia. Carroll is among his supporters.
"To all the questions about when he was leaving, that never separated us at all," Carroll said. "We just had a difference of opinion on something. I watched him really closely during all the New York years, and I watched him play in preseason, and I thought he looked really good. I thought he looked like he could fit in and compete for the job, and I was just rooting for him."
Both head coaches in the Eagles-Seahawks game on Sunday have ties to the opposing quarterbacks. Kelly has a history with Seattle's Russell Wilson, who competed against Kelly when he was QB at Wisconsin and spent a day with Kelly in July 2010.
Wilson played minor-league baseball for the Tri-City Dust Devils, a single-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies. During a series in Eugene, Ore., Wilson contacted Kelly. Wilson still quarterbacked North Carolina State at the time, and he knew about what Kelly had accomplished at Oregon.
"He showed me around the University of Oregon, he showed me their whole facility - what they do there, their academics are," Wilson said. "We just had a really good experience."
The two got a chance to get to know each other, and Kelly came away impressed. Wilson, a third-round pick in 2012 after one season at Wisconsin, turned into a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Kelly was not surprised.
"You can't meet a better person," Kelly said. "I knew right then, whether he decided he was going to be a football player or baseball player, he was going to be successful in everything he did. There was a maturity about him, and there's an air about him that you knew this guy was going to be a successful guy."
Wilson, 26, thought he might end up in Philadelphia in 2012. The Eagles were among the teams that showed the most interest in him before that draft, and Wilson text-messaged an Eagles scout during the predraft process pledging championships if the Eagles picked him. Wilson went 13 picks before the Eagles selected in the third round. The Eagles chose Nick Foles.
Sunday would have been the first matchup between Foles and Wilson if Foles was not sidelined with a broken collarbone. The desire for two starting-caliber quarterbacks was the impetus for the Eagles' pursuit of Sanchez in free agency. Carroll said Sanchez is also benefiting from a quarterback-friendly system that fits the player's skill set.
"I think he's playing fast," Carroll said. "He's playing with a lot of confidence in the system. It's obviously a system that helps the quarterbacks perform at a high level. . . . The fact that Mark's come off the bench and performed at a high level is really a statement about the program as well as the players. I think that's what we're seeing."
When Sanchez left USC against Carroll's wishes, the Trojans did not have a starter waiting in the pipeline. It became true freshman Matt Barkley, who was the nation's top recruit and enrolled early. Barkley remembered sitting in class on campus that winter when he saw the breaking news that Sanchez planned to go pro. Barkley had no inkling, expecting to sit behind Sanchez for a year. He is now Sanchez's backup with the Eagles.
"Both he and Mark, when they had their teams at SC, they had the program by the reins," Carroll said. "It's fascinating to me that these two guys are now the quarterbacks for the Eagles and we're playing against them."
Sunday is a reunion for both quarterbacks. It's not only with Carroll; the Seahawks staff is loaded with former Trojans. Sanchez remembered Carroll's message when they played against people Carroll knew in college, and it's going to be Sanchez's goal on Sunday.
"His biggest thing is you want to kick their butt," Sanchez said. "That's the way you feel when you play those guys. I know he's thinking that, and that's got to be our attitude."