On the 114-acre piece of Chester County land that has been his home since 1987, a place that can feel as far away from football as a man can get, Dick Vermeil still found over the last three weeks that he just couldn't help himself, that he had to dive into the data to better understand the excellence of Carson Wentz.
The kid couldn't be this good this fast, so Vermeil started digging through record books and statistics to compare Wentz's first three games with the Eagles to the debuts of the NFL's greatest quarterbacks. Joe Montana? No. Troy Aikman. Hell no, not with that 1-15 Cowboys team. Dan Marino? No, not even him. None of them had played this well this early, and perhaps the closest comparison to Wentz was one from Vermeil's own experience: Kurt Warner and the 1999 St. Louis Rams.
"Where Wentz and Kurt Warner are alike is their personality profile, their temperaments," Vermeil, who turns 80 on Oct. 30, said in a phone interview Friday. "Nothing at all, at any time, flustered Kurt Warner. From the very first step he took on the field in the league opener in 1999, [offensive coordinator] Mike Martz coached him as if Kurt had been playing in the league for 10 years."
You keep hearing the same compliment paid to Wentz, and for Vermeil, still a sentimental hero here for coaching the Eagles to their first Super Bowl, it's just one of several similarities between this year's Eagles and the '99 Rams that are too obvious to miss. Just like these Eagles, those Rams were coming off a losing season - they'd gone 4-12 in 1998 - and lost their starting quarterback during the preseason, only the reason for that change was far more traumatic than the Eagles' decision to trade Sam Bradford to the Vikings for a first-round draft pick.
When Trent Green went down with a season-ending knee injury, Vermeil said, the Rams fell into "immediate depression." And it was only when Warner - with that humble background as a grocery-bagger and an Arena Football League quarterback, with all of 11 pass attempts in his NFL career - revealed himself to be football's answer to Roy Hobbs that the Rams realized how good they still were and might yet be.
"No way I could believe he could end up being what he was," Vermeil said. "We didn't know he could play at the level to be the most valuable player of the league. With Carson Wentz, when the team got rid of Sam Bradford, it wasn't emotional depression. They got rid of a kid they knew could play, and they had a guy there more ready to play than anyone thought.
"He appears to have those attributes: poise, confidence, toughness. There are certain people who, when they get in a game, it slows down for them, and there are certain people who, when they get in a game, the game gets faster. Carson Wentz, the game slows down for him."
For all the praise that Wentz deserves, Vermeil was quick to credit the Eagles' quarterback politburo - coach Doug Pederson, offensive coordinator Frank Reich, and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo - for creating an environment in which Wentz could thrive. It was an approach that Vermeil himself was successful in implementing throughout his coaching career. Ron Jaworski with the Eagles, Warner with the Rams, Green with the Kansas City Chiefs: These quarterbacks had their best, most productive seasons under Vermeil, and he believes at his core that, when it comes to identifying and developing great quarterbacks, the secret is simple: Either you got it, or you don't.
In that way, he looks at the Eagles and sees everything his '99 Rams team did right - and everything the Rams' more recent teams have done wrong. There was Bradford, whom the Rams drafted with the No. 1 pick in 2010, whose five years in St. Louis saw him tear his left ACL twice and deal with constant change on the offensive coaching staff. There was Nick Foles, who lasted one awful season before the Rams released him and Andy Reid and the Chiefs signed him to be a backup. Now there is Jared Goff - the No. 1 pick in this year's draft, the only player picked ahead of Wentz - who can't get off the bench in Los Angeles, who in Vermeil's mind is more likely to be a bust just by being with the Rams than he would have been with the Eagles.
"No question," he said. "First off, unfortunately for the Rams, how many offensive coordinators have they fired and quarterbacks have they gone through? Sam Bradford is going to prove he can really play. He can take a team to the Super Bowl. But within that environment, the supporting cast was never good enough to show that he was worthy of that first pick. . . . There are organizations where a quarterback would have to run over them with a bus for them to recognize he can play."
Dick Vermeil's voice was rising over the phone now as he made that assertion. In fact, we had already said goodbye, but he had called back because he was so set on making that point: that circumstances and coaching matter, that a promising young quarterback in a bad situation has little or no shot to succeed. But by the time we hung up a second time, the old coach was at least confident in this thought: The first NFL team he was in charge of doesn't have that problem now.