Jeremiah Trotter's unusual path to Eagles immortality
It was complicated.
That's the best way to describe the on-again, off-again relationship between Jeremiah Trotter and the Eagles, a fascinating bond that will be cemented forever Monday night at Lincoln Financial Field when the team inducts the middle linebacker into its hall of fame.
Such a moment seemed impossible 14 years ago when Trotter separated from the Eagles for the first time. A bitter dispute over money left him angry at coach Andy Reid and the entire organization. Their differences were irreconcilable.
At the time, Trotter called the Eagles' contract offer "a slap in the face" and said the situation "went beyond business and became personal." He requested a meeting with Reid after the team placed the franchise tag on him, but he was denied and met instead with team president Joe Banner.
"I was more upset about that than the franchise tag," he said at the time. "I couldn't have a meeting with my own head coach."
Banner recalled the meeting during a telephone interview.
"Most players were very reluctant to meet with me or Andy face to face, so that was one of the few times I had a meeting like that," Banner said. "He was very direct and honest. He was obviously upset, but he wasn't yelling and screaming. I thought he made some valid points and there were some points I disagreed with. But there was no doubt some of them had some merit and I actually appreciated how and honest he was."
Nothing, however, changed about how either side felt. The Eagles did not think they could afford to meet Trotter's demands and keep other players they also wanted and Trotter was sure he was worth more. The team removed the franchise tag and Trotter signed with the division rival Washington Redskins.
"To be quite honest, I didn't think I'd put on an Eagles uniform ever again at that point," Trotter said during a telephone interview last week. "I'm glad things worked out the way they did and I came back."
All these years later, it is a divorce that probably remains more painful for the fan base than the participants. The team and the player obviously reconciled and even shared a Super Bowl moment together. They'll celebrate Trotter's career at halftime of the Monday night game against the Green Bay Packers. The Axe Man's four trips to the Pro Bowl and ferocious style of play are deserving of the moment.
For the fans, however, there remains that vision of Tampa Bay's Joe Jurevicius cutting in front of middle linebacker Barry Gardner for a short completion that became a 71-yard play leading to the Buccaneers' first touchdown in a crushing 2003 NFC championship loss.
With Trotter at linebacker, the Eagles' defense had dominated Tampa Bay in the playoffs the two previous seasons, but with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, the Eagles fell short.
Trotter watched that game at the home of Washington teammate Eddie Mason.
"I'm not saying they would have won with me there, but I believe I could have made that play," Trotter said. "It was tough to watch because you still had guys on that team you were rooting for."
It was Trotter's personal pain that season that laid the foundation for his eventual return to the Eagles. Neither Washington nor Trotter was having a particularly good season and it got a lot worse when the linebacker suffered a season-ending knee injury in a Thanksgiving game at Dallas.
In one of his darkest moments, the phone rang and Trotter was stunned by the voice on the other end.
"I was laying in bed feeling sorry for myself," Trotter said. "And Andy (Reid) called to check in on me and to encourage me and remind me of what kind of player I was. Any guard I had put up in our relationship came down that day. That just told me about who he is as a person."
Trotter played another season in Washington and led the team in tackles, but he was a salary-cap casualty the following season after Joe Gibbs replaced Steve Spurrier as head coach.
After initially balking at the idea of re-signing Trotter, the Eagles relented following another phone conversation between the linebacker and the head coach. This time it was Trotter calling Reid.
"I wanted to break the ice," Trotter said. "I didn't leave on good terms and I told Andy I really thought we could help each other out. I said, 'I really think I can help that defense. I'm in the best shape of my life.' "
Banner admitted to being a little surprised by the reunion.
"I would say I was somewhat," the former team president said. "He's a very head strong guy, so coming back under those terms says a lot about him."
It was a no-lose situation for the Eagles. Trotter signed for $535,000 with no guarantee of replacing Mark Simoneau as the starting middle linebacker. He was just happy to be back with defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and linebackers coach Steve Spagnuolo.
"Jim knew what I could do, but they didn't know if I was fully healthy," Trotter said. "Simoneau was coming off a decent year and they wanted me to take the job."
Midway through the season the job was his again and the Eagles were on their way to that Super Bowl they seemed so destined to reach when Trotter left for Washington. They did not win it, of course, and another contract negotiation awaited after the season.
While sitting in a hotel room in Kansas City after meeting with the Chiefs, Trotter initiated yet another call to Reid. This one came about midnight. He made it clear that he did not want to sign anywhere other than Philadelphia. The Eagles gave him a five-year deal worth $15 million that included a $4 million signing bonus and he was greeted by a loud ovation upon his arrival at the airport.
"I wanted to be where i was happy," Trotter said. "I wanted to be back home playing in front of the Philadelphia fans in Jim Johnson's system."
There would be another separation in training camp before the 2007 season. This time Trotter and Reid met face to face and cried like babies. A third shocking reunion took place in 2009 when Trotter returned after sitting out the entire 2008 season. Neither the team nor the player was the same by then, but there was always something special about seeing No. 54 on the field at the Linc.
Trotter will be there again Monday night with his wife Tammi and the couple's three kids -- daughter TreMil and sons Jeremiah Jr. and Josiah. This time the team will make sure the Axe Man is forever remembered as an intimidating force during one of the greatest eras in Eagles history.