Sometimes, coaches can exaggerate about players they've just drafted. But Andy Reid wasn't kidding when he said that defensive end Vinny Curry "might be the biggest Eagles fan ever."
When the second round pick from Neptune, N.J. met reporters Saturday, he displayed all the emotion, passion, sense of history and pride of the thousands he'll soon be playing in front of at the Linc. His eyes welled as he talked about meeting heroes such as Brian Dawkins and Mike Vick. He name-checked Randall Cunningham and Troy Vincent, and insisted that it was Freddie Mitchell who originated the championship belt celebration. He said he wouldn't allow cameras into his home on draft night, because he didn't want to have to take down all of his Eagles gear.
"It would have been my last day as an Eagle fan if I would've gone to a different team," Curry said, "but I wouldn't have taken it down."
Instead, the Brian Westbrook jersey and Eagles gloves and Eagles hats he wore as a kid can remain on the walls. And when he arrived for his first day at the NovaCare Complex, Curry stood in an auditorium decorated with images of Chuck Bednarik and Reggie White as Brian Dawkins retired as an Eagle. Among those on stage, and who he would soon meet, were Vick, Donovan McNabb and Jeremiah Trotter.
"Most people, the draft is the best day of their life, but growing up an Eagle fan, being blessed with the opportunity of seeing Brian Dawkins retire and give a speech here, this has got to be the best day of my life here," Curry said, eyes gleaming under a flat-brimmed Eagles hat. "To see his teammates come back, the way they embraced him, and the way they embraced me was really something special. It's a moment I'll never forget in my life."
It's a moment Curry said he dreamed of growing up in a Shore area town heavy with Giants fans. He couldn't afford tickets to watch in person, but would rush home from Pop Warner games to catch the Eagles on TV, and spent the week trash-talking his friends.
"The Eagle defense at one point in time was sickening, you know, with Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Brian Dawkins, right there, Trot, d-line had Big Hugh (Douglas), it was crazy and I just used to picture myself on Sundays – that's going to be me one day," Curry said. "To see everything come through and fall through like this is, it's so mind blowing."
Some thought Curry could go as early as the first round, but he slid late into the second. The pass-rushing end seemed fine with his ultimate landing spot, though.
"I was upset that I slid, but like I said, I slid into the greatest situation ever," Curry said. "It's like it's 100 degrees outside and I slid into the pool."
Curry's enthusiasm, his sense of history about the Eagles, his awe of the players who have come before him, is rare for a professional athlete. Most players pour their hearts into their teams, but it is also a job and a career with a cold business side attached. They know that a cut or trade – and forced change in allegiance – is always just one front office phone call away. Even the greats spend only their 20s and maybe early 30s with one organization.
The biggest fans, on the other hand, go from childhood to college to marriage to parenthood to old age living with their team. They watch generations of players and coaches come and go. They build weekends around NFL schedules, and they carry accumulated years of joy and pain. Each new season arrives with the context of the big wins, disappointing losses, stars and busts gone by. Those ingrained memories fuel the passionate reactions on Sunday afternoons and Monday mornings.
When it comes to the Eagles, Curry understands all that. He knows the history, knows the names. When the Eagles drafted cornerback Brandon Boykin later Saturday afternoon, Curry, a smiling live wire, excitedly rushed into the media room to join on the conference call. "What's going on big guy?" he gushed. "I'm so happy for you, bro!"
He still sounded like a fan.
Curry also met the Eagles who laid the foundation for the playoff runs he watched, including Trotter, McNabb and Dawkins.
"Welcome to the family," they told him. Then Curry met Vick. According to the rookie, Vick told him, "you're not a fan no more, you're my teammate."