He wasn’t quite Barry Sanders, but then, who was besides Sanders himself? For eight years he was our Barry Sanders, though, our Adrian Peterson, our O.J. Simpson (minus the felony impulses, of course). Yesterday the Philadelphia Eagles announced they don’t need Brian Westbrook anymore. They refused a contract option on the running back and made him a free agent (technically, on March 5th). The leg injuries had piled up on #36 over the years to the extent that, at the end, he rarely ran through full practice sessions with the team, sometimes didn’t participate at all – he just saved himself for Sundays. This past season he suffered two concussions. The grunt, grind and impact of the NFL had made him “too old” to help the team – at 30.
Almost exactly the same size as Sanders at 5’8″ and 200 pounds, Westbrook had nearly all of the quicksilver qualities the Lions’ running back had, and he was arguably a more valuable receiver than Sanders (3790 receiving yards to the Hall of Famer’s 2921). He was really more versatile. Sanders squirted through lines where there were no holes, seemingly. Westbrook was all over the field, sometimes lining up at wide receiver, but most often in the Eagles’ all too predictable offense, catching a pass in the flat, then squirting through four or five defenders for five, no – ten, NO – 30 yards…or a touchdown where there shouldn’t have been one. He was fast when his legs were right. Sanders retired at 30; Westbrook is thought to be willing to go on.
The incentive for that may be 10,000 all-purpose yards from scrimmage. As he leaves the Iggles, Westbrook’s total is only 215 short at 9785 (first in franchise history). In 2007 he was first in the league with 2104 yards from scrimmage; yesterday he got notice that his team didn’t seem to have $7.25 million laying around to pay him in 2010. His coach, Andy Reid, spoke for eleven whole minutes about him in announcing that decision.
That’s life – and “death” – in the NFL in a nutshell: eleven minutes from perhaps the dullest public speaker since Ben Stein did those Clear Eyes ads.
For those outside the Delaware Valley, it is probably hard to imagine Westbrook’s stature here, so let’s put it this way: there are department stores here that still have whole racks of #36 jerseys on display, and no other Eagles jersey for sale in the entire store. For every junior high kid wearing a McNabb jersey on dress-down day, there have always been ten wearing Brian Westbrook’s. For eight years. And for some of us who took our sheepskins away from Villanova, he was a fellow alumnus…and the list of ‘Nova grads who have played in the NFL is pretty short. (Let’s see: There was Howie Long of the Raiders, of course…that 300-pound monster, Richie Moore, who was a moderate bust with the Green Bay Cheeseheads, and, um…. Is there a fourth?)
Westbrook, however, went from 91st draft pick in 2002 to…well, he’s likely the most important Eagle since Concrete Charlie Bednarik.
So, Brian, from one ‘Nova alum to another: hit a few keggers, ride your horses for a while down there in Maryland (but not in that order, of course) – take a year off. Then, come back in ’11, and snatch up that 10,000th yard from scrimmage in your first game. Even if you do it in a Cowboy uniform here in Philly, you’ll still get the standing ovation you deserve.
Ford, Bob. “No tears at Brian’s swan song.” The Philadelphia Inquirer 24 February 2010: D1.
McLane, Jeff. “Westbrook era is over.” The Philadelphia Inquirer 24 February 2010: D1.
“Barry Sanders,” “Brian Westbrook,” profootball-reference.com. 24 February 2010.