Usually I'm not into the meet-and-greet aspect of sports journalism, but my local Dick's Sporting Goods store asked me to drive up to Belmar Beach, New Jersey yesterday, and set up a card table with an Eagles banner and a Dick's promo sign… The angle was to solicit ballots from folks on the beach to name their favorite new Eagles' player.
I won't lie, I did it for the money. But I was shocked at the outpouring of response to the promotion. More significantly, most of the Eagles fans who responded were interested in the defensive side of things.
Perhaps proving once again that Eagles fans are among the most intelligent in the nation, the winner of the 200+ ballot was Damion Square.
The folks who voted for Square knew his back-story from Alabama. They knew the odds he has battled to overcome a recovery from surgery to arrive on the 53-man roster of the Philadelphia Eagles.
I was as much impressed by the "casual" fans' knowledge of Square as I was by Damion's determination and talent to make an NFL squad.
Square, the captain of The Tide and a three-time national champion in his four years, waited for a Draft call that never came.
“Coming into draft day, I was still recovering from surgery,” said Square, who made the Eagles 53-man roster and should see time all across the defensive line. “I had the (knee) surgery right after the National Championship Game and rehabbed back in Houston. "
“I was doing well. I just wanted to get right. As far as the draft went, I knew I could go anywhere as high as the third round or not at all.”
Square watched the first round of the Draft, heard Dee Milliner’s name get called by the Jets, Chance Warmack’s name called by the Titans and tackle D.J. Fluker’s called by San Diego on three consecutive picks. He watched again Friday night, and saw Alabama running back Eddie Lacy go to Green Bay in the second round.
“I watched the first two nights and then by the third day, it was ‘OK something’s going to happen,’” Square said.
Six more teammates would get selected that third day. Square’s phone didn’t ring until the draft ended, and as it turned out that may have been for the best.
As Square revealed recently to Mark Eckel of the Times of Trenton, “Sometimes, you’re better off being a free agent,” he said. “As a free agent you get the chance to look and see where you might fit best, instead of just being forced to go somewhere you may not fit.”
The Eagles, as it turned out, were a good fit for the 6-foot-3, 293-pound defensive lineman.
With an entire new look to the coaching staff — and for that matter the organization — and an assistant coach in Jeff Stoutland, who he knew from Alabama, this was the right place.
“When there’s change like that you want to get in at the beginning, you want to be a part of building it from the ground up,” Square said. “When you come in with a new coaching staff, they’re going to be honest with you — you going to know where you stand.”
Square had an ally in Stoutland which helped, but he also knew the team was changing its scheme and needed players to play up front in a 3-4 system. He knew he could be one of them.
“Coach Stoutland was one of the people who called me and told me what a great place Philadelphia was and how I would fit in there,” Square said. “I trusted him, because I knew him so well. It all worked out.”
Of course, there’s the lack of the big signing bonuses the high draft picks get, but there’s also that sense of fulfillment a player gets when he knows that he earned his spot on the roster and proved all the teams who passed on him wrong.
“I practiced every day from the time I got here with the attitude that I was going to make the team,” Square said.
He opened eyes early with his play and never let them close.
Considered undersized for a nose tackle in a 3-4 scheme, Square jumped in and played behind starter Isaac Sopoaga and also moved across the line to play both the right and left end in coordinator Billy Davis’ scheme.
“Coach (Chip) Kelly talked about versatility and its importance,” Square said. “I played multiple positions on the line at Alabama. I played the nose position at the highest level, so I was confident I could do it here. To me, it’s no big difference where I play. You still have to beat your blocks.”
In conducting the Belmar Beach poll on Labor Day, I was stunned by the diversity of the Eagles fans who approached my booth. Even Kelly Ripa, star of daytime TV, put in a ballot. Although I knew she was a big Eagles fan, I did not realize how much she knew about the sport.
To illustrate diversity, here are some of the folks (including Kelly Ripa) who allowed me to photograph them as they cast their ballots for Damion Square:
We are Family !!!