Last October, Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel sat at his locker after practice, shirtless, all sinewy muscles and unfurled dreadlocks, looking every bit the warrior who defines the National Football League. Samuel made it clear to reporters that he wasn’t happy about the trade rumors hovering over him. Andy Reid was the guy he played for, the guy he’d go into battle with—Coach was a lifer in the sport, and Coach had his back. He wasn’t so generous about the duo in charge of the Eagles front office, team president Joe Banner and general manager Howie Roseman, two guys who look like they’d lose a fight with a blocking sled. “Couple people upstairs might not want me, but who cares? They’ve probably never played football,” he fumed. He couldn’t resist taking another shot at Banner and Roseman: “It’s a business, and they run it like a business. … They’re playing with a lot of money, playing fantasy football, doing their thing.”
It’s an age-old conflict in professional sports—the jocks vs. the bean counters who control their livelihoods. Asante charged that Banner and Roseman were little more than two nerds living out a dream with Jeffrey Lurie’s checkbook. In a sense, he was right, at least regarding Roseman. When he was growing up in North Jersey, Roseman convinced his father, a schoolteacher who was lukewarm on football, to buy season tickets for the New York Jets—a shrewd negotiation, and one that would hint at his future career. Most kids fantasize about becoming a cannon-armed quarterback or flashy wide receiver. Roseman wanted to be the guy who drafted them and wrote their contracts.
Today, the 37-year-old isn’t just the youngest GM in the NFL; with the departure of his mentor Banner this summer, he stands beside Reid as the architect of the team. And as Samuel noted, he’s never strapped on the pads. He didn’t have any legacy connections inside the league—no uncle who played in the ’70s, no coach who knew his parents. Before Roseman was hired as an intern in 2000, he had as much of an inside track into the game as your average sports talk-radio caller.
Samuel might not admit this, but at the core, there’s little difference between Roseman’s path to success and that of retired Eagle Vince Papale, the walk-on special-teamer who inspired the film Invincible. “It’s one of the great American success stories,” Eagles guru Ray Didinger, of Comcast SportsNet, says of Roseman’s rise. “There are a million guys out there who’d chuck everything to live their football dream, and only one in a million gets a call back. He had this desire to get in the game.”
And while Mark Wahlberg may not be signing up to play a front-office suit in a Roseman biopic, that doesn’t make his tale any less remarkable. He’s the fantasy football guy whose fantasy came true. But here’s where Samuel got it wrong—the nerd just might be exactly the right guy for the job.