Tra Thomas kept it together for about 57 seconds.
Officially retiring as an Eagle at the Novacare Complex today, he watched a short highlight video of his time with the Birds before stepping to the podium.
He thanked owner Jeffrey Lurie, talked about transitioning from a defensive end to an offensive tackle in college and remembered when the Eagles drafted him in 1998.
But then Thomas got to his coach, Andy Reid.
“Second, I wanted to just thank Coach Reid for always being there, being like a second father figure to me, and just really…” Thomas started, before needing about 27 seconds to compose himself.
“Coach Reid was always there throughout a lot of my personal situations, just playing the game and just living through life,” Thomas said, tears streaming down his face. “And I just think that being such a great example of what it takes to be a father, to be a husband and to be a professional in this game.”
Reid stood close by, off to the side, smiling as his former left tackle remembered his playing days.
The Eagles selected Thomas with the 11th pick in the first round, and he played one season under Ray Rhodes before Reid took over. From 1998 to 2008, Thomas played in 166 regular-season games and 17 more in the playoffs. He made three Pro Bowls (2001, 2002, 2004) and did his best to keep Donovan McNabb’s blind side protected.
“It was just a different atmosphere, it was real relaxed,” Thomas said of the franchise before Reid arrived. “…But then Coach Reid comes in and changes all that. A whole new rule system, a lot of discipline, making everybody accountable, which was really needed. We really needed that because I think the team was a little too loose back then.”
As Thomas was talking, Juan Castillo hung in the back of the auditorium. Castillo was Thomas’ position coach for his entire tenure with the Eagles.
“I have to just thank the greatest position coach I’ve ever had in Juan Castillo,” Thomas said, still emotional. “This was a city that I originally wanted to play for just right out the gate. As soon as I got out the plane and I stepped out on that field, I came to visit Philadelphia. It was probably about 6 or 7 o’clock in the evening, Juan met me. We were at the Vet at the time. Juan took me straight from the plane and we went out to the Vet field and we started doing pass sets and doing vertical sets, and I knew that this is the city that I need to play for. This is the coach that I need to have. And I just thank you Juan, for all the years that you put into me, all the work that we did, holding me accountable, making sure that you could coach me at any level. You could push me, you could challenge me, and I just thank you for everything that you’ve done in my life.”
Thomas, who will turn 38 in November, is now focused on the next phase of his life. He has a wife and three sons and opened up a training facility in Medford, N.J. called 7 Deuce Sports. He said his back tightens up every now and then, and his knees sometimes get sore, but overall, Thomas is in good health.
He misses football. He misses being around his teammates. He misses goofing around in the locker room. And he misses getting the team pumped up at midfield before kickoff.
“I was the guy that was walking around here with an old-school leather Eagles helmet, going into meetings and just slapping cookies out of people’s hands and stuff like that,” Thomas said.
“My true passion, because of working with Juan and working under Coach Reid, is going to be coaching at some point.”
Thomas added that he’s already talked to the organization about helping out in that capacity in the future.
“I tell everybody that the happiest day of my football career was being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles,” he said. “The saddest day was when I had to leave. That has been erased by this right here, being able to retire a Philadelphia Eagle.”
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