Villanova head coach Andy Talley said he only brought up Brian Westbrook‘s name to Andy Reid once. It was at a banquet, and it was short and to the point.
“I just shook hands with him, and I just said: ‘Our No. 20 is very special.’ I never said another word to him,” said Talley. He trusted the Eagles would see the value all on their own.
A decade later, Westbrook stood at the podium inside the NovaCare auditorium, in front of a large gathering of family, friends and former teammates, to deliver his retirement speech and be honored as one of the team’s all-time greats.
“I spent eight of the best years of my life playing for the Philadelphia Eagles,” said Westbrook, his No. 36 jersey encased in glass just offstage to his left. “When you go somewhere else you actually see that this is the best organization in the NFL, the best coaching staff. And I mean that. I’ve been on the other side and I see how things are done differently. The way that Coach Reid handles things, Mr. Lurie, Mrs. Lurie handles things here, provide for the players, is special. And I’m just really appreciative and humbled by the experience here.”
Reid introduced Westbrook and said he has never coached a more intelligent player. Tammy Reid was in attendance, as was former teammates like Hugh Douglas and Hollis Thomas. LeSean McCoy watched from the back. Jason Avant and Todd Herremans both made their way down to hug and congratulate the former star back.
Westbrook ended his career with the Eagles in 2009 as the franchise leader with 9,785 total yards from scrimmage. Coming in with concerns about his size and injury history, he played in 107 games for the Eagles. He ranks second in franchise history in rushing yards (5,995), third in receptions (426) and total touchdowns (68).
Westbrook literally thanked everyone from the owner to the kitchen staff Wednesday. He called Brian Dawkins one of the best teammates he has ever played with. Said that Donovan McNabb called him to wish him well on Tuesday, and is the best quarterback this city has ever seen. He thanked Duce Staley, his offensive line, his coaches and a host of others for their roles in his achievements. He named the 84-yard punt return against the Giants as the play that immediately jumps to mind when he thinks about career highlights.
Running backs coach Ted Williams said that he didn’t get to see much of Westbrook in college because Villanova wasn’t on TV very much. But once he brought him in for a workout, he was sold.
“His workout was extraordinary,” said Williams. “The quarterback was nervous, so he was throwing the ball all over the lot. And he was still catching everything. I said, ‘Brian, he isn’t doing you any favors.’ And he said, ‘Man, I didn’t know what was going on out there.’ But he got through it, never complained and did a fantastic job. At the end of it I thought, ‘Hey, he’s pretty good.’”
Westbrook, given that he didn’t play for a major program, turned out to be a pretty well-kept secret, and the Eagles were able to wait until the third round to select him. He went on to become the club’s top back all-time in receptions, receiving yards (3,790) and receiving touchdowns (29). He also holds the mark for most postseason rushing yards (591) and total touchdowns (6).
“He could run the football, he could catch the football, he could pass protect, you could split him out as a wide receiver; he could play both return games for you. This guy did it all,” said Reid. “He will go down as one of the all-time great Philadelphia Eagles.”