Excuse Mark Sanchez if you see him smiling. That's just how he feels these days, as the fun is back in football. Oh, Sanchez has always loved playing the game, but those last few years as a New York Jet were taxing.
Every move was recorded for a player who was the fifth overall choice in the 2009 NFL draft and then led the Jets to back-to-back appearances in the AFC Championship Game. Sanchez was the hot quarterback then, and things were good even with the intense spotlight on him.
But when the Jets' record soured - 8-8 in 2011 and 6-10 in 2012 - the heat became outrageous. A breakup with actress Eva Longoria was blamed, according to the reports, on Sanchez's "foul mood" over the Jets' downward-spiraling record. When he took a hiatus from Twitter for 63 days, he absorbed all kinds of heat. The locker room culture had soured, and decision the team made to add quarterback Tim Tebow didn't sit especially well with Sanchez.
And then when the Jets threw Sanchez into garbage time of a preseason game in 2013 and Sanchez suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, the situation became untenable. It was only a matter of time before the Jets and Sanchez parted ways.
So here is Sanchez now, relishing his second NFL life. He signed with the Eagles in March and accepted the role as backup to Nick Foles at quarterback and for eight games Sanchez was the veteran No. 2. He performed his role with diligence and professionalism. Sanchez was always approachable, likable and was, truly, thoroughly enjoying his position. He supported Foles as a teammate should.
But it all changed when Foles suffered a broken collarbone in Houston and Sanchez became the starter. The spotlight turned to Sanchez, who has not stopped being who he is.
He's still open. He's still gregarious. He's got that mega-watt smile for everyone in the NovaCare Complex and on the streets of Philadelphia whom he meets.
"I love being here. I've said that from the first day I signed," Sanchez says. "It's a great organization and the fan base loves the team and that's all you can ask for. We're all in this together. It has been a lot of fun and I'm being challenged every day."
Sunday's game at Lambeau Field is a first for Sanchez, a "bucket list" moment for him. He'll soak in the vibe at the iconic stadium for a minute or two long before the game begins, and then Sanchez will lead the Eagles into the crucial game against a top-shelf Packers team.
The Rise of Sanchez in Philadelphia - there are still seven games remaining in the regular season, and the story has yet to be completely written - shouldn't surprise many who have followed the history of veteran players who have come to the Eagles and enjoyed success. At the quarterback position alone, Jeff Garcia in 2006 and Michael Vick in 2010 revitalized their careers with the Eagles.
"Philadelphia is a great place to play," Garcia said. "What's happening with Mark now is very reminiscent of what I went through in 2006. It was awesome. In many ways, it was the best year of career. The way the fans support the Eagles is truly unique. They're always there for you, good and bad. In some cities, the fans go away when things don't go well. Not in Philly. They love the team so much and the Eagles mean so much to them. They bring out the best in you. I think Mark is experiencing that right now."
What's the future for Sanchez and the Eagles? I know that's a topic for many to discuss, but it's a back-burner issue for the Eagles. The league operates on a week-to-week basis. The Eagles are going to have some hard decisions to make when the season is over, and that will be the focus then.
Right now the focus is on beating Green Bay and reaching 8-2 on the season and doing it with Sanchez at the quarterback position, running an offense that seems perfectly suited for the skill set he brings to the table.