For nine seasons, running back Brian Westbrook electrified fans with his explosive running style, versatility out of the backfield and once-in-a-generation plays. And after a career that ranks him among the best to ever don an Eagles uniform, Westbrook received perhaps his biggest honor on Tuesday: he will be enshrined in the Eagles Hall of Fame.
The Eagles made the announcement Tuesday during open training camp at Lincoln Financial Field. Fittingly, it was Alumni Day, and 54 past greats were honored on the field. But none received an ovation from fans quite like the one they gave Westbrook, who was one of the pillars of the Andy Reid-era teams that brought winning football back to Philadelphia.
Speaking to reporters after the announcement Tuesday, Westbrook said he never expected anything like this.
"I never really thought about it. I’ve seen guys like [Brian Dawkins] and Donovan [McNabb] who carried this team for so long get inducted into the Hall of Fame and having their numbers retired," Westbrook said. "I never really knew if I was going to get the opportunity, but my day came and it’s a blessing."
A third-round pick out of Vilanova in 2002, Westbrook was eased into his career in Philadelphia, and slowly earned playing time as part of the "three-headed monster" alongside Duce Staley and Correll Buckhalter. But before long, Westbrook was proving his worth as a do-it-all player, including the famous game-winning punt return against the Giants in 2003. That game, to Westbrook, was his coming-out party.
"I think about it all the time," Westbrook said. "It was kind of my breaking out game; my coming out game where people kind of knew where I was, but it’s not until you make big plays like that consistently that people can know that the team can depend on you, but also know that you have that capability as a player.
"It really wasn’t until that point that people actually saw the talent that I was able to have. And as a player, that boosts your confidence. That takes your confidence to a whole other level and allows you to play a little more freely. It allowed me to open up my game a little bit as well."
It's fitting, then, that Westbrook's induction ceremony will take place against the Giants. After all, some of the best games those Eagles teams played were against their northern rivals.
"When Mr. Lurie called me, he said ‘we couldn’t have chosen a better game to induct you into the Hall of Fame then when we play against the Giants,’" Westbrook said, "He took so much pride in playing well against those guys. For me it was a great matchup; a great opportunity to show people close to what we could do and what I could do as a player. But it’s kind of fitting that I’ll go into the Hall of Fame against the Giants."
Westbrook finished his nine-year career in Philadelphia 5,995 yards (third-most in team history), 37 touchdowns (fourth-most) and 4.58 yards per carry (fourth-most). And unlike San Francisco, where he finished his career in 2010, the fans will always remember the numbers and the big plays behind them.
"When I have people coming up to me now and rattling off my stats and say ‘I watched you when I was young’ and things like that, it still amazes me just a bit because I don’t look at myself in that way," Westbrook said. "I look at myself as just another guy who worked hard at his job, grinded and good things happen when you work hard, and I was fortunate.
"Just like Rocky, [fans] love the underdog. They love a guy coming from a small school who’s willing to work his butt off to dedicate himself to the game but also, who can relate to the public. The people in the stands, that’s me. That’s who I am."
Westbrook joins linebacker Maxie Baughn as 2015's Hall of Fame inductees. Westbrook and Baughn will bring the total number of players, coaches, employees and teams in the Hall of Fame to 40. The ceremony will take place on October 19th against the Giants on Monday Night Football.