This is what happens with things like this. Players today learn to wear multiple masks when the cameras are on, the klieg lights are shining, and the mics are turned up. They get coached up by media coordinators behind the curtains as to how to answer certain questions in the most politically correct ways possible to not stir any waves.
What lurks underneath is usually far different.
Jalen Hurts, most know by now, is a pretty good guy off the field. He’s a leader who’s building an MVP season while in command of currently the most powerful offense in the NFL, which is averaging an NFL-best 470.5 yards a game and an accumulated total nearly 100 yards more than the next-best offense, Miami (941 yards of total offense to Miami’s 854).
The Eagles face Carson Wentz, their former 2016 first-round draft pick, this Sunday at 1 p.m. at Washington’s FedEx Field. The same Carson Wentz who created a stir when he was with the Eagles after his knee injury in 2017, and then an explosion when he demanded a trade after the 2020 season, angry the Eagles drafted Hurts (as backup insurance) with the 53rd pick of the 2020 draft.
Now with his third team in three years, Wentz is No. 2 in the NFL in passing (650 yards) behind Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa (740) and third overall in total yards (685) behind Tagovailoa (740) and Hurts (723) over two games.
Though, Wentz is still frequented by the ghosts of Philadelphia.
Regrettably, Hurts got pulled in by the storyline machine.
In the year Hurts had to endure Wentz, Hurts was treated very coldly by the guarded 2016 NFL Draft second overall pick. Part of that was understandable, since Wentz thought Hurts was drafted to be his possible successor—a stunning miscalculation for a highly intelligent guy that had been rewarded with a franchise-record four-year, $128-million contract extension. That happens in the NFL. Brett Favre was brutal to Aaron Rodgers when he first arrived in Green Bay, just like Rodgers has been abrupt with Jordan Love.
But part of that frostiness was innately Wentz. He would huddle up with his pals Nate Sudfeld and quarterback coach Press Taylor in the quarterback’s room and ignore the others.
“It was like you were back in high school with the cool kids table and the nerds table,” someone very close to the situation put it a few years ago. “Carson was the captain of the cool kids table. He’d treat Jalen, really one of the best guys you would ever want to meet, like he wasn’t there. Jalen did his work. He kept his head down and paid attention. The other guy wasn’t about to lift a finger to help him. What made us all laugh was he just got a boatload of cash. Why was he so insecure about Jalen? The other part of the problem was everyone liked Jalen. Not so much the other guy.”
Yet on Wednesday, Highroad Hurts took the high road, which is typical.
Hurts could have ripped Wentz, though chose not to.
“I think any time you have the opportunity to be on a team like that with a player like him and coaches like we had, with their experience, it’s always a learning and teachable moment,” Hurts said. “And that’s every opportunity I have, I try to learn from everything that I put myself into, or every position that I’m in. And I learned a lot.
“It’s something that I preach to my teammates a lot, the younger guys now. Take advantage of the opportunities you have when you’re not playing because it pays dividends in the end. You just have to be patient, be a sponge and soak it all in. There’s definitely a mutual respect between the two of us. When he went to Indy and now here, definitely a mutual respect and I wish him nothing but the best.”
It is interesting, however, when pressed on the personal relationship between the two, Hurts cut it off, saying, “I’m just going to say, I think we’re focused on the now. I’m focused on the now.”
One former Eagles coach said Hurts “would live” at the Eagles’ NovaCare practice facility if he was allowed.
Wentz also spoke this week, lamenting about what transpired in Philadelphia, saying, “There’s always things I look back on, ‘Man, I could’ve been better here, better as a person, better as a teammate. [I have] a lot of really good memories from my time there, I’m not going to lie,” he said Wednesday. “A lot of great friends, a lot of great relationships that I made. So, I definitely will have some mixed emotions in terms of those things. But nothing crazy jumps out other than my time there was a whirlwind. It was wild. The NFL is a whirlwind, but I’m grateful to still be playing, and I’m excited for this one.”
What originated in Philadelphia trailed Wentz to Indianapolis, where he was traded a second time in two years to Washington. Wentz stressed that it’s helped him grow.
“It was definitely a wild ride in many, many ways,” Wentz said. “… But it definitely does catch you off guard. Things change, and you have to learn to grow up and change and adapt. And at the end of the day, I’m thankful for it. I’m thankful for the changes that life has brought, and I’ve grown a lot from it.
“There are always things I look back on and [think], man, I could have been better here. I could have been better as a person, as a teammate. [There are] lots of things that you do take for granted,” he said. “And so, I think I definitely thank God for the experiences I’ve had even though sometimes they’re dark or sometimes they’re not how I envisioned them to be. But I think it’s allowed me to grow as a person, and I’m thankful for that.”
The unspooling of events has worked out for both Hurts and Wentz.
Hurts is maturing into a franchise quarterback, while Wentz is getting another chance to prove 2017 was no mirage.
Despite their public niceties, Hurts would like nothing more than to pound Washington, and for Wentz, this is his personal Super Bowl. He would like nothing better than to hand his former team and their fanbase their first “L” in 2022.
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.