There weren’t many good things that came from the Chip Kelly Era of Philadelphia Eagles football, so few you could probably count them with one hand. If you forced me to think of them, I’d say the good was drafting Zach Ertz, signing S Malcolm Jenkins from the Saints (and passing on the more highly touted S Jairus Byrd), and bringing in DE Connor Barwin. When Chip was finally fired at the end of the 2015 season, the entire city felt a sigh of relief, the experiment was over and we could start fresh with….Doug Pederson? Many weren’t sold (you know who you are) but with Doug’s emotional intelligence and the locker room leadership of Malcolm Jenkins and Connor Barwin, the team was in good hands (better than many could have imagined, cut to Super Bowl 52).
Connor Barwin retired this week, after 10 seasons in the NFL starting with Houston in 2009, followed by a 4-year stint with the Eagles from 2013-2016, a season with the Rams, and a season with the Giants. Maybe he is considered a journeyman of sorts, but Barwin is ours, a Philly guy. Some athletes come through Philadelphia that just “get it” and Barwin is definitely one of them, to compare there are some that don’t, I’m looking at you, Donovan…Philadelphia, in general, is characterized as a tough place and it gets the worst (and truly unfair) rap by the national media who are stuck in the past with the same old rhetoric we’ve heard for years now that doesn’t even apply to most young(ish) people, but Barwin came to Philly and helped push the narrative in a new direction. When you look back at Barwin’s time with the Eagles, it was fairly productive, particularly in 2014 with 14.5 sacks, but what most Philadelphians remember is Barwin riding the subway with them (and his bike), or attending one of his benefit concerts at the Union Transfer, or building playgrounds in the city. I remember he lived across the street from one of my best friends, and she would see him on the street walking his dog just like everyone else. Another friend bought him a beer at a Fishtown bar, everyone has a story just like that, he lived among the people; he was the Philadelphia everyman we so craved (unlike so many of our sports heroes that feel so untouchable).
Connor Barwin was a beloved Eagle, maybe not the greatest of all-time Eagle, not the most talented player we’ve ever had on defense, but he embraced a city that was so often misunderstood and showed the rest of the league that Philadelphia was a great place to be, so much so that Barwin has kept a home in the city, living in the greatest city in the world in the offseason and now maybe for good to raise his family. Barwin was nominated for Walter Payton Man of the Year in 2015 while with the Eagles, and if you are not familiar with his charity work as I briefly mentioned above, well it is certainly a point of pride. The Make the World Better Foundation has revitalized parks all over the city, hosting benefit concerts as he has a real taste for local music and is still very active today. Barwin has demonstrated that when an athlete truly invests in a city, the city will embrace them ten times over. I remember when Barwin was clearly the odd man out in Jim Schwartz’s defense (4-3 not 3-4 anymore) and we all knew the end was near, it was sad. We knew he was no longer the right fit but just like an aging Chase Utley or Jimmy Rollins, we just didn’t want to let go of the good memories. Lucky for Birds fans, the next charity/social warrior rolled on into town, Chris Long, but even with all his goodness, he was never a Philadelphian the way Connor Barwin was (and is), as even just this offseason Barwin was hoping to come back and play for his adopted hometown Eagles, as he continues his charity work in the city today.
Connor, thanks for showing the rest of the league that Philadelphia is a great football town, but also a great place beyond our diehard devotion to the Eagles. Congratulations on a great career!