One week shy of his 33rd birthday, Brian Westbrook will retire as a Philadelphia Eagle on Wednesday. The All-Pro running back certainly has a place in the hearts of many Philadelphia football fans, dating all the way back to when he set 37 school records at Villanova.
And this is as good a time as any to reflect on why Westbrook already has become a venerable figure in the City of Brotherly Love.
I was most impressed by the way in which the undersized Westbrook battled through injuries (foot, knee and ankle, to name a few) throughout his football career. He never made it through an entire 16-game season, but he only missed more than four games once in nine years.
And you could make the argument that, in the modern era, there hasn't been a more versatile member of the Eagles than Westbrook. He was an ideal fit for the West Coast offense: an explosive runner, a super receiver and a solid blocker.
He retires as the second-leading rusher in franchise history, but he also has the third-most catches in team history. Only two Eagles—Harold Carmichael and Steve Van Buren—hit paydirt as commonly as Westbrook did. And among running backs with at least 500 carries, only LeSean McCoy has a higher yards-per-attempt average.
Throw in his contributions as a return man and as a positive presence in the locker room, and it's clear that Westbrook walks away as one of the greatest players in Eagles history.
But it's more difficult to find Westbrook's place among the league's all-time greats. It feels like he was a special enough player to be recognized with the best of the best, but we often have exaggerated perceptions of the players who dominate during our eras.
Plus, the fact that Westbrook was a jack-of-all-trades back hurts his cause. He had six extremely good seasons with the Eagles, but he only rushed for 1,000 yards twice during his nine-year career. As Nick Fierro of "The Morning Call" notes, Westbrook is one of only six players in NFL history with 30-plus rushing touchdowns and 30-plus receiving touchdowns. He led the league with 2,104 yards from scrimmage in 2007 and finished his career with 10,277 yards from scrimmage overall.
That may not be enough to get Westbrook into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he's certainly a Fantasy Football Hall of Famer, an Eagles legend and will likely one day be looked at as one of the more underrated players in NFL history.
Some scoffed in 2002 when the Eagles drafted a smallish I-AA running back with knee issues, but Westbrook defied the odds and became one of the most unique players of the last decade.