Blount Bowl: Eagles-Pats Is the Climax of an All-Time NFL Chip-on-Shoulder Epic

Tyler Dunne @TyDunne NFL Features WriterJanuary 31, 2018

Philadelphia Eagles' LeGarrette Blount cheers during the second half of an NFL football game against the Oakland Raiders, Monday, Dec. 25, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)

PHILADELPHIA — The sequence is inevitable. He's too jacked for this moment. It is going to happen.

On Sunday night, LeGarrette Blount will turn a corner, spot a white jersey in his peripheral and lick his chops. Fresh meat. This 250-pound slab of granite will then lower his shoulder and blast through his prey. The blow will leave his victim with a constellation of bruises on the outside and lingering trepidation on the inside, forcing him to think twice before ever approaching Blount again. 

The camera will zoom in on Blount's face, and he'll crack a smile for 110-plus million around the world to see. At that moment, we'll all assume he's out for cold-blooded justice. After all, the Patriots lowballed Blount last offseason. Despite witnessing 788 of these collision-course carries himself, despite the 43 touchdowns and two Super Bowl victories, Bill Belichick signed Mike Gillislee and Rex Burkhead and placed a disrespectful tender on Blount.

What sweet, sweet revenge this will be in Minneapolis.

But when you see that infectious smile—the same one he's flashing here inside an office room at the Eagles' NovaCare Complex—understand that he isn't sticking it to the Patriots alone.

Blount takes off the leather backpack, clasps those enormous hands together and leans forward.

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It's bigger than that.

When Blount lowers the boom, he's sticking it to the entire NFL.

"The chip's going to always be there," he says. "Whether I'm facing them, whether I'm facing anybody. It's going to always be there because all 32 of you guys passed up on me. It wasn't just one team. It was everybody. Whether they want to admit it or believe it or not, they all knew what I could do. They knew how talented I was and how good I could be."

He's talking to you, Jeff Fisher. You, Mark Dominik. You, Mike Tomlin. You, entire NFL. He's making everyone pay.

Everyone who thought he would be nothing more than a viral (and shameful) five-second YouTube clip. Who thought he'd have has zero business playing in a Super Bowl, much less his third.

Suspended at Oregon, undrafted through 255 picks, abandoned by the Titans and Buccaneers and Patriots and Steelers and Patriots again, Blount has been handed pink slips repeatedly. Yet, he's here. He's still stampeding through tackles eight seasons into his NFL career.

Only four current players have more rushing touchdowns. They're all potential Hall of Famers.

Only six players have more postseason rushing touchdowns. They're all in the Hall of Fame.

He's 31 years old with no sign of wear-and-tear or aging at all. His 4.43 yards per carry ranked sixth in the NFL this season among backs with at least 150 attempts.

And now, Blount's football odyssey reaches its climax, because a funny thing happened in Season No. 8: An entire team adopted his mentality.

Just as Blount has been deemed a lost cause, so was this Eagles team in 2017. Philadelphia lost starter after starter after starter to injury, and when MVP frontrunner Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14, the Eagles' Super Bowl dreams seemingly vanished.

Yet here they are in Minneapolis, and here Blount is barreling your direction at top speed. The back all 32 teams viewed as a ticking time bomb impossible to deactivate learned to harness his emotions to become the heartbeat of a third Super Bowl team.

How he reached this point should fill textbooks.

Oddly enough, Blount admits one reason for his wrecking-ball style is fear. He never wants to be "that guy" embarrassed in front of millions.

"You don't want to be that, 'Oooo, he smacked you!'" Blount says. "You want to be that, 'Oooo, he ran through that s--t!' I've come to terms that whoever's across from me—who's trying to tackle me—we both have a job to do. I'm trying to make sure it's defined that I'm doing it better than him.

"It's me or him. It's always that fight-or-flight mode. And I'm never in flight mode."

His glare could shatter the windows inside this building. As he speaks slowly and enunciates each word dramatically, it quickly becomes clear that Blount's fight is Philly's fight.

"I don't think people understand how bad we want this.

"We want it."

The rage is always on national display. That's how you, me, everyone have always formed our opinions of Blount. The man is violent. He has an edge. And, no, he cannot always control it.

Sure, he's treating Packers defenders like Pop Warner tykes en route to the end zone and posterizing Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo in the NFC Championship Game. But he has also slugged opponents, slugged teammates and walked off the field in disgust before a pro game was over.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JANUARY 21: LeGarrette Blount #29 of the Philadelphia Eagles scores a second quarter rushing touchdown past Andrew Sendejo #34 of the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship game at Lincoln Financial Field on January 21, 2018 in Phila
Al Bello/Getty Images

The rage—"blind rage," as his JUCO offensive coordinator, Alan Hall, calls it—is Blount's blessing and his curse. That's what perpetually teeter-totters him from being a running back our generation has not seen to disposable street free agent. Back and forth, back and forth.

At East Mississippi Community College, Hall watched Blount try to strike that balance firsthand. At the school now featured on Netflix's Last Chance U, one mistake at any moment can nuke all NFL dreams.

Blount was a physical marvel, far superior to anything Hall ever witnessed.

Hall once coached against Brandon Jacobs but, unlike Jacobs, Blount could run you over without ever breaking stride. He could hurdle you. Men this big were not intended to be this fast, this agile.

"A freaky thing," Hall says.

From one coach's office, Hall could peer down to watch Blount in the weight room. By God, was it ugly. Blount looked "like a toddler" with those dumbbells, Hall laughs. "No technique, no form, no nothing." But he was also "country strong." Herky and jerky, Blount had no problem throwing up 315 pounds on the bench press. 

Division I coaches had no problem blatantly breaking rules to get a peek themselves.

One D-I staff videotaped a Blount workout, and one ACC coach knocked on Hall's garage window at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning. The coach asked Hall to wake up Blount for an impromptu workout, and in nothing but an undershirt, shorts and high-tops, a groggy Blount ripped a 4.42 and a 4.44.

Yet all along, that blind rage threatened to finish Blount. For one, he was beyond ticked when that same ACC coach told him they were offering a scholarship to another running back as well. He needed to be The Guy.

On the field, as opponents took cheap shots, Blount retaliated.

"An 18-year-old is only going to take so much," Hall says. "Especially when you're operating with that pace, with that rigor of competitiveness. You can't just flip it on or off."

So, here's how it'd go down. First, there's instigation. As a freshman, against Itawamba Community College, Blount was drilled directly in the spine eight yards out of bounds. Next, there's rage. Blount popped up, took off toward that tackler and speared him in the spine. Next, there's a consequence. Blount was kicked out of the game. And then, when that switch turns off, there's instant regret. As Hall explains, Blount thinks, "Oh my God, what did I just do?" as if unable to recognize himself.

Then, he'd forget that feeling and do it all over again.

The following season against Itawamba, Blount was smashed into a fence out of bounds. He lifted himself up and took off in a vengeful sprint. Right when he was about to annihilate the perpetrator, a teammate took Blount out. His own quarterback, Jare Gault, saw this coming a mile away and wiped Blount out to save him from himself.

At Oregon, Blount had similar help in Jeremiah Johnson. The two running backs lived in the same duplex, and their relationship easily could've dissolved. Blount wasn't a fan of competition then, and he was "a little unruly" and "over-rowdy" and "really aggressive," Johnson admits.

DEAN HARE/Associated Press

"Where he's from, you have to be tough," Johnson, who now stars in the CFL, says. "I just think at some point in time, you're able to adapt in a certain way. But when someone tests your manhood or does something disrespectful to you, yeah, those things are going to come back. He'll spread his anger. You have to know when to go full in, and when to pull back.

"I think he really caught onto that notion, 'When I'm not at home, I don't have to act like the other people at home act.' You don't have to inflate your chest and feel like you're king."

A balance was struck. And damn, it was beautiful.

A conversation with Johnson becomes a game of Man or Myth. Johnson speaks about his friend in larger-than-life terms that requires fact-checking with Blount himself. No, Blount did not actually chase jackrabbits outside as a kid to hone his speed. Yes, Blount did bowl through Purdue's defense like 11 pins. Johnson felt like a proud father when Oregon won that game in overtime. It's true that tears filled his eyes and his voice shook as he told Blount then, "That's how you take control!" And the only time Johnson sensed weakness in Blount was when Patrick Chung met him in the hole during practice.

The ex-Duck and current Patriot owned Blount, according to Johnson.

Blount's eyes scowl at that claim, sniping that Johnson is patently wrong. The only time Chung dinged him was when he relaxed at the end of one run during a Holiday Bowl practice, he says. "Once!" he blurts. Otherwise, he owned Chung.

Either way, all defensive backs must make a decision when Blount trucks their way.

"If you're a $50 million cornerback," Johnson says, "and you see LeGarrette Blount coming down the pipe, you've got two choices: You're either going to risk that $50 million, or you're going to hop on his back for a ride. A lot of defenders take that second option."

By the time Johnson graduated at Oregon in 2009, he saw a mature Blount. A measured Blount. A Blount who'd retaliate within the rules. Then, sitting next to his wife in the living room that fall, Johnson flipped on his TV, watched Boise State beat Oregon 19-8, watched Byron Hout yap in Blount's ear and…


BOISE, ID - SEPTEMBER 3:  LaGarrette Blount #9 of the Oregon Ducks is escorted off the field by head coach Chip Kelly after Blount punched a Boise State Broncos player on September 3, 2009 at Bronco Stadium in Boise, Idaho. Boise State defeated Oregon 19-
Steve Dykes/Getty Images

Blount unloaded a haymaker across Hout's chin. Approximately 5.7 seconds later, Johnson's phone lit up.

What is he doing!? That's your boy! What happened!? That's your fault!

"I'm like, 'I'm not there anymore, man!'"

Indeed, Blount didn't have a teammate there to wrangle him to the ground. Nor did he have Johnson in his ear, calming him down. Instead, with one punch, Blount lost it and seemed to cost himself $50 million.

His reputation as some barbarian in the minds of GMs was secured.

He was deemed a poison you don't want near your locker room.

Two days before flying to Minneapolis, Blount chatted with his mom on the phone for 30 minutes. It was emotional. It was heartfelt. She told him just how proud she was, how he became her motivation in life.

Because both remember how miserable draft weekend was.

Thinking back to those names bleeding off the screen—C.J. Spiller and Ryan Mathews and Jahvid Best—Blount sneers. He knew he wouldn't go in the first, but he was also convinced he was far better than all three.

"You have got to be kidding me," he said then, before going outside with his mom for a walk to forget about it all.

Turning off the TV proved to be a wise decision. Blount's name never was called.

Fifteen running backs were drafted that year. Now, all 15 of those backs are out of the NFL.

How so many teams royally screwed this up should get dozens of people fired.

Blount signed with the Titans as an undrafted free agent and survived final roster cuts, but the team waived him days later. Throwing a punch at teammate Eric Bakhtiari in practice likely simplfied that decision. In trying to be nice during their final chat, then-Titans coach Jeff Fisher told Blount that cutting him probably would become one of the biggest mistakes of his coaching career.

He was right.

Reached via text in Australia, Bakhtiari is quick to say he got along well with Blount pre- and post-punch. Not to mention, Blount had a reason to snap—defensive players were hitting him after his helmet popped off during that play.

The Bucs, who claimed Blount off waivers after the Titans cut him, eventually gave up on him despite obvious proof he could play. General manager Mark Dominik was soon fired.

The Steelers gave up on Blount after he left the field early in a 2014 win, only for him to then help spark two Super Bowl runs for their archnemesis. Even then, the Patriots treated Blount last spring like he had 18 yards in 2016, not 18 touchdowns.

Blount can now make everyone pay. All coaches. All GMs. It's as if it took a decade for him to fully rehabilitate his image.

Blount still speaks passionately about the Boise incident and its aftermath. To this day, he maintains Chip Kelly's "punishment didn't meet the crime." But Blount may not be here, in yet another Super Bowl, had Kelly not dropped the hammer.

Maybe a slap on the wrist would have done nothing to help Blount find that balance.

Maybe suspending Blount for two-and-a-half months forced a fight-or-flight choice that charted the course for his NFL survival.

"When people say, 'I can't believe Chip Kelly did that to LeGarrette Blount,' I think that was the best thing in LeGarrette's life," Johnson says. "What if he would've punched the guy, got a three-week suspension—how do you think his life would've been after that? Say you're out in the streets—I get to punch this person and be out in the world. It paid dividends to his life."

The kid who wanted nothing to do with that ACC coach recruiting another running back learned to appreciate every single carry. Today, in Philly, he has no issues sharing the wealth with Jay Ajayi and Corey Clement.

And even as 32 GMs viewed Blount as toxic when he came out of college, even as he bounced team to team to team, Blount never considered quitting the game.

"I couldn't go back home and get a normal job and do whatever in the streets. Selling drugs. I just couldn't go back home to any of that," Blount says. "Whether any of the teams will admit it or not, they knew I was one of the best backs—in my eyes, the best back—in that draft class. Hands down. I knew it. I knew it. I knew I was going to be in this league longer than anybody."

He knew there was something inside of him that those other 15 backs lacked.

Something that cannot be captured by postgame cameras or renegade college coaches.

When he heard the news, Blount wasn't shocked. "Chico" was shot and killed. Blount hardly bats an eye here in Philly. Heck, he can't even think of Chico's actual name.

All he knows is that the decisions Chico made back home likely led to this point.

"The outcome of that happening," Blount says, "is very high if you choose the streets."

So Blount is blunt: "There is no happy medium." In Perry, Florida, it's either "sports or the streets." That's the choice.

Understanding what propelled Blount to this defining point requires an understanding of where he came from, he explains. That foundation is the reason he's still playing and proving everyone wrong. According to one report, Perry's violent crime rate is a "92" on a scale of 1 to 100. The U.S. average is 31.1.

Imagine a force field that's practically impossible to escape. That's Perry. So many kids feel trapped, Blount's childhood friend Toney Powell explains.

As a result, Blount developed what Powell describes as a necessary "tough shell."

"This is how I'll put it," says Powell, now a fifth-grade teacher. "If you look at an old TV show where you have whites on one side and blacks on one side, you'd think it's segregation. People don't get out."

Blount can't count the number of fights he's been in. He was always sparring with kids two, three, four years older than him. Usually white kids, too.

One racial slur would set him off.

One slur and he'd check you.

"It was a really prejudiced place," Blount says. "I mean, it's the South. It's not like the city. It's a country-ass place that has like not even 8,000 people there. They were probably taught it. I don't really know. Me and them, we grew up in different worlds. I was never raised to dislike anyone. Never. I was just always raised that everybody is the same, no matter what the color is."

As a result, Blount was mired in a state of constantly defending himself. No wonder he snaps when he takes a cheap shot in junior college or hears an opponent taunting him in Boise. As Blount says, "Nobody scared me." He could never, ever back down from a fight. And yet he also never, ever felt persuaded to slip into the gangs and drugs that plagued fellow African-Americans in his neighborhood.

The No. 1 reason? Dad's "iron fist."

Gary Blount has always been just as ginormous as his son is today—LeGarrette laughs that he's still intimidated by him. Into his mid-60s, Gary pounds the weights and looks like he could meet LeGarrette mano a mano in the A-gap.

Blount saw his parents fight for every penny, so he appreciated the value of earning everything in life. That's what always popped to Hall, to Johnson, to Powell—his work ethic. He'd spend hours studying film with the quarterbacks to grasp their job.

Above all, Blount's mom and dad made sure he was at church every Sunday. To this day, his dad reminds him to pray every night. Blount says he's a deeply spiritual person.

"I don't throw it in everyone's face," he says. "I know some people do that. Sometimes, that can be overwhelming to people. But I 100 percent believe in God. That's rooted in me. So that won't go anywhere. I'll never lose my faith."

So many of friends never had that perspective.

So many friends, like Chico, never had an outlet to release their inner aggression. Blount did. It didn't matter that every team his high school faced had better equipment. Nor did it matter that college recruiters rarely ventured through Perry. With a football tucked against his chest, Blount can be himself.

"That fight in me, I transfer that to the field," Blount says. "Nobody wants to lose in anything. I take the mentality—whenever I get the football—it's going to be me or him. And I would much rather it not be me."

And every time Blount sounds like a badass who'll ram through you, he shows a softer side. He bursts with affection for his mom, his dad, his entire family, unafraid to let that guard down.

"I wouldn't trade them for the world," Blount says. "I felt like I had the perfect family."

Today, he's engaged, and he makes sure his 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son go to church like he did. Blount laughs that his son is starting to act exactly like he used to around his dad. When his boy wanted to quit playing a video game because his team was getting destroyed, he noticed that LeGarrette was watching and finished the game.

Blount laughs out loud. Life is coming full circle.

Right here, it's obvious: LeGarrette Blount found his balance.

But, no, he's not finished yet.

One more.

One more.

Back in September, Blount kept repeating those two words to teammates, and it didn't quite compute at the time. Now, it does. The Eagles took this 2017 season one game at a time to weather injuries that would have sent any other franchise into a tailspin. Linebacker Steven Means, for one, started repeating "one more" to everyone who'd listen.

"The next thing you know," Means says, "we're in the Super Bowl talking about 'One more.'"

When the Eagles traded for Ajayi, Blount didn't make a public scene. Instead, they now form a shivering 1-2 punch right when defensive players are hurting most. As defensive end Chris Long says, it's hard for anyone to tackle in January or February.

But Blount's voice has been as valuable—if not more valuable—than any lowered shoulder. His message to everyone this week is simple: You're here for one reason, and one reason only. He knows the Patriots will be treating this as a business trip, and he demands Philly does the same.

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 05:  Head coach Bill Belichick, Tom Brady #12 and LeGarrette Blount #29 of the New England Patriots celebrate after defeating the Atlanta Falcons during Super Bowl 51 at NRG Stadium on February 5, 2017 in Houston, Texas. The Patriot
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

"We have to come out swinging," Blount says. "And we have to be the last ones standing."

A win here would sharpen Blount's legacy. In the conversation about the NFL's best backs, he believes his name should come up right there with Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson, Devonta Freeman and Kareem Hunt.

"I do feel like I should be in that category," he says. "And I do feel like whenever I get the opportunities, I take advantage of them. Whenever I'm needed, I feel like I answer the bell."

And Blount knows his true legacy is perseveranceshowing players at all levels that "anything is possible."

The bell will ring at 6:30 p.m. ET Sunday, and he'll try to make a defense hurt one more time. Right when it appeared the Patriots valued Blount, they moved on.

Hall can envision it now—Blount smashing one more doubter—because he knows Blount is the spirit animal for a team that has no business playing in this game.

"Nobody gave Philly a chance," Hall says. "Who better to do it for one game than LeGarrette? He'll hurt you. He will beat you up."

Adds Johnson, "He's not just playing against Tom Brady or a Belichick who didn't want him. He's playing against the world. He's playing against all the people who thought he couldn't do it."

So count on Blount meandering locker to locker, repeating those two words prior to kickoff. One more. One more. He won't be nervous. He won't stress. He'll release his rage one more time and show yet another coach he was wrong for giving up.

This coach just happens to be the best coach ever.

Again, Blount leans forward in his chair.

He smiles.

"I've never been one," he says, smiling, "to quit anything that I've started."


Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TyDunne.