The play of rookie quarterback Carson Wentz has amazed and delighted Eagles fans and, really, all football fans, with the possible exception of the ones who live in Cleveland. Their Browns didn’t think Wentz was worth the second overall pick in April’s NFL draft, and that blunder was spotlighted again this week, when Wentz was named as the NFC offensive player of the week for leading the Eagles to a 34-3 upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
Over the last month, as Wentz and the Eagles jumped to a 3-0 record and first place in NFC East, experts and analysts have spent hours praising his play and trying to explain how a quarterback from a small school who missed most of training camp and the preseason with a rib injury and wasn’t even named the starter until the week of the opener could end up playing like Dan Marino in his prime.
Those experts rave about Wentz’s talent and his temperament and how this kid can be so calm, cool and collected. But the Eagles player who knows Wentz the best – wide receiver Jordan Matthews – says those experts are missing the point. Matthews and Wentz have already bonded to the point where they have listened to each other’s favorite music (Matthews likes hip-hop and Wentz likes country) in order to understand each other better. And Matthews said Wentz doesn’t rely on the physical or the mental to deal with the perils and pressures of playing the most important position in the most popular sport in America – he mostly leans on the spiritual.
“He doesn’t play for you. He doesn’t play for his parents. He doesn’t play for me – he plays for God, straight up,” Matthews said. “So, when you do that, there is no pressure. He’s put himself in a position where he doesn’t have to put pressure on himself. He plays for God and that makes it that much easier on him.”
A lot of people get uncomfortable when somebody talks about God, especially if it’s a well-known celebrity or athlete. That’s why so many people dislike or sneer at Tim Tebow, even though Tebow is simply a nice guy who never did anything wrong except throw wobbly passes. Tebow isn’t afraid to wear his Christianity on his sleeve or even on the black tape he put beneath his eyes to cut down glare, where he would write verses from Scripture.
Of course, if you’re good enough people overlook your strong religious convictions. The late, great Reggie White was an ordained minister who never missed an opportunity to deliver an impromptu sermon. The perfect example of that came during the NFL players strike in 1987, when angry teamsters, supporting the striking players, started getting a little rough with some of the paying customers who were crossing the Eagles picket line. Tight end John Spagnola, the Eagles’ player rep at the time, and White tried to calm down the unruly mob and the Minister of Defense just couldn’t resist – White took advantage of the crowd to start preaching. But the teamsters – many of whom had started drinking early in the day – booed White off of his soap box pulpit.
But Wentz isn’t like that. He doesn’t preach and he doesn’t go out of his way to proclaim his strong spiritual beliefs. He did say once that he listens to gospel music before games to help him relax and focus and he readily acknowledges his beliefs if asked, but he almost never brings it up. And even when somebody else does bring it up, Wentz doesn’t hit people over the head with it.
And that is one of the reasons Wentz is already so popular with his teammates, including many who were skeptical and maybe even angry when the Eagles traded veteran Sam Bradford to Minnesota right before the season began, a move that propelled the rookie into the starting job. Wentz’s quiet, but strong demeanor – bolstered by his spiritual beliefs – has even had an impact on a player who began his NFL career when Wentz was still in grade school.
“I told [Eagles coach Doug Pederson] that I’m in my 10th year and this kid is inspiring me,” tight end Brent Celek said. “He’s adding youth to my game just by the way he’s acting, being in the huddle, taking command. It’s beyond impressive – it’s great.”