The Eagles quarterback wasn't alone in missing Super Bowl LII—he had a whole club of co-rehabilitants
WHEN EAGLES quarterback Carson Wentz scrambled, dived for the end zone and had his left knee crushed on each side by a Rams tackler in Week 14 last year, Chris Maragos saw the hit and cringed. Then Wentz got up, hobbled to the huddle, took the next three snaps and capped off the drive with his 33rd touchdown pass of the season. Everything seemed fine.
Still, Maragos was sure there had been damage—and as he watched the game from his couch in Philadelphia, he was in a position to know. Wentz's shot looked just like the one that had torn Maragos's right ACL and PCL eight weeks earlier, ending his season.
Maragos's instincts were sadly correct. Wentz, the MVP front-runner, became the fourth Eagle to go down with an ACL injury in 2017, joining Maragos, left tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles in the trainer's room alongside middle linebacker Jordan Hicks (torn right Achilles). That's five team leaders sidelined in a span of 11 weeks. "I thought it was a bad dream," says Sproles, a 13-year veteran. "I was like, I don't know how we're going to finish the year."
August 27, 2018
Cut to footage of the Super Bowl LII parade.
Six months after the confetti fell, the Eagles have a clique of stars from different position groups, bound together by the unfortunate reality of rehab: straight leg raises, quad sets, prone hangs.... "We have been able to encourage each other and challenge each other," says Wentz. "None of us wanted to be here, but it helps that we are all in this together."
This offseason, the members of Club Rehab, as Hicks still calls it, reported for treatment at the NovaCare Complex around 8:30 a.m. every weekday, then typically lounged in the sauna or, depending on their progress, shot hoops after their workouts. The rest of the Eagles had scattered across the country in early February; all they had was one another.
Peters is known around Philly as the Bodyguard, but in Club Rehab he is the Godfather. "Whatever JP says, goes," explains Hicks. "I've been fined"—he drops air quotes around fined—"for being late. I wasn't actually late, but if you walk in after JP, you're late."
The Godfather's catchphrase in rehab: "Write 'em up!" If someone met Peters's definition of tardy or was slow to finish a workout, the 14-year veteran would scribble out a fine on a whiteboard, leaving a list of citations. (Mercifully, the Godfather never collected.)
As the group's de facto life coach—the one who "kept everybody up," in his words—Sproles had other means of motivating. "He'd let everybody know he's working harder than you; you need to step your game up," says Hicks. "Sproles would be finished with his workout around the time me and Chris were walking into the gym to start."
Maragos, aka DJ Gos, filled the room with a selection of early 2000s rap: Nelly, 50 Cent, Lil Jon, Big Tymers. Hicks was the grizzled rehab expert, having spent half of '15 on IR. And Wentz was the youngblood who had to set his own pace. Early in rehab, when the second-year QB was mostly immobile, he hung out with Hicks and Maragos through their workouts. But then, says Hicks, "He was like, You guys are way too slow; you talk too much; I gotta get my work done."
Each new member of the ACL union had a recent rehabilitant to show him the way. After his surgery on Oct. 27, Peters could voice his anxieties to Sproles, who'd gone under the knife a week and a half earlier. Says Sproles, who had started his recovery in California, "I told [Jason], 'When you get your flexion back, everything else is easy. That's the hardest part.'"
A few weeks later the Godfather found himself guiding Maragos, 31, who had his operation on Nov. 8. "Jason would tell me, 'On Day 14 you're going to feel like this'—and then I would get to Day 14 and it would be exactly what he said," Maragos recalls. "He'd say, 'The surgical pain will be gone on this day'—and sure enough, I wake up the next day and the surgical pain is gone."
About a month after his surgery, Maragos became Wentz's ACL authority. Later, in June, the special teams stalwart was not cleared to participate in mini-camp, so he watched Wentz closely during individual and team drills and gave him feedback. "When I see him move around now," says Maragos, "I'm like, 'Hey, you're not favoring anything!' I tell him stuff as I see it because I know what he's feeling."
From California, Sproles recorded a video of his first attempt at running and texted it to the group. Maragos responded with a video of himself doing heel slides to break up scar tissue and regain flexibility. Says Sproles, "We were competing to see who could heal faster."
Club Rehab faced its toughest challenge at the Eagles' most joyous moment. At U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, the five members helped coach their respective position groups throughout the Super Bowl upset of the Patriots. But each time they finished giving notes, they'd find their way back to stand together along the sideline. "Sproles and I would give each other a little shake of the head," says Hicks, "and it was like, 'I know, I know. We'll be all right. Our time is coming.'"
That time is now. The Eagles are being careful not to push Wentz—he was sidelined from 11-on-11 drills for the majority of camp—but he told reporters a Week 1 return was "going to be close." Peters, Hicks and Sproles are back at full speed and should be ready for opening day. Maragos will likely start the season on the PUP list and go from there.
What, though, of Club Rehab's camaraderie as the walking wounded return to their position groups? Is there any separation anxiety? "Absolutely," says Maragos. "I'll see Carson and be like, 'Come on, man—let's work out together!' I'll see JP around and be like, 'I miss you, bro!'"
To which Wentz shrugs. "It was fun," he says, "but not so fun at the same time."