Seated alone in a row of seats Monday at Xcel Energy Center at the Super Bowl Opening Night, Philadelphia Eagles running backs coach Duce Staley drew a steady stream of reporters.
Some were interested in the rumors that Staley could join Pat Shurmur in New York as the Giants’ offensive coordinator. Others were interested in Staley’s star-crossed postseason career as a player.
And while the former South Carolina running back was enjoying the moment Monday night, he made sure to deflect the attention.
“It’s awesome. First time as a coach,” Staley said. “But of course it’s not about me. It’s about those players out there and the great city of Philadelphia.”
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Charlotte Observer
Staley is well-versed in Philadelphia’s hardscrabble reputation as a sports town and history of heartbreak in the postseason, across all of the city’s professional sports teams.
Staley, Philadelphia’s third-round pick in 1997, played seven seasons with the Eagles from 1997-2003. He had three 1,000-yard seasons and played in the NFC Championship Game three years in a row, with the Eagles falling short each time.
After Staley left the Eagles and signed with the Steelers in 2004, Philadelphia made it to the Super Bowl against New England – the same matchup as Sunday’s Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium.
When Staley finally made it to the Super Bowl the following year with the Steelers, he was activated for the game but didn’t play. Staley appeared in only five regular-season games that year because of a knee injury, but earned a Super Bowl ring when Pittsburgh beat Seattle.
So, Staley’s energy for the start of the Super Bowl week was to be expected.
“It’s been an awesome ride just being able to once again live vicariously through my players,” he said. “It’s very important to me because I still love this great game.”
‘They don’t know the story’
Staley, 42, has been an assistant coach with the Eagles since 2011 under three head coaches – Andy Reid, Chip Kelly and current coach Doug Pederson.
He understands why critics wrote the Eagles off after quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a knee injury in Week 14, but says those cynics don’t know the team’s fight.
“(Wentz) was the driver. He’s the one that got us there. He was playing awesome. So when you get a guy like that just fall off, a lot of people would say, it’s over for you. But that’s when I say they don’t know the story of this team,” Staley said.
“There’s a lot of guys that’s on this team that are fighters. There’s a lot of guys that’s on this team that have been told no, you can’t – from defense, offense, special teams.”
Staley oversaw a group that helped the Eagles finish the regular season as the NFL’s third-best rushing offense after acquiring Jay Ajayi at the trade deadline to complement LeGarrette Blount.
Besides his players, Staley has a special interest in the matchup Sunday between a pair of ex-Gamecock teammates – Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore vs. Eagles wideout Alshon Jeffery.
“I’m pretty sure those guys remember going against each other in practice, those battles that they had. Two great players,” Staley said.
‘He’s brought a lot’
Of course, Staley is partial to Jeffery.
“Going back to that day we signed him (in March), I was surprised we got him. I thought we were very, very lucky to get him,” Staley said. “And just all the leadership that he’s brought to the table, and guys following him. Following his work ethic, being able to see how hard he works during practice, after practice.
“He’s brought a lot – not just to the receiver group, but to our team.”
Staley still keeps a close eye on USC, and is impressed with what Will Muschamp has accomplished in just two seasons.
“He’s doing an awesome job. He’s doing something special down there,” Staley said. “The one thing that I’ve seen from the beginning is he was able to come in, destroy and rebuild real quick. It usually doesn’t happen that way.
“Usually it takes a couple years, let’s be honest, for you to get your own little thing going, get your own people in, it takes time. That tells you how good his staff is, how good he is. I have a lot of respect for him.”