Had Brian Westbrook not attended Villanova University, there is a very good chance he wouldn’t have caught Andy Reid’s eye. Which means all those yards he racked up in midnight green could have easily come in a different-colored uniform.
Of course, that all is revisionist history now. Westbrook played at Villanova, grabbed the attention of Reid and was drafted in the third round (91st overall) of the 2002 NFL draft. One round too late, if you ask his college coach.
“I think the Eagles did a great job hiding their card because they took him in the third round, which I thought was a steal, because he should have been a second-round guy,” said Villanova coach Andy Talley.
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All Westbrook did was shatter franchise records and captivate fans with electrifying plays, like his 84-yard, season-saving punt return to beat the Giants in 2003.
“The first thing when you asked the question, is the play at the Giants, and really Merrill Reese’s call kind of is the sound and the voice that I hear in my head,” Westbrook said, when asked to name his favorite Eagles moment.
Westbrook officially retired as a Philadelphia Eagle Wednesday morning at the NovaCare Complex. The team presented the running back with a short film highlighting his biggest plays, then presented him with a framed No. 36 jersey. He’ll be honored again Nov. 23 at the Linc when the Eagles host the Washington Redskins.
“To the Eagles fans, thank you for all of the memories,” Westbrook said. “You’re the best fans in the world and I hope the passion that I played with on the field and how I carried myself off of the field represented you guys well and made you guys proud.”
A humbled Westbrook thanked just about everyone in the room, from team owner Jeffrey Lurie all the way down to the lunch staff in the cafeteria. His parents and extended family sat in the front row beaming with pride.
“I’m blessed to be here and I’m thankful to be here,” he said. “I spent eight good years, eight of the best years of my life in Philadelphia playing for the Eagles. It was, and still is, a great organization.”
Reid also gushed praise on No. 36.
“I’ve never coached a player as smart as this guy right here,” the coach said. “Unbelievable.”
But the proudest in the room might have been his college coach. Talley, who tutored Westbrook for five years at Villanova, admitted that he used to get chills when he heard Westbrook’s name introduced over the loudspeakers at Lincoln Financial Field.
“It was such a great source of pride. He became a household word, in the Philadelphia area, from Villanova,” Talley said. “You know when they would introduce him in the Linc, they’d scream out, ‘From Villanova’ — that would give us the chills, that’s an awesome feeling. People still ask me today, ‘You coached Brian Westbrook?’ Yeah, I coached Brian Westbrook. I dealt with him for five years.”
Little big man on campus
Andy Talley remembers the moment well. His Wildcats had lost 46-44 on the road at Pittsburgh, but that wasn’t the story. No, the real story was running circles around Pitt's defense.
“I remember Walt Harris, their coach at the end of the game saying, ‘Who the hell is No. 20? Where did you get him from?’” Talley recalled Wednesday.
Brian Westbrook, playing for tiny Division 1-AA Villanova, had made mince meat of the Division 1-A Panthers. He accounted for 395 all-purpose yards and four touchdowns — one on a punt return, another on a kickoff return. Still not satisfied, Westbrook ran one in on the ground and caught a touchdown pass.
“Westbrook ran all over him,” Talley said. “At that point, we knew we had something really special because he was able to do it at the next level against bigger, faster guys.”
Talley never pimped his stud back, but he would casually drop his name in conversation. He told local radio personality Howard Eskin that Westbrook would be the next Marshall Faulk. Predictably, Eskin scoffed at the notion. When he saw Eagles coach Andy Reid at a banquet, he dropped a subtle hint.
“I saw Andy Reid at a banquet and I just shook hands with him and I said to him, ‘Our No. 20 is very special,’ and that’s all I said to him. I never said another word to him,” Talley said. “I don’t pester the pro coaches about our players because that’s their business. They look at tons and tons of film, so I never picked up the phone and said you gotta take this guy.”
Not many NFL teams seemed to be interested in Westbrook. His height (Westbrook is generously listed at 5-foot-10) and injury history (he tore his ACL in high school and sat out parts of his sophomore and junior years at ’Nova) plummeted his draft stock.
The fact that he went to Villanova didn’t help his case — unless you were the Eagles. Then he was easy to scout, playing his home games right in your backyard.
“I think because of his size he flew under the radar,” Talley said. “I think the Eagles knew a lot about him because they were local. I think the Eagles knew what they potentially could have. I think they took a chance taking him in the third round, but best chance they ever took.”
395 yards all-purpose 4 TDS, kick, punt, rushing, receiving
Walt Harris, the coach of the other team said, “Who the hell is no. 20? Where’d you get him from?”
Lost 46-44, but Westbrook ran all over him. At that point, we knew we had something special because he was able to do it at the next level, against bigger, faster guys.
When he left Villanova, I told Howard Eskin, I think he’s the next Marshall Faulk and I remember Eskin going come on, you’re just blowing smoke. But I think Brian proved that he’s that kind of football player.
mid-level div I basketball player – very little tape
they wanted him to be a practice guy – I said I don’t know want to do that
played for 2 years on a partially torn ACL, but he didn’t want to get the surgery done, until finally he slipped and fell and had to get it done
He probably would have started for us as a point guard
It was such a great source of pride, He become a household word, in the Philadelphia area, from Vilanova … you know when they would introduce him in the Linc, they’d screamed out ‘from Villanova’ that would give us the chills, that’s an awesome feeling. People still ask me today, ‘You coached Brian Westbrook?’ Yeah, I coached Brian Westbrook, I dealt with him for five years.
He was no ball of cherries when he was hurt – for a year, we took him to Air Force academy and he was in warm-up clothes and he was like,I wanna play’ Next year at this time, you will be a star, just count on that, that’s going to happen.
End of soph into his junior year
The only thing I regret is that we took him off punt returns – junior year, would have 1,000 yards on punts
I don’t pester the pro coaches about our players because that’s their business, they look at tons and tons of film, so I never picked up the phone and said you gotta take this guy. I saw Andy Reid at a banquet and I just shook hands with him and I said to him, ‘Our No. 20 is very special, and that’s all I said to him. I never said another word to him.
I think he did [knew who he was] and I think the Eagles did a great job hiding their card becausre they took him in the third round, which I thought was a steal because he should have been a second-round guy. Coming from I-AA school, those guys got short-changed.
I think because of his size he flew under the radar and I think the Eagles knew a lot about him because they were local – I think the Eagles knew what they potentially could have, I think they took a chance taking him in the third round, but best chance they ever took.
I spent eight of the best years of like playing in Philadelphia for the Eagles, it was a great organization, still is a great organization.
Thanked Luries, Reid family, Talley, equipent manager, media relations staff, training staff, RB coach, cafeteria, lunch staff, his own family, dad, mom, 5 brothers (4 present), 1 other brother
Teammates, Duce, Buck, McNabb, Dawk, Tapeh,
I played with so many great players here during my career,. I’m just going to name a few that have kind of been there for me …