PHILADELPHIA — He’s four full seasons into a professional career that was never supposed to happen. One that, once, would have been considered by so many a dream too ludicrous to even be considered mentionable.
And maybe Matt McGloin has fully accepted this.
He’s an undisputed legend in his hometown, a man whose face should probably be etched on the Mount Rushmore of Scranton’s best and most impactful athletes. A bona fide celebrity whose attitude, determination and competitiveness have mirrored the ideals borne from the Munchaks and Joneses and McNamaras. And, maybe, he has fully embraced this.
He went to Penn State as an unknown walk-on and goes back as a legendary quarterback. He went to Oakland in the summer of 2013 as a longshot to make the roster, and he wound up as one of the NFL’s most-relied-on backups. He came back across the country, as close to his West Side home as he could get, this past offseason, not as someone fighting for a starting spot, but as someone knowing what this team needs more than anything is what he has always been.
A competitor. A limits pusher.
Mystique in his moxie: Perhaps, finally, McGloin now sees the beauty in that role, understands there is glory in his grit, mystique of his moxie.
It’s clear the Matt McGloin who worked out with the Philadelphia Eagles this past week for the first time since signing with them as a free agent in April is different than the one whose upward rise repeatedly was doubted as an Invader and a Nittany Lion. There’s an easier smile. There’s a decided understanding; a different confidence.
There’s no relaxation, because who can relax when they’re in the NFL? But this is likely the most secure McGloin has seemed since he left West Scranton for Penn State, fighting for every scrap of every opportunity he has ever clawed away from the competition.
“I’ve been saying since I signed here, it’s really exciting,” McGloin said Wednesday after the Eagles’ mandatory veteran mini-camp practices at the NovaCare Complex just off Pattison Avenue, in the shadow of Lincoln Financial Field. “I’m happy for getting an opportunity like this.”
No guarantees in Philly: He knows there are no guarantees in Philadelphia.
The Eagles carried two quarterbacks in 2016, a move that freed up a roster spot for added depth at another position. As much as head coach Doug Pederson, himself a former backup quarterback, might prefer the safety that carrying three quarterbacks provides, the understanding is that his decision to keep two or three on the roster come September will ultimately be a matter of convenience.
So, as McGloin dropped back to throw during drills Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, he did so knowing he’s going to have to prove himself invaluable to Pederson, offensive coordinator Frank Reich and quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo; that he may even have to be better than the frontrunner for the backup job to starter Carson Wentz, former Pro Bowler Nick Foles.
Familiar with the drill: McGloin, arguably more than anybody else in the NFL, is familiar with this drill.
On paper, he is still the same player who came out of Penn State after that magical, record-setting 2012 season. He’s the shortest quarterback on the Eagles roster. He’d probably lose to Wentz and Foles in a foot race, and he might not win a distance contest against them with his throws. But, he proudly says, he knows what it takes to stick around.
He knows a winner never stops thinking about how to get better.
He knows how to climb up depth charts.
He knows how to force his way into practice reps that, in theory, shouldn’t be there for him.
He knows how to survive.
Making his mark in Oakland: He went to Oakland, essentially, as an extra training camp arm the summer before his rookie season in 2013 and wound up starting six games. The Raiders brought the likes of Matt Schaub and Matt Flynn and Christian Ponder to the Bay Area to be the top backup. McGloin wound up taking the job from them every time anyway.
“Every time I walk in this building, I give it everything I have,” he said. “I’ve always done that. I understand what I have to do, every day, to be successful.
“It has worked for me so far. So, why change it?”
When you have nothing to lose, you have everything to gain. And McGloin has gained plenty. He gained this chance through his work in Oakland. While he knows it will excite his fans in Scranton — who are now a 2½-hour drive away from seeing him play rather than an all-day string of flights to the west coast — the fact of the matter is he would have went anywhere that provided the best opportunity to play the game he loves.
The game he dreamed of playing professionally.
The game he’ll never let go.
“I know the support from Scranton is always going to be there for me, wherever I go,” he smiled. “I just happen to be in Philadelphia.”
Believing in himself: McGloin made a career — a life — out of believing in himself, being coachable and working his butt off. Addressing the media Wednesday, Pederson said the Eagles sought to use free agency to build a culture of competition, at every position, from top to bottom. And that makes sense.
If you want a competitor, you want McGloin, a man who has never had any use for conventional thinking and assumed roles. A man who may not be in line to push Wentz for the starting job, but one who will strive to be better than him anyway. One who will be there, ready to pounce if those in front of him slip. An opportunist who has pummeled the odds before.
“You don’t want to be competitive? You don’t belong here,” McGloin said. “You don’t belong in the National Football League. You don’t belong at the quarterback position.”
Not content: He’s not content, because who can be in the NFL? But the descriptions about his game — the chip on the shoulder, the grit, the moxie, the determination — that once made him bristle, as if it somehow took away from the talent and skill he had to have all along to get this far in the first place, are now the ones he touts most.
He’s comfortable with being the grinder, not because he had better tools than people gave him credit for, but because he has all of those intangibles they said he has.
He’s the example Scranton touted. He had the attitude Penn State wanted.
Now, he’s the backup quarterback the Eagles needed.
DONNIE COLLINS is a sports columnist for The Times-Tribune. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @DonnieCollinsTT.