JACKSONVILLE, Fla., Feb. 3 -- Jeremiah Trotter was mystified and concerned over the message left on his wife's cell phone Dec. 23 by Coach Andy Reid. The Philadelphia Eagles' characteristically stoic coach spoke in an urgent tone, requesting the linebacker call immediately. Since Reid didn't provide any details, Trotter wondered what caused Reid to be unusually emotional.
"Andy, he never really gets too excited. I was like: 'Oh man, what did I do?' " Trotter said Wednesday during an interview session. "Was I late to a meeting or something?"
"I'm wondering how in the world I got here," said Jeremiah Trotter, who helped the Eagles stuff Warrick Dunn and the Falcons' league-leading rushing attack in the NFC title game.
(John Bazemore -- AP)
When Trotter returned the call, Reid excitedly told Trotter he made the Pro Bowl, causing the 6-foot-1, 262-pounder to cry.
The achievement was improbable not only because Trotter was released by the Washington Redskins last June, but because he started only seven games this season after joining Philadelphia as a special teams player and reserve linebacker.
Now Trotter has a chance to punctuate his storybook season by helping his team defeat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX Sunday at Alltel Stadium. Trotter, 28, anchors a run defense that has turned from porous to stingy since his insertion into the starting lineup midway through the season.
"I'm wondering how in the world I got here," Trotter said grinning. "I'm just thankful every day. I'm just staying humble and enjoying every moment of it."
Trotter -- appearing in the Super Bowl for the first time in his seven-year career -- couldn't envision this scenario after his unceremonious departure from Washington. Teams had responded with tepid interest to Trotter's solicitations, although he was a two-time Pro Bowl pick. Trotter's future in the NFL suddenly seemed so bleak that he contemplated retirement.
Trotter, who played his first four seasons in Philadelphia before joining the Redskins as a free agent in 2002, made the cover of Sports Illustrated last week (Jan. 31 edition). He is pictured screaming and kicking up his left knee following a defensive stop. Trotter finished the season with 80 tackles, an impressive figure for a player who essentially started half the season. Trotter helped the Eagles to their first NFC title in 24 years by collecting eight tackles and stuffing Atlanta's top-ranked rushing offense.
However, Trotter's aggressiveness and exuberance -- captured in the magazine photograph -- have stood out more than his statistics.
"He's a dog in every sense of the word," said defensive end Jevon Kearse. "He's just fast, just physical, just vocal out there. He's brought like a fire. He plays with passion from sideline to sideline."
Trotter said: "There's only one way to play the game: Play with a passion and have fun."
Trotter has looked like a natural fit in defensive coordinator Jim Johnson's attacking, blitz-heavy defense. He resembles the player who made the Pro Bowl for Philadelphia in the 2000 and 2001 seasons, leading the club in tackles both years. Trotter departed in 2002 after acrimonious discussions over a new contract. When talks reached a stalemate, Trotter asked Reid for a meeting but was turned down and the coach and player exchanged nasty, public remarks. And Trotter signed with Washington -- a seven-year, $36 million deal that included a $7 million bonus.
Washington was 12-20 in Trotter's two seasons there, and the linebacker never lived up to his billing. Trotter's aggressive tendencies didn't mesh with the read-and-react schemes of defensive coordinators Marvin Lewis and George Edwards. On Oct. 31, 2002, Trotter tore his left knee ligament against the Dallas Cowboys. The day after the injury, Trotter was surprised to receive a call from Reid wishing him well.
"I couldn't believe it," Trotter said Wednesday. "It was an unexpected phone call from an unexpected person at a much-needed time. I was mentally down as well as physically down at the time. He called me and lifted my spirits."
Trotter returned the next season and collected a team-high 129 tackles yet lacked his familiar explosiveness. (The type of injury Trotter suffered generally takes two seasons for full recovery.)
Trotter was one of the few Redskins players to show up at Redskins Park last January for the announcement of Coach Joe Gibbs's return to the NFL. But Gibbs uninvited Trotter from his first minicamp in March -- "I was shocked" -- allowing him to seek a trade. Trotter was criticized in Washington for being out of position too often. And the Redskins felt his ego and contract didn't match his play, according to sources familiar with the situation. No team was willing to make a trade offer for Trotter, so the Redskins released him in June. Perhaps Trotter's nadir occurred that month when he failed a physical with the New York Giants. Trotter briefly mulled switching full-time to his car-washing business, Trot Spot Car Wash in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Because of their brief conversation after Trotter's injury, the linebacker called his former coach about re-joining Philadelphia. Trotter apologized for his parting shots in 2002. And Reid allowed Trotter to return, though only for the league minimum of $535,00 and a role on special teams.
"Whatever was said -- he said some things, I said some things -- we meant from a business standpoint," Reid said Wednesday. "I think we were both able to throw those things out of the window and come together as human beings. He's done a great job."
For the first half of the season, Philadelphia's run defense was the team's Achilles' heel. Reid and Johnson moved Mark Simoneau to outside linebacker and inserted Trotter back in his old spot.
Before that move, the Eagles had the 27th ranked rushing defense. By the end of the season, Philadelphia markedly improved its ranking to No. 11.
"It's been a wild ride," Trotter said. "It seemed like the beginning of the season, I was shedding tears of pain. Now I'm shedding tears of joy."