When the wide receiver entered the classroom, the second graders screeched. “Oh my goodness!” one yelled. “Can you sign my sweatshirt?” asked another. Still others raised their arms in the air, or hugged each other, or held out their hands for a little recognition.
“Can we all get a high five?” one asked.
“Stay on your bottoms,” pleaded an adult in the Starkweather Elementary School classroom. “I know you’re excited. He’s a tall man. He can reach.”
And so Alshon Jeffery used the hands that let him down last Sunday to pass out high-fives to the second graders who showed him support after such a low moment.
Jeffery was the face of the Philadelphia Eagles’ loss to the New Orleans Saints last Sunday, a loss that ended the defending Super Bowl champions’ season. Trailing 20-14 late in the fourth quarter but driving inside New Orleans territory, Jeffery was targeted by quarterback Nick Foles, whose perfect ball sailed through Jeffery’s hands and into the grasp of the Saints’ Marshon Lattimore for a game-sealing, gut-punching interception. Jeffery had been among the NFL’s most reliable receivers this season, and he was disconsolate after the loss, saying he “let the city of Philadelphia down.”
“That’s on me. I’ll take that loss. It’s on me,” Jeffery said after the game. “I let my teammates down, the city of Philadelphia, that’s on me. I’ll take that.”
His teammates and coach were supportive, but a second grader delivered one of the kindest takes on the moments. Abigail, a young Eagles fan who lives in West Chester, Pa., pointed out that Jeffery was a big reason for the Eagles’ championship season, and that it isn’t easy to catch a football. Her father, Raymond Johnson, tweeted the letter she wrote to Jeffery, which then went viral.
“I am a huge Eagles fan. When I watched the play last night I was crying,” Abigail wrote. “It’s okay to loose [sic] a game you don’t always have to win a game. We couldn’t have won the Super Bowl without you last year. I think you are an awesome player no matter what. It takes lots of practice and courage to catch a ball.”
And Abigail was already looking ahead to next season. “I love you! My whole family was rooting for you! Don’t give up on playing football,” she wrote. “Keep practicing. Don’t get mad easily, I know you can do it. We all know you are a good player.”
That led to Thursday’s scene, with Jeffery surprising Johnson and her classmates who had also written letters of encouragement. They thought they were going to FaceTime with Jeffery, and then he walked through the classroom doors.
Eagles coaches and teammates had offered kind words of their own for Jeffery in recent days.
“That game wasn’t decided by that play, number one. Two, we wouldn’t change the play call. And three, we’re not in this situation without him. That’s the bottom line,” said tight end Zach Ertz.
“He is one of the best receivers in the league,” Ertz continued. “There are not many guys who are able to make plays continually like he does. Does he catch that ball 99 times out of 100? Yeah. 999,999 out of a million? Yeah. It’s tough to end like that … but he should know that play didn’t decide this game.”
“It happens to the best of us,” Jeffery said. “We move on. It hurts right now, but I guarantee you we’ll be back next year, for sure.”
That’s the message Coach Doug Pederson said he delivered, too.
“It’s hard. I mean, it’s really hard because he’s so down,” Pederson told reporters. “But for me, it’s about staying positive. Listen, he’s made many, many big catches for us this season and he will continue to do that. He’s just got to keep his head up. Don’t let one play define you. It’s not who he is. He’s too good of a player. He’ll embrace it obviously and he’ll be better for it, but I told him to keep his head up and keep playing.”
On Thursday, Jeffery posed for photos with Abigail and her family and handed out those high-fives and prompted an awful lot of grins. And the kids responded like any good Eagles fans would: by singing the team’s fight song.
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