Watching him now, racing effortlessly down the field, making big catches in traffic, piling up career-best numbers, its easy to forget that just a few months ago, Jeremy Maclin was spending his time in hospitals undergoing tests, visiting numerous doctors and specialists in St. Louis and Philadelphia, soberly concerned for his career.
And for his life.
Maclins health was one of the big storylines of the Eagles off-season, and his battle with a mystery affliction that caused him appetite loss, fevers and chills and trouble sleeping became a national story as rumors and speculation spiraled out of control.
Even when doctors finally cleared Maclin of lymphoma and every other life-threatening conditions back in mid-August, conventional wisdom still said he faced a long transition from medical patient back to NFL wide receiver.
Now here we are six weeks into the season, and theres Maclins name up among the NFLs leading receivers.
Maclin ranks 10th in the NFL with 37 receptions and 11th with 489 yards. The only NFC receivers with more catches are Greg Jennings (42), Calvin Johnson (41), Steve Smith (39) and Roddy White (39).
Hes having a career year. Only a couple months after his career was in question.
Everything I went through, it made me take a step back and look at things differently, Maclin said after practice Thursday. Youve just got to realize theres bigger things in life than just football. Theres bigger things in life than being a journalist.
Your life is the most valuable thing you have, along with your family and things like that, and if you have something keeping you from living your life the way you want to and keeping you from doing the things that you love to do, then it really makes you look at things differently and you really get a new appreciation for everything you do. You definitely learn to appreciate it all a lot more.
So much was made of how much time Maclin would need to get back into game shape. Would it take weeks? Months? A year?
Yet Maclins first practice with his teammates was on Aug. 27. Just 22 days later he had a 171-yard game in Atlanta.
I was working out during the summer, so its not like I wasnt doing anything, Maclin said. I knew it was going to take some time to get into football shape, but I didnt think it was going to be as big a deal as everybody else thought. I felt pretty good, I was just waiting to get the OK from the doctors. After that, it was just a matter of a couple weeks.
The speculation that Maclin might not be right until after the bye week or maybe not even all year?
Looks like it was just a bit off.
He didnt listen to any outside forces or the media saying what he could do or cant do, so that wasnt in his mind, how long it was going to take him, wide receiver and close friend Jason Avant said.
People dont know how much you have in you, so we didnt expect him to come in and have this lengthy transition. The hardest thing for him was his first week conditioning, but hes been playing football a long, long, long time, and it just came back to him quickly.
Quickly enough, despite no training camp, despite no preseason games, despite questions about whether this might just be a lost season, Maclin is quietly recording some outstanding numbers.
With 10 games to go, hes on pace for 98 catches for 1,304 yards. No Eagles wide receiver has ever caught more than 88 passes that was Irving Fryar in 1996. Brian Westbrook holds the overall club record with 90 catches in 2007.
The only Eagles with 1,300 yards in a season are Mike Quick (1,409 in 1983) and Fryar (1,316 in 1997).
But Maclin isnt interested in the numbers. Not now.
Were sitting here at 2-4, so if you ask me, I havent done enough personally to help us be in a better position, he said. And I think if you ask anybody else on the team, theyll all say the same thing.
Maclins numbers are excellent, but he has also had a couple very disappointing plays. And uncharacteristic plays.
He had 13 catches against the Falcons in that career-best 171-yard game at the Georgia Dome, most ever in a game by an Eagles wide receiver, but with the Eagles down by four and Mike Kafka at quarterback with under two minutes left, Maclin dropped his easiest catch of the day, on a 4th-and-4 at the Atlanta 16-yard-line.
Then, late in the game against the 49ers, Maclin fumbled after a 17-yard catch at the San Francisco 32-yard-line with the Eagles down by one point just before the two-minute warning.
The Eagles lost both games as part of the four-game losing streak thats left them in last place in the NFC East going into todays game against the Cowboys.
My success goes as team success goes, Maclin said. If were not having success as a team, then Im not having success. The numbers dont mean anything to me if were not winning.
Maclin has been around a few years, so its easy to forget hes still only 23 years old. Only six players in NFL history including teammate DeSean Jackson had more yards than Maclin before their 24th birthday, and as long as he stays healthy, he still has at least 10 more games to go.
Because Michael Vick quarterbacks the Eagles, because LeSean McCoy is having a monster Pro Bowl year, because Jackson is already a two-time Pro Bowler and one of the most electrifying players in the game, theres a tendency to forget exactly how good Maclin is.
He doesnt say much. He doesnt draw attention to himself. But among Eagles through their first three seasons, he already ranks fifth with 2,434 receiving yards and fourth with 172 catches.
And thats with 10 games to go.
I never doubted Jeremy coming back, Vick said. He was put on this Earth to play football. Ive never seen a guy work so hard, who demands greatness of himself and wants to be the best and is willing to work so hard to be put in that position. Im truly thankful to have the receivers I have.
Jeremy didnt have a training camp, didnt have a preseason, he just came in and started playing. You could tell he needed to get his legs back under him. Against St. Louis, he didnt really play as well as he wanted, but against Atlanta, he came back, and ever since then, hes really taken off.
His nightmare started in the spring and didnt end until August. And although the Jeremy Maclin were all seeing now looks the same as the one who had such an outstanding season last year, inside hes changed.
After everything hes been through, hes changed a lot.
Ive learned a lot, Maclin said. You dont take anything for granted, man. One day, you could be doing something you love and the next day, its all taken away from you. Youve got to go out there like every days your last and make the best out of every situation. What I went through, it definitely made me a stronger person.
E-mail Reuben Frank at email@example.com