DeMeco Ryans was walking around Philly soon after he was traded to the Eagles. He walked past the Liberty Bell and the Betsy Ross House. He walked past the Constitution Center. He walked past a good chunk of our nations rich history.
After spending the last six years living in Houston, a sprawling southwest metropolis of highways, office buildings and shopping centers, it was an eye-opening stroll through the countrys most spectacuar downtown.
Its different, Ryans said with a laugh. In Houston, theres nothing like that. We have the Astrodome.
We have the Liberty Bell. They have the Astrodome. Which isnt even used anymore.
Its still there, Ryan said. They say it would cost too much money to tear it down.
Welcome to Philly. This is most certainly not Houston.
The Eagles acquired Ryans in a trade with the Texans on March 20, and Ryans has spent the last month not just getting used to his new coaches, teammates and playbook but acclimated to a new city 1,500 miles away.
Ryans, a two-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker during his six years with the Texans, is starting over again with the Eagles.
And starting over again in a new city that has embraced him more in a month than Houston did in half a decade.
The first thing you notice is that everybody here knows their football and they love their football, Ryans said. Whether youre at the rental car place or the front desk of the hotel, everybody, wherever you are, they let you know how passionate they are about football.
Looking for places to live, people know everything about you, and they all have high expectations, and thats a big difference from Houston. I love that about it. The city, the fans -- they expect the team to do well, and everybodys behind the team.
Houston, I guess because football left there when the Oilers moved to Tennessee, its a mixture of fans. A lot of Cowboys fans, some people are Texans fans, so theres that mixture, but here its all Eagle all the time. Theres nothing else in this city, so thats one unique thing about it. Everybody here is Eagles, 76ers, Flyers, Phillies --theyre all about their teams here in the city.
The Texans started in 2002, so its still kind of new. The Eagles have been there forever. In Houston, theres not a long line of tradition and history. Here, you have so much tradition and theres a high expectation because the city has seen the team go to the Super Bowl, go to the playoffs year after year after year.
In Houston, we had never even been to the playoffs until last year, and people got excited about it -- Theyre going to the playoffs for the first time. But thats just where it starts, getting to the playoffs. Here, we expect to go to the playoffs and we expect to make a run at the Super Bowl every year. Its a totally different feeling.
So is strolling down the streets of Center City.
Houston doesnt even have a Center City.
Im living in the city here, but in Houston, I stayed out in the suburbs, he said. Theres really no downtown in Houston, where you have people walking around like here. Everything in Houston is spread out and all over the place. It takes 20 minutes to get anywhere.
Ryans made his NFL debut on opening day 2006 -- in a loss to the Eagles in Houston. No defensive player in franchise history has started more games for the Texans than Ryans. Only three players -- wide receiver Andre Johnson and offensive tackles Chester Pitts and Eric Winston -- have started more games as Texans. Only Johnson, a five-time pick, has been selected to more Pro Bowls than Ryans.
So hes one of the most decorated players in Texans history. And it didnt occur to him until fairly recently that there was a chance he wouldnt finish his career in Houston.
Every guy thinks when you come into the league that the team that drafts you, thats the team youre going to spend your whole career with, he said. Its the only thing you know, the only team you know, the only organization you know. So you get comfortable and think, Oh, this is the only place for me.
But you have it in the back of your mind, Oh, I wonder what its like in other places? Does everyone do it the same way we do it, does everyone practice the same way, and you wonder, I want to see how other people do it.
I thought Id finish my career there, but things change all the time. I understand the business. Once youve been around for a while, you realize theyre always trying to replace you. And you see guys come and go. I saw a lot of guys come through that building, for a couple years, a couple months, a couple days. There was a lot of turnover, and you learn that nobodys an exception. Im not an exception.
The Texans were happy to get rid of Ryans, who doesnt really fit into the 3-4 front defensive coordinator Wade Phillips runs, and is signed through 2015 at 4.45 million this year, 6.6 million in 2013 and 6.8 million in 2014 and 2015.
As happy as the Texans were to unload Ryans, the Eagles were just as thrilled to acquire him. They see him as the forceful veteran middle linebacker theyve lacked since Jeremiah Trotters last Pro Bowl season in 2004 and the type of defensive leader theyve lacked since Brian Dawkins left for Denver after the 2008 season.
Ryans, now 100 percent recovered from a 2010 ruptured Achilles, said he had a blast last week, the first week Eagles players were allowed to participate in supervised workouts at the NovaCare Complex, and he cant wait to move forward in OTAs, minicamps, training camp and -- in just over four months -- his first real game as a Philadelphia Eagle.
I feel like its been good for me, coming here, he said. Just my knowledge of the game, having spent time in a couple different systyems and seeing a lot of ball over the years, this is good for me.
Coming in and being able to work with some younger linebackers and teach them what I know, what to look for, what to expect. Theres some good young, athletic linebackers here who make a lot of plays, and Im excited to work with them.
Ryans is already a fan favorite, as the first legitimate, Pro Bowl-caliber linebacker the Eagles have acquired in a decade.
Hes already an Eagle. And hes working hard on becoming a Philadelphian.
Its a big change, just getting adjusted to a new city, learning the city, learning your way around, Ryan said.
Its different. I just look at it like I got drafted again. Took time for me to get established in Houston, learn everything about the city, so I look at me coming to Philadelphia the same way. Im not going to feel comfortable overnight, but eventually it will be home to me.
E-mail Reuben Frank at firstname.lastname@example.org