Carson Wentz has Eagles fever permeating his North Dakota roots

Carson Wentz has Eagles fever permeating his North Dakota roots

FARGO and BISMARCK, N.D. — The Wentz Wagon has made its way across the mighty Mississippi — and it's loaded with No. 11 Eagles jerseys. 

Everyone in Philadelphia wants a piece of Carson Wentz, just one brush with the city's newest celebrity or one high five from No. 11 after a bad day at work. The Eagles’ phenom has excelled beyond all expectations, leading the Birds to a surprising 3-1 record while mashing a slew of rookie passing records in his wake. 

On the other side of the Mississippi, the Wentz Wagon, loaded with No. 11 Eagles jerseys and chugging through the Badlands, has rolled into North Dakota in reverse. 

In Fargo, they can't stock enough Eagles gear. Sam, a junior at North Dakota State University (NDSU) working at a local Scheel's store — a mesmerizing sports emporium near NDSU's main campus — says they are completely sold out of Wentz bobbleheads, 150 gone in under four hours last week. Those No. 11 Eagles jerseys are on the racks, too, and selling fast. 

"We're selling tons, trying to keep up with the demand," Sam says.

That's because everyone in North Dakota is wearing them. Kids, grandparents, bar owners — even former coaches. 

Ron Wingenbach, Wentz's high school coach at Century High in Bismarck, where he has served as head football coach for the past 27 years, has one. He intercepts the question before it's asked. 

"I have one, oh yeah. I didn’t buy it," Wingenbach says. "Carson got it for me. It’s up on the mantle, not touching that one, autographed in a display case."

It’s telling for Wingenbach, a self-admitted lifelong Vikings fan. He is planning to wear it when he visits Philadelphia on Dec. 11 to watch his prized pupil — yes, Wentz was a straight-A student at Century High where Wingenbach taught him pre-calculus — lead the Birds against the Washington Redskins. Century High's head coach will be joined by a group of five to seven of Wentz's former Century High coaches on the trip. 

Look for them at the Linc, singing the Eagles' fight song and yelling E-A-G-L-E-S for the first time. 

"Eagles chant? I can find it online?" Wingenbach says. "OK, that will be neat. That’ll be fun, if we get an opportunity to go down there and see him."

If it happens, since the flight isn't booked yet, it will mark Wingenbach's first visit to Philadelphia — and first time he has seen Wentz since he left for spring OTAs. Other than on TV, where he has been watching Wentz dissect NFL defenses. Even Wentz's biggest supporters didn't see this coming. 

"At the end of his junior year in college, I told my wife that he’s got a shot to play on Sundays," Wingenbach says. "Now, to play on the opening Sunday, I would have never expected that.

"I mean, you just look at the number of reps, from the preseason and collegiate, he just doesn’t have the volume of reps that these other guys have and I thought until he gets at least somewhere close to that, he’s going to be your traditional backup or third string or whatever. But, to come out of the gates like this — oh my gosh, it’s just phenomenal what he’s doing."

Yes, the Bismarck and Fargo areas are showing Eagles games. And cheering for their hometown hero.

"My perspective, here at the school, I’ve had teachers come up to me and tell me, 'Hey, I’m not even a football fan but on Sunday, I’m watching Carson and the Eagles,'" Wingenbach says.

Back in Fargo, at Herd & Horns restaurant, the wagons are circling even harder. Co-owner Brent Tehven is encouraging Eagles fans to hang out and puts the games on in the bar every Sunday, adding a No. 11 cheesesteak special. 

Consider it a North Dakota version of a City Wide. It includes a Philly-style cheesesteak and pint of beer. Sorry, a shot of cheap whiskey costs extra here. 

"It’s $11 for a pint of beer and a cheesesteak,” Tehven explains. “I wish I could get Yuengling!"

Tehven, a former linebacker-defensive end hybrid at NDSU from 2000-2003, has seen a rush of Eagles fans invade his bar to keep tabs on Wentz. He loves it and business is booming. 

And, despite being a Vikings season-ticket holder himself — yes, North Dakota is mostly Skol Country, minus a few Packers and handful of Broncos fans — Tehven has embraced the Eagles in full, even buying a No. 11 jersey for his 6-year-old son, Noah. Tehven will be taking his dad to the Oct. 23 game against Minnesota. He wasn't sure if Noah was ready for the rowdies at the Linc.

“There are a lot of kids walking around with Eagles jerseys. I think the coolest thing, being a parent myself, is having my kid wear a No. 11 Philadelphia Eagles jersey,” Tehven says. "There is one security guard over at the FargoDome that always wears a Bison hat. [For Wentz’s homecoming celebration], he was wearing an Eagles hat."

Herd & Horns showed Wentz's unofficial debut, in that Aug. 11 preseason game in which he busted a rib. GM John Wilson went so far as to call the Eagles' media relations department, just to make sure he would be able to broadcast the game in the restaurant. They told him to stream it live on Apple TV— and Herd & Horns enjoyed one of their busiest nights to date. 

"Fargo is a blue-collar town and North Dakota is a blue-collar state — and Philly is blue collar,” Tehven says. “I think it’s a match made in heaven. I think they see that in Carson."

'Carson being Carson'
The place has become pretty synonymous with Wentz these days. ESPN and NFL Network have both broadcast from there. And Wentz held a private party in their back room last Saturday night, right after watching his alma mater roll to a 31-10 win over Illinois State. The party was a low-key affair, but waiters and bartenders were still swapping stories days later.

"As I was waiting on him, I had to look up. He is so tall,” says Rachel, a junior at NDSU who works as a server at Herd & Horns. "He was very humble, especially as a guest. He didn’t treat anyone like they were below him or anything.”

(In case you're wondering, Wentz picked up the entire tab, $1,000 and left a $500 tip. He was whisked off by his cousin in a 1996 Chevy pickup truck. No frills.)

Down in Bismarck, they are rooting for Wentz, too. At Fireflour, a hip pizza and craft beer joint a few miles away from Century High, Mike and Ben are working a slow Wednesday lunch shift when they begrudgingly confirm that Eagles fandom is on the rise. They have seen tons of No. 11 shirts all over town. Foam fingers, too. They are proud of Wentz and the hype Bismarck is getting — all that, despite being Cowboys fans themselves.  

"Sorry, I got a Dez Bryant jersey. Go Cowboys," says Ben. 

Ben has never met Wentz, but sees his parents sometimes at Evangel church on 14th Street. One of Wentz's former college teammates works at Fireflour. It's a small town, six degrees of separation is the norm.

Still, no one has a negative word to say about Wentz. He's the anti-Odell Beckham, shutting his mouth and crediting teammates after big or improbable wins. Wentz has somehow remained in the news cycle, 24/7, even though his inner circle has been limiting interview requests these days. 

"I think as he finds his way, he’ll open up a little bit more,” Tehven says. “It’s not him being egotistical or anything like that. It’s just Carson being Carson."

Wingenbach can't think of any off-the-wall or funny moments about his former quarterback. He was never a big talker, not a rah-rah guy in the locker room, he just knew how to gut out a win. 

"I always go back to practice," he says. "He just practiced so well and when the quarterback practices well, your team practices well. He seemed to bring that every night to the practice field, and with that, also his leadership and determination."

One funny moment: Wentz was involved in a trick-shot video that went viral on YouTube back in September. The video showed Wentz doing a "Crazy Paper" toss, where he was shooting crumpled-up pieces of paper into trash cans in a variety of ways, including hitting them with a baseball bat. Interesting side note: Wingenbach's son, Kameron, was featured in that video.

Wingenbach recalled: "Kameron came home and told me they had made that film and I was like, 'Oh my goodness.' They are really good friends."

When asked to provide any kind of zany insight into the intensely private Wentz's life, Wingenbach thinks hard. Then, thinks more, fervently trying to recall a moment that might give Philly fans some small nugget to latch onto. Sorry, nothing. 

It's another matter of "Carson being Carson," a common phrase around these parts.  

Wentz's rise to 'role model'
Winning is another common phrase in Fargo, where NDSU is more legendary than Alabama or Notre Dame. Hopefully that winning tradition can rub off on Wentz's new team. He's got an entire state cheering for a championship-starved city 1,600 miles away.

No one expected Wentz's meteoric rise up the NFL stratosphere. No colleges came knocking down his door until the end of his senior season, after Central Michigan reached out. 

Not wanting to lose homegrown talent, North Dakota State rushed in with the full-court press. They flew in from Fargo to visit with Wentz in 2012, leaving right after to play in a playoff game against Missoula. 

The rest is history, one that is being told through the sale of No. 11 Eagles jerseys throughout the Dakota Territory. Those jerseys are shining a bright midnight green spotlight on North Dakota, brighter and noisier than the prairie dogs out on the Great Plains. 

"He's a role model," Tehven says. "It isn’t Johnny Manziel making it rain.”

Is there a better story in the NFL? Probably not. Is there a better story in North Dakota? Not yet. But there might be one coming soon. Century High is in the process of retiring Wentz's high school jersey.

"You know, that was 2010, so we are waiting on a replica," Wingenbach says. "Already six years ago, it was a Russell athletic jersey, so we got a little while."

When that happens, maybe all those new Eagles fans living in North Dakota will make the 70-mile trek south, down the turnpike, to Wingenbach's hometown. 

There, maybe they can get Wentz to pose in front of the welcome sign — appropriately reading: Welcome to Carson, North Dakota. 

Howie Roseman: Eagles find value in dwindling free agent market

Howie Roseman: Eagles find value in dwindling free agent market

PHOENIX -- After the 2016 NFL season ended, Eagles vice president of football operations Howie Roseman said the Eagles were done signing expensive free agent Band-Aids. 

Then on Tuesday, the team brought in DE Chris Long and CB Patrick Robinson on two- and one-year deals, respectively. 

Don't they look an awful lot like Band-Aids? 

"I think we're at the stage in free agency, where we're constantly looking at values," Roseman said on Tuesday at the owners' meetings in Arizona. "Talk about this guy and what he brings to the table on and off the field. I understand when we talked in January, we said no Band-Aids, but from our perspective, there are opportunities to get value in free agency, certainly at this time of year and we're looking for ways to improve our football team. 

"We are trying to build this for the long time, but at the same time, when we see opportunities to improve our football team and the competition level and the depth, we're going to take those opportunities."

Roseman spoke at the Biltmore Hotel on Tuesday after the team agreed to terms with Long, just an hour and a half before the team announced the deal with Robinson. 

But the explanation would have likely been the same after. The Eagles thought they found value in these two guys and didn't need to spend a ton to fill some immediate (and desperate) needs. And signing a 32-year-old Long and a 29-year-old Robinson shouldn't change the team's outlook as it heads into the draft in April. 

"I wouldn't say it gives us any more freedom, per se," Eagles vice president of player personnel Joe Douglas said. "To touch on what Howie said, Chris gives us another pass rusher. We need as many pass-rushers as we can, especially in this division. I still think we're still going to look at best player available in the draft at the end of the day." 

While Roseman spoke before the team officially announced the deal with Robinson, he alluded to the possibility that the team wasn't yet finished with the dwindling free agent market. 

"We're value shopping for sure," he said. "Every day, Joe (Douglas) and his staff are going over the list and re-watching guys, seeing if there's opportunities to improve our football team. If there are and we can go into the draft without even having more pressure on that, we're going to look to do that. Do I think we're going to go out and sign three or four more players in free agency? I don't, but there a couple guys we're looking at, at this stage, that we're surprised are still available. 

"We understand where we are financially and understand that we have the opportunity we take on these guys matches where we are from a cap perspective. But we gotta look at any ways to improve our football team as we go into the draft and add competition so that we're having a position of strength as we get to August." 

The Eagles have been in a tight salary cap situation all offseason -- even with the release of Connor Barwin and his big contract -- so these moves won't make it any easier. And it brings the likelihood that the team will need to continue to be creative while trying to manage its cap number. 

According to the NFLPA, the Eagles came into the day with just under $3 million in cap room before picking up two more players. The numbers don't quite seem to add up, but Roseman is a wizard when it comes to manipulating the salary cap. 

"Oh, it's challenging right now, there's no question about it," Roseman said about the Eagles' cap situation. "And our conversations are 'what is this guy going to add? And can we rationalize the situation we're in?' Connor's a big loss to our football team. … But when we were able to get a guy that brings a lot of the same qualities on and off the field and things that we value, we thought it made us better. Not only now, but the legacy he could have going forward with the players on our team."

When Long posted on Instagram to announce that he wouldn't be returning to the Patriots, he said, "I'm thankful for my role this year, but as a competitor, I'm itching to do what I do best." So it would appear he had his mind set on finding a starting job. In Philly, it seems more likely he'll be a rotational player but will still play a decent amount. 

In 2016, Long actually played 65 percent of the Patriots' snaps during the regular season, but those numbers dwindled until he played just 15 snaps in the Super Bowl win. 

"I think that our conversations with Chris have been about we have young players at that position," Roseman said. "He's very excited to come aboard and help contribute and no promises have been given. At the same time, we have high expectations, certainly with [Brandon Graham], Vinny (Curry) leading that group. Marcus (Smith), his second year in the system. Steven Means, Alex McCalister. We're always going to prioritize the lines, so I think this is another step to show that our actions are in conjunction with our words."

Eagles sign former 1st-round CB Patrick Robinson to 1-year deal

Eagles sign former 1st-round CB Patrick Robinson to 1-year deal

PHOENIX -- A couple short hours after the Eagles brought in defensive end Chris Long, the team has reached a contract agreement with veteran corner Patrick Robinson. 

In doing so, the Eagles added much-needed depth to their two biggest positions of need. 

Robinson, now 29, was the 32nd overall pick in 2010 out of Florida State, but has never had more than four interceptions in a season. 

He spent the first five seasons of his career with the Saints before going to the Chargers for a year and the Colts last season. In 81 career games (49 starts), Robinson has 10 interceptions. Robinson's two best seasons came in 2011-12 with the Saints, when he played in 31 games, had seven interceptions and 33 passes defensed. 

Even with the signing, the Eagles are still particularly thin at cornerback heading into the draft. And this signing should not change the team's mindset when the draft begins in April. Two starting corners from a year ago, Nolan Carroll and Leodis McKelvin, are no longer on the team. The Eagles cut McKelvin and let Carroll walk in free agency. So even with Robinson, there's work to do. 

The good news for the Eagles is that this draft class is considered to be incredibly deep for defensive backs. In fact, several NFL personnel folks have said this is as deep as they've ever seen for defensive backs. 

The corners on the roster now are Robinson, Ron Brooks, Jalen Mills, C.J. Smith, Dwayne Gratz, Aaron Grymes and Mitchell White. From the players currently on the roster, Mills, Brooks and Robinson are the most likely to see significant playing time in 2017.