Three things you need to know about Chad Lewis:
First, that he's the author of a new book, Surround Yourself With Greatness, in which he talks about his time as an NFL player, but focuses more on the people around him, rather than his own exploits.
Second, that he's a seriously nice guy whose pictures in the book suggest he might be in the running for "dorkiest-looking high school kid to ever make multiple Pro Bowls."
And third, that he's still very much an Eagles fan. When I asked him how he was doing at the start of the interview, he immediately started talking about how upset he was about the Cowboys loss on Sunday night. We’ll kick things off from there:
IB: What do you think happened in that game?
CL: It was a close, hard-fought game and a few plays made a difference. The holding on the kickoff return was huge. DeSean Jackson being a non-factor because of the Cowboys’ defense was huge. The Eagles have a quick strike offense. And with that quick-strike offense they can win the Super Bowl this year. But that last drive, with the drop by Celek, who’s normally very reliable, and the drop by McCoy and then the shoestring tackle on Donovan, those hurt. And then they kicked the field goal and tried to get a stop from the defense. Looking back, you could say they should have gone for it, but I’m ok with either call.
IB: So what made you write this book?
CL: The thing that made me write the book is the belief I have in this principle: that it is vital to surround yourself with greatness. You can't hang out with skunk and not stink.
I believe in this. It is something I have built my life upon. We need to surround ourselves with good friends, family, good music and good books. It’s an emergency situation in the world today, and we do not have the luxury to dance with the devil. The stakes are your life, your marriage and your job. We do not have the privilege of messing around with garbage.
This book came from seeing the lives of my friends, teammates and others destroyed because of drugs or other things. The reality is that the choices we make now when we’re young are borne out as we grow older. The people who encourage us to do garbage are not the ones who have to live with our decisions or the consequences. Those people will not be around when those choices grow to fruition.
This is all a reminder that our lives are precious. Our friends are like gold. Take advantage of the time we have right now to appreciate those people. Love them and surround ourselves with positive influences.
The beginning of the interview very much made me think of this passage from the book, in which Lewis described his first experience with doing the Chinese broadcast of the Super Bowl:
“Watching the game was bittersweet since I wanted to be playing and had a lot of work to do at the same time. I prepared a chart full of Chinese terms that I kept in front of me the whole game. I could refer to that chart at anytime to help me describe the action. But when I was excited, I would revert to my missionary vocabulary. I would say things such as, ‘I testify that Tom Brady can throw a true pass!’”
IB: So when you’re talking about the choices people make, most fans believe that there are different groups in the locker room. Not just the guys living differently, but also between young and old, married and unmarried. When you feel this strongly about something, how is everyone able to put that aside and go play football together?
CL: There are a million different reasons why teams can fracture: politics, religion, family, music, whatever. Any number of things can tear a team apart. What matters in overcoming that is the overriding desire to have great team chemistry. It has to be something the team buys into. If you do – if you buy into your coach and you buy into your owners, you can do great things. That chemistry is what helped us go to four straight NFC Championship games.
IB: You lived through 2005. You missed some of the season while rehabbing [the Lisfranc sprain from the NFC Championship game against Atlanta], but you still got to experience it. What happened that year? How did the chemistry break down so quickly?
CL: That was really difficult for me to see. It happened pretty quickly. I still have strong feelings about seeing that team blow up like that. It didn’t need to happen that way.
I feel … in some ways I wish I had been there so I could have helped. The main problem was TO and his desire for a new contract – because he was a warrior. What he did at the Super Bowl was absolutely incredible. He absolutely fit in with that team. Then the agenda changed for him and it became about getting more money in his contract. I believe he made a mistake, and would have made even more money in Philadelphia through advertising and community involvement. But it takes some wisdom to see that. Some patience and belief. So when things went down the way they went down, that was tough.
A discussion of training camp from the book:
“Coaches do not cut down reps because of injuries. They do not cut short practice because of the absence of a player. What I am saying is that if you miss a practice, then your teammates, the other tight ends, have to do more of the work. They are already tired, but now they have been put in a position where their already difficult workload is increased. Not cool.”
IB: TO’s sort of a special case, but you talk about how hard training camp is in the book and how a team grows together from the experience. How do you handle the absence of not, say, a TO, but a guy like Sheldon Brown who’s well-respected by his teammates and a leader on the team? And I know you’re not going to say anything bad about Sheldon.
CL: Yeah, I love Sheldon.
It’s a fine line between success and failure in the NFL. There’s a fine line between having great team chemistry and a successful team, or even great team chemistry and a horrible team. Some people will sacrifice winning to have great team chemistry. You can’t do that. Others will sacrifice chemistry to win. You can do that for awhile, but then it falls apart.
It’s a fine line and it’s very hard to define. You have to push to have strong team chemistry at the same time you push to win. Sometimes those are competing forces. Sometimes it requires Trotter in the locker room getting in someone’s face. Or it requires Donovan sharing a joke to keep people laughing and cut through and dissolve some of the pressure that every one of us feels is on us to perform.
Andy fostered that team chemistry. But it’s dynamic. It’s alive and moving. Once you get it, it doesn’t mean it will stay forever. You have to care enough to keep it or get it back
IB: I’m sure you keep in touch with some of the guys on the team. What’s your take on the team’s chemistry now?
CL: I’m not sure. I’d have to be in that locker room to say one way or the other. From the outside looking in, it looks like a great bond. What they have is a lot of young players, which gives them enthusiasm, speed – everything you want in young players, they’ve got it. If they harness that in the right direction, they’re going to win the Super Bowl this year.
IB: As I read through the book, by my count, there was only one reference to Brian Dawkins. That seems sort of a conspicuous absence for a book titled “Surround Yourself With Greatness.”
CL: That was unfortunate. I love Dawk. In my original draft, I had a whole story of my rookie year with Dawkins. [Then defensive coordinator] Emmitt Thomas wanted to get the most out of Dawkins. He wanted me to give battle to Dawk in practice to get him ready for the league -- throw him around because he was just a little guy.
There ain’t no throwing around Brian Dawkins.
I went through the whole story of competing with Dawk and how much I loved playing with him. Unfortunately it got edited. I should have talked more about Dawk, though. He was one of the best players and people in that locker room. So one of the book’s failures is there’s not a better part of it devoted to Brian and really what his contribution was. At some point, [if they kept everything] the book goes from 400 to 800 pages.
IB: In the book, you call Andy Reid the best coach in the NFL. I think one of the issues Reid has in Philly is that he rarely expresses himself to the fans the same way we see glimpses of him on YouTube or TV after games. What’s your favorite Andy Reid story that fans don’t know about and that gives a true look at what kind of coach he is?
CL: Honestly, he’s all business. His goal is to win a Super Bowl and build a great team. There are those moments when he’s funny or when he cuts loose. But those are few and far between. You watching on NFL films might see as many of those moments as we see in the locker room. He’s a tough guy behind the scenes. I don’t think he’s too much different from what people see.
IB: You say in the book that you wouldn’t have continued playing as long as you did if Andy Reid hadn’t been your coach. Did you really mean that?
CL: I’ve thought about that more since I wrote the book. Sometimes I really believe it. And sometimes I think, no, that’s not in your makeup. Why would you quit? You would battle no matter who was your coach or where you were.
I still believe it some, because he created an atmosphere where he really wanted a team concept and really wanted us all pushing together. It was in the city of Philadelphia, too. Not every city has a fan base like Philadelphia, where they not only understand the game, they understand the nuances of the game, and sometime they let you have it.
It was shocking as a young player, but you realize they let you have it for good reason. Say if it’s fourth down on the opponent’s 41 yard line and you need one yard and you punt, you only gain a few yards of field position. At that point of the game, the fans realize you have to go for it there. And they’ll let you have it. Not every city is like that.
IB: During your time in Philadelphia, what one player would you say was most misunderstood by the fans? And saying Donovan would be cheating.
CL: [Thinks for awhile] Maybe Jon Runyan. He is the smartest football player I’ve ever played with. I don’t think people understand just how bright he was. Maybe because he was an offensive lineman and some people think offensive linemen are “FE FI FO FUM.”
He understood the schemes of football, offensively and defensively, and could explain them to the other guys on the team. Linemen. Running backs. It was just a gift he had.
While people appreciate him as a warrior – and he definitely wanted to destroy people and did – one thing people don’t know is he was one of the smartest players to play the game.
IB: You cover the Atlanta touchdown in the book, but I want to ask you about it for fans who may not read it. You say in the book you knew immediately your foot was broken, and yet I vividly remember that play. You sat on the field after the catch with your arms in the air and a look of absolute joy on your face. That seems pretty incongruent. What were you thinking at that moment?
CL: The joy on my face was in exact opposition to the pain in my heart from losing that game three years in a row. Losing at home twice was as trying a thing as ever happened in my career. And it was so deep, that when we won, the joy was just exactly the opposite.
Yes, these guys care. At least some of them. The way he talked about losing those championship games ... I guarantee they still burn him up more than they do you.
This is also the point at which his cell phone cut out and I figured we’d probably talked as long as he was going to give me. Then he called me back from his home phone and apologized for the disconnect. Like I said, nice guy, even if his publicist got to Jason first.
IB: Thank you for calling me back. I really just wanted to ask you one more question about your first position coach, Juan Castillo. He has a sort of Yoda-like reputation among Eagles fans for the way he coaches offensive linemen and how he develops them. I’m curious as to your thoughts on him, but also maybe why you think he hasn’t been as successful that past couple years with some of the younger guys.
CL: I think he is one of the best coaches in the NFL because he truly cares about the players’ development. When people come in to that organization, he will devote whatever time is necessary to help that player. It doesn’t matter if the player is on the practice squad, a free agent or a first-rounder, he’s almost more passionate about that player developing and learning than the player himself.
He will go as slowly as he needs to help a player learn. He’ll break everything down step by step so they’ll understand.
[subtext alert] I wish every offensive lineman was as good as Runyan, who could just know how to do things intuitively. Or work as hard as JJ. But every player is different. [/subtext alert]
He has 10 guys and they're all different. He’s committed to every one of those guys becoming a starting player and a Pro Bowl offensive lineman. That kind of commitment is special. And Andy’s done a great job with loyalty. They bring a loyal, hard-working, amazing approach to the game. Juan is one of the best guys in the league. I can’t believe how lucky I was that he was my first coach.
IB: When a tight end comes to the team and needs help with blocking, does Castillo do that or is it the tight ends coach?
CL: Juan and Tom Melvin will work together on that. They’ll do drills before practice, after practice and in the offseason. You have to have a desire to get better. When I got into the league, my blocking skills were horrible. I wanted to be a great all around TE, I didn’t want to be one dimensional. Juan cracked me over the noggin and forced me to be a better blocker. Anyone at that position should be chomping at the bit to play for him.
CL: He’s got the whole package. He plays with an emotion that is required to be a tight end in Philadelphia. The fans have totally bought into him, because he has given it to them heart and soul. He competes, he pushes, he jumps over people*, he has great hands and gives great effort. Donovan is totally comfortable with him. He’s going to have a great career.
(* Read the book to see why Lewis likes this part so much.)
A few more thoughts on the book. This is not the book to buy if you're hoping to read the definitive account of the early 00s Andy Reid Eagles. Lewis isn't looking to name names or break any locker room trusts. For the true obsessives (ahem), you'll enjoy the stories he tells, but it's clear from the outset (five chapters about the horrific stroke his father suffered and how he recovered) that this is not a "football book."
And while Lewis refuses to criticize most anyone else in the book, he doesn't spare himself. It's in these moments that we get glimpses at the mindset of a professional football player, and the kind of physical and mental toughness that's required to willingly put oneself through so much pain:
I love the grass at Jack Murphy Stadium, where the game was played. It was fast and smooth. And I also found out that it was hard as rock. I came down on my right shoulder and instantly was breathless. My eyes got wide as I tried to deal with the pain. I rolled to my knees and ran off the field.
I never liked it when players lay on the ground hurt when they could have gotten themselves off the field ... As soon as I got to the sideline I collapsed in pain ... I had separated my right shoulder when I landed.
Last note: Lewis is 6-5 or 6-6. He was a high jumper before walking on to the BYU football team. His wife is a former All-American volleyball player whom Chad swears is the best athlete in the family. He also has five boys.
I'm telling you, in 2024, we're totally going to have this red zone issue knocked.