By MIKE SIELSKI / PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER COLUMNIST
There’s this photograph that Chris Maragos has to get his hands on. A shooter for The Associated Press took it in the immediate aftermath of Super Bowl XLVIII at MetLife Stadium in February. Maragos’s face fills the right side of the frame. The Lombardi Trophy, silver and gleaming, fills the left side. Maragos — a member of the Seattle Seahawks then, a special-teams dynamo for the Eagles now — is kissing the trophy.
He has seen the photo, but he doesn’t have a copy of it. He would like one. It captures everything that he thinks about when he thinks about winning a championship.
“It was one of those special seasons,” he said Tuesday after the Eagles had finished practice. “We had guys who sacrificed for each other. The cool thing is, it’s a lot like what we’ve got going on here.”
On Sunday, when they host the Seahawks, the Eagles will find out a little more about what they have going on. They’re 9-3. Seattle is 8-4 and coming on, looking more in recent weeks like the team it was last season. The Seahawks had been building toward that Super Bowl run, and their rise was so apparent to Maragos that, after they signed him in April 2013 for $1.32 million, he took a pay cut to $855,000 just to ensure he would be on the roster.
“To make that decision, yeah, I was confident in my abilities,” he said. “But I wanted to make sure I was for-sure there, because I knew how special the team was going to be.”
Once he became a free agent, Maragos signed a three-year contract with the Eagles because, he said, he saw that Chip Kelly was cultivating a similar culture in Philadelphia to the one Maragos had known in Seattle. There, while also playing on special teams, Maragos had backed up Earl Thomas, perhaps the NFL’s top safety, and Thomas served as his model for how to improve as a player and act as a pro.
“He wants to be the best,” Maragos said. “He wants to be the best of all-time — understanding that, but then executing throughout every day, throughout every moment, every workout, every rep, perfecting his game.”
It was interesting to hear Maragos talk in this manner. He had barely been recruited out of high school. He walked on to Western Michigan, then transferred to Wisconsin — finally earning a scholarship in his senior year. No NFL team drafted him. One would think that if anyone already had an appreciation for making every rep count, it would be Maragos.
“And I did. But Earl has really stretched me,” he said. “If he knows his run gaps or the defense’s weakness, he knows where he needs to shade so he can come back. In the passing game, he takes care of his area, but he’s alert to something over here. It’s the same thing with me with special teams. If we’re going to attack a punt from the right, it might ricochet to the left, so I might come off the left on a rush — thinking ahead, practicing it, visualizing it.
“I do a ton of it. Man, I just sit at home in my bed and think about how I can be better. I think about how I can make my teammates around me better.”
From the adjacent locker, Eagles linebacker Emmanuel Acho overheard Maragos and said, “That doesn’t sound like the Gos I know.” Maragos chuckled. “Yeah, right,” he said. He had nine special-teams tackles last season. He has 12 already this season, a team high. He returned a blocked punt for a touchdown in an Oct. 5 victory over the Rams, then deflected a punt the following week against the Giants. He’d like to start as a safety. Everyone in the NFL would like to start. But Maragos is a man who recognizes his strengths and limitations.
“I can say this wholeheartedly: I’ve always just wanted to help the team win,” he said. “I’ve always wanted to find out, ‘What can my role be, and how can I do it to the best of my ability, to be a cog in the wheel to help the team win?’ I look at Earl Thomas, and I said, ‘Man, I can learn a lot to add to my game.’ I saw how much he invested in what he did, and it made me want to invest that much more because I didn’t want to let him down. He was going to handle his role. I needed to handle mine.”
He looked around the room and swept his hand through the air in front of him.
“Same thing with the guys on this team,” he said. “Jeremy Maclin is going out there, laying it on the line every day. Connor Barwin, [Jason] Peters — all these guys who are doing everything they can, working hard, doing extra stuff. Me, I want to make sure I’m living up to my end.”
And if there’s another photo for him to track down come February, that would be OK, too.
Look for Philadelphia Inquirer NFL coverage all week on the Eagles and Seahawks leading up to Sunday’s game here, or to go phily.com.
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