Utah football: Eric Weddle reflects on ‘fairytale’ Super Bowl ending

Sporting his signature beard and Super Bowl ring, Eric Weddle was inducted into the University of Utah Athletics Hall of Fame last weekend.

It was the latest in a long, long line of surreal experiences for the former Ute safety and consensus All-American star.

“The pinnacle is a national championship. It’s the norm. We’re not here just to be good. We want to be big. — Eric Weddle on what he thinks of the Utes football program

“For all of this to happen, it’s kind of like I’m still living a dream in a way,” he told reporters ahead of Utah’s 73-7 win over Southern Utah. last Saturday. “It just keeps getting better every day I wake up. You try to do it right and treat people the right way and good things happen.

Growing up, Weddle never thought he would be a college football player, let alone play and play in the NFL.

But the second-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft played 13 seasons, including nine with the Chargers and three with the Baltimore Ravens, earning six Pro Bowl selections.

Weddle capped off his career in a memorable and one-of-a-kind way. He retired after the 2019 season with the Los Angeles Rams, but returned in 2021 in the Rams’ playoffs that culminated in a dramatic 23-20 win over Cincinnati in Super Bowl LVI.

Then he retired again. This time, for good. What a way to walk away from a remarkable playing career.

A movie could be made just from the last year of Weddle’s life.

“It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least,” he said. “Going from being father and coach of your son to living a wild dream for six weeks; going back to play in the NFL, what I thought that dream had been realized two years before and ending up with a fairy tale ending in a Super Bowl is just hard to fathom.

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford, right, celebrates with defensive back Eric Weddle after the Rams defeated the Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL Super Bowl 56 football game Sunday, Feb. 13, 2022, in Inglewood, Calif. .

Mark J. Terrill, Associated Press

A week after winning his first Super Bowl championship, Rancho Bernardo High in San Diego announced that Weddle would take over as head coach after the 2022 season.

Before last Saturday’s game, he addressed the Utah team and encouraged them to do exactly what he did: take advantage of the opportunities that come their way.

Weddle arrived on campus from Utah in 2003 as what he described as “a little punk kid from California trying to prove himself”.

Being inducted into the school Hall of Fame was certainly not part of his life plans.

“Never in my wildest dreams did I think this could happen,” he said, while expressing his gratitude for the honor.

Still bleeding red

Weddle has been part of and witnessed the rise of Utah’s football program over the past two decades – from the Mountain West Conference to the Pac-12; from the Urban Meyer era to the Kyle Whittingham era.

So he has an interesting perspective on what happened to the Utes during that time.

Sitting at the 40-yard line, a few rows up, at The Swamp on Sept. 3, seated next to other Ute fans, Weddle watched Utah fall 29-26 to Florida.

“It just hit me. I’m at the Swamp, watching my alma mater play. Twenty years ago, that had never been possible. You could never have written a script saying, ‘Utah is going to play on the road in The Swamp. It just wasn’t a reality,” Weddle said. “Now we’re talking about six months earlier, we were playing in the Rose Bowl. you look and you smile and you’re proud of it. We contributed a bit to that, but these guys really took it to the next level.

Not only is Weddle still a big supporter of the program, but so is his family.

His 13-year-old son, Gaige, loves the Utes. One night, Weddle asked Gaige what would happen if he was offered a scholarship by arch-rival BYU.

“What if your only scholarship (offer) was Team Down South?” Weddle recalled. “He’s like, ‘I’m going to go to community college, dad.’ We’re like, ‘Gaige, stop being stupid. Seriously. This is a good school. He’s just full of red. He’s a diehard. We love him.”

Weddle played during Whittingham’s first season as head coach in 2005. He credited Whittingham’s “consistency and willingness to adapt” over the years.

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Right back Eric Weddle of Utah poses with other members of the Utah Athletics Hall of Fame Class of 2022 during halftime of the Utes game against Southern Utah on Saturday September 10, 2022.

“From where he was in 2005, his freshman year, to now it’s a huge change in coaching Whitt,” Weddle said. “The fire, the intensity never fades and never changes, but some things have changed. Great coaches are willing to adapt and change, to learn and listen to their assistants and players. The best coaches I have worked with are those who listen. … I try to take little bits of every coach and every man I look up to and he’s definitely top of the list.

Weddle added that Utah’s program is synonymous with excellence off the field, not just on the field, noting the Utes’ high graduation rate for their athletes, second only to Stanford. He praised the school for preparing its athletes for life after sport.

“That’s what we preach. That’s what it’s all about,” he said. “The purpose of the university and staff is to grow, nurture and teach these young men to be leaders and to be the future of their cities and communities and to do it the right way. of Coach Whitt and his coaching style, how he loves and cares about the boys and tries to implement that every day – the routine, the way you work, the way you persevere in adversity.

These are attributes Whittingham instills in his players, Weddle added.

“In the real world, no one will be there. You’re going to have to remember those experiences the way you got through them,” he said. “I can honestly say that’s how I learned to be where I am today from here. … It’s easy to come out of this program better than you were.

As proud as Weddle is of the program and what he has achieved under former sporting director Chris Hill and current AD Mark Harlan, he is far from happy. He knows Utah, which won its first Pac-12 title last season, is capable of even more.

What is the ceiling of Ute football?

“The pinnacle is a national championship. It’s the norm. We’re not here just to be good. We want to be big,” he said. “There is no consolation with this program. We’re not happy just because we went to the Rose Bowl. We are disappointed because we did not win it. Just like last week (in Florida) – this loss and the way this game went will motivate this team for the rest of the season. We expected to win this match. Things happened and we did nothing. But that’s the ultimate goal. We are not playing for second place.

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A University of Utah Eric Weddle fan cheers after Weddle recovered a fumble and returned it for a touchdown in the game against Wyoming on Saturday, October 14, 2006.

August Miller, Deseret News

Weddle knows where the program is at and what it will take to get to that next level.

” We built. It was a long process. It was not easy coming from Mountain West. We have worked hard to get to this level of competitive and winning championships. The next step is to finish it. That’s the driving force,” he said. “The success we’ve had as a program is the step-by-step. You keep hitting until you knock him down.

“I think they have everything here to compete and win. It’s just about realizing your opportunities and making the most of them. Every opportunity matters. … If you meet halfway and do your part, special things can happen. I have experienced this firsthand.

Yes he has.

As a retired NFL player, as a new member of the Utah Hall of Fame, as a husband and father, and as a high school coach, Weddle will continue to do what he can to improve. the Utah football program.

“I see the boys and I say to the coach, either I shrink and these guys grow up or these guys turn into these alien athletes who play at a whole new level that I never could have,” he said. he declares. “It’s really special to be part of this program and to try to represent it in the right way. Now it’s good to have time to be able to come back and support them, not just from afar, but to be at the games and to be with the boys and to try to shed some light and help them from all possible ways.

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Utah’s Eric Weddle, left, and Casey Evans celebrate after Weddle recovers a fumble against the Air Force during a game September 22, 2005.

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