They have been here forever, the four Mighty Men of the Eagles.
They have played 654 NFL games, all with the Eagles. They are legends in Philadelphia — not easy to do — and respected around the NFL.
They played hurt. They played when they were physically ground down, and mentally worn down. They tightened their chin straps, rolled up their sleeves and marched forward.
They were leaders on the field and off. Their teammates try to emulate them. The coaches expected more from them and still do.
They have seen plenty. Going from Andy Reid to Chip Kelly showed them the rest. They won a Super Bowl; they lost a Super Bowl.
Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox and Jason Kelce played for Reid. Lane Johnson’s rookie year was under Kelly.
Their Pro Bowl and All-Pro accomplishments stuff the record books. Their legacy of being Eagles goes beyond records. They are the heart and soul of their team and always have been.
And that, the essence of who they are as teammates, is far more important than what’s on the mantel over the fireplace. Awards collect dust. Legacies live forever.
Johnson’s contract extension last week reminded us just how long these four men have played together and what they mean to Philadelphia. It also reminds us that this won’t last forever: Only Johnson has a contract longer than next season.
Graham is from Detroit; Kelce from Cleveland Heights, Ohio; Cox from Yazoo City, Mississippi; Johnson from Groveton, Texas.
One man from the city, one from the suburbs and two country guys. Four men from divergent backgrounds, sharing a love of football and resolve. Four men, against all odds, are Philadelphians.
They collectively have played 46 seasons in the most physically demanding sport ever invented. They’ve played all of them in Philadelphia, a tough sports town with a soft spot for such dedication and performance.
The longevity numbers are astounding. Graham has played 13 seasons; Kelce 12; Cox 11; and Johnson 10. Graham has played 178 games; Kelce 176; Cox 173; and Johnson 127.
Only the late Chuck Bednarik played more Eagles seasons, 14. Two-way Charlie would have fit right in with the Mighty Men. They are similar in their purpose and dedication. They could have shared a beer with ease.
They could have talked of similar experiences even though they played decades apart. They know what is required, what it takes and they know, with respect, they all have paid that price. They could have laughed the same laugh — the one only a rare few have earned.
Only Brian Dawkins played more games as an Eagle, 183. And Dawk could tell them what it means to be a legend in this city, how they never will be forgotten.
Dark could remind them how they helped deliver, on Feb. 4, 2018, a victory that changed the mindset of not only Eagles fans but of every resident of the Delaware Valley.
In football and forever, the Philadelphia Eagles were world champions. And Dawk could tell them that not only were they champions but so was every Eagles fan who ever cheered for their team over the decades.
Yeah, it meant that much.
Kelce is the most decorated of the Mighty Men. He is a future Hall of Fame, probably a first-ballot one. He has been first-team All-Pro five times. He made Pro Bowls.
Cox made six Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro once. He also will be considered for the Hall of Fame.
Johnson made four Pro Bowls and was first-team All-Pro once. He also might be a Hall of Fame one day.
Graham made one Pro Bowl. In 2022, at age 34, he recorded 11 sacks, his first season with double-digit sacks.
When I think of Kelce, I see him sealing off a block to open a hole. I see him pushing aside a defensive lineman. Famously, I see him motoring downfield to flatten any opposing player in his way.
When I think of Cox, I see him fighting off constant double-teams. He would maul one defender, get hit by the second, shred both and make a tackle. I see his massive strength overpowering offensive linemen.
When I think of Johnson, I see his arms extended and not allowing any forward progress by defensive ends. I see his power and technique. I see the strength of the opposition neutralized, stopped cold, safely away from the quarterback.
When I think of Graham, I see Tom Brady and the strip-sack and the fumble recovery in Super Bowl 52. I also see Graham working on the edge, utilizing his speed and strength to get to the quarterback. I see his interactions with fans and teammates, his winning personality that has served him as well as his football talents.
In 2022, the Eagles selected captains by a players’ vote. Throughout the season, Eagles coach Nick Sirianni singled out his captains for their leadership. He leaned on them. He praised their efforts.
The Eagles picked seven captains last season — Jalen Hurts, Jake Elliott, Darius Slay.
And the four Mighty Men.