SAN DIEGO – Eric Weddle’s résumé pretty much speaks for itself. In 13 NFL seasons, the Southern California native proved himself a dominant force in the defensive backfield and a central figure on the Chargers’ defense for more than a decade.
Fresh out of retirement, the 37-year-old is headed somewhere he’s never been: the Super Bowl.
With the Rams rallying to beat the San Francisco 49ers Sunday for the NFC title, Los Angeles will meet the Cincinnati Bengals on their home field in two weeks at SoFi Stadium.
Weddle rejoined the Rams this month with the team’s secondary hurting and now he’s smack dab in the middle of a vaunted defense featuring dominant defensive tackle Aaron Donald, shutdown corner Jalen Ramsey and longtime NFL vet Von Miller.
“It’s hard to put into words, honestly,” Weddle recently told FOX 5’s Troy Hirsch. “I was happy in the next stage of my life. Happy as can be. It was a different happiness obviously with my kids and being taxi driver at night and being head coach of my son’s 12U tackle team in the fall. I was just doing all the things that you do when you’re retired and I was very content and happy and just getting a great routine.
“On a Tuesday afternoon, you get a call from an old coach and it puts things in motion. Now, two-and-a-half weeks later, I’m getting ready for the NFC championship.”
Weddle played nine seasons for the Chargers after being drafted by the team out of Utah in the second round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He’s a six-time Pro Bowler and twice was named a First-Team All-Pro, including in 2011 when he led the league in interceptions.
He signed a four-year deal with the Baltimore Ravens in 2016 and played three seasons there until playing his last season in 2019 as a member of the Rams.
Here’s more from Weddle’s chat with Hirsch, which came the week prior to the NFC Championship Game. Weddle discussed why he came out of retirement and what comes next in his storied career. It has been lightly edited for clarity.
Troy Hirsch: You played 13 years in the NFL, retired for two and then come back. After playing a couple of games, do you pick up where you left off or do you feel like a rookie again?
Weddle: “A couple of things expedite the process, right? What made me have a long career and what separated myself and what made me unique is how hard I worked and how I kept myself in shape. That just doesn’t leave you when you retire, right? It becomes who you are. A lot of the working out I’ve done over the last year and a half is obviously to deal with the pains you have from playing so long.
“But it is who you are. I like lifting, I like running, and I like staying in shape and being healthy. If I never thought it was a possibility physically, I wouldn’t have even tried it. I’ve lost some weight and I don’t ache as bad. I still have the aches and pains around my whole body, but who doesn’t after playing so long?
“When I got in the building and you see the smiles and you see the excitement from my old teammates, it just picks you up like I’d never left. Obviously on the field, the mind — you play as long as I have and you see what you see, you know what’s coming, right? You know how to react. It’s more so your body following suit with what your mind is telling you to do. After those first two practices in Arizona, there wasn’t really any dropoff from myself or anyone else out there, then it was like, ‘Alright, let’s go do this. You’re suiting up Monday.’
“I could have easily fell flat on my face and then I would have went home and nothing would have happened from there, right? Knowing me and what my standard is, I felt like this is a story that is meant to be, right?”
TH: To use your words, Eric, are you surprised that you didn’t fall flat on your face? Were you surprised at how quickly it all came back to you?
EW: “I honestly can tell you I’ve never worked so hard in my life as in the last two and a half weeks, both physically, mentally, eating, studying, doing everything I can to make the most of this second chance. I know guys two years out of retirement don’t get this chance, right? They just don’t. I never live like this anyway, but even more so now, being in the position I am playing meaningful snaps. It’s not like I’m not playing. I’m in there and making plays and helping this team.
“What surprised me the most was how easy it came back. Honestly. I don’t take for granted how hard it is to be in the NFL, how much training it takes to be right. When you couple the things over the last year and a half, two years — me being healthy, dropping some weight — this is the best I’ve felt in January since I can remember.
“Now, the movements, the exposure and all that stuff, you can’t replicate that. It’s kind of easing into that. I had five days to get ready for an NFL game. It wasn’t like I had three weeks to get ready running, training and all that other stuff. It was you’re either going or you’re not. Surprisingly enough, the mind is powerful. When you commit and decide you’re going to do it, you can do some magical things.”
TH: The last time you played in a championship game in 2007 with the Chargers, what do you remember from that game and what do you think you can apply to Sunday’s game?
EW: “Man, I just remember how together that team was, the unfortunate events that we weren’t full strength, the big plays we made. I remember late in the game, it was a third down and I had Kevin Faulk out of the backfield in man-to-man and I ended up getting picked by the receiver and they ended up getting a first down on it.
“Just remembering that situation in being a young guy, taking all the information in and trying to be a better player from it, you just remember thinking about the opportunity and you thought we’d be back there every year. Fifteen years later, this is my second chance. Trying to reiterate that to guys now that this just doesn’t happen often. You think it does because you’re in the moment and you’ve had a successful year, but it just doesn’t work that way. The turnover, the teams that come up out of nowhere, there’s a revolving door.
“I try to reiterate that to the guys that this is an opportunity of a lifetime for all of us. Everything we’ve done up to this point, let’s just ratchet it up a little bit more. Maybe an extra 30 minutes here and 30 minutes there that you normally wouldn’t do, let’s do it now because the benefit, we will be immortality.
“If we make it to the Super Bowl with a chance to win the Super Bowl, it will be forever. Forever we’ll be in history. We will be that guy. We will be that team and that’s worth it. That’s why I’m a 37-year-old who came out for a chance. That’s what’s been missing in my career.”
TH: Philip Rivers toyed with unretiring. I’m wondering if any of your former teammates have reached out to you like has Antonio Gates called you to say, ‘If the Rams need a tight end, hit me up.’ Any of that going on right now?
EW: “No, none of that. They’re mainly just about how awesome it is that I’m back and just how crazy it is and just the support and how everybody is pulling for me. Whether it’s they’ve been a teammate of mine or they’ve been an opponent, everyone’s like, ‘Man, this is so cool seeing you back on the field.’
“You know what’s funny is that Philip and I have been texting back and forth. We hadn’t texted in a while, you know? He’s busy building championships out in Alabama. He reached out when all the news broke and after the Tampa game, he’s like, ‘Dude, this is like the most insane thing I’ve ever seen. You literally haven’t done anything in two years and you’re out playing 60 snaps against Tom Brady and the Bucs.’ I’m like, ‘I know.’ He’s like, ‘I was getting ready. I was training for three weeks because of the whole Carson Wentz stuff going on.’ He was like, ‘Yo, I was ready. I was back out there and stuff if they needed me.’
“It’s just amazing to see the support and like I said, you just don’t get chances like this.”
TH: You mentioned you’re coaching a youth football team. Are any of your kids hitting you up saying, ‘Hey Eric, you have to get down in your stance’ or giving you any feedback?
EW: “No, man. It’s pretty funny that I’ve had a lot of the boys that maybe would not have tuned in are tuning in knowing their coach is playing. It’s funny to see the interactions you have with some of my boys. Because when you’re trying to coach them and teach them, they look at you as, ‘Yeah, you used to play but you’re retired for a reason. You’re old and can’t do it anymore.’ Now, it’s very unique that they get to see me play again and now they kind of, it resonates more. I hope this experience, especially for my kids and the people that know me and their kids, they understand how much work goes into it and the time and the sacrifice.
“My kids are older now. I don’t think they understood how long Dad was gone during the days and how much I had to work and study and prepare. That’s how you be great at whatever you want to do and I hope they see this now from afar because they’re older and can appreciate it more. It’s not only how much work not only myself does but also Chanel (Weddle) on the other side holding it down. It’s not easy to get where you want to be.
“It takes hard work, it takes dedication and all the things that separate you from everybody else. Now, I’m excited for next season that I can get back out there and get on the grass and what I say will carry a little more weight now.”
TH: Does this little taste of football make you think you’ll come back and play next season?
EW: “No, no, no, no. This was just a once-in-a-lifetime chance. It doesn’t help when I have all the coaches saying ‘I would have never let you retire two years ago. You’d still be playing.’ I said, ‘No, it was time for me.’ Chanel and I both know this is a one-time deal and all the stars aligned for this to happen.
“I have no desire to play after this Super Bowl run. I can tell you that. My thumb, my toes. I can barely walk right now. It’s a smooth reminder of why I left the game when I did.”