Former Utah Ute and current Philadelphia Eagle return man Britain Covey is all the rage — well, sort of — in Philly for one reason or another, only in part because he’s playing for and contributing to the best football team on the planet, but also on account of the videos of him his wife is posting online.
What should we call them … (let’s proceed with caution here) … embarrassing? Emasculating? Self-deprecating? To be kind, awkwardly entertaining?
Even if you haven’t seen them, yet, you can imagine how buzzard-tough Philly fans and some in the media are reacting to them. And we’ll get to that in a minute.
First, let’s talk some football because saying it all plain here, it’s just a matter of time before Covey breaks off some big returns. Anyone who watched him at Utah knows what he’s capable of doing. The Eagles do, too. They saw him in fall camp, they saw when he made moves that made talented teammates look silly. That’s why management signed the undersized, un-drafted free agent, and put him atop the return chart. Already, he’s averaging a little more than nine yards per punt return and a little less than 21 yards on kickoffs. He’s also had a couple of fine returns on plays when penalties wiped them out.
But Covey knows what’s coming, still.
“All it takes is one or two returns to break out,” he says.
At Utah, where he had established himself over a long career there, he could take all kinds of risks for big returns. In Philly, in his rookie season, playing for the 12-1 Eagles, he’s being coached to instill some caution into his game, into his mindset. As he says it, “To be careful.”
So, that’s what he’s wisely doing, knowing full well that his proper judgment and smart plays now will, at some point, blow up into spectacular ones.
In classic Covey form, after every game, the conscientious player approaches the other team’s punter to inquire about what opposing special teams coaches are saying about him in the run-up to the game.
“They’ve said nice things,” he says. “They’ve said I’m a dangerous returner. That’s good to hear.”
He adds: “It’s rewarding to be among all of these great players. … I’ve proved to myself I can be a player at this level. I’ve been able to prove I’m a great player.”
When he first showed up at Eagles camp, Covey was surprised, if that’s the right word, at the size and speed and skills of those around him. He knew they’d be good, but this good? When he mentioned that to a veteran, the vet said, “It’s not usually like this. This is the most talented team I’ve ever been on.”
Covey’s weathered and mostly settled the nerves that arrived alongside — inside — him, even as he felt the pressure that came with every return in every practice and in every game, with searing eyes watching and judging him. “There’s pressure on every single rep,” he says. “It can be taxing. There’s no grace period.”
So be it. Life in the NFL.
“I have to remind myself and remember,” he says, “I’m living a childhood dream. This is fun.”
It is in the spirit of fun that Covey has opened himself up to extra ridicule, at least as some people see it, by playing along with the videos his wife, Leah, has made a habit of posting, at her husband’s expense. Everybody knows that Covey is 5-foot-8 and a buck-what? 50? 60? 70? Whatever it is, he does not look like a pro football player.
In street clothes, never has, never was going to.
Growing up in Utah County, playing school ball, he never looked like a football player of any kind — until people saw him move. A respected longtime colleague of mine once described Covey as “the best high school football player I ever saw in this state.” Utah fans saw the same gifts — on the field. Off it, he was that forever-youngish-looking Boy Scout.
Earlier this season, then, Philadelphia coaches, players, fans, reporters, all got a huge laugh out of the story about when, on a game day, Covey was not permitted to park his car in the Eagle players’ lot at Lincoln Financial Field because he didn’t have a pass and the security guard at the gate took one look at him and did not believe he actually played for the Eagles, forcing him instead to park in the common fans’ lot.
That story spread around the league like a gas fire.
And more gas and fire has come.
One of the aforementioned videos shows him in the full embrace of his wife, as she rocks back and forth, holding him in her arms, his feet wrapped around her legs, as though he’s a toddler. The words running across the picture read: “When you’re an inch taller than your husband.”
Another shows him in a hoodie, curled up in bed behind his wife as she sings along to a song, and the words across the screen read: “When he’s 5-8 and plays in the NFL and pays my bills.”
Let’s reiterate: This man plays in the NFL, a league populated by a bunch of Cro-Magnon beasts, in a tough, blue-collar city that expects its pro football players to be … well, Cro-Magnon beasts.
Not little boys being babied.
“My teammates think it’s pretty funny,” he says. “It’s self-deprecating humor. I like to embrace the idea of being small.”
He says his ‘mates, who are completely aware of Covey’s humble, everyman demeanor, aren’t overly harsh on him, mostly commenting on the fans’ comments posted under the vids. Here’s a sampling:
— “No wonder security stopped this guy from parking in the players lot. His girl was driving and he was in a booster seat in the back.”
— “Special teams groupchat is blowing up rn.”
— “This is our return specialist huh.”
— “SMH save that man.”
— “I hate to say it, he’s gotta go. There’s no recovering from these videos.”
— “This is hilarious.”
— “Love this guy.”
All the comments, as might be expected, cannot be published here, not without a serious disciplinary phone call coming in from the big boss. Some bloggers in Philly have said Covey’s being violated, sarcastically — I think — calling for an intervention.
We can say it this way: Britain Covey, who’s always had a fantastic sense of humor, is having an impact on his team, on his team’s fans, on his city, all around, in ways few foresaw.
And he’s pretty much the same Britain who played for the Utes, utterly unchanged, unaffected, unimpressed by himself, but not a soul should mistake the humility and the self-mockery for weakness. Nobody who looks forward to running full force into a crowd of extraordinarily large, hard-charging, angry, special teams dudes is that.
Covey’s enjoyed his time in Philly, but has not forgotten the guys he played with back in Utah. He says he’s thrilled that the Utes made it to the bowl in Pasadena for a second time. He’s followed them closely.
“I watch every game,” he says. “I’m the biggest fanatic out here.”
He says NFL players boast about their college teams, usually talking trash with ample pride, just as he does, wearing gear from their alma maters: “I wear mine all the time.”
Meanwhile, Covey’s rolling up new sources of pride, new experiences, fully engaged and occupied playing for and contributing to the team with the best record in the NFL.
“More than anything,” says the explosive, diminutive one, “I look at all this as an unbelievable opportunity. It’s cool for me. I’m lucky and grateful.”