The culture shock was expected, yet it hit Kevin Kolb hard.
The quarterback had grown up in tiny Texas towns like Decatur and Stephenville, small spots in which life was lived a particular way. He went to college at the University of Houston – the big city – but still, there was no way to easily make the transition to Philadelphia.
His wife, Whitney, was his high-school sweetheart. She had to learn many of the same lessons, as the Kolbs had to get out of their comfort zone and into the faster pace of the Northeast.
“I am a lot stronger person because I went there,” Kolb said. “It opened my eyes to a lot of things.”
From the time he was traded from the Eagles to the Cardinals in late July, however, he has repeatedly talked about how much of a fit it was for him, and he wasn’t talking about football. Football had never been his issue, and trying to make it in the NFL was just the next step.
Taking this hunter – he used to take out wild hogs armed with only a knife – and fisherman – he’s contemplated life as a professional angler – and sticking him in the City of Brotherly Love was much more difficult.
Kolb still has many friends back in Philadelphia, where the Cardinals visit Sunday. He was close to Eagles coach Andy Reid, still has fond feelings for that organization.
Yet Kolb admitted he dreamed of moving to a place like Arizona as far back as the Eagles’ visit here in January of 2009 for the NFC Championship game. It wasn’t Texas, but it was close, that western vibe that most certainly not the East.
When he was traded, he wore an expected smile the day of the press conference and talked about it felt “right.” He wasn’t in Philadelphia anymore.
“I knew that as soon as I got here,” Kolb said. “That’s one of the reasons I want it to work so badly.”
Whether Kolb actually gets to play in Philadelphia remains unknown. The turf toe and bone bruise in his right foot suffered two weeks ago in Baltimore has already cost him one start, and Kolb acknowledged Tuesday during his weekly radio interview on XTRA 910 that his status for the Eagles’ game would be a wait-and-see prospect.
If he can’t go,
Kolb insisted he hasn’t thought much of his return trip. It’s been a grind, he said, from the time he showed up July 29 through now trying to learn a new system and new teammates. He can’t get away from talking about it, however, not when a Philadelphia newspaper sends a reporter late last week to do an interview and not when he plays the position he does.
Kolb was supposed to be entrenched as the Eagles’ starter by now. The team had traded long-time starter Donovan McNabb in the offseason, and with the backup an unknown quantity in Michael Vick, it was Kolb’s turn to shine.
But Kolb suffered a concussion in the 2010 season opener. Vick played well in his absence. Vick got hurt, allowing Kolb to return for four more starts going into Philadelphia’s bye week, but when the Eagles played again, Vick was back in the lineup and generating MVP buzz. Kolb’s chance, brief that it was, was over with the Eagles.
“Once Mike really started playing well and he took over the town -- and I was behind Mike the whole way -- that’s when I started realizing I would probably be on the trading block if Andy would let me go,” Kolb said. “I kept my mind on our team, but I started wondering who is in need of a quarterback, where are the possibilities I could go, where do I want to go?”
Later in the season, Kolb struck up a conversation with a relatively new teammate, guard Reggie Wells, who had been dealt from the Cards in the preseason, and he asked about what it was like to play in Arizona.
That was when Kolb first had an inkling he’d like to land in the desert.
Kolb would have liked to have things work out with the Eagles. He would have liked to have avoided the concussion against the Packers, to have seamlessly taken over the reins from McNabb. But as a man dedicated to his faith, he is a believer that God has a plan for him, and that includes what didn’t happen with the Eagles.
When Kolb was in eighth grade and playing for his father, who was coaching at his middle school, some parents were upset Kolb was the quarterback. People complained of favoritism, to the point where some parents tried to get Roy Kolb fired multiple times. When Kevin found out, he asked his parents if they could move. The family agreed, and the Kolbs went to Stephenville for Kolb’s high school years.
It is moments like that that have hardened Kolb, playing in the “Friday Night Lights” cauldron of Texas high school football. He has known pressure, although he acknowledged not quite to the extent he found in Philly.
“I hadn’t had my own fans boo me quite like that,” Kolb said. “But I’m glad I went through it. There were a lot of people in Philadelphia who were gone quickly because they couldn’t handle that. Andy and that organization, they know it’s part of the scene.”
As if he was cleaning up for his high school reunion, Kolb got his hair cut late last week, removing his curly locks and looking much more like a businessman. Perhaps that’s fitting, since – given the struggles both himself and his current team have had – this meeting with his former team is less reunion and “more of a business trip.”
“We are just looking for wins now,” Kolb said.
Kolb started well for the Cardinals. His numbers have fallen off, however, and the team has lost. He has completed just 56.8 percent of his passes, he has just eight touchdown passes with eight interceptions and has been sacked 24 times in seven games.
There have been other issues that figure into Kolb’s problems, such as the pass protection. But Kolb also has battled fundamental flaws and learning the new system. He has heard the drumbeat of fans who are hoping Skelton – already – supplants him as starter.
He answers every question, seemingly never irritated. He knows the topics that will be raised. This is nothing new for him, and he deftly handles them every time.
“I know behind closed doors people think he was somebody else, but what you saw in the media, that was Kevin,” Eagles tight end Brent Celek said right after the trade. “I think as teammates we all appreciated that so much and that’s why we all do wish him well.”
Kolb said he has balance in his life, and knows where he wants to be in 20 years. He doesn’t want to make football everything, because if he did “I’d probably be a mental wreck.” That, he thinks, comes in part from his father, who never pushed him to become a pro athlete. In seventh grade, the hope was just that Kolb could someday start in high school. In high school, it was hoping to play in college, not even that he’d end up on scholarship.
The NFL just ended up being the next short-term goal.
Kolb said he is still learning about being even-keeled. He’ll stand in his backyard in the nice weather with his wife and kids and enjoy the time. “But you have seen how bad I want it,” Kolb admits. “I have to find that balance of wanting it too much. Trying to relax and play ball. Some of the mistakes I make are because I am thinking too much.”
Kolb repeats again how happy he is in Arizona, and how happy his family has been after the move. “I love everything about this city and even the way we are behind the scenes here,” he said. “It’s going to happen. We will start winning.”
Then the media will descend on Tempe just like Philadelphia, right? Kolb shook his head at the notion.
“I tell young guys here, ‘You are fortunate to be here,’ ” Kolb said. “That’s why I laugh at (the media) sometimes, ‘Sorry for being so harsh.’ I’m just like, ‘Come on, man. You guys aren’t that bad.’ ”
Kolb lets out a chuckle. He’s not in Philadelphia anymore.