Before a certain #20 loomed largely in the defensive back field of the Philadelphia Eagles with his tinted, black visor and his magnetism for bone-crushing hits, another human projectile filled those shoes more than adequately. He wore the Kelly green jersey with his #36 proudly stitched on the back. No, I’m not talking about Brian Westbrook. Same number, I know. I’m talking about Michael Zordich. Who, you say? Exactly.
Few remember the hard hitting safety outside of Philly. I’ve yet to determine whether this is because he played for teams throughout his career that weren’t, shall we say, playoff ready, or simply because fans of NFC East rivals have blocked out the images of total carnage that often took place when Zordich was on the field.
Or, maybe it’s just my own maniacal fixation with NFL safeties, particularly those who have donned the green and silver, that allows me to remember quite clearly the bruising, blatant-disregard-for-his-own-body type of style that made this blue collar player so endearing to me.
Zordich made a name for himself as a four year starter and a 1985 All American at Penn State, where he capped off his college career with 201 solo tackles. His nose-to-the-grindstone approach to the game and his gutsy play inside Beaver Stadium caught the attention of scouts in the Chargers organization who thought enough of Zordich to take him with the 235th overall selection in the 1986 NFL Draft.
However, his stay in San Diego was short lived. He became a camp casualty at the end of the preseason and found himself instead clinging to the final roster spot on a hapless Jets team after being claimed off waivers. But Zordich came to play regardless of what many saw as an inferior status for an undersized football player. He built himself a reputation as being one of the heaviest hitting safeties in the game despite flying well under the radar in stints with the Jets and Cardinals.
It was in 1994 that Zordich made his way back to Pennsylvania to play safety for a struggling Eagles club. That’s where I come in.
As a young, budding Eagles fan, I could not help but be taken by a player who, on more than one occasion, hit Michael Irvin so hard that he looked more like a crumpled accordion than a Hall of Fame receiver. How could I not like a guy who seemed oblivious on a weekly basis to the trickle of blood that rolled down the bridge of his nose as he lined up and prepared to punish another unsuspecting running back who made the mistake of breaking a run into the second layer of defense?
And perhaps some of Zordich’s most enduring moments came as an unselfish member of the special teams unit despite holding a spot as a defensive starter. How many guys do you see doing that today? To me, his willingness to throw his body around on punts and kickoffs was a testament to the scrappiness that has come to define Eagles football in the mold of special teams stalwarts like home town boy, Vince Papale.
At any rate, Zordich’s career cannot be measured by stats alone. On paper they’re not all that impressive to be quite honest. In 12 NFL seasons, he picked off 20 passes and scored four defensive touchdowns, one of which was a 58 yard fumble recovery and return against the Giants back in 1995. He recorded 588 solo tackles in his career. Ho Hum, I guess.
But the passion he left on that playing field each week was enough to account for all 11 players on his team, and I’m sure his teammates would testify to that fact.