PHILADELPHIA — While Treyvon Hester slept, missed calls flooded his phone.
By the time he woke up the next morning, there were countless voicemails and text messages waiting for him, expressing condolences he had prayed he would never need.
“There were, like, a million messages on my phone,” the Eagles defensive tackle said during a quiet moment at his locker Thursday. “I just woke up to a phone full of messages saying, ‘I’m sorry …’ ”
Hester recalled spending the previous evening in a Pittsburgh hospital where his father, Anthony, had been awaiting a heart transplant. Nothing seemed amiss about that visit back in 2013 — just a father and son moment that neither one had anticipated would be their last together.
“I talked to him on the phone [later] that night,” Hester told Yahoo Sports, detailing how he drove back to the Toledo campus after seeing his father. “It was just a regular, everyday conversation: ‘Love you, son. I’m happy for you. Go hit them books hard and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.’ And I said, ‘I love you. I’ll give you a call as soon as I wake up.’
“I went to sleep that night. And when I woke up, it was already too late.’”
Anthony Hester died on April 2, 2013. He was 47.
Long before the Eagles defensive lineman became a folk hero of sorts in his adopted city — courtesy of last week’s deflection of a Cody Parkey field goal that sealed a 16-15 Eagles’ victory over the Chicago Bears in an NFC wild-card playoff game — Hester simply was a son trying to make his father, and his family, proud. Now, almost six years later, he still finds himself asking the same question over and over again.
“What would he say?” asked the 6-foot-2, 304-pound savior of the Eagles’ season. “That’s a question I ask myself every day. ‘What would he say to me now?’ He would have been the same guy that he was before any of this went down. He knew what abilities I had, what I could do, and he was the one who had faith in me. He got me into the game, so I know for a fact he’s proud. He’s happy. One thing for sure, he’d definitely tell me: ‘Don’t quit and keep fighting. And go get yours, man.’”
Hester did that and more last Sunday.
With 10 seconds left on the clock, the Bears had their chance to finally put away the defending Super Bowl champions. And everyone in the stands at Soldier Field expected Parkey, a former Eagles kicker, would be the one to do the honors. Instead, Hester barreled up the middle of the Bears’ line, and stretched out his left hand as far as his fingers would reach. And that effort made all the difference. The football world watched in stunned amazement as Parkey’s kick hit off the left upright and ricocheted off the crossbar and out.
It would be hours before Hester got his proper due. But the 26-year-old said he “definitely” knew he had grazed the ball.
Three fingers. That’s all Hester needed to preserve the victory and to extend the Eagles’ season.
“To be honest, I felt like I didn’t get enough of it because when I looked back, it looked like it was still on the right path,” said the second-year lineman, who officially was credited for the blocked field goal a day later by the NFL. “I just heard the reaction from the crowd and [saw] the team running out there. … I couldn’t believe that it happened.”
Despite his newfound celebrity status in the locker room, Hester said he doesn’t feel much different in the aftermath of his game-changing play. As he and his teammates prepared for this Sunday’s divisional-round matchup against the New Orleans Saints, Hester stressed that he’s the same “underdog” he always was, the same scrappy player who was an academic gray shirt in 2012 before going on to earn his criminal justice degree.
“To be honest, I’m the type of guy that shies away from attention,” said Hester, a 2017 seventh-round draft pick of the Oakland Raiders who was waived in September, signed to Philadelphia’s practice squad a few days later and then promoted to the active roster in October.
“Not many fans still know who I am,” he said with a smile. “Or can tell what I look like.”
But that’s OK, he insisted. Unlike defensive stars Chris Long, Fletcher Cox and Haloti Ngata, Hester sees himself as just another cog in the wheel, an unseen role player content to simply “do my part.” But his teammates see a great deal of potential.
“He’s a young guy that I help a lot. Just try to teach him the right way,” said Cox, a first-round draft pick of the Eagles in 2012. “And I always tell him, ‘Your chance is coming to make a play.’ And it came down to the last play of the game. We need every guy that’s dressed, every guy that’s in the locker room, and his number was called on Sunday.”
And it’s a moment Hester won’t soon forget.
Asked if he has a photograph of his pivotal play, he replied: “I definitely do. I’ll hang it up in my man cave and send one back home to Mom, so she can look at it.”
But when the flock of reporters and TV cameras disappeared from his locker, Hester was left to ponder what life might be like if one of his biggest supporters was still alive to witness his improbable journey from his inner-city neighborhood of Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania, to Toledo, Ohio, to Oakland, to Philly — and, of course, that seminal moment at Soldier Field. His father had always loved the game and, according to his obituary, had coached the Wilkinsburg Athletic Association “Bees” football team to city championships three years in a row. He was the one who had encouraged Hester to play football years ago. And now, at the most crucial juncture of Hester’s career, he longs to hear his father’s voice once more.
“It’s something that I’ve learned to grow with and get stronger with,” said Hester, the second-oldest of 11 children. “He blessed me with a big family. I’m grateful. I have a little brother that looks up to me. I’m like their superhero. And that was way before the blocked kick. They love me with or without the tip.”
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