Leading up to the Eagles playing the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII on February 4, Sports Talk Philly and Eagledelphia will be taking a look at the unsung players on the Eagles roster that have made their unlikely season and playoff run to the Super Bowl possible. This is Underdogs of the Eagles.
In this edition we will focus on special teams ace Bryan Braman.
High School and College Career
Bryan Braman grew up fatherless and homeless in Spokane, Washington, and football offered him a path to something better than what he what he was used to. His athletic ability was noteworthy even in his first year at Shadle Park High School, according to his high school guidance counselor Anthony Pedisik. “You knew he’d be a standout athlete," said Pedisik. "It was himself that was going to hold him back from the opportunities he had and break away from the negatives he had to deal with and pursue the future.”
Braman earned a full scholarship to the University of Idaho out of high school, but he failed to break away from the negatives that Pedisik mentioned. Braman redshirted his freshman season, and did not spend his time wisely on the Idaho campus. "I never really went to class, I don't know if it was because I watched too many movies where the top recruits always found a way to pass the classes," said Braman in a Vice Sports expose. "Unfortunately my GPA wasn't enough for me to be able to compete at the Division I level anymore."
Braman returned home after losing his scholarship and worked for a railroad company while spending his nights frequenting different park benches to sleep on.
Braman had gone from a Division I football player to spending the next six months living on the streets. Fortunately for Braman, Pedisik had another opportunity waiting for him. Pedisik asked Braman if he was still interested in pursuing football "Of course," Braman replied. "I thought it was over, I thought I had already thrown my chance away."
Pedisik found an opportunity for Braman at Long Beach City College, a junior college in California. The stint at Long Beach was a turning point for Braman. "..When he got to Long Beach, he was definitely different. You could see it in his eyes. His whole mentality changed. He realized that was it, this was the only thing that could get him out of the place he had been in his whole life," said Josh Powell, a friend and high school teammate of Braman's.
Braman's play at Long Beach City College led to an opportunity in Division II with West Texas A&M. Braman helped lead the school to a conference championship in his junior year, and was set to enter his senior season as a leader of the team.
Braman's senior year quickly came to a hault when he was charged with producing the active chemical found in hallucinogenic mushrooms. Braman's case was ultimately dismissed but it appeared that his NFL dream was finally dead.
"When my name would come across the board the scouts would dog me," said Braman. Braman ran down the list of criticisms that the scouts had for him. "Oh he's a cancer, he's got all kinds of character issues, he just recently got in trouble, if you bring him in he's gonna cause nothing but problems."
Then the Houston Texans called.
2011-2013 Houston Texans Stint
Just like Pedisik offered back home, Braman received an olive branch from Bobby King, Braman's coach at West Texas A&M who left for the NFL after Braman's junior season.
King was working as a defensive assistant for the Houston Texans at the time and managed to get Braman the opportunity to come into training camp in 2011.
King took a chance on Braman, but it was one that he felt was a safe bet. “I had been in the league, I had been around good players and I knew he could play,” King said. “I had to stand up for him. I had to stand up and vouch for him. There was hesitation, but I knew what kind of athlete he was and I knew what kind of player he was.”
I owe him my life. He basically put his neck out there for me and I had to do everything I could to prove him right," said Braman of King.
Braman made the team in 2011 out of training camp and settled in as a special teams player. Braman led the Texans in special teams tackles in 2012 with 16, and blocked two punts as well. Braman was named a pro-bowl alternate for his work in 2012.
2014-2016 Eagles Campaign
Braman signed two-year $3.15 million contract with the Eagles on March 12, 2014. Braman had finally proven to the NFL, and most important himself, that he has worth. “All the controversy, all the adversity and all the obstacles I had to overcome to get to where I’m at now has made me who I am.”
Once again Braman settled into a special teams role, a role that Connor Barwin, Braman's teammate with the Texans and Eagles, praised him for. "He’s been a terror on special teams, a dominating guy. It takes a lot to play special teams in the NFL and he definitely has what it takes to get it done," Barwin said. Special teams can be reckless and single-minded at times. He has all that. He has the tenacity.
In both the 2015 and 2016 seasons Braman led the Eagles in special teams snaps, playing 86 and 82 percent of the snaps respectively.
2017 Eagles Campaign
Braman departed Philadelphia for New Orleans in free agency, but he fell victim to the injury bug, and was released by the Saints on September 9, 2017.
Braman, who spent the previous six seasons with an NFL home spent much of this season out of football. “It was difficult,” Braman said. “It was the first time something like this had happened in my career."
Braman's patience paid off when the Eagles came calling after Carson Wentz suffered a season-ending knee injury in week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams. Instead of adding another quarterback to the roster, the Eagles opted for familiarity and put Braman on the 53-man roster.
Braman went from his couch to being in the spotlight, playing for the top team in NFC. With spotlight suddenly on him, Braman experienced a little bit more adveristy.
In the NFC Divisional round Braman was hit by an Atlanta punt, which the Falcons recovered and turned into a touchdown. Braman's first signature play in his return to Philadelphia was a negative one.
“I knew I was getting it from the fans” Braman said. “When the ball hit me, I was like, ‘I’m out of here.’ That’s the name of the game and that’s how the business works. I knew I had to atone for the mistake."
Braman did atone for the mistake, by following up his mishap by breaking through the Atlanta line and getting a hand in a Matt Bosher punt to limit to only 22-yards of travel.
"I waited for that next play to make. Fortunately, I made it on a punt return before half. I didn’t get the full block, but the punt only went 20 yards or something like that. But we got three-points and that was crucial before half," said Braman.
The Eagles went on to win 15-10, with the three points created by Braman's block being key in the victory.
After battling his way through his childhood, teenage years, and college years, Braman persevered and will get to play in Super Bowl LII. "It’s a dream come true for anyone that plays in the NFL,” Braman said. Now Braman has a chance to turn his nightmarish beginning into a fairy tale ending.