Sam Donnellon | Who wouldn't want to be in Feeley's spikes?

Posted: June 14, 2007

WHEN I DIE, I want to come back as A.J. Feeley.

You've said it. I've said it. The guy on the bar stool next to you has said it, too.

How many times? Maybe 100 times last season alone. Maybe 1,000 total during his two stints with the Eagles. If he remains here for the duration of the contract extension he signed in February, maybe 10 times 1,000 times.

It's the greatest job in sports, backup quarterback. You work out. You stay in shape. You make a good wage, and you go home at night, every night, with nothing bruised or broken, needing not even a single Advil to get a good night's rest.

If you happen to meet a smart, beautiful woman, an athlete herself, well, all the better.

"For me, it's like playing golf," Feeley was saying after the Eagles' minicamp practice yesterday. "You're constantly challenging yourself every day. There's up days and there's down days and they affect you. But that's what makes this great. You come back the next day and forget about that last day. And try to learn and build upon it."

Ah, the rub. What is built by taking snaps in June? In August? What is built taking snaps with the second unit when the season actually begins in earnest?

How much do we really know about Feeley's capability to guide this team should the starting quarterback who has appeared here ahead of schedule this week somehow fall behind schedule when training camp rolls around?

Do you place your faith in that 4-1 record from 2002?

Or do his flops in Miami and San Diego scare you just a little?

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The Eagles chose Jeff Garcia to guide the team after Donovan McNabb tore up his right ACL last November. But in signing Feeley instead of the more expensive Garcia in February, they suggested strongly that Garcia's success was a byproduct of a system and stepped-up play, not the other way around.

One sliver of evidence: Feeley threw for three touchdowns and 321 yards in the win over Atlanta in the regular-season finale. He even contended last winter, as he again did yesterday, that he could have pushed the Eagles into the postseason as the then-36-year-old Garcia did.

"Because I have," he said. "So it's not like, 'Could I?' I have before. With less experience I've done it. I don't think when you're a quarterback you doubt your abilities. Not taking anything from what Jeff did, because Jeff played awesome. But as a quarterback in my situation, you can't not think you're going to do the same thing the other guy does."

The money the Eagles gave Feeley - including the $2 million signing bonus, he will average $1.2 million over the next four seasons - even endorses his self-evaluation that, "I'm a better quarterback now than in 2002. Age and experience have made me better."

The experience - a failed shot at starting in Miami, nearly disappearing into the depth chart in San Diego - turned Feeley into a West Coast offense moonie. At 30, he still aspires to start somewhere someday, still considers himself to be "a young guy." But if that opportunity comes, it will have stringent parameters, beginning with an offense similar to the one he's now practicing.

"I definitely wouldn't want to play again in a system that wasn't a West Coast system," he said. "I'm at that point right now where I know what I'm doing, what I can do, and I know that I'm comfortable. To come out of that to go relearn something and don't have the learning curve you have as a rookie, I don't think I would.

"Even if the money was better."

Which leaves us with one final thought, and it's an inside joke. You want to come back as A.J. Feeley, I want to, the guy on the bar stool, too.

But one guy already has.

A.J. Feeley got to come back as A.J. Feeley.

And he's liking it as much as we would.

"As long as I'm on a team and healthy," he said, "I can't complain." *

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