By Jon Marks: Special to the CNJ
PHILADELPHIA— Hank Baskett likely won’t forget his 28th birthday for a long time.
Clovis’ claim to NFL fame learned shortly after he woke up a week ago Saturday he had survived cutdown day with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he’s been welcomed back after a year away playing for the Super Bowl bound Indianapolis Colts. More on that later.
And from there it got even better when Hank went out to celebrate the occasion with his former Playboy Playmate celebrity wife, Kendra Wilkinson, and their 9-month old infant son, Hank IV.
“Kendra had me a little birthday party,” said Hank, who’ll be back in his familiar spot as a leader on special teams and as a backup receiver when the Eagles open the season today against the Green Bay Packers. “So we just went out bowling.
“Because we had practice the next day we didn’t go out and go wild. Just went and bowled with some friends and family.”
Yes, life has indeed changed for the kid from Clovis, who was anxious to find out whether or not his high school coach, Eric Roanhaus, had won his 300th game last week. But all the trappings of fame and fortune aside, Hank Baskett says he’ll play this season with a greater purpose than ever before.
“Having a family there’s a lot more riding on it now,” admitted Baskett, who quickly discovered last year his role in Indianapolis would be limited with the emergence of Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie. “Being a father is the greatest feeling ever.
“Now every time I go to practice, every game I just thank the Lord for my son. Now I know why I’m playing.”
Just how much Hank Baskett will be playing for these 2010 Eagles remains in question. After three years in the Eagles’ nest, Baskett became a roster casualty last September when then newcomer Michael Vick was reinstated following his two-game suspension. It didn’t take long for him to latch on with the Colts, though, giving him an opportunity to see Peyton Manning at work.
While he was seldom the beneficiary at the receiving end, catching just four balls for 28 yards, he couldn’t helped but be impressed with Manning’s work ethic.
“Both the Eagles and the Colts are two great organizations that pride themselves on winning,” said Hank, who’s been welcomed back into the fold here almost as if he had never been away. “So it wasn’t a drastic change.
“The big positive of it was getting a chance to play with Peyton Manning. You get to really truly see what makes him great. The behind the scenes stuff. The extra things he does and the pressure he puts on himself, not everyone else.
“But I don’t think anything’s different from when I was here before, except for a few new faces here and there. Other than that, I was telling everybody it’s like being back home. This is where I spent a lot of my life. I have a lot of great memories here with the team, coaches, city and fans.”
Indeed, No. 84 appears pretty much entrenched here as always.
“He seems like the same guy,” said Eagles head coach Andy Reid, who was first attracted to Baskett as a rookie free agent coming out of New Mexico in 2006, actually trading the Vikings for his rights. “I trust him a lot.
“He knows all of the wide receiver positions along with the tight end position, and he’s a good special team player.
“Hank can do a lot of things,” added five-year veteran wideout Jason Avant, once a fellow rookie along with Baskett, now dean among Philadelphia receivers. “He can help me out on the inside (blocking) with some of those big guys and he’s a big target in the red zone.
“With his leadership and experience he can give guys a warning of what to expect “
Baskett laughs at the notion that he’s among the veterans on this team, having started out here at the same time or before as all but a dozen of the current group.
“It’s crazy that we’re the old guys here now,” he says, shaking his head when he considers how the Eagles have become one of the youngest teams in the League. “But that’s a good thing.
“They want our veteran leadership and Jason and I don’t mind being the grunts who work hard. I hope we can pass along that leadership style. In the year I was gone and since the time I came back I saw (starters) Desean (Jackson) and Jeremy (Maclin) mature so much.”
But Hank Baskett has been around the NFL block long enough to know that he’ll make his mark on this team not as a receiver — even if his resume does include touchdown catches of 87, 89 and 90 yards — but on special teams. That’s where he was a demon in those three seasons here, traditionally ranking among the team leaders in tackles, blocks and other categories.
Now with veteran special teams’ coach Bobby April in his first season calling the shots for Philadelphia, Baskett feels he can thrive again.
“I’ll be doing all the same stuff, trying to be points leader again,” said Baskett, voted Eagles special teams MVP in 2007. “What I love about Coach April is his energy.
“Bobby has a style of teaching guys how to do things that I like. He not only tells you what he wants you to do, but he’ll also take the time to explain. He’s all about technique.
“Bobby’s one of the greats. He’s gonna bring his winning special teams style here.”
But before looking ahead, Baskett can’t help but look back at the special teams play that brought him the kind of notoriety no one wants; the infamous surprise onside kick Saints’ coach Sean Payton pulled off on the Colts to start the second half of the Super Bowl, which the usually sure-handed Baskett was unable to field. Instead New Orleans recovered, then proceeded to drive downfield and score, setting in motion one of the most memorable upsets in Super Bowl history.
While the memory of that still stings, Hank vows that one play will not define his career. “It sucked that it happened and that it was in the Super Bowl,” said Baskett, who saw the writing on the wall in Indy and decided the best move was to come back here. “I did everything I could to get that ball, but the ball didn’t bounce my way that time.
“I’m definitely not gonna let that break me, though, especially in Philadelphia because everyone knows how I am on special teams.
“One play is not gonna define my special teams career.”
Not one play. Not one game. Not one season. Certainly not when the stakes have been raised for him not only on the field, but off.
For Clovis’ Hank Baskett while it might seem like d