By Rick White: Freedom Newspapers
IRVING, Texas — Hank Baskett had 32 text messages waiting for him when he reached the locker room.
Earlier in the night, it was Baskett and the Philadelphia Eagles who sent a message, dominating the Dallas Cowboys 23-7 Monday at Texas Stadium to earn a share of the NFC East and a playoff berth.
The Eagles rookie wide receiver and 2001 Clovis High grad said he couldn’t have asked for a better Christmas present.
“It was awesome,” Baskett said. “A lot of people gave up on us. The only people that didn’t give up on us were the people in this locker room.”
With their fourth straight win, the Eagles (9-6) joined the Cowboys atop the NFC East and also earned at least a wild card playoff berth. The Cowboys had already clinched a playoff berth, but could have won the NFC East with a win.
Playing about a quarter of the offensive plays and on special teams, Baskett recorded one tackle. But it hardly mattered to the Eagles rookie wide receiver.
“I don’t care how much I play as long as we win,” said Baskett, who had one pass thrown his way but was a big part of a Philadelphia offense that mauled Dallas for more than 200 yards rushing.
Philadelphia offensive coordinator and assistant head coach Marty Mornhinweg said the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Baskett has a big future in the league.
“He’s made a lot of big plays for us this year,” Mornhinweg said. “For a rookie, he has a lot of responsibilities.
“We always go into every game having a handful of plays for him,” Mornhinweg said. “He’s got great jumping ability, and he’s a physical guy.”
Baskett and the Eagles arrived in Dallas on Sunday. He was greeted at the team hotel by a horde of autographing-seeking fans and about a dozen family members.
He agreed to sit down for a few minutes to reflect on a rookie season in which he was snubbed in the NFL draft, became a training camp sensation, and started the Eagles’ preseason and regular-season openers.
“Sometimes, when I’m driving around Philly, I think about how I’m just a small-town kid living out a dream of playing NFL football.”
Baskett, who was projected to go in the middle rounds of the NFL draft after a solid senior season at New Mexico, admits to being crushed after going undrafted: “It was the worst feeling in the world.”
He signed a free agent contract with the Minnesota Vikings the day after the draft, only to be traded to the Eagles a short time later.
“It humbles you,” said Baskett, a state champion high jumper and hurdler. “But in a way, it was the best thing that could have happened because it made me work harder.”
His season has also included the Eagles losing five of six games after a 4-1 start and also losing All-Pro quarterback Donovan McNabb to a knee injury. The Eagles have rallied behind veteran backup and former San Francisco 49ers All-Pro Jeff Garcia.
“We all worked a lot with Jeff in preseason,” Baskett said. “We’re just as confident in Jeff as we were in Donovan. They throw the ball a little different, but they both get the job done.”
Baskett is seventh on the team — fourth among wide receivers — with 15 receptions. He’s averaging 19.1 yards a reception with one touchdown, an 87-yard catch and run in the Eagles’ 38-24 win over Dallas in early October.
He is also one of the Eagles’ best-blocking wide receivers, and was put on the kickoff coverage and kickoff return teams six games ago.
Even though his wide receiver time has diminished recently with the Eagles using more two-back sets, Baskett said he’s pleased with his role on the team and believes as he continues to develop he’ll get more opportunities. “As long as I’m on the field, I don’t care what I’m doing.”
Being a rookie from a state not exactly famous for producing NFL players — combined with his easy-going nature —makes Baskett a target of teammate’s ribbing.
“It’s just so easy,” said Eagles wide receiver Greg Lewis, who rooms with Baskett on road trips.
Lewis said nobody really knew who Baskett was when he arrived at training camp. His anonymity didn’t last long, Lewis said.
“He just started making plays day after day,” said Lewis, a fourth-year veteran from Illinois who also made the Eagles as a free agent. “That’s when everybody started to take notice of him.”
Like all roommates, they occasionally get on each other’s nerves, Lewis said. Among his peeves about Baskett is his rookie roommate spending all day text-messaging friends while Lewis is trying to sleep. They also battle over the room thermostat — the Chicago-born Lewis likes the heat while Baskett is always turning on the air conditioning.
All in all, Lewis said, he couldn’t ask for a better roommate.
“He’ll do anything to help you out,” said Lewis, who entered Monday’s game sixth on the team with 18 catches for 267 yards and two touchdowns. “He’s real down to earth, a good-hearted person.”