CHERISH THE MOMENT
ONE OF RODNEY McLEOD’S BIGGEST FANS NEVER SAW HIM MAKE IT TO THE NFL
2019 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES GAMEDAY MAGAZINE 25
In a flash, Rodney McLeod appears out
of nowhere to stop a ballcarrier from
making a big gain.
In a flash, McLeod blitzes off the edge,
getting in the face of a quarterback to
force an errant throw.
In a flash, McLeod learned how quickly
the game of football that he loves dearly
could be taken away from him.
McLeod suffered a season-ending knee
injury on September 23, 2018, while
making a tackle of Colts running back
Nyheim Hines in the third quarter of
the win over Indianapolis. The Eagles
lost more than a versatile chess piece,
who can roam the deep middle of
the field to thwart big plays or catch
quarterbacks by surprise as he did to
Atlanta’s Matt Ryan in the 2017 NFC
Divisional Round showdown. McLeod’s
blitz resulted in a 10-yard loss to end
the third quarter and ruin promising
field position for the Falcons.
The Eagles lost a player with the heart
of a lion, who went undrafted in 2012
because of a perceived lack of size.
But at 5-10, 195 pounds, McLeod flies
around the field with a purpose and a
mission, making up for quantifiable
traits with intangibles that are beneath
On the night of August 22, McLeod
stood on the sideline at Lincoln Financial
Field. The national anthem played, and
after its conclusion, McLeod reached
for a tattoo on his right bicep that reads
“NaNa” and pointed to the sky. After
an arduous rehab process, McLeod was
about to rejoin his teammates on the
field. It was a preseason game against
the Baltimore Ravens, but for McLeod,
it was the final hurdle in his recovery.
Could he step out on the field and be
a relentless force in the secondary once
again? Could he play the game with
uninhibited passion, or would the injury
creep in his mind?
As he tapped on the tattoo, McLeod
thought about the woman he honored
with that ink and how there was no way
he was going to let her down.
Katherine Graham, or “NaNa,” was
McLeod’s grandmother, but more like
a second mother to him. McLeod spent
time with NaNa on weekends growing
up, doing fun things like going to the
movies or the mall. McLeod admired
NaNa’s strength most of all, in how she
was willing to be brutally honest even
if you didn’t want to hear the truth.
NaNa supported McLeod as he became
a budding football star at DeMatha
Catholic, a national powerhouse at the
high school level located in Hyattsville,
Maryland that also produced Eagles Hall
of Fame running back Brian Westbrook.
But the tables were turned when NaNa
was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
McLeod was there in the hospital with
NaNa when she learned that the odds
of long-term survival were not very
good. McLeod visited NaNa when she
was hospitalized, but admitted that it
became tougher and tougher to see her
ravaged by the disease.
Katherine Graham passed away on
April 17, 2008, when McLeod was in
his senior year at DeMatha. Before
she passed away, she made a bold
declaration that McLeod, the oldest of
six children in his family, was going to do
something special. NaNa didn’t specify
what exactly that meant, but the words
serve as motivation to this day.
McLeod received numerous college
offers after a high school career that
resulted in all-state honors and multiple
conference titles. To the surprise of
his family, McLeod stayed close to
home and attended the University of
Virginia. The program started to turn
a corner under then-head coach Al
Groh, the father of Eagles offensive
coordinator Mike Groh, but McLeod
only experienced one winning season
with the Cavaliers. Leading up to the
2012 NFL Draft, McLeod was invited
to play at the East-West Shrine Game,
but teams weren’t sure what to make
of him. He didn’t have elite speed to
play corner. He didn’t have the typical
stature for safety. The then-St. Louis
Rams offered to sign McLeod as an
undrafted free agent. McLeod not only
made the roster, but became a starter in
his second year.
He hit the free agent market after a
2015 campaign where McLeod had
106 tackles, forced three fumbles, and
recovered another for a touchdown.
The Eagles wanted to pair someone
with Malcolm Jenkins and thought that
McLeod would be the ideal complement.
In four years, McLeod went from not
being wanted in the draft to having his
choice of many teams offering lucrative
long-term deals. When he signed on
the dotted line in Philadelphia, McLeod
thought about NaNa.
“My grandmother was very special to
me. Her goal was to see me graduate
and then to see me reach my dreams
and to have reached my dreams and
to reach them in this manner and to
not have her be here was hard for me,”
McLeod says. “I know she’s always out
there watching over me, but it was
a hard time for her not to be able to
literally see it physically and me see her
experience everything with me.”
McLeod and Jenkins instantly formed
arguably the best safety duo in the
league. McLeod had a career-high 117
tackles and three interceptions in 2016,
starting all 16 games. Furthermore, he
was named an alternate for the Pro
BY CHRIS McPHERSON