Lane Johnson, still in uniform at his stall in the deep corner of the locker room at Lincoln Financial Field in the aftermath of Sunday's 31-7 win over San Francisco that sent the Eagles to Super Bowl LVII, let himself go for just a moment as he reflected on his season, and the decision to bypass surgery on a groin/abdominal injury, and the way this football team took the NFC by storm from start to finish in the 2022 season.
He smiled. He took a deep breath.
In that moment, Johnson recalled a long-ago conversation he had with then-Eagles tight end Brent Celek about the way it works in the NFL and how, when you think you have it all figured out, suddenly you don't.
"He was telling me about how, I think it was in his second year (2008), he went to the NFC Championship (Eagles lost to the Arizona Cardinals) and he was like, 'I'll be back,' and then he didn't get back until his 11th year (2017), so I'm enjoying it with all my guys that I've been here with and then all the young guys, so I'm super happy," Johnson said.
"You don't realize how fast time flies, how it's been five years since we won the Super Bowl. You have to take advantage of every opportunity."
This is exactly why Johnson, in the days following the loss at Dallas on Christmas Eve when he suffered the injury that knocked him out of that game as well as the two that followed to end the regular season, chose to delay surgery that would have shelved Johnson until the 2023 season. Instead, he rehabbed with the Eagles' tremendous athletic training staff - and a shout out to that group, because they've done amazing work along with the strength and conditioning team keeping the Eagles healthy, and getting those players who are injured safely back on the field and playing at a high level - and he worked his way back into game shape and here is he, playing at the highest level.
The level of the best offensive tackle in the NFL.
"I wasn't happy with what happened in Dallas. I felt I was having a good year and I wanted to keep going and keep playing," he said. "Everything has worked out. One to go. Keep working and keep playing. We'll enjoy tonight and maybe tomorrow and then get back to work."
Johnson has been a model teammate and warrior here - his teammates and coaches have repeatedly made mention of his toughness and his dedication and the sacrifice he is making for the good of the team - and it hasn't been without overcoming some hurdles. In the NFC Divisional Playoff Game, Johnson took on a bull rush in pass protection and felt pain and he had a moment of concern and "then it just kind of settled in and I've been fine ever since."
The thing is, everyone wants to be part of what this Eagles team has going on. They all felt it from the moment the Eagles took to the field in the spring and saw the talent accumulated on the roster. As spring melted into summer and the start of Training Camp, there was no doubt: Something special might happen with the 2022 Eagles.
Johnson, the team's first-round draft pick in 2013, has been around long enough to know when he sees a team that can raise the roof. The Eagles have done that throughout this 16-3 season.
"I really felt it all season," he said. "My injury, I knew that if I came back would have a chance to do some things because of the blend of talent we have here and the leadership we have. This game was hard fought and then we closed it out. San Fran has a really good defense. We're really good, too."
They have shown it over and over and over again, but we've known, right? The Eagles have long invested in the trenches and that philosophy has paid off. With Johnson, Isaac Seumalo, Jason Kelce, Landon Dickerson, Jordan Mailata and enviable depth behind the starters, the Eagles are imposing their will on defenses. Physical? When is the last team that was more physical playing against this offensive line?
It just doesn't happen. It can't happen. It's not permitted to happen.
"You know how Stout (Jeff Stoutland, run game coordinator/offensive line coach) is," Johnson said. "That's how he coaches us. He demands that we play physical football because that's what wins. We hit a lot of heavy bags during practice. We have big, strong guys who like to get after it and that's how we play. It's fun. It's fun to see backs going through the holes and making big gains.
"This offense, I still don't think we've put it all together. We've been close, but we're still striving for me. That's the goal, to play our best game in the Super Bowl. That's what we've been aiming for."
With Johnson feeling great about things and controlling the right side of the line of scrimmage, hey, we've all seen that anything is possible. Time flies in this NFL world. The Eagles have this opportunity right in front of them against a powerful Kansas City Chiefs team making its third Super Bowl appearance in the last four years coached by the master, Andy Reid. We're in a moment. The Eagles, led by guys who love the game so much and who treasure every day of life in the league like Johnson, are here to seize this moment.
"One more. Let's get back to work and finish what we set out to do here," Johnson said. "We're here to win it all. That's the only goal."