Darren Sproles is the shortest guy in the Philadelphia Eagles locker room.
At 5-foot-6, he's normally the shortest guy in any locker room.
But despite his height, Sproles' peers — especially those who played with him during his days with the New Orleans Saints — still find themselves looking up to him.
"That's like my big homie," said Saints running back Mark Ingram said. "He was a big part of my growth coming into the league. I learned so much from him, and I still do."
Ingram and Sproles both arrived in New Orleans in 2011: Ingram as a Heisman Trophy winner drafted in the first round, Sproles as a free agent who had spent his first six seasons with the San Diego Chargers.
They spent three seasons together as Saints, and they've been close ever since.
They watch each other's game and call each other and offer pointers.
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But on Sunday, they'll be on opposite sidelines — perhaps for the final time — when the Saints host the Eagles in the divisional round of the playoffs at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The 35-year-old Sproles announced in July that he would retire at the end of this season. But according to recent reports, he's hinted to his teammates that he could come back for one more season. He contemplated retiring last season but returned after missing most of 2017 with a broken arm and torn ACL suffered on the same play in Week 3. This season has been marred by injury too. A hamstring injury caused him to sit out most of the season, including the Nov. 18 game in the Superdome when his former team beat his current team 48-7.
"He says it's his last season, but with the injury, I think he may come back for one more," Ingram said. "He still looks good, and he's still got it."
Whether Sproles retires remains to be seen. If he does, he's left his mark as one of the game's most versatile backs. The numbers speak for themselves: 3,486 yards rushing; 4,816 yards receiving; 2,875 yards on punt returns; and 8,352 on kickoff returns. He's scored 64 touchdowns.
He racked up 5,546 of those yards and 22 touchdowns during his time in New Orleans, where he was not only a fan favorite but a favorite of his teammates.
“Yeah, he's my guy, man," said Drew Brees. "He'll always be my guy. He's a stud. One of the greatest teammates I've ever had the chance to play with. I've said it before, I think he's a once-in-a-lifetime player and what he's been able to accomplish now over the course of his career. As for the type of player he was, man, just full speed all the time."
Receiver Tommylee Lewis never played with Sproles. But being just 5-foot-7, Lewis grew up watching and admiring Sproles. He got a chance to work out with him during the offseason.
"He's inspired me a lot," Lewis said. "He's a special guy. To be still playing at his age, that says a lot. He has a non-stop motor. I feel like I have a non-stop motor too. But when I worked out with him, I was trying to keep up with him. I'm telling you. That's a bad man."
While Lewis had to put in extra work to keep up with Sproles during those workouts, he said he did have the edge in one thing: height.
"He makes me feel tall," Lewis said with a laugh. "I'll give him 5-5 and a half."
Sproles has played in just seven games this season after getting hurt in the season opener. The Eagles are 4-1 since he returned.
Philadelphia Eagles at New Orleans Saints in divisional round of playoffs
"He has been a tremendous leader," Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. "An impact player, both on and off football field for us and a great mentor to some of our young running backs and just by the way he practices, the way he goes about his business. I'm excited for him now that he is back and playing, so it's definitely a shot for us in the arm. It kind of gives us the breath of fresh air in the backfield.”
Pederson knows just how much this homecoming game of sorts means to Sproles.
"It's definitely something special," Pederson said. "He spent a lot of time there, and for him I know he missed the first game (in November). He's excited, he takes everything in stride, but I know he's excited and looking forward to it.”
And his ex-teammates standing on the opposite sideline are anticipating his return as well.
"I mean he's just been the consummate teammate," Brees said. "I love working with him in the offseason. He makes me better. A great friend. I mean I always root for him."
It could be Sproles' final game in the Dome.
If he decides to retire at season's end and the Eagles lose, it could be his final game, period.
Either way, Ingram says it's fitting that Sproles will be back in the Dome.
"Life be like that sometimes," Ingram said. "Just irony. I just wish him the best. He's my brother beyond this game. We're going to be family for life."
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