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Tight end Thomason is a return man

He's an Eagle again after 2-year hiatus

PHILADELPHIA -- His newest athletic endeavor is the triathlon, but Jeff Thomason gladly will put that on hold while he renews acquaintances with his onetime sporting passion -- football.

The fact that his return to the game will be on sport's brightest stage, Super Bowl XXXIX, seemingly pours the foundation for a fairy-tale story.

"It's always been a far dream that this would happen, but I never thought it would," said Thomason, out of pro football for two years but now preparing to play against the Patriots in Jacksonville Feb. 6. The 35-year-old Thomason, whose 10-year NFL career concluded in 2002 after three seasons in Philadelphia, signed on with the Eagles as a replacement tight end for Chad Lewis, who broke his foot Sunday in the NFC Championship game win over the Falcons.

Project manager for the Toll Brothers construction company in New Jersey, Thomason was at home Sunday night, earlier in the day having watched the Eagles halt a skid of three straight losses in the NFC title game. "Just watching on TV, I could feel the energy," said Thomason. "It was real neat to watch those guys go through it."

When the phone rang at his home late Sunday night, Thomason discovered that he was about to feel the energy up close and personal. And just who called him?

"Chad Lewis," said Thomason. "It just shows you how unselfish he is. He called me and said, `I broke my foot, but the first thing I want to do is try to get you to come in and take my role and fill my spot.' "

Said Thomason: "Come on, dude. You have got to be kidding me."

Lewis wasn't. Nor were the Eagles. Thomason talked with tight ends coach Tom Melvin, then with coach Andy Reid, and late Monday he was at the team's practice facility. He picked up a playbook, studied it all night, and assured his coaches that he felt comfortable doing this. He's familiar with the coaches from his three years with the team, and he counts Lewis and another Philadelphia tight end, Mike Bartrum, among his closest friends.

Thomason provides the Eagles with something they don't have a lot of on their roster -- Super Bowl experience. During his five years with the Packers, he played twice in the big game. Eagles fans perhaps can consider it a good omen that Thomason was with Brett Favre & Co. when Green Bay beat the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.

"This offense is fairly complex," said Thomason, "and to get in the biggest game of the year, the Super Bowl, you have to have a little bit of experience and just understand the game and not get caught up in all the lights around you."

Still, he wasn't making more out of this than what it was -- his chance to fill in, not revitalize a career.

"It's incredible to think about the fact that I'm doing it," he said. "I'm just thrilled to go out and play and be with these guys again. But this is going to be it. This is a great way to go out, so I'll take it."

The Eagles will move L.J. Smith to starting tight end, with Bartrum probably remaining third-string, as he's also the team's long snapper. Thomason said he expects to get in for perhaps 15-20 plays and also be available for special teams duty. "Wherever I can fill in, I'm more than comfortable," he said.

There is one downside to the chance -- Thomason is being forced to take vacation time from his real job. "Once I get back, I'll be working a year straight without any vacation time, but it's not a bad deal," he said. "I'll probably get paid more on my vacation time than I get during my annual salary, so I'll take that."

As for his passion for triathlons, Thomason said he'll be doing some running in the days to come, but no biking and no swimming. His next triathlon is next June, in San Francisco. "They call it the `Escape from Alcatraz,' " he said.

But first, Thomason has the "Entrance to Jacksonville."

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