As the anchor of the Philadelphia Eagles defense, linebacker Connor Barwin has to present an imposing, intimidating attitude on the field. And he’s really good at it. The sixth-year pro had the best season of his career in 2014, racking up 14.5 sacks (best in the NFC), 47 tackles, and forcing two fumbles. He was the NFC Defensive Player of the Month in November, and earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl.
But Barwin’s on-the-field rep softens up a bit off the gridiron. Literally.
There is now a stuffed-toy version of Barwin as part of the Bleacher Creatures line of toys. (The company makes plush figures of baseball, basketball, hockey, and football players; superheroes; mascots; wrestlers; even the Pope!) Over the weekend, we caught up with Barwin at the 2015 American International Toy Fair in New York and chatted about his Bleacher Creature, what led to his big year on the field, and advice for kids who want to play football.
What was your reaction when Bleacher Creatures came to you and said, "We want to make a stuffed-toy version of you?"
I don't know if I remember exactly, and I don't when exactly they approached me about it, but I have to be honest, I wasn't, like, that excited about it. Because I didn't know anything about it, I didn't know what it would look like — I guess that's probably why I was not that excited about it, because I didn't know how well done it would be. And, I guess, I don't have any little brothers or sisters, I'm not around little kids that much, so I don't think about dolls that much. But after they sent me the prototype, I was completely turned around. I did a complete 180 and was, like, this is awesome. It would be cool if they went through with this, I would help any way that I could.
When they sent you the prototype, was there anything there where you said, "Well, this isn't right or this needs to change?"
No. I was, like, It's perfect. The hair is perfect; the hair is all I really care about. The beard is gray, but I could tell it was my shadow. So I go from a shadow to a little bit longer. But other than that... They had the hair perfect, so I was sold right away.
What do your teammates thing of you being in this toy form?
Everybody thinks it's cool. I mean, they kind of razz me a little bit, but I think guys want their own doll. And they sent me a box of, I think, 10 of them, and I think I maybe had like one or two by the time I left the facility because the trainer wanted one, [Eagles tight end] James Casey wanted one for his little boy, somebody else wanted one for their kid. I had one left when I tried to leave because I had handed them all out to either people who work for the Eagles, for their kids, or my teammates' kids who wanted them.
Do you have any around your house?
I have one at my house, that I've kept at my house. But the same thing happened. They sent me another box of them, and I got them to my house, but people just ask you for them that want them and they seem to disappear quickly.
Where do you keep yours?
I have a bookshelf right in my living room, so it's right on the top of the shelf.
So it's like you're watching yourself?
(laughs) Yeah. Exactly.
Do you ever forget it's up there and see it and kind of get surprised?
(laughs) No, not really. But sometimes you kind of... It's still kind of weird to see yourself as a doll.
What toys did you play with when you were a kid?
When I grew up, it was, like, the Legos, the building blocks, Lincoln Logs, I remember were big. We played all the board games. I've never been to a Toy Fair. I'm at a Toy Fair, and it seems like it's a lot of the same stuff, just better designs and more colors to them and stuff like that. And then I'd be lying, there were obviously dolls around my house when we were kids. I have three older brothers, but my mom ran a daycare at our house and so there were all kinds of dolls around.
Turning to football, you had a great 2014. What do you think contributed to you having this monster year?
A number of things. Another year of being a smarter, more mature player. I think I had a really good offseason leading up to the season. I think my understanding for my role in our system, and I think our coaches' understanding of what I can do, grew this year. I think our defense was better as a whole. I think our secondary was a lot better this year than it was two years ago, which allowed me to rush the passer more than having to drop in coverage as I did the year before. And I'm lucky to have a really good coach in Bill McGovern that really zeroed in on me and this is what you do well, do this, this is what you don't, when you're not as productive is when you kind of get distracted and get off what you really do well. So he stayed on me all year to do what I do, just kind of stick to it instead of it, like, not working once and then trying to vary. And that's what I think I had done sometimes in years past.
What can kids who either watch football or play football and maybe want to be like you one day, what can they take from your experience?
For kids, first of all, if they want to be football players, my advice has always been play as many sports as you can when you're young. Be as active as you can. I grew up playing basketball, baseball, football, lacrosse, and I think that's great for becoming a well-rounded athlete. Football's a weird sport that you can only physically do it for a couple months a year. There's no reason to spend the rest of the year in the weight room or anything like that. You should be trying to be the best overall athlete you can. And then when you become 17, 18, 19, 20 years old, that's when you need to put time in the weight room. But before that, kids just need to be out and be active and just enjoying competing or having fun playing all different sports.
What did playing those other sports do for your game as a football player?
I think it makes you a more... You can get the strength and the bulk and the muscle, but it's hard to get the hand-eye coordination, that just overall instinct and athleticism, and really that kind of fire to compete. And I think you get that from playing all different sports, from being in competitive arenas all the time as a kid that you don't get if you just start to focus on football when you're 12 years old.
Photos: Elsa/Getty Images (action), Dante A. Ciampaglia (Toy Fair), Bleacher Creatures (product)