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A day for memories, both good and bad
Bobby Engram comes home to see old friends and talks about a Super Bowl which still haunts him
BOBBY ENGRAM (center) shares a laugh while sharing stories with former CHS assistant football coaches John Sorrells (left) and Guy Eckenroth. - photo by Tom Didato/C-I photo

Bobby Engram remains the most honored atlete in Camden High School history.

A three-sport standout at CHS, Engram helped Billy Ammons’ football Bulldogs to a 15-0 record and the AAA state football title as a senior in 1990. At season’s end, he was named as the state’s Gatorade player of the year, the Associated Press state player of the year as well as being named to the Parade magazine and USA Today All-American squads. 

A three-time All-State selection on the gridiron, he was a four-time All-State choice in baseball, while helping Dennis Reeder’s squads to AAA state crowns in 1988 and 1989. For good measure, Engram was a three-time All-State player for Dale Reeves’ Running Dogs from 1989-91.

Engram attended Penn State University, earning All-American and All-Big 10 honors in 1993, ’94 and ‘95. In 1994, he helped the Nittany Lions to an unbeaten record and a Rose Bowl victory while being the inaugural recipient of the Biletnikoff Award, presented to the nation’s top collegiate wide receiver, in 1994. As a sophomore, Engram was named the most valuable player of the Citrus Bowl after PSU’s win over Tennessee.

Drafted in the second round by the Chicago Bears in the 1996 NFL Draft, Engram played 14 seasons in the NFL including eight seasons with the Seahawks before finishing his three-team career with the Kansas City Chiefs. In 2005, Engram was named winner of the Seahawks’ Ed Block Courage Award in helping Seattle to the NFC title. In 2007, he caught a franchise record 94 passes. In 2011, he was named to the Seahawks’ 35th anniversary team.

Engram established the “Bobby Engram Foundation,” which aids in the research of sickle cell anemia and hosted the “Walk for Sickle Cell Disease” while also serving as host of a celebrity softball game while a member of the Seattle Seahawks.

Bobby Engram presented Camden High School with a gold football last Friday which the NFL supplies to high school alma maters of players who played in the Super Bowl. The day in Camden commemorated Engram’s playing as a member of the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.

What the former Camden High standout continues to carry with him to this day is the memory of the game which got away at Ford Field in Detroit on Feb. 5, 2006.

In a contest dogged by several key and controversial calls which went against the Seahawks, the 21-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers stung even worse. One of the most highly contested calls was a holding penalty against Seattle negating a first and goal from the Steelers’ one to the ball being placed at the Pittsburgh 29. In addition, there was another phantom pass interference infraction whistled against the Seahawks which negated a 16-yard Matt Hasselback-to-Darrell Jackson touchdown pass.

Four years later, in an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Super Bowl XL referee Bill Levy admitted that in that game, he “kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game and as an official, you never want to do that."

The passing of time has not allowed Engram to fully move on from the biggest game in what was his 14-year NFL career. He caught six passes for 70 yards in the loss to the Super Bowl loss to the Steelers.

“I don’t know if I’m over it, yet,” the 43-year-old Engram said with a laugh while surrounded by his family, his former Camden High school coaches and old Bulldog teammates and friends inside the school library on Friday afternoon. 

“It was difficult. It was an unbelievable experience. (The Super Bowl) is everything that people always talk about. Ultimately, though, you do want to win the game. I wasn’t able to do it as a player but I’m working my butt off to win one as a coach.”

Playing on football’s biggest stage was the shining moment of Engram’s 176-game (excluding nine playoff games) NFL career. Over that time, the second round draft pick of the Chicago Bears out of Penn State in 1996 caught 650 passes for 7,751 yards while scoring 35 touchdowns including a Seattle record 94 grabs in a 2007 season in which he amassed 1,147 yards while tying his career-best six touchdown catches.

On special teams, Engram returned 102 punts for 1,059 yards and brought back two for touchdowns. He also was credited with 16 tackles in his professional career which ended in 2009 as a member of the Kansas City Chiefs.

As a high school athlete, Engram earned all-state accolades 10 times in four varsity seasons of football (three), baseball (four) and basketball (three.) Never one to stay away from any game, after playing in his last professional contest in 2009 with the Chiefs, he found himself trying to stay involved with the NFL from the confines of his living room. It was not the easiest of experiences.

“The hardest part for me was that first year of retirement and actually watching the games that season,” said Engram who is entering his third year as wide receivers coach with the Baltimore Ravens. “My body was so used to going out there and competing and playing that I couldn’t sit and relax and watch the games for awhile. Then, once the first half of the season was over, I settled in and got used to it.”

Engram did not sit around the house for long after retiring. He did get more than just a little nudgeout the door from his wife of more than 17 years, Deanna.

“I loved retirement. It was brief,” he said with a laugh. “I enjoyed being with my family but after the time off, my wife said, ‘You have to go get a job. You’ve got to get out of here.’ I think I was driving her crazy.”

Still possessing a passion for the game he loved, Engram made the decision to do something which, in an interview with the Chronicle-Independent while playing for the Seahawks, he said he would never do. When asked that day, Engram said that once he hung up his cleats he would step away from the game for good. He had no desire, he said at the time, to become a coach at any level other than, maybe, coaching his sons when they were growing up.

So what was the impetus for Engram to return to the game he loves?

“Just talking to some coaches,” he said, “it is more of a calling not so much as it is a career. God is calling me to help a lot of these men and young men who come into this game not only as football players with the X’s and O’s but with real life issues. 

“With some of the experiences that I’ve had, I can share with them and help them to, hopefully, avoid some of the mistakes that guys can make and, hopefully, make them better as a man and make them better as a player.”

While the majority of the players Engram coaches in Baltimore are those who were not even in college when he was playing in the NFL, there are those rare exceptions. One is former Carolina Panther standout Steve Smith. The mercurial and sometimes controversial wide receiver is entering his third season with the Ravens and has said that he will retire after the 2016 campaign which will be his 16th in the NFL after having missed almost all of last season with a knee injury.

Three times, Engram’s Seahawks faced a Panthers squad which featured Smith as its lead receiver. They have since gone from on-field adversaries to being united in trying to help John Harbaugh’s Ravens return to the NFL playoffs.

Like Engram, Smith is a tough and undersized --- standing less than 5-foot-11 --- wide receiver who is not afraid to go across the middle and make plays in traffic even though he knows he may pay the price for making the catch.

Engram said he has developed a good working relationship with his former rival whose passion to win is every bit as great as his wide receivers coach.

“Steve’s been unbelievable,” Engram said of the dynamics in coaching Smith. “He works you. He’s very challenging but it’s all positive. He’s one of the hardest workers, pound-for-pound one of the toughest players and one of the toughest, most dedicated players that I’ve ever been around.

“We have a tremendous working relationship but more importantly, our personal relationship has grown. Just to see the type of man he is with his family; you root for a guy like that. I want to see him come back healthy and finish his career on the right track.”

This is Engram’s second go-around as an NFL assistant coach and both times he has worked under a Harbaugh brother. In 2011, he was an offensive assistant on Jim Harbaugh’s staff with the San Francisco 49ers. Now entering his second years as head coach at the University of Michigan, Jim Harbaugh is not your average head coach. He wears his heart on his sleeve and is not afraid to speak his mind whereas his older brother John is a tad more reserved.

“There are a lot of similarities and a lot of differences,” Engram said with a smile when asked to compare working with the Harbaughs. “You know they’re brothers but they are very different. What they do have is common is that they are both great leaders, they are unbelievable in their communication and they both work extremely hard.

“They are each intense in their own way. I thoroughly enjoyed working with Jim; he gave me my start in this league with the 49ers. And I couldn’t be happier to be with the Ravens and being on John Harbaugh’s staff.”

In his lone season  in San Francisco, the 49ers played for the NFL title before losing to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in overtime. By 2012, Engram took the job as wide receivers coach at the University of Pittsburgh under then-head coach Paul Chryst who has since moved on to the University of Wisconsin. In two seasons with the Panthers, Engram helped develop a pair of All-Big East wide outs in Mike Shanahan and Devin Street, both of whom enjoyed career years under Engram’s tutelage.

As much as he enjoyed coaching college players, Engram’s heart was in the NFL and when John Harbaugh offered him the chance to come to Baltimore, it was a no-brainer to accept.

“The biggest difference is the timing of everything and the recruiting in college,” he said in comparing NFL to collegiate coaching jobs. “In the pros, you get to teach the game and you get to evaluate more. In the NFL, it’s a business and you’re working with men. 

“The NFL is where I belong. It’s what I know and I hope to stay here for a long, long time. I definitely enjoyed my time in college and I would never rule out going back but I’m very happy with where I am right now in the NFL and, in particular, with the Baltimore Ravens. It’s an unbelievable organization.”

The hours which NFL coaches put in are stuff of legend. There are stories of coaches spending nights in their office watching films and going over plays rather than returning home when practice is over. The time involved in coaching is something which even as an NFL player, Engram probably never could appreciate.

After first saying he would never go into coaching, Engram is passionate about what has become his second career. And the fact that his family which includes Deanna and their two sons and two daughters is on board with it makes it all the better.

“The biggest transition is the time that you put in as coach after having been a player. I love it. It’s the point in my life where I’m at now,” he said.

 “My playing days are done and I don’t long for those any more. I was blessed to have played 14 years in the pros and four years in college. I started playing football here when I was six years old … I played the game a long time. I just try and use all those things that I learned as a player and transfer them to my skills in coaching. I get tremendous joy just being out there and the competition of it all. It’s all mental now; it’s not physical anymore.

“The transition has been great. I have an unbelievable family. Deanna has been instrumental in backing me and allowing me to pursue my career in coaching football. My family has been great about it.”

Just as he finished that sentence, the call went out for Bobby Engram and the rest of those gathered inside the library that it was time to head over to a gym which he never played inside --- since he graduated from the old CHS on Laurens Street --- for the gold ball ceremony and presenting the football to CHS head football coach Jimmy Neal and for it to be displayed inside a trophy case at the school.

As he was joined by family, friends, coaches and former teammates before being afforded a standing ovation by current CHS students, Bobby Engram took in his surroundings and just smiled. He was home and was enjoying every moment of it.

“It feels great. It’s always good to come home,” he said with an ear-to-ear grin. “To be able to be here and have this ceremony is special. My coaches, some of my former teammates and my family are all here … it’s an unbelievable feeling; feelings of nostalgia from where you’ve come from, your roots and people who have helped with where I’ve been able to go. It’s special.”