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Eagles player goes to Super Bowl in Arizona, where he trained to be EMT

Grant Calcaterra applied to be a firefighter with the Los Angeles Fire Department before returning to college football


Philadelphia Eagles tight end Grant Calcaterra walked off the field against the New York Giants during an NFL football game on Dec. 11 in East Rutherford, N.J. He said that firefighting reminded him of football. “Working on a team, working together, being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself,” he said. “It’s just like being a team.”

File photo/Adam Hunger/Associated Press

By Matt Breen
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHOENIX — Grant Calcaterra walked Monday around the floor of the Footprint Center, glancing up to the crowd and taking in all the glitz of the Super Bowl’s opening night. He entered the arena with the rest of the Eagles by walking onto a stage as if they were pro wrestlers and the seats were filled with people who paid to watch Calcaterra and his teammates field interviews by hundreds of reporters. Welcome to the Super Bowl.

Three years earlier, Calcaterra came to Arizona to learn how to be an emergency medical technician after retiring from football. And now he’s back to play for the NFC champions in America’s biggest sporting event.

“It’s been a really crazy journey,” Calcaterra said. “It’s come full circle.”

Calcaterra, drafted by the Eagles in the sixth round last April, stepped away from the game in November 2019 after suffering his third concussion. Doctors did not tell him he had to stop playing, but the tight end thought it was time to stop when he was 20 years old.

He applied to the Los Angeles Fire Department and started working as a laborer for a California construction company. Calcaterra helped build schools, figuring it would look good on a resumé to have an understanding of structures and it would give him something to talk about in job interviews.

“I generally feel like football is a blue-collar job, so it was nothing that was new to me,” Calcaterra said. “Just hard work. Clock in and clock out. It was fun to me.”

Firefighting, Calcaterra said, reminded him of football as both jobs require you to rely on your impulses and reactions while also falling back on your training and practice. Football was his dream, but firefighting was something he always thought about. It would be a way for him to still experience the thrills he felt on the field while also serving the community. It seemed like the perfect job, Calcaterra said.

“Working on a team, working together, being a part of something that’s bigger than yourself,” he said. “It’s just like being a team.”

Calcaterra, still waiting to hear back from the fire department, enrolled in a two-week program in Chandler, Ariz., in March 2020 to earn his EMT certification. He went to class for 10 hours a day for 14 straight days and stayed in a hotel just 12 miles from the resort where the Eagles are now staying as they prepare for Sunday’s game against the Chiefs.

The first five hours of each day were spent in the classroom, with the next five hours being hands-on instruction. It was an entire semester crammed into 14 days. He returned exhausted to his hotel each night.

“It was pretty rigorous,” Calcaterra said.

The work paid off as Calcaterra passed his EMT test on the first try and accepted a job with an ambulance company near his home in Orange County, Calif. He was set to be an EMT before he told the ambulance company the night before his first day that he had second thoughts. He wanted to give football one last try.

Doctors cleared him to return and he went to Southern Methodist for his final season of eligibility. Calcaterra caught 38 passes for 465 yards and four touchdowns, looking like the NFL prospect he was years earlier at Oklahoma. The fire department finally approved his application while he was playing that season. It wanted him to come to Los Angeles. But Calcaterra’s football dream was ignited again.

“They wanted me, but I was like, ‘Sorry, I’m doing something else,’” Calcaterra said.

Five months later, he was at home with his family when the Eagles called his name. He played in 15 games this season as a reserve tight end and special teamer. He does not play a huge role, but he’s part of the team, which is why he fell in love with football. The dream that was once extinguished is relit. Calcaterra is back in Arizona for the Super Bowl, three years after he came here to chase a different dream.


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