PHILADELPHIA (AP) — David Akers left his heart in Philadelphia when he went to San Francisco. The five-time Pro Bowl kicker is coming home on Sunday when the 49ers (2-1) visit the Eagles (1-2). Akers’ return to Philadelphia hasn’t received the headlines Donovan McNabb and Brian Dawkins got when they came back. But this will be a special homecoming nonetheless.
“Philadelphia has been a huge blessing in my life,” Akers said. “I just can’t say enough for the organization, for the way they gave me the opportunity to make it in the NFL when so many other teams didn’t.”
Akers was so thankful that he put up a billboard on I-95 near Lincoln Financial Field that read: “Thanks Philly for blessing me for 12 years and for your support on and off the field!”
The green-and-white billboard above the backdrop of a football field hung for a month during the preseason.
“I can’t thank those fans enough,” he said.
Still, Akers, whose wife and children remain living in New Jersey, is trying to downplay his return.
“I just realized from the start of the season that I’m a 49er and this is just going to be another game,” Akers said. “Obviously, I’m going to where my house is and my family is and all that. Spending 12 years there, you just can’t erase that. But it’s another game as of right now. Put the emotions away and realize that I’m no longer going to be on the sidelines where the Eagles are.”
Akers didn’t choose to leave Philadelphia. The Eagles decided to go in another direction, even though Akers had perhaps his best season last year and made the Pro Bowl for the second straight year. After designating Akers as a transition player — a move that was voided by the new CBA — the Eagles drafted kicker Alex Henery in the fourth round.
That signaled the end of Akers’ career in Philly. He finished up his 12 seasons here as the best kicker in team history and one of the NFL’s all-time greatest.
Akers holds the franchise record for points, field goals, extra points, games played in the regular season and in the playoffs. He was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 2000s, and Morten Andersen (seven) and Jan Stenerud (six) are the only kickers who’ve made more Pro Bowls.
“Unfortunately, it’s part of this game,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said. “I have the highest regards for David Akers. You’re talking about the greatest kicker in Eagles history; really, I mean I think that’s probably a slam dunk. And the guy, he’s a great person and he did a tremendous amount in the community and I’m sure he’ll be welcomed back with open arms. When you’re together for 12 years like he and I were, then you develop a relationship there and I hold he and his wife and his family in the highest regards.”
The 49ers are thrilled to have him. The 36-year-old Akers has made all seven of his extra points and all seven field goals, including long ones from 55 and 53 yards. He also has been a positive influence on his teammates.
“I’ve seen a lot of leadership from David in the locker room,” said 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh. “I knew he was a great guy and a high-character guy, but I didn’t anticipate what kind of a leader he was and what kind of impact he’d have on our team. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a kicker be as much of a leader as David has been. He’s just an interesting guy. He works, he loves his family, he trains dogs. There’s a lot to him. He takes the time and works to get to know the other players on the team. I can’t say enough about him. A class act all the way.”
Like McNabb and Dawkins, Akers is expected to get a warm ovation when he takes the field for the first time in opposing colors. If he gets the chance to make a deciding kick, fans won’t be so welcoming.
The Eagles desperately need a victory after consecutive losses in which they blew fourth-quarter leads and Michael Vick was injured.
Vick’s badly bruised non-throwing hand — initially diagnosed as a broken right hand — won’t prevent him from starting. The star quarterback hasn’t been spectacular this season, and is hoping to play a full game.
“I’m telling you, I’m not coming out of the game this week regardless of what happens,” he said. “They’ll have to cart me out for the next 13 weeks. That’s the only way I’m coming out of the game. They’ll have to cart me off the field. Not going to let my guys down again.”
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)