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thedrifter
01-19-04, 06:13 AM
Marine finds strength from following Eagles

By DOUG LESMERISES
01/16/2004

One of the better days of boot camp was Nov. 12. That was the day Justin Czerwinski saw the Eagles' score in a newspaper in a trash can.

Many of the other good days at Parris Island, S.C., during Czerwinski's 12-week introduction into the Marines were Thursdays. Those were the days the 5 p.m. mail call included a brown, 8-by-11 envelope his mother, Shirley, had sent out Monday, stuffed with Eagles stories.

There was that day Czerwinski was taking out the Wednesday trash and saw a Tuesday paper that included the Eagles' Monday night win over Green Bay. Another time on the range, he asked the Marine teaching him to shoot straight whether he knew the Eagles' score from Sunday. A third time, the receptionist at the Marine dental office clued him in. But most of the time, the fate of his favorite team arrived in those mail calls. His mom and girlfriend and friends and family made sure he got mail every day. But Thursdays were the best.

He'd rip open the envelope and check the score, then have to put off reading the stories until his four-hour block of "square away time" on Sunday, when he'd discover the details of last week's game while another game he knew nothing about was already under way.

Czerwinski, a 19-year-old from Hockessin who graduated from St. Mark's last year, watched his last Eagles game Oct. 12, when the Eagles lost to Dallas and fell to 2-3. Over the next 12 weeks, as the Eagles turned themselves into a Super Bowl contender, Czerwinski turned himself into a Marine, buoyed in the toughest times by his team that wouldn't stop winning. Shirley Czerwinski informed us of her son after we asked for stories about avid Eagles fans. He stood out as a fan who not only loved the Eagles, he needed them.

"It was definitely a boost," Czerwinski said of Thursday mail calls. "The first couple weeks I was there, I wasn't sure I'd be able to make it. But after I got through the first weeks, it was all downhill."

While Czerwinski's body acclimated to rising at 4 a.m., Brian Westbrook's punt return beat the Giants in the final minutes. Donovan McNabb hit Todd Pinkston with a touchdown pass to beat the Packers with 32 seconds left, while Czerwinski filled his days with three-mile runs and obstacle courses. Czerwinski learned Marine Corps history and values and gained strength and confidence - and the Eagles lost to San Francisco?

"When I found out they lost to San Francisco, I couldn't believe it," he said. "I thought they lost home field for sure."

The Eagles did get home-field advantage back, and then a few of them found out they helped a 19-year-old kid become a member of the Marine Forces Reserve.

"Boot camp can be tough," Eagles linebacker Carlos Emmons said. "I know we go through hard things sometimes and we need things to get us through. So anything we can do to help him is blessed."

Czerwinski graduated from Parris Island a week ago and was home in time to watch Sunday's win over Green Bay in his living room with family and friends. They'll gather again Sunday for the NFC Championship.

On Tuesday, Czerwinski will leave for another 22 days of training at Camp Lejeune, N.C. From there, he'll go to Missouri for six weeks to learn the specifics of his job in a vehicle transport unit. Then he could be called up for duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.

There's not a lot of time for football in there. The Super Bowl will be played on Feb. 1, Czerwinski's 12th day of training at Camp Lejeune. He doubts he'll be able to watch the game.

That Thursday's mail call could be the best one yet.

Reach Doug Lesmerises at dlesmerises@delawareonline.com.

http://www.delawareonline.com/newsjournal/sports/lesmerises/01162004.html

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