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    Javon Hargrave back in Super Bowl with 49ers, hungry to avenge Eagles' loss and avoid slipping against Chiefs

    Zach Berman Avatar
    February 7, 2024

    LAS VEGAS — Javon Hargrave is preparing an extra pair of cleats this week. Last year was his first time playing in the Super Bowl. Everything was new for him — from the hoopla to the turf. So when he discussed how he’s shaped by Philadelphia’s nightmare last February, he mentioned the cleats. 

    But the field won’t be as slick as last year, right? 

    “You never know!” he said. “I’m breaking them in, just in case.”

     Hargrave spent three years with the Eagles, developing into a Pro Bowler and a key player in the middle of the Eagles’ defensive line. He left in March for a four-year, $84-million contract with the San Francisco 49ers — joining the Eagles’ biggest NFC rivals who lost to the Eagles in the NFC Championship Game. He’s still scarred by chasing Patrick Mahomes on a critical scramble for a first down, with the image seared in his mind while the Lombardi Trophy slipped away. He’s chasing Mahomes again, but he’s no longer in green.

    “That was one of the hardest feelings, hardest memories for me,” Hargrave said. 

    Feb 12, 2023; Glendale, Arizona, US; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) runs the ball against Philadelphia Eagles defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (97) and linebacker Haason Reddick (7) and defensive tackle Jordan Davis (90) during the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

    The move to an NFC rival created awkward feelings this week for Hargrave’s former teammates (and former fans) who dislike his new team yet hold appreciation for Hargrave. The defection was expected; the Eagles prioritized cap dollars elsewhere, letting the then 30-year-old (he turns 31 on Wednesday) command a lucrative deal with a rival while they turned to younger options at defensive tackle. 

    He played against his former team in December, watching Philadelphia’s misery in a 42-19 blowout that let Hargrave experience what it’s like to be on the other side of Philadelphia fans’ hospitality. The Eagles went into a tailspin after that game, and Hargrave later compared the practice approaches of the Eagles and 49ers on the “Third and Long” podcast. He called San Francisco’s practice sessions “more demanding” and compared the Eagles’ approach to the Golden State Warriors and the 49ers’ ethos to the Miami Heat. As is wont to happen, the quote went viral even if the sentiment carried merit — and was not meant in a derogatory fashion. It’s no secret that the Eagles’ training camp and practice weeks are walk-through heavy in the name of player health.

    “It worked for us last year (with the Eagles) and I loved it. It kept guys fresh and kept everybody healthy,” Hargrave said. “I really wasn’t trying to say it like everybody thought I was trying to say it. …They just took the headline and went with it. I did it with the Warriors and the Heat. The Warriors are more chill and the Heat are more demanding, but at the same time, it’s two winning cultures.”

    Hargrave is decidedly a 49er now, and his move was supposed to help push San Francisco past the Eagles to the top of the NFC and NFL. It’s worked so far with one game to go. Darryl Tapp, the 49ers’ assistant defensive line coach and former Eagles pass rusher, noted that Hargrave’s veteran presence has been critical to San Francisco’s defensive line and his strength and leverage has been an asset on the interior. 

    Hargrave finished the season with seven sacks — four fewer than last year, one more than any interior rusher on the Eagles. When he signed with the Eagles in 2020, Hargrave felt pressure to live up to a three-year, $39-million deal that proved to be a relative bargain. It’s rare that a player’s third contract is even higher, and his 49ers contract has raised expectations.

     “Got to deliver more,” Hargrave said. “That’s still to be seen. This is the first year of it. In the Super Bowl.”

    His big adjustment this year has been transitioning to an even front in the 49ers’ system, where he’s used differently than he was in Jonathan Gannon’s defense in Philadelphia. The techniques have changed, and Hargrave has adjusted better in Year 1 in San Francisco than in Year 1 in Philadelphia when he made the switch in Jim Schwartz’s scheme.

    “His football IQ is high in the room — he can flat-out get to the quarterback,” Tapp said. “‘Grave has been doing a great job like getting back adjusted to this scheme where we’re constantly attacking, playing with your hands, running out of your stance.”

    Those around Hargrave have pointed out that he’s bloomed late throughout his career. He once went 0-11 in high school and was lightly recruited out of Salisbury, N.C. He didn’t qualify for college as a freshman and missed a semester before he enrolled at South Carolina State. He lasted until the third round in the draft despite prolific college production. It took him six years in the NFL to reach the Pro Bowl and seven years to reach double-digit sacks. He often thinks about this reality, which has made the reward that much sweeter. 

    “I’ve done a lot in this league, from getting paid, Pro Bowl, to even making it to the game,” Hargrave said. “I think (winning the Super Bowl) is the ultimate.”

    Hargrave is buoyed by last year’s experience, no longer in awe of the event. He’s smiling his way through the attention and remaining in his room when in the team hotel. He didn’t know what to expect in Arizona last year. This time, he’s the one guiding teammates. Back home in Salisbury, there isn’t as much excitement about simply reaching the Super Bowl. He needs to beat Mahomes to push the meter.

    “They ain’t making any more articles about me going anymore,” Hargrave said.

    He considers that feeling in the hours and days and weeks after the loss to the Chiefs. Reaching the Super Bowl delivers so much joy, but losing can cause so much pain.

    “I don’t want that feeling again, getting to the top and losing like that,” Hargrave said.

    Feb 6, 2024; Las Vegas, NV, USA; San Francisco 49ers defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (98) during a press conference before Super Bowl LVIII at the Hilton Lake Las Vegas Resort. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

    During that 0-11 season in high school, Hargrave drove past Bojangles on the route home from the game with his father. He would decline an offer for a post-game meal. The chicken was the reward for winning. It doesn’t ease the pain of losing. So he smiled at the thought of what awaits after this game if the turf isn’t slick this year and the cleats are broken in, if he can chase down Mahomes and those chains don’t move, and if the hunger created from losing is at least satisfied.

    “I’m going to get my fried chicken, cornbread, and macaroni,” Hargrave said. “As soon as I get home!” 

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