Carol Cullen thought she received the message in error.
The email from the Philadelphia Eagles came through about a month and a half ago while she was at work, notifying her that she would be receiving a Super Bowl LII championship ring. Thing is, Cullen had been fired by the Eagles -- or, more specifically, by former coach Chip Kelly -- a couple of years back, so she responded by saying there must be some mistake.
"No, it's not an error," a team employee replied. "Call me. We need to get you fitted."
Cullen served as an executive assistant for the coaching staff beginning in 1985 under Marion Campbell and worked with seven head coaches over three decades, including Andy Reid during his 14-year run in Philadelphia. Kelly unexpectedly relieved her of her duties following his second year with the team.
"Chip just said my job was no longer needed," Cullen said.
"It was very difficult. I had no idea it was coming, so it was very emotional for me. And it took me a while to get over it and get used to another life, really, because when you work in football like that, it's not 9 to 5 -- it's seven days a week, and I loved every minute of it."
Her connection to the Eagles organization remained strong. And, as it turns out, she even helped influence one of the most memorable plays of the team's Super Bowl run.
Coach Doug Pederson explained to SI back in January that when he was an assistant under Reid from 2009 to 2012, Cullen was the one who would type the game plan into the computer. She is a huge fan of the flea-flicker play and would ask every week if it was installed. Sometimes it was, but they never called it.
Her championing of the play continued right up to the NFC title game against the Minnesota Vikings.
"I texted [Pederson] prior to the [Vikings game] just to say good luck," she said. "And I said to him in the text, 'And I only have one thing to say, and that's 'flea-flicker.' And he texted me back, 'Actually it's in the game plan this week. All I have to do is call it.' And during the game he called it."
"Right after the play, [executive vice president of football operations] Howie Roseman texted me and said, 'That one was for you.' So it made me feel like I was really still a part of them," she said.
Asked if the flea-flicker had anything to do with Cullen getting a ring, Pederson responded, "Ha, no, she is a longtime Eagle." And she was not the only former employee who got a ring. Longtime video director Mike Dougherty and ticket sales lifer Leo Carlin also were honored, according to Cullen. She did not receive an explanation as to who pushed for her inclusion, but her suspicion is that it was owner Jeffrey Lurie.
So my aunt works for the eagles for three decades as the head coach's secretary.— Brianna (@briannawrist) June 15, 2018
Chip Kelly fires her.
The Eagles win the super bowl.
I get the below text messages last night.
I've never loved and organization more. pic.twitter.com/YaeMrl6TI1
"Great lady. Very deserving. It's so classy that they included her. Not a lot of organizations would have," said former head coach Dick Vermeil, who preceded Campbell in Philadelphia and got to know Cullen over the years. "To me it just shows the class from the ownership, right on down through the organization, and how much they respect loyalty."
It was an Eagles connection that helped Cullen land on her feet after Kelly let her go. Former tight end John Spagnola heard that she was looking for work, and he helped her land a gig at Public Financial Management as an associate. She has been there for about two years now, and is still getting used to that 9-to-5 life.
The honorees gathered for a private ceremony at 2300 Arena in South Philadelphia on Thursday night. The rings, which are made of pure 10-karat white gold and contain a total of 219 diamonds and 17 green sapphires each, were handed out one by one, by Lurie. The celebration was capped by a live performance from Meek Mill, whose "Dreams and Nightmares" track was adopted as the team's theme song during their title run.
Cullen dipped out before Meek Mill hit the stage, seeing as she needed to be at work the next day. But she wasn't able to sleep. She spent the night hours admiring her ring instead.
"It was really a special night," she said. "And I just feel honored and humbled that I was a part of it."