Move over Vince Papale and Rocky Balboa; Nick Foles and the 2018 Eagles are the new kings of Philadelphia

It has now been over a week since the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII, but many Eagles fans are still on Cloud Nine.

One of the greatest inspirations in the city of Philadelphia is the story of the underdog. From the inspirational true story of former Eagles player Vince Papale, to the inspirational movie character of Rocky Balboa and now to the heroics of backup Eagles quarterback Nick Foles – all have become heroes in the city of Brotherly Love.

I would argue however, that out of these three stories, Foles and the 2018 Eagles Super Bowl team is the greatest Philadelphia sports story of all-time.

Here’s why: Papale’s story proved that with enough heart and passion, any “average Joe” could make an NFL team roster, yet his NFL career only lasted three years. The story of “Rocky” is legendary, but it is fictional. Yet the story of Foles and the Eagles – not only is it real, not only does it have a similar underdog story like Papale and Rocky, but their story, their season, ends with the highest accomplishment in the NFL – a Super Bowl victory.

This was new territory for the Eagles, a team who had never won a Super Bowl in franchise history and a rowdy fan base that has waited their entire lives for this very moment.

The Eagles did what was considered to be an impossible task – beat the NFL’s greatest dynasty, the evil empire of the professional football world known as the New England Patriots – a team led by head coach Bill Belichick and QB Tom Brady, who are both arguably considered to be the greatest of all-time at their respective positions. Within the past 17 years, Brady and Belichick have led the Patriots to eight Super Bowl appearances and five Super Bowl victories – a dominant force that has been unmatched in the NFL by any other coach and quarterback duo.

For the majority of the season, the Eagles were strong candidates to make a Super Bowl run, led by a stout defense and second-year QB Carson Wentz, who was the favorite to win NFL MVP (Most Valuable Player) this season. These expectations however, came crashing down in week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams, where Wentz had torn his ACL while diving for a touchdown, immediately ending his season. At that point, even after Wentz led the team to an impressive 11-2 record, winning a playoff game seemed like it would be an impossible task for Philadelphia.

Foles would have to finish the season at QB for the Eagles and there was not a lot of confidence in his abilities from NFL experts. Nick Wright, host of FOX Sports’ “First Things First” sports talk show, was one of many who did not see the Eagles going far after Wentz’s injury.

“When [Wentz] left the field after that play, in that moment, he was the NFL’s MVP,” Wright said back in December. “He was the league MVP at that moment. You cannot lose the league MVP and then go win a Super Bowl. You just can’t.”

In place of Wentz, Tom Brady would eventually end up winning the league MVP award.

Before this season, Foles had contemplated retirement after spending the last few seasons as a backup QB for multiple teams. In 2012, Foles was drafted by the Eagles; in 2013, he had an extraordinary year, filling in for an injured Michael Vick, taking the Eagles to the playoffs and earning a visit to the Pro Bowl.

In 2015, Foles went to the St. Louis Rams and in 2016 he went to the Kansas City Chiefs, where he was the backup QB for both teams who did not perform well when given the opportunity to play. Nonetheless, the Eagles would sign him prior to the 2017 season to backup Wentz.

After Wentz’s injury, Foles finished the regular season going 2-1 and the team entered the postseason with a 13-3 overall record and the number one-seed in the NFC. Foles played well in that three-game span, but was not impressive against mediocre teams, which led to more criticism. As the playoff picture continued to unfold, Wright went on to call the Eagles a playoff “pretender.”

“Every team that makes the playoffs in the NFC has a better shot of making the Super Bowl than the number one-seed Philadelphia Eagles. I do not trust Nick Foles. The Eagles are the one NFC playoff team that is a pretender [and not a contender],” Wright stated.

Pro Football Talk show host Mike Florio of NBC Sports was another expert who echoed doubt about the Eagles success without their star QB.

“One of the weakest number one-seeds in NFL history,” Florio said. “Whichever two teams they have to play out of that cluster of six or seven [NFC playoff contenders], I don’t think it’s going to end well for the Eagles. I think they are going to be ‘one and done.’”

By the start of the playoffs, the Patriots, Pittsburgh Steelers, Minnesota Vikings, New Orleans Saints, Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons were all given better chances to win the Super Bowl compared to Philadelphia.

The Eagles would play the Falcons in the divisional playoff round, and although Atlanta was the sixth-seed in the NFC, they were favored to win. But the Eagles would take down the defending NFC champions, pulling out a 15-10 upset win over the Falcons. After the game, Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson pulled out a dog mask from the sideline and wore it while walking around the field. The act became a trend within the Eagles locker room and among the Philadelphia fan base, with many sporting dog masks after that game. The Eagles players, coaches and fans were aware of their predicament – they knew that even though they were one of the best teams this season, they would be the underdog. With that knowledge, the team used this “underdog mentality” as one of their biggest motivations and to prove their doubters wrong.

An Eagles fan wearing the “underdog” mask at Super Bowl LII. Photo Courtesy of Lorie Shaull via flickr

“Since that point [of Wentz’s injury], no one has given us a chance,” Eagles head coach Doug Pederson said following the playoff win against Atlanta. “Nobody has given us a chance. I understand, Carson’s a great player. But every week, our guys are hearing the same thing: that now we are all of the sudden not good enough.”

The following week, the Eagles would take on the second-seeded Vikings who had came off a miracle win against the Saints in the week prior. Super Bowl LII was going to be held in Minnesota, and many believed that the Vikings were destined to become the first team in NFL history to play a Super Bowl in their home stadium. That would not be the case, as Foles played phenomenally and the Eagles derailed the Vikings 38-7, stunning the nation in the process.

Even after those two playoffs wins, Philadelphia remained the underdog entering Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots. What Foles and Philadelphia had done in the playoffs was impressive, but America had witnessed what Brady and the Patriots have been able to do, not only this season, but for almost the past two decades. Brady and Belichick were five-time Super Bowl champions, this past season’s defending Super Bowl champions, while Foles was just a backup QB, and the Eagles were a franchise that owned a 0-4 record in Super Bowl’s. The last time the Eagles went to the Super Bowl, was in 2004 where they lost to a much younger Tom Brady and the Patriots (coincidentally, Justin Timberlake headlined the halftime performance at that Super Bowl as well). Many NFL fans simply expected this to be a case of déjà vu.

What many thought was going to be a defensive battle became an offensive shootout with both QB’s slinging the ball all over the field for their teams. After many exciting and big plays from both teams, the Patriots would take their first lead of the game late in the fourth quarter. Foles would put together a touchdown drive to give Philadelphia the lead back, and in the final minutes the Eagles defense was able to strip the football away from Tom Brady, recovering the fumble and sealing their fate. Foles was named Super Bowl LII MVP after going 28-43 in passing for 373 yards, three touchdowns, a 106.1 passer rating and a receiving touchdown (becoming the first QB in NFL history to both throw and catch at TD in a Super Bowl).

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The game was a representation of the biblical story of David versus Goliath, and the Eagles had no problem being “David” if that meant being victorious. After the game, Foles, Wentz, Coach Pederson, starting tight end Zach Ertz and other Eagles players gave glory to God in their postgame interviews. Many players on this year’s Eagles team have strong Christian values, and their faith and unity were additional factors that led into their overall success. There is no doubt in my mind that the Eagles outsmarted, outplayed and ‘out-prayed’ the Patriots, defeating their Goliath, creating their own story and making history in the process.

No one could have imagined nor predicted this. No one expected a backup QB who was on the verge of retirement last year, lead his team to a Super Bowl victory over Tom Brady. No one could have expected Foles to be a Super Bowl MVP. No one imagined that there could be a more inspirational and incredible hero to the city of Philadelphia other than Vince Papale or Rocky Balboa.

Yet that is exactly what happened.

No one knows exactly what the Eagles will do this offseason as they will most likely have to make a decision between Wentz and Foles, who to keep and who to trade. There is no doubt that whatever they decide to do, both QB’s will be starters for an NFL team by the start of next season. As for the moment, the city of Philadelphia is still flying high and will continue to enjoy their Cinderella story for a little while longer.