In the two years Nick Foles spent away from Philadelphia, he was often asked his favorite place to play. Foles offered the same answer.
“I’d always say, ‘Running out of the tunnel in the Linc, there’s nothing like it,’” Foles said this past week. “But at that time, I wasn’t a part of the Eagles, and I really thought that was never a reality."
That was why there was so much emotion for Foles one week ago, when he ran into the tunnel after a record-breaking performance blowing kisses and waving to the crowd.
Foles knew at that moment it was likely the last time he’ll play a home game in Philadelphia in his second stint with the Eagles. He acknowledged that possibility minutes later when he nearly choked up while explaining how much his time in Philadelphia has meant to him.
It could come to an end on Sunday. The Eagles hope it doesn’t. If they beat Washington and Chicago beats Minnesota, the Eagles will make the playoffs.
Coach Doug Pederson doesn’t want his players to think about the chance that their season could be finished by the time they take the train ride home from New Carrollton, Md., on Sunday night. But there’s a human element, too, and it’s inescapable for players in the locker room realizing their final act approaches.
Foles, 29, emphasizes living in the moment, yet he cannot ignore all the moments that came before. He knows how he arrived in Philadelphia at age 23, won a backup quarterback job during his first summer, lost a quarterback competition during his second summer, became the starter (and threw seven touchdown passes in a game) in Year 2, suffered a season-ending injury in Year 3, when expectations mounted, and then was unceremoniously traded.
He flamed out in St. Louis, almost retired, reinvented himself as a backup quarterback in Kansas City and returned to the Eagles as an insurance policy for a Carson Wentz injury.
When the Wentz injury came while the Eagles were the best team in football, Foles improbably led them to a Super Bowl victory. He called the Philly Special. He was named the MVP of the game. There’s a statue of Foles outside Lincoln Financial Field. And now he’s back replacing an injured Wentz, reinvigorating a team on life support, and Philadelphia has fallen in love with him all over again.
The feeling is mutual and not just because of his career in an Eagles uniform. Foles married his wife, Tori, while with the Eagles. He had his daughter, Lily, while with the Eagles. He’s called this time “some of the most special moments of my life.”
“It’s just been a joy,” he said.
In 2012, the Eagles were in the market to draft a quarterback. Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were entrenched as the top two draft picks. Six quarterbacks were selected ahead of Foles. The Eagles were interested in Russell Wilson in the third round; Seattle took him 13 picks before the Eagles.
The Eagles selected Foles, who had been one of the 30 draft prospects to visit the NovaCare Complex that spring, as the highest-drafted quarterback during the Andy Reid era after Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb. The team even dispatched its quarterbacks coach to Foles’ native Austin, Texas, to evaluate him. That coach was Pederson, who jokingly patted himself on the back this week when reminded of the workout.
Foles showed promise as a rookie, even if the Eagles won only one of his six starts. Former wide receiver Jeremy Maclin said after Foles threw a game-winning touchdown on the final play of the Eagles’ lone win that Foles “can be special” because of “intangibles [that] are off the chart.”
In 2013, when Chip Kelly became the Eagles’ coach, Foles didn’t initially appear the ideal fit for Kelly’s offense. But Foles insisted that he could be, hoping to remain in Philadelphia because “I love this team, and I love this city.”
Even though he lost the starting competition to Michael Vick, Foles eventually took over after a seven-touchdown performance in Oakland in Week 9. The total could have been greater if Kelly did not pull Foles in the fourth quarter. The cleats from that game were sent to Canton, Ohio. (They’re not the last pieces of Foles memorabilia showcased in the Hall of Fame.)
He finished the 2013 season with 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions. He won a Week 17 win-and-in game over the Dallas Cowboys on the road. He left the field with the lead in an opening-round playoff loss the following week.
“He is the starting quarterback for the next thousand years,” Kelly famously said that winter.
Or the next 15 months. Although the Eagles won six of eight games Foles started in 2014, he had as many turnovers as touchdowns. There were questions about Foles’ injuries – he was injured all three years in Philadelphia – and whether he could become an elite quarterback. Kelly traded him to St. Louis for Sam Bradford.
When Foles lost his job with the Rams, he also lost his passion for football. Reid helped him find it again in Kansas City in 2016, and when Foles signed with the Eagles in 2017 after the Eagles made a significant investment for a No. 2 quarterback, it was a reunion he chose as much for personal reasons as professional ambition. His wife was pregnant at the time, and Foles wanted to begin raising his daughter in a place he knew over Tampa Bay.
“Ultimately, we decided that Philly was our home once before, and we loved it. We loved the people here. We loved the city," Foles said. “What better place to be when we bring our daughter into the world? That was the big decision.”
The love affair with Philadelphia continued last season. After an inconsistent end to the season – for all of Foles’ good performances, his poor performances cannot be forgotten, and he has seven starts for the Eagles with a passer rating below 70 – he went on a hot streak in the postseason.
The Super Bowl was his masterpiece. The Philly Special will forever live in lore. What better story for an underdog city and fan base than the backup quarterback’s slaying Goliath? And after the game, he offered an inspiring message about what could be learned from his journey: “Don’t be afraid to fail.”
When the Eagles needed him again this month, Foles took over a team that was 6-7 and gave them two consecutive wins against opponents bound for the playoffs to put the Eagles in contention in Week 17. It was the Eagles’ two best offensive performances of the season, adding to a legacy Foles already created and a love affair that won’t end.
“When you’re just down to earth, genuine, you’re open, you’re honest, you’re transparent, people can respect that,” Pederson said. “People, they sort of gravitate to that just a little bit. I think Nick has some of that honesty in him, and obviously he’s playing at a high level, so people are going to gravitate to that.”
Approaching the finish line
Foles’ time with the Eagles is going to end. Maybe the Eagles can get a few more weeks out of it, but barring something unforeseen, the credits will roll soon enough.
“I don’t think about the future, but I am aware of that because this city means a lot to me. This team means a lot to me. Wearing that jersey means a lot to me,” Foles said after last Sunday’s win. “I got emotional then because I knew that there’s a chance it’s coming to an end. But at the end of the day I’m very grateful for every opportunity to play here, to play in front of our fans, to wear that jersey no matter what. No one can ever take that away from me.”
Foles and the Eagles have a mutual option on his contract. The Eagles can pick up the option after the season for $20 million, and Foles could buy his free agency for $2 million. The Eagles could always use the franchise tag to try to trade him and negotiations can lead the Eagles in a number of directions. But it likely doesn’t make financial sense to keep him as the No. 2 quarterback, and they would incur a significant salary cap charge just carrying that number on their books.
Although a faction of fans want Foles as the long-term quarterback, it’s simply not the way the organization is thinking. It traded a bounty of draft picks to acquire Wentz in 2016, invested in his development, watched him become an MVP candidate in Year 2, and remains bullish about his future.
The Eagles have been careful not to pit the current run as Foles vs. Wentz, and they’re not straying from their commitment to Wentz. Both quarterbacks know this.
“I want [Wentz] to understand that, hey, he’s our guy,” Pederson said. “He’s the guy we drafted and, moving forward, he’s our quarterback. I don’t have to sit there and keep encouraging. He knows that.”
However, the Eagles could continue to ride with Foles if they make the playoffs. But when the season ends, so too will Foles’ stint with the Eagles.
The statue will remain. So will his memories of Philadelphia, both while wearing an Eagles jersey and while visiting restaurants around the city with his wife and the zoo with his daughter. That’s because few players in Eagles history are as meaningful to the franchise - and the city - as Foles.
“It’s just been a big story of enjoying this city, being a part of it, playing in the Linc, getting to experience all the craziness and fun that goes along with it,” Foles said. “It’s been really special for me, my family, my loved ones.”