Nick Foles is tough.
Those who witnessed his performance in the face of adversity and countless hits in last Sunday's squeaker over the Redskins will testify to this declaration of what is typically a subjective claim. But the Eagles quarterback had proved his mettle during his senior season at Arizona when he played behind an inexperienced offensive line.
And for two of his former linemen, who battled to protect him but couldn't always, there were two games that defined not only Foles' toughness, but his humility.
When Kyle Quinn watched Foles endure a blindside hit by Chris Baker and not even miss a play against Washington, the former Arizona center recalled a game at Arizona State in 2011 when his former quarterback took a shot to the midsection in the fourth quarter as the Wildcats trailed, 27-24.
"The kid could barely walk. I had to pick him up off the ground, and you could see tears in his eyes," Quinn said by telephone. "But he said, 'No, I'm not going out. We're going to finish this.' "
Foles didn't finish, although he tried. Seeing that he was in obvious pain, Arizona coaches called for rushes the next few plays. But on the third handoff, Foles aggravated the injury.
"I remember the play, it was a basic zone play," Quinn said. "He just spun around to hand the ball off, and he kind of stumbled. He stood there and tried to catch his breath and felt something was wrong."
Unable to move, Foles went to the ground. Arizona was at the Arizona State 28-yard line with 6 minutes, 10 seconds remaining. But that was as far as Foles would take the Wildcats.
"I strained my whole abdomen," Foles said. "I continued to play through the hit, and then a couple of plays down there once we got close, everything gave out."
But what happened soon after, Foles said, was his favorite play of his collegiate career. Fifth-year senior Bryson Beirne had replaced Foles under center. After a run play, the Wildcats faced third and 4. The season had been a disappointment for 3-8 Arizona, but a Territorial Cup victory over its interstate rival would soften some of the sting.
Beirne dropped back for his only pass of the game, flicked a screen to Juron Criner, and the wide receiver raced 23 yards for a touchdown and the eventual game-winning score.
"It was my favorite play in all of college. . . . I didn't even throw it," Foles said. "He waited his entire career for that moment. It was cool to see someone who had worked so hard get in that moment and achieve it."
Coming from almost anyone else, Foles' sentiment might sound phony. On Thursday, he was asked about the beating he took during his senior season, and Foles still defended Quinn and his linemates. He even made the claim that every lineman who has ever protected him "has blocked his butt off for me."
"He would never lash out at us," said Trace Biskin, Arizona's right guard in 2011. "Sometimes you see quarterbacks give it to their offensive linemen. He was very supportive and would remind us we win together and lose together.
"But there were a few times when I thought he was a goner. I knew how tough he was. I know how difficult it was to take him out of the game."
As a rookie in a forgettable season for the Eagles, Foles played the second half of a game against the Redskins with a fractured bone in his throwing hand.
He took too many hits last season and missed a game with a concussion. He has taken more shots (14) than any other quarterback through three games this season. It may not get any easier with three-fifths of the Eagles' starting line out for Sunday's game against the 49ers and two-fifths out until at least November.
Some of the hits can be pinned on Foles for holding the ball too long, but there's something about a quarterback who can rebound from blow after blow that can galvanize a team.
"I think players, no matter what position, admire toughness," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "You look at just what this building is like when Brian Dawkins shows back up. There is an admiration for someone that's just a tough, hard-nosed football player. I listen to guys that were here in the past and just talk about Jon Runyan in terms of what he brought to the offensive line with his toughness.
"I think you've got to respect Nick. I've said it all along. I saw him do it in college. We hit the heck out of him when we were at Oregon and he played at Arizona, and he just kept getting up and throwing and standing in there."
Kelly likes to bring up the game in which Foles switched hands and threw lefthanded as two Oregon Ducks dragged him down as an example of his dexterity and toughness.
But it wasn't the only time Foles pulled off that trick in 2011. A series before he left the Arizona State game, Foles carried a defensive lineman a step before he shoveled a completion with his left hand for no gain.
Foles completed his next five passes for 79 yards, including a 33-yard touchdown, and Arizona trimmed the deficit to three.
The circumstances surrounding his ambidextrous throw against Oregon were much different.
"It was our first Pac-12 game of the season, and we had six combined starts on the offensive line going into that game," Quinn said. "We had two 19-year-old redshirt tackles, and Chip's guys started teeing off on us a little bit."
Foles was sacked four times in the first half and hit on a number of other occasions as the Ducks opened up a 35-9 halftime lead.
"Every time we hit him, he kept getting up and getting up," said Eagles defensive end Taylor Hart, then a sophomore at Oregon. "I remember me and Kiko [Alonso] hit him once, and we're like: 'There's no way this guy is going to stand back up.' And he did."
Foles and Arizona trimmed the lead to 11 points in the third quarter. After Oregon scored again, he tossed an 11-yarder with his left hand for a first down. Foles completed 34 of 54 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns and no interceptions, but the Ducks prevailed, 56-31.
Arizona never beat Oregon during Foles' four seasons. The former Ducks who are now Eagles like to remind him of this fact. Defensive end Brandon Bair and linebacker Casey Matthews were gone before the 2011 season, but they got their licks on Foles in the previous two seasons.
Asked about his hit, Bair grabbed his iPhone and said to Siri: "Image: Nick Foles and Brandon Bair." Siri responded: "Check out these pictures."
"Here I crushed him. And here I'm helping him up," Bair said as he flipped through the photos. "We knew each other because we met the summer before. And so, after I hit him I remember him laying on the ground, rolling and in pain, [saying]: 'Good hit, Bair.' "
Matthews' sack came on a blitz up the middle.
"He was hard to get down," Matthews said. "I came free. I put my helmet right into his lower back, and I felt my neck crunch. But he went down. I felt the air go out of him."
'You're going to get hit'
Former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who played a large role in the Eagles' drafting of Foles in the third round in 2012, said Foles' toughness was all there on film. But he also got confirmation from former Arizona coach Mike Stoops.
"It's a quality in this league that you have to have," Kelly said. "Because no matter who you are playing, in that position in this league, you're going to get hit."
Foles said he could hardly speak after the Arizona State game. He didn't practice the following week before his final game at Arizona. But he was going to play. He and the coaches, though, decided that he wouldn't start for senior day against Louisiana-Lafayette. Beirne would take the first series and then hand off to Foles.
Beirne completed his first four passes but tossed an interception to end the drive. Louisiana-Lafayette led early, but Arizona pulled away behind Foles' 352 passing yards and three touchdown throws.
"Nick wanted Bryson to have his moment," Quinn said. "Bryson was a program guy, a fifth-year senior, who never really got a chance because we had really good quarterbacks like Nick [from Michigan State] who came in after him.
"But I can remember Nick running up the steps and giving his dad a hug on senior day. I think he did everything he could to win that game and go out a winner at Arizona."
Foles earned more than just a victory.