MINNEAPOLIS – The Eagles and their fans became accustomed to the improbable this season as the team kept advancing despite injury and adversity, but nothing could have prepared the players or their followers for what took place in U.S. Bank Field on Sunday night in the 52nd and greatest Super Bowl ever held by the National Football League.
Nick Foles and legendary New England quarterback Tom Brady engaged in a shootout of wondrous proportions, with the entire nation waiting for the substitute to finally misfire and the future Hall of Famer to do what he always does. Somehow, the script got flipped in the end, however, just as Brady was revving up the Patriots for one final touchdown drive and one more comeback victory.
In the end, the Eagles won their first Super Bowl by the score of 41-33, Foles was named the Most Valuable Player of the game, and the team had transformed what could only be a fictional outcome into a confetti-strewn fact.
"To be in this moment is unbelievable," Foles said. "I've never been here before, but I felt good, I felt calm. I wasn't worried about the scoreboard. I wasn't worried about time. I was just playing ball. I'd get the play and then I'd run it."
For this season to finish, and for the team's 57-year championship drought to end, with Foles, the backup who replaced Carson Wentz in December, outdueling Brady is mind-boggling. The Eagles had to win on a night in which their defense faltered against Brady…until the very end.
"It felt like it was just going back and forth, but it was fitting that our defense closed it out at the end, because that's the heart and soul of our team," receiver Torrey Smith said. "Both defenses were up and down for a while, but we knew ours was going to deliver and there was no doubt we were going to win this game."
Well, easy to say now, but when Brady took the ball back, trailing by five points with just over two minutes to play, in a situation where he has won very big games before, there was still a reason to worry. That stayed true until Brandon Graham pressured Brady, forced a fumble in the backfield and the Eagles recovered.
"This team fights all year to the end. No matter what, we stick together," Foles said. "We deal with struggles."
In fighting their fight and labeling themselves underdogs, the Eagles adopted the civic persona of Philadelphia as the gutty fighters that few respect or fear. Center Jason Kelce said he read a quote from Rocky before every game to motivate him.
"This is just more of the normal for us," Kelce said. "This is what we've been doing all season long. The guys who never stop are the guys I respect most. Nobody counted us in from the beginning. Everybody laughed at Doug [Pederson] when he said our roster was more talented than when he won the Super Bowl in Green Bay. But everybody gave of themselves to the next man … and this sums up Philadelphia. It's not about one man, one superstar. It's about giving everything every single play."
There will be good analyses done of what made the difference in the Super Bowl. Pederson's decision to call a gadget play with Foles as the receiver on a fourth-and-1 at the goal line in perhaps the biggest moment of the game will be talked about for a long time. The barely legal catches of Corey Clement and Zach Ertz for touchdowns – at least in the modern world of the NFL, where all catches are barely legal – disproved the assumption the league would finagle things in favor of the Patriots. The big play by Graham, the running game that made the play-actions work, the sensational receiving of Alshon Jeffery. All of those are part of the puzzle.
The real difference, however, might have been made by some of those intangibles that the players and coaches kept referencing but are hard to see on the game film. Some things went right for them this season – a lot, in fact – but plenty went wrong. When they kept winning, the journey took on a life of its own.
"I think the underdog thing kind of drew us closer together as a team," Ertz said. "This is the most fun I've ever had playing football."
To finish it off, they had to rally around a quarterback who doesn't have much of a past, and realistically might not have much of a future. The career of Nick Foles was pointed to this one moment in which he would either lead them or fail to lead them. What he did was remarkable, throwing for 373 yards and three touchdowns, and not taking a single sack.
"I'm so happy for Nick. People didn't think he could get it done, but we believed in him," Pederson said. "Hopefully, we can win a couple more of these."
Almost no one believes that as the future arrives, those would happen with Foles at quarterback. This season's script has been so preposterously fictional that making it fact once again would be very difficult.
The good news is that it doesn't have to happen again. It happened once and, as you study exactly what took place, that means anything is possible.