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MINNEAPOLIS — The quarterback nobody thought would ever be here sat in a staging area late Sunday night, his wife Tori next to him, his infant daughter Lily in his arms. Nick Foles held her so he could see her eyes, seemingly shutting out everything else in the chaos of a Philadelphia Eagles postgame celebration bellowing through the halls of U.S. Bank Stadium after a 41-33 victory over the New England Patriots.
It’s fair to say Foles himself could barely have imagined what it would be like, not just to be a Super Bowl champion but also the game’s most valuable player at age 29, a couple years removed from nearly giving up pro football and only six contests into his stint as a starter.
But the path of greatness doesn’t always follow a straight or predictable line. And on a night that demanded he match Tom Brady throw for throw, Foles undoubtedly played the game of his life.
“You never really know what it’s going to be like when you go into a Super Bowl,” Foles said. “I’ve never been here before. So there are normal nerves — you’ve got butterflies. It’s a big game. It doesn’t get any bigger than this. But I felt good, felt calm. I think the big thing that helped me was knowing I didn’t have to be Superman.”
Under these circumstances, though, Foles was close enough.
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Every time the Eagles needed him to make a big throw or lead a drive, he delivered. He fit balls into impossibly tight windows. He avoided mistakes and sacks. He converted 10 of 16 third downs and a huge fourth down with 5:39 to go, eventually leading to his 11-yard touchdown throw to Zach Ertz that put the Eagles ahead 38-33 after they’d fallen behind for the first time all game. He even caught a touchdown on a trick play at the end of the first half.
For one night, anyway, Foles was more like a superstar than a journeyman backup, finishing with 373 passing yards and three touchdowns on 28-of-43 passing, becoming the first quarterback in franchise history to call himself a Super Bowl champion.
“I’m so happy for Nick,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “A lot of people counted him out, didn’t think he’d get it done. I believed in him, the staff believed in him, the players believed in him. We needed time. We needed time together to work out some things, and this postseason Nick has shown exactly who he is and what he can do and what he’s capable of doing.”
Foles, to be fair, has not exactly been some scrub in the NFL. He made a Pro Bowl in 2013 during his first stint with the Eagles, tying the single-game record for touchdown passes with seven, and was considered good enough to earn a two-year, $24.5 million contract from the Rams in 2015.
But it would also be underselling the magnitude of what he accomplished for the Eagles to say this last month has been anything short of stunning. When starter Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL on Dec. 10 in the middle of what many considered an MVP-caliber season, the Eagles’ hopes of contending for a championship were supposed to be finished.
Foles had signed to be a backup and had only played a handful of snaps in Pederson’s system before suddenly having to start in Week 14 for a team that could have easily used Wentz’s injury as an excuse to move onto next year.
It says a lot about the Eagles’ locker room that the team didn’t give up on this season, even as they were underdogs in Las Vegas in both home playoff games against the Falcons and Vikings. But it says even more about Foles that he played so spectacularly across all three playoff games, completing 72.6% of his passes and throwing just one interception, which came on an unlucky carom off Alshon Jeffery early in the Super Bowl.
“The stage was never too big for him all year,” Ertz said. “To get in a shootout with that guy on the other team is probably not ideal for anyone ever.”
But Foles never even came close to crumbling, even as Brady and the force of Patriots history applied more pressure with every drive.
“I wasn’t worried about the scoreboard,” he said. “I was just playing ball, and sometimes you start worrying about that so much it starts creeping in your brain. I just kept playing, whatever play Doug called, I was going to go out there and rip it.”
He did a lot of ripping on Sunday, starting with a 34-yard heave to Jeffery on the Eagles’ second possession that showed how sharp he was, and ending when he ripped a sixth title away from Brady and Bill Belichick.
Remarkably, though, the cold reality of the NFL offers no guarantees about the future. This was a moment in time that belonged to Foles, and the city of Philadelphia will never forget it.
But this team belongs to Wentz. And as soon as the prized passer is healthy enough to play again, Foles will either be on the bench or on somebody else’s roster, as he enters the final year of his contract in 2018.
“You know who is throwing the ball (next season),” Jeffery said. “Carson, of course.”
But that’s a story for another day. Today should be all about Foles, who rescued his career from self-doubt, and about a team that didn’t let an injury to its most important player derail something special.
“The main thing is a lot of people doubted Nick when he had a couple bad games,” defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “We knew the the type of guy Nick was and we knew he was going to come out and be the best Nick he can be, and he showed the world that today.”
The “best Nick he can be” was good enough to beat Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, good enough to earn him a place among the all-time greats in this game and good enough to earn him a smile from his daughter he’ll never forget. No matter what happens from here, that can’t be taken away.