To say this 2017 Philadelphia Eagles team is a team of destiny is an understatement. A thrilling 41-33 win over the New England Patriots not only gave the city of Philadelphia its first Super Bowl championship in its history, it ended 57 years of suffering and misery for its football fanbase.
This city embraced its underdog label and used it to beat a reigning MVP in Matt Ryan in the Divisional Round, Minnesota’s No. 1 ranked scoring and total defense in the NFC Championship Game, and of course, the best dynasty of all-time in the Super Bowl. They’re the first team since the 2007 New York Giants to win all three playoff games as an underdog. They joined the 1990 Giants in winning the Super Bowl with their backup quarterback. And they did this just two years after Chip Kelly essentially gutted the roster of any talent, leaving the organization in disarray and general manager Howie Roseman to pick up the pieces.
These Eagles rolled through the regular season, survived a season-ending injury to MVP quarterback Carson Wentz, and then saw Nick Foles and Doug Pederson go toe-to-toe with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick for 60 minutes – and come away with a win.
This is the same Foles that was cast aside by the (then) St. Louis Rams two years ago and contemplated retirement. This is the same Pederson that no one wanted as a head coach, a man who was called by NFL.com’s Michael Lombardi as the most underqualified head coach hire in the sport’s history, a man who was still coaching high school football when Belichick already had three rings. All that happened from those two in the Super Bowl was Foles throwing for 373 yards and three touchdowns including a game-winning strike to Zach Ertz with 2:21 to play.
And Pederson outcoached the greatest coach of all-time, including a Philly Special trick play that may be the gutsiest call in Super Bowl history. What kind of a coach calls for a halfback pitch to a tight end who throws to a backup quarterback on fourth and goal from the one right before halftime? This, in the Super Bowl, no less, and after not even having practiced the play until the week of the NFC Championship Game. And not only did the play work, it had to be sweet for Pederson to see his (backup) quarterback catch a pass after seeing Brady drop a wide open pass earlier in the game. It was a play call that epitomized the guts and bravado of second-year head coach Pederson, a man who has managed to push all the right buttons in uniting this team to a Super Bowl championship.
The Eagles won this game despite allowing over 500 passing yards to Brady. They won this game despite early season-ending injuries to their franchise left tackle (Jason Peters) and star middle linebacker (Jordan Hicks). They won this game despite blowing a 10-point lead and at one point trailing with just over two minutes to play. They beat Brady and Belichick at their own game. They forced Brady into a game-winning drive situation, a scenario in which he’s excelled over and over again (see all five Super Bowl titles), and the defense – which hadn’t made a play all game – came through with a huge play.
Former first-round bust-turned-superstar Brandon Graham hit Brady, popping the ball loose, and rookie defensive end Derek Barnett, a player drafted with the first-rounder Roseman got for Sam Bradford, fell on the ball. Credit the defense for coming through when it mattered the most, something the 2001 St. Louis Rams couldn’t do, the 2003 Carolina Panthers couldn’t do, the 2004 Eagles couldn’t do, the 2014 Seattle Seahawks couldn’t do, and the 2016 Atlanta Falcons definitely couldn’t do.
It’s fitting that the first four players to score touchdowns in this game weren’t on the roster before the season and were added only because of the sheer brilliance of their general manager, who put on virtually every move he’s made in the last two seasons. Alshon Jeffery proved his worth down the stretch as a big-play receiver capable of making contested catches, and he’s now inked to a four-year contract extension. LeGarrette Blount was unceremoniously dumped by the Patriots after leading them to two Super Bowl titles in three years and leading the league in rushing touchdowns last year, and revenge had to be gratifying for him. The third score was undrafted rookie running back steal Corey Clement, a player who fights for extra yards like no one on the team and actually caught 100 yards out of the backfield in this win. And the fourth score was the pass to Foles, showing exactly why a team will pay handsome money for a backup quarterback even when the starter is firmly entrenched as the franchise.
Twenty of the 22 starters are signed for next year. They have a franchise quarterback in Wentz and they’ll either have the best backup quarterback in the NFL in Foles or a high draft pick when Roseman ships him to a quarterback-needy team. They have a strong offensive line, terrific depth at the running back position, an insane rotation of talented defensive linemen, and an up-and-coming group of young cornerbacks. What they did this year was out of this world, and they’re poised to be good for years to come.
You can’t find a better group of 53 players on one roster; they may not be the best 53 players in the league, but they’re the right 53 players. They’re deeply committed to their faith, they’re a team-oriented group of unselfish hard-working individuals who truly believed in themselves and their head coach and never lost faith even after the entire world left them for dead when Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14.
They truly believed they were going to win it all, and they captured a Super Bowl championship the same weekend that Philly legend Brian Dawkins earned a much-deserved call to the Pro Football of Fame.
This victory over the Patriots doesn’t just pay back the loss to Brady/Belichick in 2004 Super Bowl. It washes away close to six decades of zeroes by this franchise, a team that has had its share of star players but never had a championship to show for it.
This is for Dawkins. This is for Reggie White and Jerome Brown. This is for Randall Cunningham and Vince Papale and Brian Westbrook and Trent Cole and Wilbert Montgomery and Ron Jaworski. It’s for every Philadelphia fan who had to watch the team lose not one, not two, but three consecutive NFC Championship Games.
It’s to avenge the Fog Bowl, the shutout playoff loss to Dallas in 2009, the years of poor clock management, not having good enough receivers, clipboards getting wet, offensive linemen that stood there and killed grass, and coaches too obsessed with smoothies.
We’ll always remember the gutsy performance by Super Bowl MVP Foles, the game-winning touchdown by Ertz, the near-perfect game plan by Pederson, the moves Roseman made that put the right players on this team, and the fact that this Eagles team beat Brady and Belichick at their own game. It’s the greatest night in the history of Philadelphia sports, and it’s a moment that none of us who saw it will ever forget.