Don’t tell our boss, but the Philadelphia Eagles aren’t too far away from becoming the modern NFL’s model franchise. From the unbelievable rise of Doug Pederson to the incredible comeback of Nick Foles, we’re spending today celebrating the defending Super Bowl champs.
It initially seemed like a fool’s errand—an exercise I knew all too well. I grew up watching and rooting for sports teams in Philly and later spent a good portion of my career covering them for various media outlets. As a byproduct of that conditioning, my first instinct when the Eagles reached the Super Bowl last season was skepticism; it’s as hardwired into many of us as our lovely local accent or our deep and uncrackable commitment to Wawa. It’s something in the wudder, I guess.
While I was as excited for the game as the rest of my friends and family, that didn’t mean I necessarily was eager to attend. My wife got us tickets through her job, and the idea of flying to Minnesota—in February—to watch a backup quarterback face off with the humorless Patriots machine seemed a bit much. There’s a much-deserved, romantic narrative attached to Nick Foles these days, but let’s not forget that this is the same guy who was once unceremoniously cut by Jeff Fisher and who nearly retired from the sport before giving it another go with his old team. Not to mention that before the playoffs started, head coach Doug Pederson wouldn’t rule out the possibility of benching Foles for Nate Sudfeld if the Eagles were to find themselves “in desperation mode.” Do you know who Nate Sudfeld is? Of course you don’t. Even his teammates aren’t entirely sure.
Point is, the Eagles have never been known for storybook endings. But this time was different. I went to Minneapolis among hordes of other Philly fans. There were so many, in fact, that Mall of America security wanted to kick a bunch out one day when they wouldn’t stop chanting “E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!” This was like asking them to stop breathing air because they were sucking up too much of it. And that’s pretty much how it went. The Eagles inhaled the whole weekend and nobody, not even the Patriots—especially not the Patriots—was able to stop them. That Sunday turned out to be one of the great games in Super Bowl history and unquestionably the greatest sports event of my personal or professional life.
Our staff went on an emotional roller coaster during last night’s Super Bowl. We assembled the best reactions for 'Ringer 360: Super Bowl 52': pic.twitter.com/joBkHct5ou— The Ringer (@ringer) February 6, 2018
Foles not only outplayed Tom Brady as a quarterback, he was a better receiver, too. The Philly Special has since become the stuff of legend, while that Brady drop has lent itself to dumb jokes and easy memes. The Eagles didn’t just beat the Patriots; they turned the guys who love to gloat into a running punch line. You’re welcome for that, America. (This may be my last piece for The Ringer once Bossman Bill reads it; it was worth it.)
The 41-33 final didn’t just mark the first Super Bowl win in franchise history; it marked the first time Philadelphians looked around after the postseason and realized they still had something for which to cheer. No wonder Eagles fans rejoiced by commandeering trash trucks and causing the canopy atop the Ritz-Carlton to collapse. No wonder they skipped the proverbial victory lap and instead sprinted headfirst into a much more Philly-appropriate form of celebration.
After all those decades of waiting for a Super Bowl title that never materialized, Philly had some serious steam to blow off. That included Eagles center Jason Kelce, who delivered one of the truly great parade speeches in recent memory.
This was a big moment, and a long time coming. That one win changed everything for the franchise and its fans—especially the expectations.
You have to understand the history here. Before February 4, 2018, the last title the Eagles won came way back in 1960, prior to the AFL-NFL merger and the advent of the Super Bowl. For a while, both when I was a kid and for years thereafter, former head coach Buddy Ryan was one of the biggest figures in town because he used to put bounties on the Cowboys and laugh when Jimmy Johnson got mad about it. Ryan never won a playoff game with the Eagles and nearly choked to death on a pork chop before playing Dallas one year. Philadelphians loved him.
The city was less bullish on Andy Reid, despite the fact that he was infinitely more successful than Ryan and won more games during his tenure than any coach in Eagles history. He also lost more big games than anyone. Reid’s teams fell in three straight NFC championship games in the 2000s. They weren’t supposed to beat the Rams in the first one, in January 2002; almost everyone gave them a pass for getting that far. The next year was tougher. It was the final home game at Veterans Stadium, which you might recall as the place that had its own jail. It was a real dump, but it was our dump, and we were all convinced the Eagles would send that dump off in style with one final win. The matchup was played on a cold day against Tampa Bay, and the Buccaneers never won on the road when it was cold. So, naturally, the Bucs won on the road when it was cold. A year later was worse: The Eagles lost to something called the Carolina Panthers.
Philly emerged from its fourth consecutive NFC title game appearance after the 2004 season, advancing to play New England in Super Bowl XXXIX. Reid promptly mismanaged the clock at the worst possible time, Donovan McNabb may or may not have thrown up in the huddle, and the Patriots walked away with another ring at Philly’s expense. Reid’s Eagles somehow ended up as a less successful version of Marv Levy’s Bills.
It was a maddening, frustrating stretch to watch a team that good fail that often. A few years later, fans were so desperate to believe the Eagles would win a long-elusive championship that one drunk local famously convinced himself that 2006 was finally “our year” and that the quarterback was “our baby.” “Our baby” was Jeff Garcia. It’s hilarious now, but it was sad then.
Those were dark days. And now, suddenly, mercifully, gloriously, there is light. After all those years of hoping for the best but bracing for the worst, the Eagles are the defending Super Bowl champions. It still feels weird to type that out—Super Bowl champions—but it’s definitely fun. Months later, this whole thing remains a blast. Rooting for the champs means you get to roll your eyes at delusional coworkers, troll opposing fan bases with tweets and bingo cards, enjoy special commemorative beer cans, and smirk with glee when Saints running back Alvin Kamara peddles what amounts to silly fanfic. (His recent declaration basically boiled down to “We totally would have won … if only we hadn’t lost first.” It was perfect.) This offseason has been a constant state of the kind of superior, go-brush-your-shoulders-off pose Eagles fans have been dying to strike all their lives. And you thought Sixers fans were insufferable.
All the attendant anxiety that used to be wrapped up in Eagles fandom has been stripped away. Everyone is so happy now; it’s wild and wonderful. All that’s left is to enjoy the ride and figure out how to process questions that never presented themselves in the past: How do you act like you’ve been there before when you haven’t? And what more can you ask of a team that just gave you everything you ever wanted?
A season ago, the Eagles ranked seventh in the league in total offense, fourth in total defense and takeaway differential, and third in points per game. They return a big chunk of that roster, which is why so many analysts are high on them again. NFL.com put the Eagles atop its preseason power rankings, while Sports Illustrated said that they’re the favorites to repeat as champs. That’s a tough thing to do, but the oddsmakers suggest there’s a real chance it could happen.
Even considering the idea of winning one title was recently harder to wrap my mind around than a Christopher Nolan Easter egg; now, I’m sitting here and thinking that two in a row doesn’t sound so quantum-realm crazy. The Eagles have a terrific quarterback situation with Carson Wentz and Super Bowl MVP (!) Nick Foles, a dominant defense led by a relentless pass rush, and a solidified command structure. Things are going so smoothly in Philly that the Eagles just signed Pederson and executive vice president of football operations Howie Roseman to contract extensions through 2022. This is the same Howie Roseman, you might recall, who once lost a power struggle with Chip Kelly, was temporarily banished to the other side of the Eagles practice facility so that Kelly wouldn’t have see his face, and then somehow resurrected himself and the entire organization. After being one of the most dysfunctional teams in the league, the Eagles are suddenly among the most stable. The whole thing is a midnight-green fever dream.
Not only have the Eagles joined an exclusive group of well-run franchises and title contenders, they’ve become a major part of a greater and more important conversation happening across sports. When Malcolm Jenkins, Chris Long, and a host of other Eagles refused to visit the White House in June to commemorate winning the Super Bowl, thereby sending the president into a predictable sulk, they became the topic of conversation during that day’s media session at the NBA Finals. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and Steve Kerr, among others, commended the Eagles for their stance. A few days later, Jenkins used his media availability to call more attention to important issues—something he continued to do before the team’s first preseason game last week.
These guys are easy to root for in just about every way. Perhaps that carries its own kind of weight. It’s natural for fans to want them to keep winning games on the field and standing up for what matters off it. To borrow from P-Funk, give the people what they want, and they want it all the time. If that’s unfair, so be it. So many Eagles seasons ended in tears. Maybe it’s a lot to ask, but one more that ends with tears of joy would be pretty great.