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Wednesday, February 7, 2018

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Retrospective: What Super Bowl 52 Meant To Me

By @Peagle05

I normally handle the video game load for the DAR site but as of Sunday, February 4th, 2018, I haven’t been able to focus on games. My mind has been on one thing and one thing only: The Philadelphia Eagles just won the damn Super Bowl. I mean this is all I’ve been thinking about, so I knew I need to write about it. I just didn’t know how at first.
I wasn’t born into this life, I didn’t share the fanhood with my Dad (Washington fan), I chose this life. Does that make me nuts? Probably, but maybe that’s why I’m so well suited to live this life. It’s been a life of supporting a franchise that’s “good but not quite good enough”, or maybe even “good, but not quite lucky enough” and even now I’m not sure which is worse. The fanbase has a pretty simple relationship with the team, bust your ass and we love you, don’t and you can see yourself out the door. It’s why despite so much heartbreak, the love for this team never waned. For the most part, Eagles teams were at the very least, tough. 

Which makes the McNabb years a very strange period. McNabb was one of my favorite players growing up, yeah it had a lot to do with a black guy playing QB but he was just good. Elusive as hell, strong arm, tough to take down. He was fun to watch and is without a doubt the best QB in the franchise’s history. BUT that’s also where things get murky. You ask any of the older Eagles fans, and they’ll tell you that Ron Jaworski is the greatest the franchise has ever seen. Now while there might be other things factoring into that, there is one thing between the QBs that EVERYONE in the fanbase can agree on, Jaws embraces Philly top to bottom and that’s a big reason he still gets the love he does. McNabb, never did. He always came off as distant and aloof. Now he doesn’t HAVE to embrace the city. Hell I’m not even from Philly. I just love the Eagles. But he doesn’t necessarily owe the fanbase that. It just helps with the connection to the team. But on top of all of that he was just so damn sensitive. EVERYTHING got under his skin and it just seemed like he was never really able to handle it. So for that reason, I understand the OG Eagles fans feeling how they feel about him. But from a football standpoint, the fact of the matter is McNabb IS the greatest in franchise history. No one did more with less than him...

But just like it’s been for so long...good but not good enough. 5 NFC Championships and 1 lost Super Bowl. And so we saw Jeff Garcia become somewhat of a local legend before losing to the Saints in the playoffs, we saw the Kevin Kolb era come and go, giving way to one year of a resurgent Michael Vick, eventually leading to the end of the mostly great Andy Reid era with a disastrous 4-12 season following his own personal tragedy. It seemed like the wheels were falling off QUICKLY. And so the move was made to fire Andy Reid and hire Chip Kelly out of Oregon. Now I’ve been on record prior to that hire saying I had ZERO desire to see that man coach the Eagles. And for a bit, I had to take my fair share of crap as the team went 10-6 in his first two seasons. But then the cracks in his style started to show and the questionable personnel decisions he made cutting away the most talented Eagles roster in years led to his downfall with a 6-9 season in his last year. The one positive of the Chip Kelly era? The Nick Foles explosion...but we’ll come back to that.

So after the disaster that was the Chip Kelly era, we find the Eagles in the middle of a coaching search. Rumors had placed Adam Gase and Ben McAdoo at the top of the Eagles list before the Dolphins and Giants, respectively, scooped them up (Thank You New York). So where did that leave us? Going after former Eagles backup QB Doug Pederson. Now I’ll be honest, I had NO interest in a potential rehash of the Andy Reid years when it comes to play calling. So while I was willing to give him a chance, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot. Then we get to the draft and throw the house at Cleveland to move up and select Carson Wentz out of North Dakota State. The team now had its franchise QB, at least through its actions. 

I’ll be the first to admit, I wasn’t sure about Wentz and it had more to do with not seeing much of him in college than anything else. But with Sam Bradford set to start, the idea was he learned behind him, and then took over....BOY WERE WE WRONG. The Eagles shipped Sam out to Minnesota and Carson became the week 1 starter as a rookie. His first game against the Browns, (you can’t get a better game 1 for a rookie QB) and he walks the team downfield for an EASY TD. And it was on that drive that I thought “this dude might have it” but still, I tempered my expectations. Week 2, against Chicago, he does the same exact thing and now I’m thinking “yeah he got something but let’s see how he handles Pittsburgh”. I made a promise to myself that if he showed out against the Steelers I was buying his jersey. And show out he did. The Eagles blew them out behind a great performance from Wentz that saw him evade pressure on more than one occasion including a great play where he floated a pass to Darren Sproles after escaping the pocket. That was honestly all I needed to see from him and I bought that jersey. 

To this day, I can’t explain why it took only 3 games for me to know he was the guy, but it did. But then, Lane Johnson gets popped for 10 games and the team circles the drain the rest of the season and Carson falls victim to more than a few rookie moments. But I knew we had the right guy and though the Eagles finished 7-9, we all felt confident that if they could just get him some weapons, this team could take off. So why did I just drag you through a fairly abbreviated history of the last 20 years of the Eagles? Because this year was the culmination of ALL of that. The joy, the pain, the disappointment of the last 20 years led to February 4th, 2018.

This year we saw what was by far the most complete and resilient Eagles team in forever. I remember texting True through multiple Eagles games this season with the same pessimism that years of being an Eagles fan as beaten into me “I know my team, these are the games we’ve been losing” and every time, they wouldn’t. Losing Jason Peters, Darren Sproles and Jordan Hicks were sure to be death blows right? NOPE. This team just kept right on moving, even riding a 9 game win streak. And it was here that not only was Carson Wentz making a strong case for MVP but I didn’t recognize my team. Doug Pederson was exceeding EVERY expectation I had of him. He was smart with his play calls, he ran the ball and he was aggressive as hell and I loved it. I no longer felt like heartbreak was around the corner every game.

Until L.A. happened. A great game played by two of the top teams in the conference, an entertaining shootout, a near class.."why is he limping?...what the hell just happened? YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME” Carson Wentz walks off the field with a knee injury. But not before delivering the touchdown that would seal the division for the Eagles. The kid is crazy tough man. But now panic sets in. Here comes Nick Foles and all we can think is, “man he hasn’t played well in FOREVER”. 

That “forever” being a 27-2 TD to INT ratio for the Eagles during the Chip Kelly era. A time in Foles career where I began calling him “The Hardcore Legend Nick Foley” after a performance against Washington in which he was beaten down consistently but got up and kept firing. I knew Foles had the talent but I said before the playoffs, “We need the Hardcore Legend, not Rams Foles”, and for 3 games I still wasn’t sure which one of them was showing up for the playoffs. And it was scary. I mean we had EVERYTHING going right and it was just snatched out from under us. Number 1 seed, home field advantage and the Russian Roulette of QBs starting. Now it’s worth noting that prior to the playoffs starting, True had asked me what I thought going in and I told him, “best path to a Super Bowl is Atlanta and Minnesota”. I truly believed that a game with LA or NO was resulting in a swift exit due to not being able to survive a shootout with Nick at QB (FORESHADOWING). 

We had to play ugly to get by and Atlanta and Minnesota would provide the best chance at that. So ATL advances and I’m confident. I know we can beat them. And it took some luck and a couple of gutsy calls but we squeak by. So now, my eyes are on Minnesota and NO and these two are slugging it out near the end. Until Brees takes them down for the lead. Now I’m feeling it, that dread that comes with what you KNOW is gonna be a tough game....

And then the Minnesota miracle happens. “HOLY SHIT MY CALL IS STILL ALIVE”. Now I’m confident again, after all Case Keenum has had a good year but we can get to him. NFC Championship rolls around and here go the damn Vikings WALKING down the field for an easy 7. I’m at work, pissed but still feeling like it can be turned around and what a turnaround it was. They never scored again and the Eagles slapped 38 on the board. On to the Super Bowl..and who else should we play but the team that took it away from us in Super Bowl 39? Now the New England Patriots are waiting for us. And I CAN’T. WAIT. I’m pretty confident that most Eagles fans like me wanted these dudes BAD. Revenge was on the table and Nick Foles was looking like the man who could deliver it. After all, he just carved up the league’s best defense, why couldn’t he do the same to NE? So Nick was no longer my worry, it was the defense. Tom’s no slouch at this QB thing that’s a fact, no matter how you may feel about him.

Sunday, February 4th, 2018. The game is on. The Eagles, standing in the tunnel and fire out with Meek Mill’s Dreams and Nightmares intro blaring through the stadium. I’ve never seen a team in the Super Bowl so loose, so hyped up. They KNEW they were winning. And based on that, I should have known too, but that’s not how fanhood works, I was a nervous wreck. So after trading field goals, both teams decided that was enough of a warm up and put up 28 more points before the half, including a RIDICULOUSLY ballsy call by Nick Foles and Doug Pederson on a goal line 4th and 1 that was without a doubt one of the biggest plays of the game. Halftime score: 22-12 Eagles.

Blah blah blah, Justin Timberlake, blah blah blah, Prince tribute/fake outrage, blah blah blah.

Ok. We’ve reached the point now where the game really begins. There’s nothing else at the end, there are no breaks, this IS the game. And the Patriots make their run right out the gate, hitting Gronk multiple times to easily get a TD to get back in it. “AWWW SHIT. HERE WE GO WITH THIS CRAP”

But NOOOOOO. The Hardcore Legend Nick Foley decided to keep showing up to the shootout. And now I’m looking at this game thinking, “this man is staring down Brady and Belichick in the Super Bowl, in a shootout and he is NOT blinking”. Nick was making every read, every throw and every play he needed to keep the Patriots back. But then the Patriots take the lead and now we have some conflict. The Eagles led the entire game and now with 9 minutes left, we’re down one. The drive starts off well enough until a bad swing pass on 3rd and 1 results in a 4th and 1 with just under 6 minutes left. Here’s where 30 coaches in this league are punting and hoping for the best. There are only two coaches in the NFL that Do. Not. Punt. Here...and they’re coaching in this game. Doug makes the call, Foles evades the rush, makes the throw and Ertz makes the catch. “I CAN'T BREATHE”. The drive continues until a 3rd down that sees Foles get the snap JUST in time to throw a perfect slant to Ertz...he catches, takes three steps, dives...TOUCHDOWN.

(Let me stop here and say that Cris Collinsworth needs to be suspended or investigated by either NBC or the NFL because his commentary throughout the game but in particular on this play was absolutely disgusting and horribly biased. Even after multiple replays that showed Ertz was a runner and therefore AT THE WORST, fumbles and recovered for a TD, he continued to express his dismay at the TD call. He genuinely sounded like he had money on the Patriots and it negatively impacted the broadcast as a whole and he shouldn’t be allowed to call a game until that’s handled.)

But yeah...TOUCHDOWN. Eagles up 5. But Tom has the ball with 2 and half minutes and a timeout. That’s equivalent to a month in Brady Standard Time. Now it’s worth noting that the blueprint over the years with Brady has been, hit him and you beat him. While the Eagles got some pressure throughout the game, they hadn’t registered a single sack throughout the game, in fact, the Patriots didn’t either..until Brandon Graham grown manned his way into Brady’s chest and not only sacked him but forced the fumble. Derek Barnett recovers and we’re in at least FG range. At this point, I just stood there in disbelief. “Are we REALLY about to do this?” To Doug’s credit, this was the one time you wanted to play it safe. Pats blew their TOs, and we took more time off the clock leading to another big FG from Jake Elliott.

Now the Patriots are getting the ball back and they tried a reverse on the return “WUT”. The consistently good Eagles special teams unit gets the stop and Tom has to start at his 9 yard line with less than a minute to go down 8. He drives them down a decent distance but even he can’t fight the clock too hard. One more play. One more play to finish. One more play to forever be called Super Bowl champions. Tom drops back, gets away from what could have been a sure sack and fires the ball towards the end zone. I swear I could have watched The Godfather in its entirety before that ball came down, it bounces off a few hands and hits the ground. I see :00 on the clock and in a fairly appropriate moment, it felt like time stopped. “Did this really just happen? Did we just win the Super Bowl? YOU’RE GOTDAMN RIGHT WE DID”.

Understand something about Eagles fans that differs from other long suffering fanbases, we don’t find joy in that shit. We don’t market, monetize or commercialize our suffering. We aren’t the “Lovable Losers”, we aren’t “Aints” fans, we don’t put paper bags on our heads, and we don’t speak ironically of curses or billy goats or Bambinos. We. Hate. This. Shit. We want to see our team win. So when I say, that I fell to my knees and cried when that game was over, understand that I say that with no shame. I say that with every bit of pride I can muster. This team means something to me. Sports has a weird way of connecting to us. Through family or individual ties, it grabs us and does not let go. And that’s what the Eagles did for me. When my grandmother, who didn’t really care much about football, would watch Eagles games for me and update me when I couldn’t watch, that meant the world to me. She was my best friend and when she died, at my absolute worst point in life, I leaned on my love of football and my love of the Eagles. I wear this shit on my sleeve, I eat, sleep and breathe and bleed Green. So when that confetti dropped, and I sat in the floor of my apartment crying, I thought of her. I thought of every game, every year that was supposed to be the one, I thought of what it meant to see this through as a fan, through the good and bad, how it felt to finally be “good enough” and how it felt to FINALLY call my team Super Bowl Champions.



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