The Agony and the Ecstasy: My Emotional Journey Watching the Philadelphia Eagles Win the Super Bowl
Sunday, February 4th, was a day I will never forget. That’s the day the Philadelphia Eagles won their first Super Bowl in franchise history.
I am a lifelong Eagles fan. I was born at Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia and grew up outside of Philly, or as some people call it, Southern New Jersey (Exit 4 on the Turnpike in case you were wondering). If you’re not familiar with how it works, let me explain. Southern New Jersey roots for the Eagles and Northern New Jersey roots for the Giants. The only exception is the former Governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, who inexplicably roots for the Dallas Cowboys, probably a big reason for his very low approval ratings in the Garden State.
I started following the Eagles when they were known as “Gang Green” with Buddy Ryan’s unstoppable defense featuring Reggie White and Jerome Brown. On the offensive side they had Randall Cunningham scrambling all over the field making big plays. The team was fun to watch and they would get into the playoffs but never made it to a conference championship.
Then there was the Andy Ried and Donovan McNabb era when the team made several good runs in the playoffs including a trip to the Super Bowl in 2005 against the Patriots. But, they could never win the big game. I actually was at the 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville. It was a relatively close game but it never really seemed like the Eagles were going to win. It was a completely deflating experience walking out of that stadium.
It’s hard to be a sports fan. You attach your hopes and dreams to a specific team, and the overwhelming odds are that your team will not win a championship. You’ll likely be left sad, angry or frustrated. All you can think is “maybe next season.” I have one friend from the Cincinnati area who has basically given up and stopped watching the Bengals. I can’t say that I blame him, but I’m sure that if the Bengals are good next season, he’ll be back.
The 2017-2018 Season
That brings me to the 2017-2018 NFL season. The Philadelphia Eagles seemed to have some decent prospects. Their 2nd year QB Carson Wentz proved to be an excellent draft pick from the previous season and seemed to have superstar potential. Doug Pederson turned out to be a very good head coach, despite the fact that almost everyone in Philly questioned the initial hire. And the Eagles had some good weapons on offense and defense. I’d say that most Philly fans had modest expectations going into the season, hoping for the team’s first playoff appearance since 2013 when Nick Foles was the starting Quarterback.
That being said, I don’t think anyone expected how good this team was going to be. They beat the Redskins in the season opener and then lost a close game to the Chiefs. Then they won 9 games in a row, and it looked like Carson Wentz was on track to be the MVP of the league. Fans were optimistic that maybe this could be the year, but Eagles fans are always waiting for the other shoe to drop. And then in week 14, it did.
Wentz Out for the Season
Playing the Los Angeles Rams, Wentz took a hard hit trying to score a touchdown that got called back on a penalty. He played the next four downs and eventually threw a touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery. Then he limped back to the locker room to get his knee examined. It was a torn ACL. He was out for the rest of the season.
Eagles fans everywhere were absolutely devastated. Another year down the drain. Sure, we had a good record and were guaranteed a playoff spot, but, it didn’t seem to matter. We would surely lose in the playoffs. There seemed to be no remote possibility that we could make it to the Super Bowl with backup quarterback Nick Foles.
I remember back in 2013 when Foles took over for Michael Vick and led the team on a miraculous run that resulted in an unexpected playoffs birth. They would go on to lose to the New Orleans Saints in the Wild Card game but it was a good showing at a time when expectations for the team were generally low. After Wentz went down, I tweeted out a Sports Illustrated cover from that 2013 run with Foles. The message of my tweet was this: Believe! #FlyEaglesFly. But in all honesty, I didn’t believe. Like many Eagles fans I talked to after the Wentz injury, I had given up hope on this season.
Eagles vs. Falcons
A lot of people agreed with me. In their first playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons, the Eagles, the team that had finished first in the NFC and had home field advantage throughout the playoffs, were the underdog.
But then the Eagles won their first playoff game against the Atlanta Falcons, the team that had made it to the Super Bowl the previous year and blew a 28-3 lead against the Patriots. It was a tight game and the Eagles barely squeaked out a win at the end, thanks to a defensive stand. They were on to the next round of the playoffs to face the Minnesota Vikings.
NFC Championship: Eagles vs. Vikings
Honestly, I did not think they were going to beat the Vikings, a team that seemed to be unstoppable. And I was OK with that. They had a good season and at least won a playoff game. The idea of this Eagles team with a backup QB going to the Super Bowl seemed crazy at the time. I went into that game expecting the Eagles to lose.
When the Vikings game started, it seemed like I would be proven right. In the first series of the game, the Vikings went right down the field and scored a touchdown. The Eagles then got the ball back and were forced to punt. Not a good start.
The Vikings had all the momentum. Then suddenly, everything changed. The Vikings had the ball on a 3rd & 8. Case Keenum stepped back and threw an interception to Patrick Robinson who returned it for a touchdown. The game was tied 7-7 and the home crowd at Lincoln Financial Field was going crazy.
After that, it seemed like the Eagles were a different team. They were easily driving downfield and putting the ball in the endzone. After giving up the first touchdown of the game, the defense didn’t give up another score. The final: Eagles 38 – Vikings 7. The Philadelphia Eagles were going to the Super Bowl!
Super Bowl Bound
From that point on, my mindset totally changed. We could actually do this. We only had to win one more game. And who would we play? None other than the New England Patriots, the team that I saw beat the Eagles at the 2005 Super Bowl in Jacksonville. Amazingly, the Eagles had gone through five starting Quarterbacks since 2005 – Kevin Kolb, Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Sam Bradford and Carson Wentz. The Patriots only had one – Tom Brady – who also happens to have FIVE Super Bowl rings. It would be no small feat to beat the two-time reigning champs. But, it seemed like an Rocky-esque underdog story in the making.
The two weeks leading up to the big game flew by and before I knew it, Super Bowl Sunday was here. As a marketing guy, I usually spend the Super Bowl analyzing and tweeting about the ads. But this time, I had absolutely no interest anything but the game (for the record, the Amazon Alexa ad was the best this year).
Will You Go to the Super Bowl?
A lot of people asked me if I would try to go to Minneapolis for the game. After seeing the Eagles lose in 2005, I thought it would be better to stay away. I’ve actually been to several Philadelphia championship games in the past. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen a Philly team win in a championship series. In addition to the 2005 Super Bowl loss, I saw the Blue Jays beat the Phillies in 1993 and saw the Yankees beat the Phillies in 2009. I’m not really a superstitious person, but I thought it would be better to stay home for this one. You’re welcome Philadelphia.
So for the Super Bowl, I happened to be in Breckenridge, Colorado on a family ski trip. I actually wore my Wentz jersey on the slopes for good luck. After a day of skiing, I got a table at a local restaurant and settled in for the game.
Super Bowl LII: Eagles vs. Patroits
The Eagles got the ball to start off the game. They put together a pretty nice drive and got a field goal. Foles looked good completing several passes. Pretty nice start to the Super Bowl. Eagles 3 – Patriots 0.
From there the game really picked up the pace. It was a shootout. Each team was driving down the field and scoring. There really didn’t seem to be much defense. But that was ok. It was fun to watch.
The Eagles were standing toe-to-toe with the champ and they were holding their own. Towards the end of the first half, the Patriots scored a touchdown to cut the lead to three points. Eagles 15 – Patriots 12.
The Philly Special
The Eagles got the ball back with only 1:30 left. I was content to see them go into halftime with a lead. Then Corey Clement received a pass from Nick Foles and broke a 55 yard run into red zone. They had a chance to score a touchdown to end the half. But after three plays, they couldn’t find the endzone. So it was 4th & 1 at the goal line. Nine out of 10 coaches would have kicked the field goal and taken thee points. But Doug Pederson knew he wasn’t going to beat the champs by being cautious. He went for it.
What happened next was probably one of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history. They call it the “Philly Special”. Foles lined up in the shotgun. He then stepped up behind the right tackle. As I watched it, it looked like they were going to run a wildcat play, hiking it directly to Corey Clement and letting him run it in. Clement got the ball and ran left. He the then flipped the ball to Tre Burton, the Tight End. Oh no, I thought. Burton doesn’t have the speed to turn the corner and get into the endzone. What were they thinking???
Then suddenly Burton slowed up and cocked the ball back like he was going to throw it. What is he doing? He can’t be throwing a pass. Burton let the ball fly. Here’s how Eagles legendary announcer Merrill Reese made the call: “Foles, in the gun. Clement to his right. Now lines up behind Foles. Foles moves to the right. It goes directly to Clement. Clement reverses it. And the pass goes into the endzone. And it’s a touchdown by Nick Foles!”
The play was an instant Super Bowl classic. Fourth and one on the one at the end of the half and the Eagles get a touchdown. Eagles went into halftime up 10. If you want to see more of the Philly Special, I highly recommend watching the NFL Films highlight that captures the conversation between Foles and Pederson as they discuss the play call.
As an Eagles fan, I felt great. But, I knew the game was far from over. The Patriots had come back from a 28-3 deficit last year. Ten points was no big deal.
When the second half started it was clear that the Patriots were focused. Rob Gronkowski had been relatively silent for the first half. But, in the second half, you could tell he and Brady were ready to play. Brady kept throwing to Gronk and he kept making big catches. They drove right down the field and scored a touchdown. Eagles 22 – Patriots 19.
From there, the shootout continued. The Eagles went right back down the field and scored on a pass to Corey Clement. There was some controversy with the catch because it looked like the the ball was moving as Clement was getting his feet down. After an official review, the call on the field was upheld. Touchdown Eagles! Eagles 29 – Patriots 19.
The Patriots went right back down and scored a touchdown. Then the Eagles drove down and got a field goal. Eagles 32 – Patriots 26.
The Fourth Quarter
The game was tight. As a fan, I was absolutely freaking out. There was about 11 minutes left in the 4th quarter and the Patriots could take the lead for the first time in the game if they scored a touchdown on the next possession. That’s exactly what happened. Brady once again found Gronk in the endzone. Eagles 32 – Patriots 33.
I flashed back to 2005. I remember sitting in that stadium as the Eagles were trailing by three in the 4th with :46 left. They had the ball but couldn’t put together a drive to tie or win the game. Donovan McNabb threw a pass to Tight End L.J. Smith, it deflected off his fingers and was intercepted by Rodney Harrison. Game over. It was so deflating to be at a Super Bowl and see your team lose.
I had a similar feeling as I watched this game in 2018. I’ve seen this story before. The Philly team comes close only to see it slip away at the end. Part of being a Philly fan is dealing with disappointment. I braced myself for the worst.
So You’re Telling Me There’s a Chance
On the positive side, The Eagles were only down 1 and got the ball with plenty of time. And the Patriots really hadn’t been able to stop their offense the entire game. I thought of the Jim Carrey line in Dumb and Dumber – “so you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
The Eagles got the ball and started moving downfield. Early in the drive they faced a tough 4th & 1 and picked up the first down with a short pass to Zach Ertz. They kept moving the ball. Then with about 2:19 left, they scored a touchdown on another pass to Ertz. The touchdown was reviewed by the official because the ball came loose after Ertz crossed the goalline. But again, the score was upheld. Eagles 38-Patriots 33.
I’ve Seen This Story Before
I would have felt elated. But Tom Brady was going to get the ball back with over two minutes remaining. The Eagles defense hadn’t been able to stop the Patriots at all in the 2nd half. This was not good. Again, I’ve seen this story before. Just last year Brady drove his team down the field at the end to send it into overtime where they would eventually beat the Falcons.
The Patriots got the ball to begin the drive. I could hardly watch. The Eagles defense needed to finally make a play. And that’s exactly what happened. Brandon Graham managed to get through his blocker and got his hand on Brady’s arm as he was about to throw. The ball was knocked to the ground and recovered by the Eagles!
The defense did it! They got the stop they needed. I was freaking out. Could this really happen? Could the Eagles really win the Super Bowl? For the first time in the game, I thought we had it.
One Last Shot for the Patriots
The Eagles ended up kicking a field goal to add to their lead. Eagles 41 – Patriots 33. There was still about one minute to go. The Patriots were out of timeouts. They needed a touchdown and a two point conversion to send the game to overtime. For most teams, that would seem impossible. But, this was Tom Brady and the Patriots. Anything could happen here.
The Patriots tried a trick play on the kickoff return that didn’t work and put them back on the 7 yard line. So they had a long way to go. Brady ended up driving them to the 50 yard line with 12 seconds to go.
Then came the final play of the game. The Eagles got pressure on Brady and almost had a sack. But Brady slipped away and heaved the ball downfield. Gronkowski was there in the endzone with the entire Eagles secondary covering him. It was a jump ball. Everyone went up and the ball got batted around. Then it finally hit the ground. Incomplete pass. The clock was at :00. The game was over. The Philadelphia Eagles were Super Bowl Champions for the first time in franchise history.
You can see legendary Eagles announcer Merrill Reese make the call of the final play in the video below.
Super Bowl Champions
I was in a restaurant watching the game and it was hard to contain my excitement. I don’t remember my exact reaction. But, my wife caught this photo just as the game ended. I had such a big smile that it made my face hurt. As a long-suffering Philadelphia sports fan, this was a moment I would never forget. I yelled. I jumped up and down. I hugged my wife. I high-fived random people sitting around me.
My daughters (ages 7 and 9) who were also at the restaurant with me, were asleep at the table so they missed the end of the game. They could really care less. I woke them up to tell them the Eagles won the Super Bowl. They were annoyed that I interrupted their sleep. Oh well.
I walked out of the restaurant on cloud nine. It was such a great feeling. When I got home, I spent the next 4 hours watching highlights from the game and texting my Philly friends. We were all in disbelief. Check out the video below to see the emotional reactions of Philly fans during and after the game.
As I think back on the game and that team, I think there are a lot of great lessons you can take away related to football or just life in general. Here are a few that come to mind:
1) Embrace Your Underdog Status: Going into the playoffs, the Eagles were underdogs in every single game they played. They were never favored to win. This team embraced their underdog status, even wearing dog masks on the field. In the NFC Championship game, they actually gave out dog masks to the entire crowd at the stadium. For the Eagles, the underdog status became a chip on their shoulder. It seemed that this team was determined prove all the “experts” wrong. And that’s exactly what they did. Just like Rocky Balboa, they beat the Champ (Well, not in the original movie, but in Rocky II).
2) Never Quit: The Eagles defense has played great all season long. But, in the Super Bowl, they just couldn’t seem to make a stop. They didn’t force a single punt the entire game. However, they kept working. When Tom Brady got the ball back with two minutes remaining, it seemed like the Patriots would have no problem going downfield to score. But, Brandon Graham came up with a huge play. He got pressure on Brady and caused a fumble to give the ball back to the Eagles. The defense never quit and played all four quarters. When they needed a play most, they got one.
3) Stay Aggressive: The Eagles had gotten to the Super Bowl by being aggressive in their play calling all season and through the playoffs. They seemed to always go for it on 4th down. This did not stop in the Super Bowl. At the end of the first half, they could have played it safe and kicked a field goal. But, instead they went for it with a trick play (The Philly Special) and scored one of the most memorable touchdowns in Super Bowl history. It was that kind of aggressive play calling that kept the Patriots guessing and won the Eagles a Super Bowl.
4) Next Man Up: The Eagles had some big injuries over the course of the season – Jason Peter, Darren Sproles, Jordan Hicks, Chris Maragos, Caleb Sturgis and of course the biggest being Carson Wentz. But, the backups came in, performed at a high level and helped the team keep on winning. Most teams who lose their MVP-caliber Quarterback would be immediately written off. It’s a really testament to the coaching staff and the organization that they were able overcome adversity and become Super Bowl Champions.
5) Have Fun: Despite the intense pressure of a Super Bowl, this Eagles team always seemed very loose. They played with passion and seemed to be having a lot of fun along the way. Whether it was wearing dog masks or blasting Meek Mill in the locker room, this team clearly enjoyed the ride. Even the victory parade turned into a comedic spectacle with Jason Kelce dressing as a Mummer and delivering an amazing tribute to Philadelphia. If you haven’t seen his speech, check it out the below.
In the end, it was a memorable football season for me and Eagles fans everywhere. Who knows what the future will hold for this team. Will Carson Wentz come back at 100%? WIll Nick Foles get traded? What will happen to some of the free agents? Right now, none of it really matters.
What does matter is that the Eagles are finally Super Bowl Champions. The celebration was capped off by an epic parade with four million people that appropriately ended at the Philadelphia Art Museum. Just like Rocky, the Eagles walked up those steps and raised their fists in the air. But unlike the movie, this championship was very real. Fly Eagles Fly!