MINNEAPOLIS — More than 24 hours before the final whistle blew, signaling the end of a wild, unpredictable finish to Super Bowl LII, the Philadelphia Eagles spoke their future into existence.
Together, joined by Coach Doug Pederson, team executives and staffers, they walked onto the field at U.S. Bank Stadium and formed a circle near midfield to conclude Saturday's walk-through practice. Punter Donnie Jones stepped forward, taking center stage in the sea of bodies and the rest of them closed ranks around him.
"Are you with me?!" he screamed.
"Hell yeah!" his teammates screamed back at him.
Then, the countdown began.
One. Two. Three.
Then, on cue, they collectively cried out into the still air of an empty stadium.
"World champs!" they bellowed in unison, capping their final dress rehearsal of the week.
All along, against seemingly insurmountable odds, these Eagles did what no one else thought they could. The loss of their franchise quarterback Carson Wentz to a knee injury was supposed to cripple them, especially in this Super Bowl matchup against the great Tom Brady. Pederson, their second-year head coach, was supposed to falter against the indomitable force known as Bill Belichick.
But instead, the Eagles never believed they never had a chance. Someone forgot to tell them that they were underdogs and that their quarterback, Nick Foles, was nothing more than a backup.
All Foles wanted to do was to make his young daughter, Lily James, and his family proud, and to be a good teammate and brother to the men who surrounded him each day in the locker room. But with another masterful postseason performance, Foles did so much more.
The 29-year-old signal-caller who gave an entire city hope after Wentz's season came to a seemingly cruel, premature end, wound up delivering more than anyone could have imagined: the Eagles' first NFL championship since 1960.
Foles — the Super Bowl MVP — threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns while catching another to help set the stage for a 41-33 upset of the defending champion New England Patriots.
"She has no idea," a smiling Foles said as he looked down at Lily, donning pink noise-canceling headphones, while on the stage during the on-field presentation of awards. "To be here with my daughter, my wife, my family, my teammates, the city, we're very blessed."
No one expected Foles to be here, not even him. But here he was, years removed from those thoughts of retirement that once gnawed at him late at night. Here he was, the veteran quarterback who thought his starting days might be behind him, wound up saving his best performance for the last, most crucial game of the season.
It was the Eagles' defensive line — the unit that had brought the pressure and the sacks totals all season — that was expected to be the key to a Philly victory, required to keep Brady off his game and out of the pocket. And in the final two minutes of a seesaw battle of wills, the unit did just that, with Brandon Graham's strip-sack of Brady and Derek Barnett's recovery of the fumble playing a key role in the outcome.
But for much of the game, it was Foles who set the tone.
"We have been wanting this for a long time," Foles said, "And I am just blessed to be a part of it. We have such a great group of guys, such a great city to play for and I am proud to be a Philadelphia Eagle."
While a wide-open Brady botched a Patriots' trick play in the first half, dropping a perfectly thrown pass by wide receiver Danny Amendola, Foles had no problems pulling off the "Philly Special."
Pederson was as aggressive as always on Sunday, dialing up a trick play the team had been practicing for weeks. On fourth and goal at the Patriots 1 with 38 seconds left in the first half, running back Corey Clement took a direct snap and tossed it to tight end Trey Burton, who threw it back to Foles, who easily scampered into the end zone to give Philly a 10-point lead.
"That play we were working on for the past couple of weeks. Just needed the right time," Pederson said of the trick play with the fitting name.
"It was an amazing throw, right on the money," added Foles.
It was the highlight of an impressive night for the veteran, who signed a two-year deal with the Eagles and will return in 2018 as Wentz's backup.
But on this night, the stage and the city belonged to Foles and the Eagles, who pulled off what many deemed impossible.
Brady's final stat line was better: 28-for-48 passing for 505 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 115.4 rating. But in the end, it was the league MVP who sat with a towel over his head in the waning seconds of the game after the Eagles' defensive line had their way with him.
Meanwhile, Foles didn't fold. Instead, he was the composed, precise and fleet-footed leader these underdog Eagles — intent on upstaging the defending champions — needed.
Said Foles: "I didn't have to be Superman."
No, he wasn't a superhero. But he was the better quarterback in the biggest game of the season.
"Nick Foles is a great player and a great person," wide receiver Nelson Agholor said of his quarterback, who completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards, one interception and a 106.1 rating.
It might take days before the magnitude of this moment sinks in and all that comes with it — the falling confetti at their feet, the fireworks going off above their heads and the members of the front office hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in the air. But for Foles, the backup who had prepared alongside Wentz all season long, providing tutelage to the young star and face of the franchise, this night was, and ultimately will be, about so much more.
"We're Super Bowl champs," he said, "but time just stops when you look into your daughter's eyes."
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