BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Nick Foles wiped the side of his face with his finger, hoping to stave off the sudden rush of emotion. His eyes turned glassy and pink as he tried to speak, but the words, nestled deep in his throat, just wouldn't escape his lips.
In the midst of the pomp and circumstance of Super Bowl week, Foles had remained even-keeled, responding to questions under the bright lights with genuine yet understated interest and matter-of-fact detail. But now there was only silence. And while brief, the pause was telling.
Foles, a once-discarded quarterback, is just days away from making the most important start of his NFL career in Super Bowl LII against the New England Patriots. If the football gods deem him worthy, if the stars align just right to ensure David defeats Goliath on the gridiron, the Philadelphia Eagles passer will hoist the Lombardi Trophy high above his head and reflect on how his life, and this unforgettable season in Philly, took such a remarkable turn. But for Foles, satisfaction isn't found in disproving his doubters. It's rooted in his drive to make his daughter, Lily, proud.
"That's the most important thing. When I think about this journey and everything, I get home and I . . . " Foles said this week, before pausing to gather his thoughts and his composure. " . . . I know that every time I step on the field, every single thing I do, there's going to be some days she looks and wants to know who her daddy was and what he did. That gives you a little extra juice to go out here, whenever you're tired, whenever you're doing it, doing things the right way. I think about that. 'Cause she's going to grow up and I want her to be proud of her Daddy."
There's a peace within him now, a calmness he exudes while discussing his circuitous journey back to the Eagles, the team that drafted him in 2012, traded him to the Rams in exchange for Sam Bradford in 2015 and now is relying on him to bring home a championship in the absence of injured star quarterback Carson Wentz. Through the benefit of time, countless conversations with close friends and family, and his unwavering faith, Foles now sees the bigger picture. He is a backup-turned-starter who is under no illusion about his stature within the organization: Whether he defeats the Patriots, the 29-year-old understands the franchise belongs to Wentz, their young star who guided the Eagles to an 11-2 start before damaged knee ligaments prematurely ended his season. And Foles says that's okay.
"Absolutely," he said.
The future will take care of itself, he said, adding: "I'm excited to watch Carson get healthy and get back on his feet and hopefully being part of him getting back to where he was."
The future belongs to Wentz, but this Sunday is all his.
This is Foles's moment, his time, his chance. The stage will get no grander than this and there will be no opponent more gifted and accomplished than Tom Brady, who at 40 is seeking his sixth Super Bowl title. With one more dominant performance, Foles can dispel any lingering doubts about his NFL ceiling, and in the process, upstage arguably the greatest quarterback of all time. But love of the game is what brought Foles back to football, not recognition or the opportunity to prove his worth to others. The boy who never watched NFL games because he was too busy playing football with his friends grew into a man whose waning passion for the game caused him to not only contemplate retiring, but prompted him to enroll in online seminary classes at Liberty University in hopes of becoming a pastor. But after much-needed self-reflection and prayer, Foles again found his professional calling.
His brief tenure in St. Louis paved the way for his reunion in Kansas City with former Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2016, and it proved to be a year of personal and professional growth for Foles, who returned to Philly with renewed focus and confidence, even in the role of Wentz's backup. Now, he and the Eagles are in the Super Bowl for only the third time in franchise history.
"I'm just grateful to be playing," said Foles, who was 26 of 33 for 352 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in the Eagles' 38-7 win over Minnesota in the NFC title game. "But then to come back to the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that drafted me, the team that I love, the city that I love and never wanted to leave, is really special."
Philly fans, forever underdogs in spirit, embraced Wentz as the face of the Eagles franchise and the city's favorite son. "And then bam, he's gone and we're sitting there and for a week or two, it was like the city had lost its breath," offensive coordinator Frank Reich said. Other teams might have mentally checked out after losing its starting quarterback, but not the Eagles. In Foles, they saw leadership, inner strength and toughness. Above all else, they realized they still had a chance.
"It shows his resilience," Eagles tackle Lane Johnson said of reaching the Super Bowl with Foles at the helm. "You see on some other teams when the quarterback goes down, the whole team dies. The snake and the head's done."
To better understand Foles, one must better understand his connection to faith, family and football. His wife, Tori, was diagnosed in 2013 with postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which later led to the discovery of Lyme disease. Her heart rate can raise 30 beats per minute just from sitting and standing, Foles said, adding that the couple got engaged during a month spent at the Mayo Clinic. They married at a courthouse in 2014, yet they still haven't gone on their honeymoon. But in their struggles, Foles found perspective on life and forged an even deeper bond with his wife, and now, daughter.
"This a journey," he said. "It's not necessarily football experiences that have shaped me. It's off-the-field stuff, having a daughter, being married, having more responsibilities. The trials you go through, almost retiring. It had nothing to do with the football stuff. It had to do with the life stuff."