Not everyone is a Football fan and not everyone likes sports. But everybody likes an underdog. There’s something embedded in human nature that roots for those who have the odds stacked against them in any walk of life. There’s something magical about ‘starting from the bottom’ and whether you’re a die-hard Eagles fan or you simply wanted to see someone other than Tom Brady win the Super Bowl, the Eagles emerged as the ultimate underdog. Santa Clause, snowballs, reputation aside, the Eagles were America’s team on Sunday night.
The narrative has become so incredible by this point that it doesn’t need regurgitating for the 1000th time. But this was a team that was constantly written off. Told they were never good enough, weren’t consistent enough, were too young, too old, too injured. A team that has been downplayed by the national media for an entire year and when the injuries to the likes of Carson Wentz, Jason Peters and Jordan Hicks stacked up, that trend continued.
But there was something magical about this team. The ‘next man up’ mentality is one thing, the wins are something else. But holding that underdog banner high into the air is a team comprised of comeback stories, resurgences and fairytales.
Whether it was the storied Nick Foles, who almost retired after being exiled from the Rams, only to come back and put on one of the most emphatic quarterback performances of all time, going toe-to-toe with the greatest quarterback to ever pick up a pigskin, or the story of a young Jalen Mills, a seventh round pick one year ago who was instrumental in a season where the Eagles went a long stint without Ronald Darby.
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Perhaps it was the comeback story of Nelson Agholor, who just over one year ago had to take time out during the regular season to overcome mental hurdles, this team is comprised of underdogs. Brandon Brooks selflessly opened up about his battles with anxiety last season and now lifts a Lombardi Trophy high into the Minnesota night, knowing that he’s conquered a demon that’s plagued his career.
What about Mychal Kendricks or Patrick Robinson? Two players who coming out of Training Camp appeared to be on a very thin tether. One was coming off of a career low season and the other was saved by a trade for Ronald Darby that sent him back to his comfort zone. Both of these players shined throughout this season as two of the defenses biggest standouts.
Even in the heart of the game, the underdog status was clear. The Eagles exploded onto the scene with a hot start, but were matched stride for stride with New England. Every time Nick Foles would sling a dart into the hands of Zach Ertz or Alshon Jeffery, it would be greeted with a roar from the crowd and when the Birds found their way into the endzone, fight songs echoed around the stadium.
But then Tom Brady stepped onto the field. Then Rob Gronkowski stepped onto the field. You could cut the tension with a knife. Each and every drive, Tom Brady seemed to fight back in what felt like a never-ending Tennis rally. It was a race of attrition. Who would run out of offensive steam first? The grizzled veteran vying for his sixth Super Bowl ring, or Nick Foles who either breaks record or breaks hearts?
Then came the end of the first half. It was 4th and goal at the 1-yard line and the offense stayed on the field. It felt like an eternity. The entire game felt like one drawn out dream nobody ever wanted to end. And then, when the offense did line up and put their chips on the table, the world held its breath. The Eagles had already left 11 points on the board through mistakes, this would make or break the game with New England receiving the ball in the second half. On a fake audible, it was Trey Burton who ended up with the ball. Nick Foles slide past the line of scrimmage and the former Florida Gator floated a beautiful touchdown pass to his quarterback. Eruption. Euphoria. Emotion. Doug Pederson did the unthinkable. He played Bill Belichick at his own game and won.
But then came the second half. The Patriots marched out onto the field with a new gameplan 10 points down. Throw to the immovable object and hope for the best. Brady was relentless and Gronkowski started to dominate. The Pats drove down the field and scored instantly. ‘Anything you can do, I can do better’.
The tension began to set in. The Eagles had to respond. It didn’t matter how creative or unpredictable their offense was, If they stopped scoring, it was over. But Pederson and the gritty Eagles stayed true to their plan. Corey Clement, of all people, an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin, led the team in receiving yards, becoming only the third player to register 100 receiving yards in a game for the Eagles all year long. Another underdog who was simply destined for the spotlight.
The game drew on and of course one of the biggest moments of the game had to come from another underdog. Brandon Graham powered his way through the trenches to jar the ball loose and it was scooped up by none other than Derek Barnett. All of a sudden, the Eagles had all the momentum in the world and were just minutes away from ending one of the world’s most dominant sporting dynasties.
After some meticulous clock management, one last defensive drive is all that separated the Eagles from that first Championship win. Tom Brady and the Patriots had four opportunities to drive the length of the field to score a touchdown, in the hopes of converting a 2-Pt attempt. We’d seen this movie before. The heartbreak, the tears, being so close yet so far as those four plays unfold in slow motion.
But on the final play of the game, a 4th down attempt from Brady and the Patriots that sailed into the end zone, it was all or nothing. An entire season came down to the play…and the Eagles ensured it landed safely. It was complete. Against all odds. Against every single ‘we’ve seen this before’ neigh sayer, against all of the odds. This battered, bruised, hungry Eagles team simply wanted it more and left with a Lombardi Trophy.
But through all the noise, the beauty of the game lies. Danny Amendola has 152 receiving yards…when? Chris Hogan and Gronkowski also surpassed the 100 yard mark? Really? Tom Brady threw for over 500 yards and lost. Somehow, amidst this entire game, there was one of the greatest statistical anomalies imaginable.
This game symbolized greatness. It was so great that some of the most impressive achievements on both teams have been completely overlooked because there was so much going on. But through all the battles and the chaos, only one team stood tall. The countries biggest underdog.