No Longer Underdogs, the Eagles face an identity crisis

Everybody loves an underdog. There’s something endearing about a woebegone protagonist overcoming insurmountable odds to best the perennial favorite. From David and Goliath to the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots dynasty, the story never seems to get old. Earned through cunning wits and a dash of charm, the Eagles hoisting the Lombardi trophy signified more than just the city’s first Super Bowl. It was more than toppling the Patriots, beating Belichick and Brady and doing it with a backup quarterback. It was more than just rubber dog masks, a Mummer’s getup and a passionate speech about shedding labels. It made for a true underdog story; it made a whole city, a country, believe.

Underdogs

Without a doubt, Super Bowl LII will go down as one of the best sports narratives of all time. Narrowly securing the first seed in the NFC, a battered, beaten and bruised Eagles team came together just in time for the playoffs. After sneaking by the Atlanta Falcons on a play that Julio Jones has made look easy throughout his career, Philadelphia thrashed the Vikings en route to a showdown with the Patriots. Even if Nick Foles’ performance had earned the team some credibility, the Eagles began the game as 5.5 point underdogs.

With no championships, a history of underachieving in the playoffs, an MVP candidate quarterback on the sidelines and a second-year head coach, it seemed as if the Birds’ efforts, however thrilling, would be all for naught. The rest, as they say, is history.

Starting the next year with so many players remaining on the roster from that fateful season, it seemed as if the underdog mentality had been ingrained in the locker room. Chips sported on shoulders had grown to family-size and the league was on notice. Scavenged for coaches by the rest of the NFL, the Eagles headed into last season with some fresh faces speckled in with the returners.

After winning the Super Bowl, the front office was determined not to rest on their laurels. The team welcomed in veteran players like Michael Bennett, Mike Wallace, Paul Worrilow and Haloti Ngata to pair with a talented group of youngsters. Joining a solid core of returning players, the team as a whole was ready to make good on the promise Doug Pederson had uttered following the city’s first Super Bowl win:

Get used to this, this is the new norm in Philadelphia.

Favorites

Although it began much different, in many ways 2018 would be a repeat of the year before. Shedding the dog masks, Philadelphia fans were quickly becoming accustomed to a new title as the favorites. Even with a Lombardi in hand, this year would not be without a fair share of adversity. Without Carson Wentz to begin the season, the Eagles were hoping that Nick Foles’ wheels were still spinning from February. The season began with a win against the Falcons — a game that was eerily similar to the game they had played half a year before — followed up by a head-shaking loss to the Ryan Fitzpatrick led Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Despite welcoming back Carson Wentz, the season’s trajectory continued its up-and-down path. A promising team to begin the season found themselves sitting at 4-4 heading into their bye week. Hopes were at a new low after a crushing loss to Dallas and a Louisianian lashing at the hands of the Saints. At 4-6 with six weeks left in the season, the Eagles found themselves harbouring a familiar status: underdog.

Unfortunately, nothing could have been more fitting than an untimely injury to the starting QB. Eventually forcing him to IR, Carson’s nagging back injury set the table for a second straight year of the quintessential underdog’s tale. All it took was for the team to have their backs against the wall. Somewhat like a whiff of freshly brewed coffee in the morning, adversity seems to get the fellas in gear. Other than an overtime loss to the Cowboys, the Eagles won all of their remaining games. Still, they had to depend on some fortune from other teams to secure the last spot in the playoffs.

With local hero Nick Foles at the helm and a patchwork collection of young secondary players, Philadelphia was ready to do again what was thought impossible only two years prior. The underdog masks were eschewed for a new mantra and mascot — the ski mask. The Birds were ready to steal some wins.

And steal a win they did. Of course, it could only be done in historic fashion. For years to come, any double-doink speak will be sacrilege in Chicago bars. Having been on the other side of playoff heartbreak, Eagles fans understood the pain. After all, it really wasn’t anyone’s fault. A stray Treyvon Hester fingertip had the final say. The NFL’s best defense and hottest new offensive mind were no match for what seemed at the time to be fate, dare we say destiny. Yet again, the Eagles were spinning tales of underdog reveries.

The stage was set for a rematch with the same New Orleans team that had all but dismantled Philadelphia’s playoff hopes just months ago. A matchup that could have been ripped from a generic sports movie script featured the Eagles as nine-point underdogs looking to upset the legendary Drew Brees.

We all know that this is where the 2018 Eagles’ story came to an end. Fingertips being the linchpin against the Bears, they were again the deciding factor against the Saints. Inches away from a second straight NFC championship game, the weavers of Eagles’ fate decided it was time to balance the scales. With the season in jeopardy just months before and subsequent tempering of expectations, a last-minute loss to the talented Saints was more than most had come to expect. Forever underdogs, Philly battled tooth and nail until the final whistle — and for that, nobody could be disappointed.

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