A win for the ages
By Steven Hoffman
With all apologies to Vince Papale, the greatest Philadelphia Eagles Story Ever Told is no longer his.
The Eagles won their first Super Bowl on Sunday, Feb. 4, delighting the millions of fans who have waited—and waited—for their beloved team to win the big game.
Head coach Doug Pederson and his band of never-say-quit overachievers authored one of the most improbable, remarkable, and inspiring playoff runs in the history of team sports. Entering the season, few people gave the Eagles much of a chance to make the playoffs, let alone make a run at the Super Bowl title.
But in true Rocky fashion, this team defied the odds and their detractors.
A team comprised of unheralded veterans, unproven younger players, and a few unsung heroes piled up the wins, week after week. A free agent kicker stepped up to kick a game-winning 61-yard field goal for a win over a division rival. A group of unselfish running backs carried the load together, sacrificing their own statistics for the good of the team. A rotation of defensive players made just enough plays in big moments to win games. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia’s terrific, young quarterback put together an MVP-caliber season over the course of the season’s first ten games before suffering a season-ending injury. His backup, an extremely likable quarterback whose career to this point featured as many downs as ups, had briefly considered leaving the game last year so that he could go become a pastor. The team as a whole embodied the blue-collar spirit of the city in which they play. The Rocky-esque group refused to give up and refused to back down. Instead, the players grew closer and supported each other, always putting what was good for the team above what was good for one player.
Lose one of the best young quarterbacks in the game at a crucial point in the season? No problem. Enter the playoffs as a top-seeded underdog facing the defending NFC champions? No problem. Face the top-ranked overall defense in the NFC title game—another game where you’re the home underdog? No problem. Take on the dynastic and villainous New England Patriots in the Super Bowl? No problem, of course.
On the game’s biggest stage, Nick Foles, Malcolm Jenkins, Brandon Graham, Zach Ertz and so many others turned in performances that will live on in the hearts and minds of Eagles fans for generations to come as they dethroned the defending champions, 41-33, in a Super Bowl that ranks among the very best championship games ever.
The Eagles have had their share of great players through the years: Harold Carmichael and Reggie White and Brian Dawkins. They’ve had their share of good players, too: Brian Westbrook and Keith Jackson and Bill Bergey. They’ve had their share of inspirational players: Papale, at the age of 30, became the oldest rookie in the history of the NFL to play without the benefit of college football experience when he defied the odds and made the team in 1976. He went on to play wide receiver and special teams in 41 games between 1976 and 1978. His story is so good that it was the basis of a very good movie, “Invincible.”
But now even Papale's story will have to take a backseat to the one written by the team that just won the Super Bowl for Philadelphia. This team, whose players are more likely to organize a group Bible study than to visit South Philly strip club, won—and they won the right way.
They played hard and they played for each other. They played for a city—an entire region, really—that desperately wanted its football team to win a title. The Eagles’ fan base is nothing if they are not passionate and loyal, and for many in the area, it’s the love of the football team that are the ties that bind. For many thousands of families in the area, love of the Eagles is generational—it is passed down from father to daughter, mother to son, uncle to nephew.
It is impossible, then, to overstate how improbable and important the Super Bowl victory is.
In the moments after the Eagles won their first Super Bowl, team owner Jeffrey Lurie summarized what the victory meant to the fan base by saying that the win meant “everything.”
Thanks, Philadelphia Eagles for finally winning the Super Bowl. And thanks for reminding us what is so great about sports in the first place.