MINNEAPOLIS – Surrounded by cameras and a sudden bandwagon of well-wishers, Nick Foles tried to bulldoze his way up the U.S. Bank tunnel. He clutched the hand of his wife Tori, who herself held their daughter Lily. The world suddenly wanted a word with Nick Foles, the discarded, unheralded, former backup Eagles quarterback who had just outdueled Tom Brady to lead Philadelphia to a 41-33 Super Bowl win.
It was all coming fast now, after always coming slow for the Foles family. For so long, it was just them, scraping and questioning and, in the end, believing. Believing in Nick. Believing in themselves and in their faith and in the idea that, sure, this outlandish, outrageous night out of their wildest dreams was possible.
An NFL employee tried to help them through the throng by promising there’d be plenty of time to talk with the Philadelphia quarterback.
“Nick Foles,” it was shouted, “is going to the MVP room.”
With that, Nick and Tori shot each other a look and a smile. It’s reasonable to assume Nick Foles didn’t know there was such a thing as a Super Bowl MVP interview room, let alone that such a sentence would ever be declared. Yet there were the Foles, Nick and Tori, a mostly anonymous couple out of the University of Arizona, marching right onto turf more familiar with Tom Brady and Gisele Bundchen.
Two years ago Foles was ready to retire from football at age 26, frustrated with his situation, lacking in his motivation, uncertain either would ever improve.
Sunday, he outdueled Brady in one of the wildest Super Bowls ever. He threw for 373 yards and three touchdowns. He added a 1-yard touchdown reception on an all-timer of a trick play. Mostly though, he played with the poise and focus that belied the fact that until franchise quarterback Carson Wentz was injured in December, Foles was nothing but a backup, a journeyman, another name in the NFL’s parade of mediocre QBs.
When Wentz got hurt though, in came Foles. When the Eagles got here and found themselves in a shootout with Brady, who would chuck it for a record 505 yards and three touchdowns of his own, Foles never blinked.
“The stage is never too big for him,” said tight end Zach Ertz, who caught the game-deciding touchdown pass.
“I didn’t have to be Superman,” Foles said. “I have amazing teammates.”
He was Superman though. And that was the thing. The Eagles didn’t win because of a superior defense and a mistake-free day by a game manager of a quarterback. Brady was slashing the defense apart. They needed someone to do the same. They needed someone to be better than Brady.
So there was Foles, moving the Eagles up and down the field to the tune of 538 total yards. There was Foles, throwing brilliant passes – a 34-yard touchdown to Alshon Jeffrey, a 22-yard bullet to Corey Clement.
There was Foles, leading an offense that went 10-of-16 on third down, and 2-of-2 on fourth, including a conversion on the game-winning drive. There was Foles, running a fake-audible-turned-Wildcat-reverse pass back to Foles for a touchdown.
There was Foles, providing the battered and gasping defense with enough hope to know it needed to make just one play, one stop and the Super Bowl could be Philly’s. It came with 2:16 remaining, a strip sack of Brady after the Patriots hadn’t punted or turned it over all night.
It wasn’t much. With Nick Foles at the helm, it was enough.
And so there was Nick Foles, in the “MVP room”, waiting for a chance to speak to the media.
First he took a seat next to Tori and held Lily on his lap. The baby wore a green Eagles scarf across her head and pink, noise-cancelling head phones over her ears. He pulled a silver chain out from underneath his jersey and she began playing with the cross at the end of it.
He was still wearing his uniform and his baseball cap said the Eagles had won the Super Bowl. Other than that, he looked as calm as ever, just a dad and his family.
Which was, he said, how this all worked in the first place.
“That’s what life’s about right there,” Foles said. “We’re Super Bowl champs, but time does stop when you look in your daughter’s eyes and you get to celebrate this moment. I got to look in my wife’s eyes. I get to celebrate this with her. They’ve been there. My wife’s been there through everything. My family has been through everything.
“I’m just grateful.”
Foles grew up in Texas and originally attended Michigan State before transferring to Arizona, in part to find playing time. There he met Tori, a volleyball player for the Wildcats. He was a third-round pick, and despite a Pro Bowl season in 2013 in Philadelphia, he was never anyone’s idea of a sure-fire star. Injuries held him to just eight games in 2014. He wound up on a bad St. Louis Rams team in 2015.
That’s when he was ready to quit. Football had been fun. It was never going to be like he dreamt it though.
Instead he went fishing, prayed a lot and leaned on his family. He decided to give it another shot. A year in Kansas City restored his enthusiasm, but did little for his career. Returning to Philly this year, he was second-string, an insurance policy that few thought could cash in like this.
All along though, he continued to believe and make others around him believe.
“He’s just the real deal,” said Dan Moore, his father-in-law. “He’s just a great person and even when he was ready to retire, I always believed he had the talent to be a star in this league, physically and mentally.”
He just needed his chance. Foles credits his faith for offering calm and perspective. Maybe he wasn’t having a career like Brady. He was still in the NFL, still chasing something, still surrounded by that family of his.
This game was a microcosm of his career. Little expected, except by him. Overlooked when compared to the other guy. Nothing to lean on but himself, his faith and those around him.
When you’re blessed with that, Foles said, a fourth-quarter drive when trailing the vaunted Patriots is nothing.
“I was really staying in the moment,” Foles said. “Just staying in the moment.”
Off to the side Tori smiled and Lily sat quietly. It all seemed so normal, a pack of media asking about this pass or that play, about besting Tom Brady, about winning the Super Bowl. If the rest of the world was surprised, they didn’t appear to be.
Nick Foles was in the MVP room. Of course, he was.
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