- No Carson Wentz, no Jason Peters, no Darren Sproles, no Jordan Hicks... the Eagles overcame numerous hurdles to make it this far, and after a standout performance from their backup quarterback, Philadelphia is going to Super Bowl LII.
PHILADELPHIA — Once the confetti settled into the dirt, once the owner of the team stopped dancing and straightened his suit coat for the press conference and pictures, once all the players hugged everyone they could possibly hug, the locker room got oddly quiet for a little while.
There was no more music blaring in the gut of Lincoln Financial Field. Everyone accepted the strange reality of the moment—after losing stalwart left tackle Jason Peters, running back Darren Sproles, linebacker Jordan Hicks and, in the midst of a season-long MVP bid, quarterback Carson Wentz, the Eagles were going to the Super Bowl after stunning the league’s No. 1 defense in Philadelphia on Sunday night.
Players and coaches were in a daze. Doug Pederson emerged from his office with a blank look on his face, pumping his fist like the movement would propel him to his intended destination.
“Awesome,” he said. “It’s awesome. It’s awesome.”
Tackle Lane Johnson nursed a Coors Light in his right hand, waiting for a respite between questions to take another sip. A second un-cracked can sat in the top shelf of his locker.
“It’s euphoric,” he said. “I’m just happy for everyone in this building. For this community, there’s been a lot of ups and downs over the years and it just feels good tonight, just to get a smile on people’s faces. Get people riled up. I just got through watching a little bit on TV, I don’t know what’s going on outside but it’s a riot.”
Like he had on the sideline, Nick Foles weaved between hugs while carrying the dark binder containing Sunday’s game plan. Andy Weidl, a personnel director for the Eagles, wrapped him tight near the refrigerator and said “Thank you, thank you for everything.” Wentz, leaning hard into a cane that supported him throughout the night, looked on with a to-go container in his hand, smiling.
The past few hours still seemed hard to believe. Center Jason Kelce thought about the moment the Eagles built a two-touchdown lead with 1:18 to go in the second quarter and the next huddle, when the offense came back out for the final 29 seconds. It would have made all the sense in the world to fold up and play for the second half. Pederson called a screen to Jay Ajayi followed by a deep ball to Zach Ertz, setting them up for another field goal.
“We’re all thinking, is this going to be a run or a kneel or what are we doing? Then, he calls a screen and we’re like oh, well that’s the last thing I expected,” Kelce said.
Foles, who guessed he had never thrown a flea-flicker in his life, was in disbelief when Pederson sent in the call eight plays into the third quarter. The 41-yard bomb knocked Minnesota off its heels and out of the game. Foles was relaxed before the snap because, he said, he had to “try and keep from smiling” once he realized his coach was calling for another kill shot.
All of these moments, personalities, play calls, injuries and timely performances formulated the DNA of, quite possibly, the most surprising Super Bowl team of the last 20 years.
It felt perfect on Sunday.
Rarely can cities bloom in 50-degree weather, under overcast skies. Philadelphia is an exception.
Six hours before kickoff, the parking lots outside of Lincoln Financial Field were a perfect blend of damp cigar smoke, Yuengling and thinly sliced beef grilling on an electric flat top. This is a place that does not combat its idiosyncrasies, but hoists them overhead, carrying them like a flag into battle.
It was the perfect afternoon to throw an oversized Brian Dawkins jersey over a hooded sweatshirt; for green, grey and white camouflage pants and scuffed up Timberland boots. Out near the Wells Fargo Center, more than a dozen people crowded around a man dressed as the pope. He climbed a ladder to bong a beer for his adoring constituents. “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival blasted from a car stereo.
As uniquely Philadelphian as this experience was, even those who have had season tickets for years had never seen anything quite like it. Dog masks everywhere —and all different breeds. A crush of people that wouldn’t stop pouring through the chain link fences that contained the various parking lots, many without tickets or any intention of walking into Lincoln Financial Field. Footballs and cornhole bags whizzing around like horse flies.
One group unboxed what looked to be a brand new, 40-inch HiSense 4K television for pre-game entertainment. A man was getting his cowboy boots shined on top of a beer cooler near Lot D. Champagne sat atop so many temporary folding table bars, alongside Sam Adams Winter Ale and one liter bottles of Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey.
All of it—even the pre-game fistfights and the comical lengths local officials went to prevent post-game insanity (and of course, greasing light poles didn’t discourage riotous fans from climbing them after the victory)—had the feel of something bigger than the city had seen in years, even before police scanners lit up all over Broad Street deep into the night.
The firework display at kickoff shot over 70,000 fans whipping white towels in a circle. Music from the film Rocky played. It was like a movie written, directed by and starring the people who love nothing more than living here and telling people about it.
Two hours after the final whistle, the NFC Championship trophy was still in the locker room.
Mychal Kendricks had his picture taken with it in front of his locker, though fellow linebacker Nigel Bradham wanted to wait. When taking this type of photo—“for the ‘Gram” (Instagram)—everything had to be perfect, he said. Clothes, hair and jewelry.
There were a few players who knew how to navigate the situation. Chris Long, whose key pressure led to a game-tying pick-six in the first quarter, recalled how hard it was to find his young son, Waylon, amid the hysteria after he won the Super Bowl with the Patriots last year. Sunday night, he did a much better job. Waylon was ready.
“He was excited, he was looking for me,” Long said. “He knew something good had happened. I was pouring the confetti on him and he loved it. That’s all I was thinking about.”
LeGarrette Blount, another member of the Patriots’ Super Bowl LI team, did his best to appear appreciative of another trip while avoiding the inevitable link to his former team. He wanted to stay in the moment.
“There’s really not enough time to walk down memory lane,” he said.
But for some players, that’s exactly what this night was for. Over the grind of a season, everything inevitably gets taken for granted. The fans become the brash, unreasonable fans. The weight of playing without your starting quarterback gets staggering. The press, in and out of your locker room every day, never seem to recognize how good the other 52 guys are.
Once a ticket to the Super Bowl gets punched, that all gets wiped away.
On the way out of the stadium Sunday, Malcolm Jenkins walked past the Tunnel Club, a bar jammed into the space beneath the stands, alongside the pathway players walk to the locker room once they leave the field.
Two fans remained, each gripping a Bud Light Tall Boy. They called Jenkins over and, with a million other responsibilities tugging at him, the team's best defensive player leaned in to say hello.
“One more,” the first fan said. “One more.”