If my adopted city of Philadelphia has a million Eagles analysts, Ed Rendell, our former mayor, has to be in the top 100. He’s on a local post-game cable panel, looking right at home with a TV lifer, a Canton-inducted sportswriter and a retired Eagles player (Seth Joyner). What makes Rendell good at his current job is the same quality got him elected twice as mayor and twice as governor. He’s a two-pronged threat. He can do the wonky stuff—he can analyze the pass rush. But he also has the passion of the paying fan. By halftime he’s hoarse.
His Super Bowl prediction: Eagles 23, Patriots 21, with Philadelphia attempting one or more two-point conversions.
There’s no signs Rendell is doing anything this week except talking football. He’s not pretending to sound overly confident about his prediction. He’s worried about any and all fourth-quarter moves that Bill Belichik (”a genius”) might have up his sweatshirt sleeve. He’s worried about the Eagles kicker, Jake Elliott. Not from long range, from 40 and out, but on his more garden-variety attempts.
Still, Rendell is calling for the Eagles to win in a close, low-scoring game and is expecting that the Philadelphia offensive line will hold off the New England defensive line, giving Nick Foles the protection he needs to throw a long series of short passes. Bet against Rendell at your own peril.
I have learned to take Rendell on football seriously. In December 2013, I wrote a story about Foles that celebrated his first trial run as a prince of the city. He was being feted in places high and low for taking the helm from Michael Vick, winning five straight games and getting the Iggs to the top of the NFC East. On the radio, on SEPTA trains and in various taverns, you’d hear nothing but praise for Foles. Then I called Rendell. I asked him about Foles, and he said, “In Philadelphia we fall in love with our quarterbacks very quickly and we fall out of love just a quickly.”
Man alive, did that prove to be prescient. Fifteen months later Nick Foles was playing for St. Louis. When he returned two years after that, it was as a backup.
“What made you say that then?” I asked Rendell the other day.
“All the passes he threw that should have been interceptions, except the other guy dropped the ball,” he said. That was a statement of fact. To most of us, Foles seemed to have that destined-to-win thing. Rendell saw something else.
Then came this season, with on Carson Wentz at the helm and Foles on the clipboard. That is, until Week 14, when Wentz left the Rams game with an ACL tear that ended his season. Did Rendell see Foles stepping up and in the way he did and getting the Eagles to the Super Bowl?
“I really didn’t,” he said. “I thought we’d lose the first playoff game.” The Falcons game, at the Linc. Eagles 15, Atlanta 10.
Then came the Vikings game, and the Nick Foles Moment: a 53-yard third-and-10 touchdown heave, under pressure, late in the second quarter, to Alshon Jeffrey. With that, the Eagles went into halftime 21-7, and the whole city was lifted, Rendell, the most sedentary of men, included.
“That was the season, right there,” Rendell said. “It was hard to see how Wentz could have been any better [than Foles].” Rendell had had his come-to-Nick moment. “I was wrong about him,” he said.
Rendell, a native New Yorker who has lived in Philadelphia all his adult life, recently taped a message to New England’s fans. (He believes all of New England is rooting for the Patriots, plus Dallas, and that’s it.) He said, "You're going down. We should have won the 2005 game but you cheated. And cheaters have to face the music.”
Rendell was referring to the 2005 Super Bowl (Patriots 24, Eagles 21) and also to Spygate. You remember: The NFL fined the Patriots and Belichick for illegal sign-stealing during the regular season. It’s a leap to say that regular-season sign-stealing prevented the Eagles from scoring four more points in the Super Bowl, but Rendell, a former Philadelphia district attorney, knows how to play to the jurors. Except Rendell doesn’t play to us. He’s one of us.
When he attributes his success as a campaigner to his love of sports and food, he’s at least half-serious. One of the great compliments Rendell, a Democrat, ever received came in 2006, when he was running for governor against Lynn Swann, the Hall of Fame Steelers wide receiver and a Republican. Early polls predicted a tight race, but Rendell said the other day he figured he had a good chance when a Pittsburgh cab driver told him he’d be voting for Rendell and not for Swann on the following basis: “He’s too pretty.”
Rendell will you that the Eagles this year come out of the Philadelphia tradition that has produced the city’s best teams: Not Too Pretty. He was referring to the Bobby Clarke Flyers in the 1970s. The Pete Rose Phillies that won the World Series in 1980, and the Lenny Dykstra Phillies in 1993 that did not. The Chuck Bednarik Eagles, the Ron Jaworski Eagles, the Donovan McNabb Eagles, etc.
This Eagles team that is playing in Super Bowl LII, Rendell said, “is really a team of grunts.” He meant it as high praise.
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