Amaze. Inspire. Surprise. You’ll be hearing those words a lot in the coming weeks—together, they cut to the heart of why we love sports in the first place. So in the days leading up to the naming of SI’s Sportsperson we’ll be looking back and shining a light on the athletes, moments and teams (and one horse) who did one—or all—of those things in 2018. There can be only one Sportsperson. But it has been a year full of deserving candidates.
In the second quarter of Super Bowl LII, Eagles coach Doug Pederson called a play that his team hadn’t practiced in three weeks. There stood Corey Clement, an undrafted running back, directly behind the center, and he took the snap and flipped the ball Trey Burton, another undrafted role player at tight end.
Burton didn’t try to run the ball. He didn’t even pause. He simply rolled right and lofted a short pass to the front right corner of the end zone, where his quarterback, Nick Foles, caught the first touchdown of his career. That would be the same Nick Foles who wanted to quit football before the 2016 season and began last year as the backup to MVP candidate Carson Wentz.
Amaze? Let’s just run that back real quick. The most pivotal play in one of the most dramatic Super Bowls in NFL history was a pass from an undrafted tight end to a discarded backup quarterback, called by a coach who had been cleaning high school locker rooms only a decade earlier. That was Philadelphia, a team that cared little for convention. That was the Eagles season, more improbable at every turn. And that was how they toppled the mighty Patriots to stage an unlikely triumph. They called that play the “Philly Special.” Indeed.
“That’s called big balls,” Eagles general manger Howie Roseman told me in the locker room.
He paused. “Can I say big balls?” he asked.
After the season Philadelphia pulled off? Of course.
As we reported in our Super Bowl cover story, it was only July of 2017 when Foles took a fly fishing trip into the Sierra Nevada mountain range, driving away from cell phone service but first texting his closest confidants to tell them he was going to retire. Not might retire. Would.
But when the trip ended, and he drove back down toward civilization, Foles spied a text message from Chiefs coach Andy Reid. The next night, inspired, he found a football field in Southern California, and in relative darkness, threw passes for the first time in sixth months. He went to Kansas City, then Philadelphia, then replaced an injured Wentz for good in December, then led the Eagles to the Super Bowl, then won not only the game but MVP honors.
Foles threw for 373 yards that night against the Patriots. He tossed three scores and caught another. He became the first quarterback in 16 years to start the season as a backup and still win the championship. And he did so against Tom Brady and the Patriots, denying their dynasty another ring.
That the Eagles and Wentz have yet to return to their Super Bowl form this season only underscores the importance of the team’s backup quarterback and that moment, when Pederson called "Philly Special" and his quarterback punctuated a performance for the ages with one of the most amazing plays in Super Bowl history.