BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — Nick Foles is wearing a fanny pack. It’s a hand warmer, really. But it looks like a fanny pack. The black nylon strap is wrapped around the midsection of his white jersey, the meat of the thing balanced on his right thigh. The camera has captured him in a scramble, his body pointed in multiple directions, his torso contorted in a defensive crouch. His non-dominant hand is raised high in midpump, black-gloved fingers splayed wide, his throwing arm trailing behind him like a kite in the early stages of flight.
Tom Brady is not wearing a fanny pack. A hand towel is tucked neatly in his waistband, the white of it providing a point of visual demarcation between the upper and lower halves of his long, lean frame. He is standing tall, his head, shoulders, his hips all pointed downfield. He probably does not sleep in this posture, but it is impossible to know for sure. His arm is cocked, his eyes locked, the No. 12 on his jersey like a red-and-yellow “S” on blue tights.
It is a jarring piece of artwork, a large rectangular canvas that hangs from the rafters of the mall that serves as the NFL’s headquarters for its annual testament to the power of American consumption. You walk out of a single-digit morning and the sight of it greets you before your cilia can thaw. Two men, two quarterbacks, a logo in between.
Super Bowl LII. Tom Brady. Nick Foles. The absurdity of juxtaposition.
Perhaps your instinct is to spit out the narrative in distaste at its implications. There is no denying that this is a week when a piece of everything feels manufactured, the story lines counting among them. You felt it Monday night in a converted hockey arena, when the national horde descended on the Super Bowl’s customary kickoff carnival, the steam machines hissing and the pyrotechnics popping amid the frenzied introduction. Outside, the remnants of another wintertime evening dripped pink into an ice-choked river. Inside, the floor was a churning swell of vaguely familiar faces, a pop culture purgatory of sorts with names that ranged from Nancy Kerrigan to James Harrison. (Actually, he’s playing.)
Beneath the lime-lit sheen, however, reality was on display, and to dismiss it out of hand is to fail to tap into the energy of the thing.
Brady arrived first, gliding onto the stage in a black knit hat and black gloves, an impossibly easy smile spreading across his face as he and his teammates turned to face the throng. Knowing nothing of the past, you’d finger him as the one who had been here before, his movements exuding the confident calm of a man who has learned to enjoy the moment. The cameras were five-deep when he took his seat at the microphone, and, for the next hour, they would not ease. They asked him about his daughter and his diet and his favorite Madonna song, about legacy and controversy and his perpetual role in his sport’s grandest show.
“Man,” he said with a genuine inflection, “this never gets old.”
And then came Foles.
He wore a backpack, held a ball cap, leading his team onto the stage. He looked down onto the arena floor, out into the first seating bowl, up to the second. He did not look uncomfortable, but he also did not look entirely at ease.
“Being in this moment, you really get to soak it all in, take it all in, and be grateful,” he said after taking his seat, “but, at the same time, you know that you have a responsibility come game day to go out there and do everything you can for your teammates to help them win.”
Throughout this last year of his life, game day is something Foles has never lost sight of. If there is one reason to disbelieve the odds, it lies in Sunday’s inherent promise. Few quarterbacks have lived it in the way that he has, the opportunity bestowed by a 60-minute block of alternating possessions. From that seven-touchdown game against the Raiders in his first stint with the Eagles to his magnificent performance in the NFC championship win, Foles has shown a big-game potential that is context-independent. Since 2013, only 19 quarterbacks have logged more three-touchdown performances, a number whose notability lies in the fact that 31 quarterbacks have started more games.
At the top of that list, of course, is the man who will share this stage with him. Throughout Foles’ unveiling here at Super Bowl week, Brady’s shadow never ceased. They will never share the field for a snap, but they are inextricably linked. And that’s OK. The allure of sports lies partly in its plot lines, in the characters it creates.
“Obviously, beating Tom, beating the Patriots is huge,” Foles said, “but for me it is about the journey. It’s about the men I’ve done it with. It’s about this organization.”
The Lombardi Trophy isn’t awarded to the greatest quarterback of all time, but to the quarterback whose team proves itself the greatest in the present. It is 2018. And if you walk around the mall, you’ll note that fanny packs are in.