The warm glow of the Eagles’ fantastic season, Super Bowl victory and awesome parade is just beginning to die down. It’s a good time to reflect on what was an absolutely incredible season: Carson Wentz developing into a legitimate NFL MVP candidate, the team battling through season-ending injuries to its best linebacker, offensive lineman, special-teams player, running back and quarterback, and still finishing 13-3 in the regular season. Then, there was the amazing three-game run that ended with a Super Bowl championship with Nick Foles turning in perhaps the best postseason performance by a quarterback in the last 52 years. So many deserve kudos – players who banded together as a team in way that may never have been seen before; Howie Roseman making personnel moves uncanny in their ability to fill holes that cropped up during the season; and Doug Pederson and his coaches doing a spectacular job putting their players in a position to succeed.
In the end, the best thing about this team, which will make it the longtime favorite of so many fans, is that their attitude fit with the makeup of our city perfectly. They were the unappreciated, constant underdogs. None of the experts believed in them or gave them a chance to win at all. They were overshadowed by other teams with more ballyhooed superstars. They had that great underdog mentality that culminated with the absolutely hilarious dawning of the dog masks by Lane Johnson and Chris Long. A great deal of our city has always believed that we were the disrespected underdogs on the Northeast Corridor, playing second fiddle to the financial capital of the world, New York, and the political capital of the world, Washington. Our fan base – simply the best there is – always felt it was unfairly criticized, and the isolated acts of mayhem that it engaged in were blown way out of proportion (sorry, Santa).
For all of us, the Super Bowl was a perfect battle between our beloved underdog Eagles and the glamorous world champion New England Patriots. It was good against evil. It was the disrespected underdog vs. the perennial champion. We wouldn’t have had it any other way. We wanted to beat the best, at their best, and we did. Our Super Bowl victory was extra sweet because Tom Brady and the New England offense broke all of the Super Bowl records and never even punted the ball once, but as good as Brady was, we were better. As resilient as the Patriots were, the Eagles wanted it more and never gave in. The game was equipped with high drama all the way through but especially when the Patriots got the ball back down by five points, with a little over two minutes to go and all of their timeouts. In the deep recesses of even the most rabid Eagles fans’ minds, we feared Brady was going to lead another miraculous comeback and steal what was rightfully ours. But Brandon Graham, a player whose grit and determination epitomized this team and epitomized this city, wouldn’t quit and stripped the ball from Brady. And the rest was history.
What did it mean to the city? Almost everything. It was validation of what a great, exciting, dynamic city we have become. It meant so much to so many people on a personal level. You couldn’t help but be touched if you watched Eagles Postgame Live and the great but stoic Ray Didinger had tears in his eyes when his son surprised him on the set after the game. I took a train to D.C. this past Thursday and I rode with Al Hunt, the great journalist and TV commentator who grew up in Philadelphia. He told me he had lost his brother several years ago and his brother had been a devout Eagles fan. He showed me a picture of his brother’s grave site; his wife had laid upon it the front page of the Inquirer the day after the Super Bowl victory. My guess is that this scene was repeated by many kids for their deceased parents. It was very special for us because we may have felt that this day would never come, and it finally did.
When the clock hit zero after Brady’s failed Hail Mary, I looked down at the field, and all I could think about was the years before Dick Vermeil arrived when the Eagles were just terrible, barely winning four or five games a season. And somehow, I thought about a game during one of those seasons in early December when the Eagles were getting killed and it was pouring rain from beginning to end. Somehow and for some reason, there wasn’t an empty seat as the game started and many fans hung on until the bitter end. I thought about that and all of the losing seasons, all of the heartbreaks, all of those lost NFC championship games, and almost like magic, they faded from memory.
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS. And it’s not just our football team, but our city too.