I have two recommendations for you this summer. Go and see the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbor, the insightful telling of the life of national treasure Fred Rogers, and read Believe It, the story of Super Bowl MVP and Philadelphia treasure Nick Foles. I saw the Rogers documentary around the same time I hosted Foles at a Talk Radio 1210 Speaker Series in front of 1,600 people.
There are some obvious parallels between both men. Both are highly successful and authentically good guys. They give us hope that nice guys can finish first. Rogers was an ordained minister who nurtured children. Foles is studying to become a youth pastor. The documentary showed dozens of people who said that Rogers in real life was the man we saw on TV. I spent two hours with Foles in our green room as we signed 1,600 books and talked with everyone with patience and good cheer. I interviewed him for 70 minutes on stage and I was inspired by his faith, resilience, and humor.
Despite all these good things, these men provoked a good deal of criticism. Rogers was often mocked and seen as running a dull show. When he died in 2003, Fox and Friends hosts attacked him as being a major cause of generations of kids who thought they were “special,” even though they had done nothing to merit that designation. One host even called him “an evil, evil man.”
Rogers clearly was telling kids that each one of them was unique and should recognize that fact in themselves and others. To attack Mr. Rogers is an attempt to show that you are uniquely insightful, but it really shows you are just taking a cheap shot.
Foles has faced the doubts of many Eagles fans when he took over last season when quarterback Carson Wentz went down with a season-ending knee injury. He also has been criticized by some local sports pundits over the years as being too nice and too soft. His profession of his faith and his selfless attitude have rubbed some of these people the wrong way.
So there are a good deal of similarities between Rogers and Foles. The most surprising might be that both, even though humble, were confident in their abilities and philosophy. Rogers pushed back publicly against TV shows that demean kids who were viewers by inane topics and behavior that is often mean spirited. He also fought hard in Senate hearings for PBS funding in an era when there were major cutbacks. He was a civil man made of steel.
Foles is also a confident guy. He told me he was not really surprised by what he did in the Super Bowl, because he had already succeeded in the NFL when he threw for 27 touchdowns with only two interceptions in the 2013 season with the Eagles. He grew emotional when he talked about his deceased grandfather as the source of this confidence and humility. This is a great combination to develop in our kids. Foles has this quiet confidence.
Former Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich wrote the forward to Foles’ book, comparing his story to that of David vs. Goliath in the Bible.
“David likely thought, hey killing this giant isn’t going to be a big deal,” Reich wrote. “I’ve already killed a lion and a bear. Been there, done that — let’s go.”
Rogers’ legacy is the millions of kids carrying on the lessons he taught every day. Hopefully, the documentary will amplify his work and the magical world he created.
I know that Foles’ legacy will include the memories and shared euphoria of Eagles fans across the Delaware Valley. I also hope it will include our sense that nice guys can achieve against guys such as Tom Brady.
I know I would be happy if Nick Foles and Fred Rogers were my neighbors.