The play could have had any odd name. Most offensive calls in Doug Pederson’s offense are verbose and this one would have been a mouthful because of all the moving parts. The Eagles needed one word or phrase.
Various words were tossed about. “Apples” was one. They ultimately settled upon “Philly Special.” Nick Foles called it something else, however, when he suggested the play to Pederson late in the first half of Super Bowl LII.
“You want ‘Philly, Philly?’” Foles asked his coach.
Foles and Pederson were miked by NFL Films and their conversation was first aired on Showtime’s Inside the NFL.
“For some reason I said, ‘Philly, Philly,’” Foles said several days later. … “I bet he was just, ‘What is he talking about?’”
Pederson took a beat to answer.
“I just had to process the whole situation,” he said. “It’s fourth-and-goal, we’re in the Super Bowl, we’re on the 1-yard line, right before halftime.”
But misunderstand his quarterback the coach did not.
“We knew exactly what we were talking about,” Pederson said. “‘Philly, Philly,’ ‘Dilly, Dilly,’ ‘Philly Special’ — it was all the same to us.”
Not anymore. And not to the millions of Eagles fans who will forever have the trick play imprinted not only in their minds, but on shirts, bedroom walls, screensavers, and their skin. Local restaurants are adding “Philly Special” dishes to their menus by the dozens.
There were many indelible moments from the Eagles’ 41-33 victory over the Patriots on Sunday night in Minneapolis. But the most lasting may be “Philly Special” — a direct snap to Corey Clement, lateral to Trey Burton, pass to Foles that netted a touchdown — and not just because of its name, its intricacies, its execution, and its impact on the outcome.
The trick play has come to symbolize the trust between Foles and Pederson, backups past and present who were underestimated as coach and starting quarterback, who led the Eagles to their first Vince Lombardi Trophy.
It didn’t take long for Pederson to finally answer Foles.
“Yeah, let’s do it,” he said then.
By now, the origin and backstory behind the play are well-known. In preparation for the NFC championship game, assistant coach Press Taylor found a trick play the Bears had used to burn the Vikings in 2016. Pederson loved the idea. Wide receivers coach Mike Groh, who had worked in Chicago, helped draw up the design with offensive coordinator Frank Reich.
“When they put it in, I was like, ‘Man, what are we doing with that?’” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “And they were like, ‘Yeah, they’re going to call it when the game’s on the line.’ And I was like, ‘No!’ So I was nervous, hoping we weren’t going to see it in the Minnesota game.”
The Eagles never needed the play in a blowout win over the Vikings, but they kept practicing it and Pederson included it in the Super Bowl game plan, hoping to use it as a second-half dagger. But Foles said the circumstances for running the play — the Eagles were ahead, 15-12, with 38 seconds left before the break — felt right.
“In the game, we had talked about that situation,” Foles said. “The great thing about Doug is he’s always going to listen. It just came to me. If felt like the right time. It’s ultimately his decision, so he can say no.
“That’s’ the great thing about him is he’s got confidence in his player, he has confidence in me.”
Said Pederson: “That was a play that was in our plus-five red zone area. … I had just called a timeout on the ball before so we had some time to think about it, talk about it, and suggest different things. There was a lot of suggestion. Nick had some suggestions, as well. When he came over to the sideline area, and then he and I ultimately agreed on ‘Philly Special.’”
Pederson called the corresponding number that Foles wears on his wristband into his headset for his assistants, but the quarterback called “Philly Special” in the huddle.
“I looked at [left guard Stefen Wisniewski]. We were like, ‘We’re really doing this?’” left tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai said.
The Eagles had gone over the play one last time during their Friday walk-through at the Radisson Blu Hotel ballroom at the Mall of America. Timing is an important element on offense, but on plays of deception it must be like clockwork.
“I thought it looked good in practice,” Wisniewski said. “There’s a lot of things you had to get right on that play. We kind of argued for a while on what’s the best way for [Foles] to sell it.”
The players would become actors. Foles needed to pretend that he was changing the play and that he had to walk toward the line because of crowd noise. The rest of the offense had to act as if it couldn’t hear the quarterback.
“I tried to sell it,” running back Corey Clement said. “If you see it on the film you saw my hand go like this, like, ‘What the hell are you doing?’”
The Eagles worked on cadence for weeks, along with when center Jason Kelce would snap to Clement.
“It could have been something different every single day,” Clement said. “All week it was ‘Philly, Philly’ or whatever. It could have been ‘Horseback’ or something different. Who knows? Sometimes it would be on ‘Lane.’”
As in right tackle Lane Johnson. On Friday, the Eagles decided on “Lane.” Foles crept toward the right side of the line and starting yelling, “Kill, kill,” as if he was checking to another play.
“I had forgotten about the play after Minnesota but when Nick walked off to the side,” Jenkins said, “I’m like, ‘Oh, it’s coming.’”
Aside from Clement’s fake hand gesture, and Kelce looking back briefly, no one moved.
“It was so loud … I just kept looking at the ball [to avoid a false start],” Vaitai said.
A false start and there would be no way the Eagles could run the play again. On the second “Lane,” Kelce snapped the ball.
“I had to be dialed in on the ball because Kelce’s used to snapping to Nick all day,” Clement said. “I’m a little shorter.”
The snap was perfect. Clement ran to his left behind the offensive line.
“We were selling the first part of the play — the Corey run left,” Wisniewski said. “We had one of the easier jobs.”
Burton, lined up to the left in the slot, ran back to the right as if on an end around. Clement flipped to the tight end, a former quarterback. Foles, meanwhile, was seemingly already ensconced in bronze.
“He stood there like a statue,” Wisniewski said, “and people forgot about him.”
Foles released into an “out” route.
“It’s a tough play to defend,” Jenkins said. “There’s literally no coverage we have where somebody’s covering the quarterback man-to-man. It’s a recognition thing.”
Foles was wide open. Receiver Alshon Jeffery, who had been part of the Bears’ successful two-point conversion against the Vikings, had lined up alone to the right. He ran an “in” route to clear out space. If Foles was covered, receiver Torrey Smith was the second option.
“I was open in the back [of the end zone] if Nick wasn’t,” Smith said, “but I saw he was there and Trey went right to him.”
Foles made the easy catch and the Eagles took a 22-12 lead. Some on social media pointed out that Jeffery wasn’t up on the line of scrimmage at the time of the snap. The Eagles needed seven players on the line.
“I always check with the referee and he said I was fine,” Jeffery said. “And that was it.”
The Patriots ran a similar play earlier in the game, but quarterback Tom Brady couldn’t pull in the pass. Two years earlier, they tricked the Eagles with virtually the same play when Brady caught a 36-yard pass.
“It’s a copycat league,” Jenkins said.
“Great schemed-up play,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said after the Super Bowl. “Those are the things that our alert board didn’t expect in this type of game when you have two weeks to prepare.”
New England also likely didn’t expect such a bold call on fourth down. Pederson, though, continued to be the aggressive play caller — his “evil twin” he said — that he’s been over the last two seasons.
“I might come off as soft-spoken to you guys, whatever, but inside I want to win the game, and not at an all-cost type of expense, but pretty close, pretty close,” Pederson said. “… The pressure of the game was not going to change who I am.”
The Eagles love it. Foles appreciates Pederson’s willingness to accept player input.
“You get to see a little insight into our relationship,” Foles said. “There’s a lot of trust, a lot of faith.”
“Special” might not be the best word to describe their bond, but it works in this case.
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