BLOOMINGTON, Minn. — In 2002, the Super Bowl included a second-year quarterback who was a sixth-round pick out of a Big Ten school. He was a gangly, underdeveloped central California kid, a later bloomer who happened to be extremely handsome.
Sixteen years later, the Super Bowl will include another gangly, second-year quarterback who grew up in central California, was drafted in the sixth round out of the Big Ten, and whose appearance makes people look twice.
And he happens to worship the first guy.
“Tom’s been my biggest idol my whole life because of those similarities,” Nate Sudfeld said. “And yes: We look exactly the same.”
Beauty depends on the beholder, and while Sudfeld, the Eagles’ backup, certainly favors one of the game’s starters, it’s not Tom Brady:
“I’ve been recognized around town all year. As Nick Foles.”
Unfortunately, that means Sudfeld looks more like Jon Heder than Jon Hamm, but Sudfeld won’t mind not looking like Brady as long as, one day, he can play like Brady. That’s the goal. Sudfeld is all-in on the Brady train.
“I’m not going to lie: I ate a lot of his meals in the offseason. I’d cook them up myself,” Sudfeld said with a nervous chuckle, a hint of something organic (avocado?) on his breath. “Everything he was doing — anything he was doing — I was trying to figure out. Sleepwear, you name it.”
Sudfeld eats TB12’s food. This week’s menu: spaghetti and beet balls.
He sleeps in TB12’s bedclothes, which allegedly reflect “far infrared” waves. Just $200 for the set. Sheets cost $350.
If Sudfeld sounds a bit obsessed, can you blame him? Brady grew up in San Mateo, 90 minutes west of Sudfeld. He’s going to his eighth Super Bowl, and he’s won five of them already, and he’s 40 years old. You’d give up gluten, too.
Considering the hero worship, it’s been a surreal couple of weeks for Sudfeld.
At Eagles practices, Sudfeld is running the scout team, actually pretending to be Tom Brady. He even considered spatting his ankles with tape, a la Tom.
On Sunday, Sudfeld will be one snap away from actually playing in the Super Bowl against his idol.
“It has crossed my mind. I’ve tried to process it,” Sudfeld said. “If I’m forced in there, I know I’ll be ready.”
New England drafted Brady in 2000 out of Michigan and hoped he might back up Drew Bledsoe. But when Bledsoe got hurt in the second game of the 2001 season, Brady stepped in and took the Patriots to the first title in franchise history.
Sudfeld’s road to the Super Bowl has been more conventional for a late-round pick. Washington drafted Sudfeld in 2016 out of Indiana and hoped he would become a backup for Kirk Cousins, who, at that point, was the Redskins’ franchise quarterback. Sudfeld made it through his rookie year but was cut out of training camp this season. Washington hoped to sign him to its practice squad. He chose the Eagles’ instead. When the Colts offered him a roster spot in late October the Eagles did the same, so Sudfeld stayed. Five games later, starter Carson Wentz tore his ACL against the Rams and Foles was in the batter’s box.
Sudfeld is on deck. He’s just a heartbeat away from being the new Earl Morrall. Morrall replaced Johnny Unitas in the second quarter of Super Bowl V and led the Baltimore Colts to a comeback win over the Cowboys.
Sudfeld has imagined a similar circumstance: the trophy, the confetti, even uttering the MVP mantra: “I’m going to to Disney World!”
“It’s the kind of competition you dream of as a kid,” said Sudfeld, who grew up in Modesto. “I’m a frequent visitor to Disneyland — it’s about two hours from home — but I’ve never been to Disney World. I’m just a big Disney fan.”
Oh, he loves Mickey, but not the way he loves Tommy. To be fair, all ugly ducklings need inspiration.
“[Brady] was a very late bloomer. I would train with guys who knew him in high school. He was, just, very slow,” said Sudfeld, who is 6-foot-6. “I grew really tall in high school, so I was kind of lumbering and awkward, too. It took time for my athleticism to catch up with my body.”
Sudfeld has never met Brady, but there’s only one degree of separation. One of Sudfeld’s older brothers, Zach, briefly played for the Patriots in 2013. His size — 6-7, 253 pounds — earned him the nickname “Baby Gronk,” but his ability didn’t approach Rob Gronkowski’s, so he played in only three games before the Pats waived him. Still, Zach was in New England long enough to witness Brady’s fanatical habits and relay them to his little brother — who, like Brady, thinks he should have gone higher in the draft.
So does Cousins, another Big Ten quarterback (Michigan State). Cousins fell to the fourth round in 2012. Like Brady, Cousins’ devotion to routine has made him a star, and Sudfeld watched it all in 2016.
If Cousins spent an hour practicing throws, the first 30 minutes were devoted to making the same throw, over and over, until it was perfect, so that became Sudfeld’s routine, too. If Cousins used a roller to activate his foot muscles before practice, Sudfeld rolled out, too. If Cousins went into the “cage” to stretch, Sudfeld stretched, too.
So, when Sudfeld landed with the Birds, he was ready for John DeFilippo’s persnickety quarterback coaching. He was eager for the sports-science philosophy: hyper hydration, soft-tisssue manipulation, and grainy protein shakes, which must taste delicious compared with beluga lentil tacos with pea shoot slaw.
It’s hard to imagine following the diet, but it’s hard to mock the results. Brady is the best playoff passer in history. Sudfeld looked great in his debut in the Eagles’ meaningless finale against Dallas: 19 for 23, 134 passing yards, and a 22-yard run.
He must have still been wearing Brady’s $50 underwear.