Sincerity bewitches us all. It turns a cynic into a believer and makes a skeptic doubt himself.
When Nick Foles chokes up as he discusses his wife, Tori, and her battle with a circulatory problem; or Lily, their 7-month-old; or his turbulent NFL life that he would have abandoned if not for his beliefs, not for a minute do you doubt his authenticity.
The landscape of sports has long been littered with godless God guys who soil the platform with false testimony. Do not count the Eagles’ quarterbacks among them. Not Foles. Not Carson Wentz, the Eagles’ injured franchise quarterback whom Foles will replace in Super Bowl LII on Sunday. Not third-stringer Nate Sudfeld, whose family is trying to save the world one soul at a time. Not the Rev. Frank, because offensive coordinator Frank Reich keeps it real, too.
All are sincere men of God. They all walk the walk.
“They are,” said Sudfeld, “who you think they are.”
Wentz’s Audience of One foundation feeds and clothes kids all over the world. Foles wants to attend seminary to become a youth pastor. Sudfeld’s grandfather and father, both preachers, developed Assist International, a second-generation nonprofit that targets the developing world. After his 14-year career as an NFL backup, Reich spent part of his decade away from football at a theological seminary and is an ordained as a Presbyterian minister.
They don’t trumpet their faith without provocation, but neither are they ashamed. All are convinced that their shared devotion makes the Eagles better.
“I think it helps you be a better teammate. Our primary calling in life as a Christian is to bring out the best in other people,” Reich said. “That’s the primary message of Christianity. We’ve been created to glorify God. How do we do that? He gives us gifts and abilities, and we’re supposed to bring those out in other people.”
Sudfeld said the four of them routinely show up for meetings early to pray. They might stay a few minutes afterward to do the same. They send late-night texts, have side conversations, and share words of encouragement. It creates a meeting-room environment unlike any that Reich has seen in his 24 years as an NFL player and coach.
“Not a room where all the players feel exactly the same way,” Reich said. “Everybody here is tugging on the same rope in the same direction. That takes the chemistry to another level. A deeper level.”
So, when you hear Wentz say, “My faith in the Lord is really what has gotten me through” when talking about his torn knee ligaments, he isn’t just paying lip service. When Wentz and Sudfeld say they wish the best for Foles, they’re not posturing. And, when Foles spoke in broken sentences here Tuesday about Tori and Lily and almost cried, rest assured, it wasn’t an act.
“I get home and …” he looked away, composed himself and continued: “I get to see her, and my wife, and her, just, and her face, and her mannerisms. That’s what it’s about. And I know that every time I step on the field, every single thing I do. … There’s going to be someday, she looks, and she wants to know who her daddy was. And what he did. And that gives you a little extra juice to go out here. Whenever you’re tired. Whenever you’re … It’s doing things the right way. Because I know she’s going to grow up. And I want her to be proud of her daddy.”
Why wouldn’t she be? Foles might not be Tom Brady, but he already has achieved so much since the Eagles drafted him the third round in 2012. In 2013 he threw 27 touchdown passes and just two interceptions as Michael Vick’s backup, then was the Pro Bowl MVP. In 2014 he led the Eagles to a 6-2 start before he broke his collarbone. Traded to the Rams in 2015, he did his level best with a lousy team and nearly quit the game. He said he prayed on it, and Jesus had other plans.
“I knew as a person, the more growth I would have, the more opportunity to glorify God and trust in Him, was to go back and play football because of everything I had encountered,” Foles said. “It took a lot more faith to go back and play than if it would have gone the other direction. Either way, I would’ve been fine. I know I would’ve trusted in God.”
That trust led him to Kansas City and Andy Ried — a devout Mormon — for the 2016 season; and, now, to Reich and Wentz and Sudfeld this year. It’s another magical year for Foles as an Eagle, who is 4-0 as a starter in meaningful games. Philly has been good to him.
He is 18-5 as an Eagles starter since 2013 and 2-1 as a playoff starter, with five touchdowns, no interceptions and a 116.4 passer rating. That’s more than 36 points higher than Donovan McNabb’s rating. It’s nearly twice as high as Ron Jaworski’s.
On Sunday, before a broadcast audience of millions, it will be Foles, not Wentz, who plays for an Audience of One.
“I’m grateful to have this opportunity to speak, to play in this game, but at the same time, if I would’ve made the other decision, my life wouldn’t have been a loss,” Foles said. “I would have done something else, and glorified God in that instance.”
There has been a lot of glorification.
Lily will be proud.