Larry Foles, father of the lanky, unassuming fellow who is about to lead the Eagles’ surprise challenge to the New England Patriots dynasty in Super Bowl LII, says he always thought his son would end up back in Philadelphia, where Nick Foles’ career began with such promise.
To an outsider, this whole business might seem like the craziest thing ever: Team loses MVP candidate Carson Wentz in Week 14, brings off the bench a guy who looked like its quarterbacking prodigy four years earlier but since then has kicked around with a couple other teams, once even contemplating retirement. The forgotten quarterback then leads team to Super Bowl.
To the people closest to Nick Foles, it makes perfect sense.
“Nick’s an underdog. He’s always been an underdog,” Larry Foles, 71, said last week. “This whole scenario fits him very well, because it’s under the radar. He’s always flown under the radar, he’s still flying under the radar. That’s something I think he handles well.”
Traded to St. Louis by Chip Kelly early in 2015, benched after less than a season there as the starter, released, then signed for a year as a Kansas City backup, Nick Foles was a half-forgotten relic of the Eagles’ recent past at this time last year. But not to his friends and family.
“I really felt like he would be back with the Eagles. I felt that all along,” Larry Foles said. “I felt like Jeffrey [Lurie] thought the world of Nick, and I thought [Howie] Roseman did, and I know [Doug] Pederson did, because Pederson was the one who came down here [to Austin, Texas, before the 2012 draft] and tried him out on Westlake [High]’s field, with 40-to-50-mph winds Nick was throwing in, so Pederson knew what Nick was.”
Larry Foles said this feeling grew stronger when his son signed with the Chiefs and former Eagles coach Andy Reid in 2016; Larry Foles knew that Reid and Pederson, who was Reid’s quarterbacks coach with the Eagles when Nick Foles was drafted, remained close.
But Larry didn’t necessarily see his son leading the Birds to the Super Bowl.
“I just felt like there would be an opportunity where he could get back there and do whatever, you know? “ he said.”Thank goodness it was, and he’s a happy boy about it.”
‘Jeffrey’ would like a word
Frank Scelfo knows exactly what Larry Foles is talking about. Scelfo was Nick’s quarterbacks coach at Arizona. In January 2014, Scelfo was the Jacksonville Jaguars’ quarterbacks coach, and that staff was responsible for the South team at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.
This was weeks after a wild-card-round playoff loss to the Saints ended the Eagles’ 2013 season, which included an amazing 10-game stretch in which Nick Foles threw 27 touchdown passes and two interceptions. As reporters, players, agents, coaches, and scouts milled about on the Ladd-Peebles Stadium turf following the South practice one day, Roseman asked Scelfo if he would mind having a word with Lurie.
“You don’t talk to owners all the time,” Scelfo said. “Howie grabbed me, said, ‘Do you mind having a word with Jeffrey?’ You got to be [kidding] me! Yeah, I’d love to talk to him.”
What Lurie wanted to talk about was Foles. Though not so much about his quarterbacking.
“The biggest thing is that he recognized the person. You look at the numbers, he’s a good quarterback. That’s not what Jeffrey, what I saw him alluding to,” Scelfo recalled. “What I saw him alluding to was, ‘What a great guy. What a great person. What a great man.’ … He’s humble. He gives everybody else praise. He thanks God, he thanks his teammates, he thanks his coaches. You’ll never hear him say . ‘Boy I did a great job today, and I took those guys on my back and I had to do it myself.’ … Some guys do that.”
The next season, Foles would struggle, then go down with a broken collarbone. The Eagles would miss the playoffs. Kelly would then demand control of personnel decisions, and trade Foles for Sam Bradford. The Kelly regime didn’t last. Lurie’s regard for Foles did.
“We made such a concerted effort to make sure we could get Nick back on the team,” Lurie said last Sunday night in the afterglow of Foles’ 352-yard, three-touchdown passing performance in the Eagles’ 38-7 NFC championship game romp over the Vikings. “Who knew it would come to this? We prioritized more money for the second quarterback position than most any other team in football. We even were willing to eat a lot [about $4.1 million] of the [Chase Daniel] contract we had so we could go out and get Nick.
“We’ve always had so much confidence in Nick. His Rams experience, we thought, was an outlier. He’s a wonderful person and we knew he would be great with Carson. Who knew we would have to rely on him? I’m honestly not surprised how terrific he played once he got some time with our players, in terms of training. It was like going through a training camp the last three, four weeks. He hadn’t played with the first team the entire year [until Wentz went down]. He’s been doing it and there’s nobody I’m happier for.”
Making, losing, and again making millions
To Larry Foles, his son’s story isn’t that incredible. Larry was a Petal, Miss., high school dropout who started out working at a Shoney’s and built a restaurant empire. Two restaurant empires, actually – the first one went down in the stock market crash of 1987, a couple of years before Nick was born.
“That was the best thing that ever happened to me,” said Larry Foles, who has restaurant interests in Texas, Arizona, Colorado, California, and Tennessee. In 2011, he and a partner sold eight of their properties for a reported $59 million. “I had these restaurants, and I lost everything. I lost the business. … I learned a couple of good lessons that have stayed with me.
“It’s about being smarter, really, more than anything else. ‘If I ever have this opportunity again, these are the things I’ll do better.’ … It was a learning process.”
After failing big, he said, “you get more grounded, you get more thoughtful, you get kinder.”
For Nick Foles, setbacks seem to have led to a greater sense of perspective. In 2013, teammates praised his calm, upbeat outlook, but at times it seemed that the quarterback was too insistently positive, almost to the point of being Pollyannaish, and that he lacked introspection.
“Nick was always kind of the calm guy. He never got too high, he never got too low. I think his perspective may have changed,” tight end Zach Ertz said last week. “By that, I mean that he’s not living and dying by every single play. He’s extremely calm and collected now. Obviously, he did hit some lows; he’s been open about that. But we’re extremely grateful that he decided to come back and play last year, and ultimately, be here for this year. I don’t think we would be in this situation right now, as confident as we are, without him.
“I don’t think he’s changed too much, but his overall outlook, his overall demeanor, may have changed slightly.”
Finding perspective in family
One thing Nick Foles refers to in almost every interview is his 2014 marriage to Tori Moore, a former Arizona volleyball player, and the birth of their daughter, Lilly, last year.
“She has perspective that a lot of wives don’t have,” Scelfo noted.
Foles said recently that he does everything he can to prepare at NovaCare, then “when I go home, [to] be with my wife, be with my daughter, be with my dog, I’m going to spend that family time, because that’s huge for me. … They’ve been a part of this journey every bit as much as I have.”
He says he indeed is a different person, at 29, than he was four years ago.
“That Nick is different from this Nick. You could ask yourself if when you were 20, were you the same person? You’re not. You might have some same values. You might look [just] a little older. … I’ve grown, I’ve changed,” he said. “There’s been tough things to deal with through the course of it, but that’s where you lean on family, your loved ones, your faith, and continue to grow, till all of a sudden you’re blessed to be in a moment like this, where you’re doing Super Bowl media with an amazing group of guys, and you just can’t believe it.”
Scelfo, asked what he makes of Foles’ career ups and downs (and ups again), said: “I just think it’s part of life’s turnings. Nick knows how to navigate those, because he’s got such a solid base. … He’s able to deal with it and handle it and move forward and thrive because of who he is as a person, and his foundation – his spiritual foundation, his moral foundation.”
Scelfo very nearly had two proteges in Super Bowl LII. He no longer coaches for the Jaguars, but he was Blake Bortles’ first pro quarterbacks coach, when Bortles was drafted in 2014. Last week, the Jags had a 10-point fourth-quarter lead on the Patriots in the AFC title game before losing, 24-20.
Scelfo said Bortles and Foles are similar in a few respects.
“The way their teammates rally behind them, and around them. Their teammates love them,” Scelfo said. “Both of them have been much maligned in the media, the talking pundits and everything else, you know? Both of them have been basically crushed at some time in their career. They just needed some time. … Just think about what Nick’s been through.
“There’s no two harder workers than those two guys. They’re studying, doing everything they can to get an edge. The teammates, the locker room sees that. You can’t lie to the locker room. … Those guys got their livelihoods on the line, and they know that Nick Foles has got their backs.”
Going against the best
Scelfo said he would have gone to Minneapolis this week had both Bortles and Foles made it. “I would’ve made one of them pay for it, but I would have gone to the game,” he said.
Larry Foles will be in Minneapolis, though he owns no restaurants there.
“I remember Nick saying, ‘You want to go to the Super Bowl?’ four-five years ago. I said, ‘Nuh-uh. Only if you’re playing in it.’ ” Larry Foles said. “It’s surreal, but it’s still sinking in every day. … You go, ‘Is this really happening?’ ”
Scelfo noted that Fp;es will be matched against a quarterback so great, “he’s got one name – ‘TomBrady,’ like ‘BrettFavre.’ ”
“The enormity of the Super Bowl’s not going to be too much for him,” Scelfo predicted. “He’s going to see it. He’s going to take a deep breath, and he’s going to be prepared.”
“I think it’s a perfect matchup – ultimate compliment to go up against a guy that’s the greatest of all time,” Larry Foles said. “I know Nick loves that idea of playing the best. I think it causes you to study, work, be ready more than you’ve ever been ready in your life, see what happens.”