The game was over and the fireworks had already started to shoot from the stadium roof when one of the Eagles equipment guys ran onto the field to get the game ball from Nate Sudfeld, the backup quarterback who took the final knee Sunday night.
For a franchise with wide aspirations and narrow trophy cases, it was a souvenir worth keeping. The team has made it to the Super Bowl only three times and hasn’t won it yet, and championship game balls aren’t like dinner mints left on every pillow.
It was right then, amid the din and the celebration and the muffled woofing emanating from a thousand dog masks, that Sudfield wheeled to his left and sailed the ball high over the Eagles bench and about halfway up into the lower bowl of Lincoln Financial Field.
“I crow-hopped and everything. I think it came out of the hand pretty nice,” Sudfeld said later in the raucous locker room. “Afterward, I said to myself, ‘Why did I do that?’”
Probably wasn’t supposed to, one would guess.
“I don’t think so. I wasn’t really thinking. I was excited. It’s been a crazy year,” Sudfeld said. “Did that count as an incompletion?”
No, Nate. It was fine. Sending a symbolic thank-you into the stands was in perfect keeping with the surreal nature of a night in south Philadelphia that will be remembered and cherished long after the pebbles have fallen from the grain on that ball.
The underdog narrative adopted by the Eagles since Carson Wentz tore up his knee has been worn thin in the last month, and it will be down to the nubs after two more weeks of this, but if that motivation got them this far, well, why not let it ride? The truth is that a group that can dismantle a good Vikings team by a score of 38-7 can play with anyone.
“We’ve got a bunch of underdogs. All of them have come through some kind of adversity, whether in their personal lives or careers to get to this point,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “A year ago, nobody believed in this team and here we are, with the same guys. There were a couple of additions, and most of those guys people doubted, too. Underdogs is a role we’ve had our entire lives, and we’re comfortable with it.”
They are comfortable enough with each other, and confident enough in themselves, that even when Minnesota scored on the opening drive of the game, with the defense confused and out of alignment on the touchdown pass, that turned out to be nothing more than a brief hiccup.
“They got us unsettled a little bit, and they were only doing basic stuff,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “We got to the sideline and said, ‘Let’s take a deep breath. It’s going to be a long night. So let’s just go play ball.’ And then that one play we needed showed up.”
Chris Long and Patrick Robinson combined to make that happen, and happen quickly, and Robinson’s across-the-field interception return didn’t just break the tension in the stands or on the scoreboard — it also broke things up pretty good on the sideline. That’s because cornerback Ronald Darby, who found himself in position to make the final block on the return that allowed Robinson to reach the end zone, was soundly cross-checked in the process by 5-foot-9 Jerick McKinnon of the Vikings.
“I guess it was a block. He got spinned around like a helicopter,” linebacker Nigel Bradham said.
“We gave him some crap on the sideline, but … nobody said it had to be pretty,” Jenkins said. “It qualified as a block as long as he got in the way.”
It turned out to be that kind of a night. Even when things went wrong, they went right, and if the game ball ended up in the stands, that was fitting, too. If Nick Foles can be nearly perfect, anything goes. If a team can lose Wentz, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, Caleb Sturgis, Jordan Hicks and Chris Maragos and still advance to the Super Bowl, then all manner of oddities can be accepted.
“We lost everyone. We have an all-pro team on IR. It’s crazy,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “I think that just tells you how much we love playing for each other. Guys overcame insurmountable odds to get here, and we’ve got huge chips on our shoulders.”
They left the field Sunday night with confetti on their shoulders, too. Great mounds of it fluttered to the field around them as they stood for the trophy presentation. It fell from the sky like a gentle snowfall, and when they left, the open patches marked where they had been. As long as there is a football field here and games are still remembered, in the very same way the outlines of this team will always remain.