The following paragraph would have seemed preposterous a year ago:
Philadelphia schools will close Thursday to allow children the chance to attend the parade that will celebrate the win in Super Bowl LII by the Eagles over the New England Patriots. It will begin at Broad and Pattison, snake around City Hall, continue down JFK Boulevard and end at the Art Museum. To achieve their first Super Bowl title the Eagles beat the NFL’s greatest coach, Bill Belichick, and the NFL’s greatest quarterback, Tom Brady. They did it thanks to Howie Roseman, Doug Pederson, Nick Foles and Nelson Agholor.
How far they have come, and how quickly.
A year ago the Eagles still nursed wounds from their painful 2016 season. They began 4-2 behind rookie quarterback Carson Wentz, then lost in overtime at Dallas, the first of a 1-7 run that ruined everything. Linebacker Nigel “Dumb-ass” Bradham, as he was called by defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, was arrested twice. Receiver Josh Huff was arrested, then cut. Tight end Zach Ertz and safety Rodney McLeod bailed out to avoid contact on plays in Cincinnati, which prompted criticism from Pederson, which prompted team captains to complain to him. Agholor? He was just a mess.
Roseman had compiled another flawed and shallow roster. Pederson had shown little evidence of either masterful leadership or masterful play calling. Agholor had become, without a doubt, the least popular player on the roster among fans. By all indications he was the Eagles’ latest first-round bust. They looked like they would go 57 more years without an NFL title.
Foles didn’t even exist in Philadelphia. He had become the Eagles’ latest QB punch line, the latest Ty Detmer or Bobby Hoying or Kevin Kolb. Foles’ 2013 season and the Pro Bowl berth that followed was considered a fluke. He’d had a mediocre, injury-shorted 2014, then was traded to the Rams in 2015 and flopped as a starter. He served a season of career probation in Kansas City as Andy Reid’s backup quarterback in 2016, during which Foles repaired his modest reputation for modest expectations. When he signed with the Eagles, it was perceived to be more as Wentz’s mentor than as a viable replacement, not a possible Super Bowl MVP.
If the italicized paragraph above would not have been hard enough to believe, incorporate the following information:
The parade will include fan favorites Carson Wentz, Jason Peters, Darren Sproles and Jordan Hicks. Most of these players missed most of the season, and none of them contributed to the season’s final six games, five of which were meaningful. They will ride beside their understudies: Nick Foles, for Wentz; Corey Clement, for Sproles; Dannell Ellerbe, who is the third player to replace Hicks at middle linebacker; and, for Peters, Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who played magnificently in the postseason.
The magnitude of what the Eagles did — going from 7-9 to 16-3 — would be breathtaking had they done it with Wentz, an MVP candidate when he tore knee ligaments in Week 13; Peters, a Hall of Fame lock; Sproles, a Hall of Fame hopeful; and Hicks, the defense’s play-caller. To have done it without one or two of them stretches the credibility of the proposition to its limit. To do it without all four? Ridiculous.
“What we’ve been through is a pretty special thing,” Pederson said at his wrap-up new conference Wednesday.
Yes. yes it is.
So, then, how in the world is Philadelphia holding a Super Bowl parade in the game’s 52nd year, after 51 years of Super Bowl futility? What biggest factors factored in?
The offensive line played brilliantly. So did Wentz, until his injury. So did Foles.
Roseman, who has been involved in roster-building for eight of the last nine years, finally compiled a roster full of talent, depth and character. He was demoted from general manager duties for the 2015 season to give former coach Chip Kelly a chance, but once Kelly was fired, Roseman reascended in 2016, when he hired player personnel director Joe Douglas. He arrived in May, after the free-agency season and the draft, but Roseman and Douglas made magic in 2017.
Consider Clement: a Glassboro High kid, undrafted out of Wisconsin, who made the team on the final cut. After Sproles was injured in Game 3, Clement scored six touchdowns, most among Eagles running backs, then added a TD in the Super Bowl, in which he led the team in yards from scrimmage with 108.
Agholor was second, with 93 yards, and he led the Eagles with nine catches. In 2016, he didn’t have nine catches in any two games combined. He was so lost in 2016 that, after a dropped pass in Game 10 left Agholor clutching his helmet at midfield in frustration, Pederson benched him in Game 11 so Agholor could see the game through “calmer eyes,” Pederson said. Agholor’s eyes have been calm since. This year, he was the most dynamic player on the roster.
When he gave Agholor a brief break, Pederson began to show the “emotional intelligence” owner Jeffrey Lurie cited when he hired Pederson, who was creating an empathetic, inclusive environment. This was the first indication that Pederson was more than a risky play-caller. A coach with less of a trust quotient, a coach less connected to his team’s heartbeat, might not listen to Foles’ suggestion to call “Philly Special” — the fourth-down touchdown pass to the Foles in the Super Bowl. If that play had failed, and if the Eagles had lost, it would have been Pederson’s epitaph.
Here lies Doug Pederson’s coaching career. It was nothing “Special.”
However, like everything else Pederson touched in the last 365 days, it worked. But none of this seemed remotely likely on Feb. 7, 2017.
A year ago it seemed that Roseman, Pederson and Agholor had one more chance with the Eagles. A year ago, Foles wasn’t on anyone’s radar.
Things changed quickly. After the Eagles beat Carolina in Charlotte in Game 6, the third of nine wins in a row, they clearly were the best team in the NFL. They clearly had the best coach and the best general manager, with the best locker room in franchise history. They lost players, and one more meaningful game, but they never looked back.
Lurie told the NFL Network, “It’s an incredible group of men, to be able to pull this off with all those injured guys, and without Carson.”
Philly Special, indeed.
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