BLOOMINGTON, Minn. – Forget about all that Nick Foles went through that has culminated in a Super Bowl start. It doesn’t matter — his debut as a rookie in 2012, the 2013 Pro Bowl season, the injury-shortened 2014 campaign, the unexpected trade to St. Louis in 2015, the contemplation of retirement before signing with Kansas City in 2016, the return to Philadelphia last summer, or even his replacing Carson Wentz as the Eagles’ starter last month.
Don’t even think about what might come after Sunday. A possible trade? Back to being the Eagles’ No. 2?
If you have listened to Foles enough during the two weeks leading to the Super Bowl, you have heard him echo variations of the same phrase: “Stay in the moment.” He said it last week in Philadelphia when the enormity of the Super Bowl loomed. He said it in Minnesota when the buildup included pitting Foles against five-time champion Tom Brady and the dynastic New England Patriots. Foles is 60 minutes away from an ending to the season that could turn into a movie and become NFL lore. And the way Foles combats that is not through introspection but rather by repeating, and adhering to, a phrase that he believes provides the required equilibrium.
“Just live in the moment,” Foles said. “Especially since what I’ve gone through the last few years, what I’ve seen. My perspective’s changed. … I’m really just enjoying the moment, grateful for the moment.”
On Sunday, Foles will start the day as he always does. He’ll read the Bible and keep a journal. He said his body will know it’s game day. You can call it butterflies, but Foles said the “body definitely knows something’s coming.” He’ll take the first bus to the stadium, get his bearings, and go through his pregame stretching and throwing routine. Right before the game, he’ll take a deep breath. Once the game begins, he believes, any nerves will vanish.
“It slows down. You’re just in tune,” Foles said. “You don’t really see the environment around you. It’s probably hard to understand unless you’ve been there.”
Foles is capable of the outstanding and the ugly. Just compare his performance on Christmas night against the Raiders with the one he gave in the NFC championship game against the Vikings. But the Eagles have also taken steps to maximize how they use Foles, which can account for his recent success, too.
It’s true that the Eagles didn’t reinvent the offense, but they at least custom-fit it. The Eagles allowed Foles to make quicker reads and implemented a quick passing game to try to establish a rhythm.
“Part of the deal is getting the concepts up early that he really feels comfortable with,” quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said. “He’s very vocal about that to myself, to Frank [Reich], to Coach [Doug] Pederson. He’s not afraid to tell us what he likes. He’s been great communicating that … and I think that’s why you’re seeing a better product on the field the last couple of weeks.”
Much has been made about how the Eagles use run-pass options — Pederson was introduced to RPOs when he was the offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, and he has incorporated them into the Eagles offense. During those plays, there is an option to either rush the ball or pass the ball depending upon the defensive look. Foles downplayed the RPOs’ prominence – “it’s just a piece of our offense,” he said – but it shows how the Eagles are trying to highlight Foles and create advantageous matchups.
To hear the Eagles discuss it, the biggest key for Foles was just having time to practice – especially during the bye week. He missed almost all of training camp and the preseason with an elbow injury, and the backup quarterback doesn’t get work with the starters during the season. The Eagles used their first-round bye almost as a training camp for Foles, and by the time the divisional round approached, they found a better Foles.
“It takes some time to knock the rust off a little bit,” DeFilippo said.
The Eagles are also encouraged about Foles’ temperament. He is described as “chill” and “even-keeled,” long a Foles characteristic. It’s more valuable this week because of the perspective Foles has developed.
“A lot of people look at this moment and say, ‘Wow, aren’t you excited you [didn’t retire] and are in the Super Bowl?’ ” Foles said. “I’m grateful to be up here. … But at the same time, if I would have made the other decision, my life wouldn’t have been a loss.”
Foles doesn’t need to be here. He takes seminary courses at Liberty University online and has already started steps to enter the restaurant business, like his father. He could be happy with his wife and daughter, away from the biggest football game of the year and the grandest stage of his life.
But Foles is here, and more than ever, he’s aware that the onus is on him, as he plays in a city he wanted to return to and for teammates whom he adores. He knows all about Tom Brady’s brilliance and the Patriots dynasty and being the David against football’s ultimate Goliath. He believes the best way to survive is — again — to stay in the moment. And on Sunday, it will be the biggest moment of his career.
“At that moment, it’ll be the Super Bowl,” Foles said. “The only time I’ll feel it will be in that moment. I’m excited to run out in the tunnel with my teammates, Super Bowl Sunday, and play that game. I have no idea what I’ll feel. I know it’ll be a lot of excitement. But I look forward to that moment.”