A year ago this week, snuggled in the toasty warmth (relatively speaking) of a vacant room inside Bloomington’s Mall of America, I had a debate with a colleague about the Eagles and the Patriots. The colleague was Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe.
The debate was part of a weeklong project, ahead of Super Bowl LII, in which his publication and ours produced and shared content: stories, columns, videos that fans could watch online. I was paired with Dan for a back-and-forth about who would win the big game. I was fortunate to be.
If there’s a preeminent voice of Boston sports, it’s Dan. He has worked at the Globe for 37 years. He has written 12 books, including The Curse of the Bambino. He’s the guy up there you have to read. He’s provocative. He’s fearless.
And when it came to Super Bowl LII, he was utterly and completely wrong. Dan couldn’t envision a scenario in which Doug Pederson and Nick Foles could lead the Eagles to a victory over Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the Patriots. He had written as much earlier in the week, and he said it during our discussion. And, well, we all know what happened.
Now, I mention this not to mock Dan or accuse him of being a homer or anything like that at all. Columnists make misbegotten predictions often. Just two months before Super Bowl LII, I was at the Coliseum in Los Angeles when Carson Wentz tore two ligaments in his left knee, and I suggested in a column that day that, because of Wentz’s injury, the Eagles’ Super Bowl hopes were dust in the wind. It’s an inherent hazard of the job.
I mention it because it was expected and understandable that Dan would think the Patriots would beat the Eagles, because the Patriots with the exception of the Giants, thanks to a couple of one-in-a-googolplex plays by Eli Manning and his receivers beat everybody. Over the last 18 years, the Patriots have five Super Bowl victories, nine Super Bowl appearances, 13 AFC championship game appearances, 16 AFC East championships, and zero losing seasons.
If you cover and follow that team day after day, week after week, year after year, why would you think the Eagles are going to pull off a trick play on fourth-and-goal for a momentum-shifting touchdown? And even if they did pull it off, why wouldn’t you think that Brady and Belichick would overcome it anyway? Just the year before, the Patriots had fashioned the biggest comeback in any Super Bowl, rallying from a 25-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Falcons in overtime. It would have been natural for Dan, or anyone else, to believe not only that the Patriots would beat the Eagles, but also that they’d run “Philly Special” themselves on fourth-and-20 from their own 47 for the go-ahead score.
That brings us to Sunday’s big game, Patriots-Rams in Super Bowl LIII. Most Eagles fans might be, and probably are, indifferent to its outcome. They’ll have their parties. They’ll drink their beer and tear into their chicken wings. They’ll watch the game and the commercials and maybe even the halftime time show with Maroon 5. Maybe.
But they won’t really care who wins. If anything, people might be inclined to root less for the Rams and more against the Patriots, just because Belichick can be smug and mumbly and Brady has the supermodel wife and the kooky snake-oil diet plan and those guys have won enough already and Hey, wasn’t it awesome last year when we beat those arrogant jerks?
To this, I say: No. Eagles fans should have a strong rooting interest in Super Bowl LIII. They should be pulling for the Patriots with all their hearts.
Nothing will do more to enhance the Eagles’ achievement last season, the significance and legacy of their first Super Bowl victory, than having the NFL’s longtime powerhouse re-establish its dominance again this year.
If the Rams win Sunday, then the Eagles are just one of two teams that happened to catch Belichick and Brady at the right time, in the right Super Bowl, near the end. But if the Patriots win Sunday, it means that the Eagles didn’t merely topple a dynasty that was already in decline. It means that they beat the best coach in league history and the best quarterback in league history while those two were still in the midst of the best and longest era of success of any franchise in league history.
Foles, Pederson, Brandon Graham’s forced fumble, Alshon Jeffery’s spectacular catches, Jason Kelce’s speech all of them will take on a brighter gleam, for the Eagles’ accomplishment will have been shown, in retrospect, to be that much more impressive. The greatest moment in Philadelphia sports will have been made even greater.