It finally happened! To those of you outside of our postage-stamp sized fan base of a region, it might be hard for you to understand, but this meant a LOT to a LOT of people. What many of you don’t realize is that some of the largest cities in the country are practically on top of one another – and this leads to some big rivalries. For example, the drive from Philly to NYC is about 2 hours. Probably 1.5 hours to Baltimore. Maybe 2-2.5 to D.C. given the traffic. What we have seen over the years were all of these cities lauded for various reasons and our city playing bridesmaid, time and time again. Philly is the 5th largest city in the country in the 5th most populous state.
I once saw something interesting that had the following:
- New York is the money capital of the world
- Boston is the academic center of the country
- D.C. has all of the power
- LA has all of the famous people
- Philly has the goddamn Rocky statue
There it is – it’s actually not that bad. I grew up with a dad as a steelworker. Birdsboro Steel, actually. Both of my grandfathers worked in a factory. My uncles worked in a factory. All of my ancestors were factory workers or coal miners. I don’t think many people understand that how you see life on TV is not how life is lived. We grew up poor. I think one year my dad had to sell his motorcycle so we could afford a wood stove for heat. My first pair of designer shoes was high school. To people like us, the Eagles meant everything – it was our tribe, our castle, our flag – if they had a good week, I had a good week. If they were blown out, I was miserable.
A few times, we’ve gotten close. Twice they’ve been there, twice they lost – once just barely in 2005. A few other times, they had the best team and an injury (Cunningham), a death (bring it home for Jerome), or a great fog (yes, look up the fog bowl) derailed our hopes and dreams.
That time is over – and this team felt special all year. From early on, I felt they could run it if they want. But I also watched in awe – and learned some things about what made this team a winner from the get-go. Below, I have some football and non-football items to look at.
- The trenches – pre-season, I read how the Eagles had the best offensive line in football and like the 3rd best defensive line. At this site, I was sort of excited. They went 7-9 last year, but we were pretty high on Carson Wentz. I was hoping for a 10-6 and first round playoff win. However – as the weeks went on, I was noticing how our offensive line was opening up gaping holes for running backs to run through. Like you could literally drive a truck through them. No matter what running back we threw out there (sproles, ajayi, blount, clement, smallwood – whoever) it seemed every back got 6-8 yards a carry. I mean seriously, for those of you who don’t see the Eagles every week, someday you will see the highlight reels of this team throughout the season and be like – damn, that team could run at will. One week, there was something like 7 minutes left on the clock, Eagles up by like 7. Conventional wisdom is to just run the ball and drain the clock. Yeah. Eagles did that. It’s the first time in THIRTY YEARS of watching the Eagles that I saw them successfully execute this. Like ran at will. Held the ball the last half quarter of the game and the other team could not stop it. Also – they protected the quarterback. Unlike the times of Cunningham and McNabb, I didn’t have a quarterback running for his life every play. Wentz did his fair share of running, but a lot of this was him holding on to the ball too long. He had a natural ability to escape, but EVERYONE in Eagles nation have seen both McNabb and Cunningham go out for the year on running plays. So – the offensive line also provided very good pass protection. On the defensive side of the ball, they rotate in like 8 people and keep them fresh. The D line was stacked with first round picks. Look at the pedigree of that line, it’s insane. What you notice is that the D line was always making big plays at the end of the game. Because the Eagles were great with clock control on the offensive side of the ball and did great rotations with the D line, they routinely came up with big plays at the end of games – and forced bad throws for interceptions. They also SHUT DOWN the run this year. Part of it though was they would be destroying teams and they would have to abandon the run to play the pass.
- 3rd down conversion. I’ve never, ever, ever seen a team continue to get 3rd down conversions. Unlike most of the Eagles teams I’ve seen where there were lots of 4 and outs, it was RARE for a 4 and out – like this never happened, ever. Take note on this everyone, this could have been the wild card to it all and the most important stat of any of the Eagles stats. By continuing to get first downs, they would have time of possession advantage, rest their defense more, wear down opponents, and also demoralize them. I believe the Eagles had the top offense for most of the year. By executing these plays, it directly helped item 1 above.
- Risk taking. One thing about Andy Reid I used to admire was how well prepared that he was. He’d plan for the wind. Doug Pederson was a direct disciple from Reid. When Reid was Favre’s QB coach, Pederson was his backup. When Reid came to Philly and drafted McNabb, he brought Pederson in to teach the offense. When Reid was in KC, he brought Pederson in to eventually be the offensive coordinator. Reid did have his moments – starting out his second season with an on-sides kick against the cowboys to set the tone. But Reid also was a relatively conservative coach, in hindsight. Pederson took a LOT of risks….and almost ALL of them paid off, including “the Philly Special”, perhaps one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl History. We beat Tom Brady and the vaunted Patriots in a shootout – with a backup quarterback.
- Chemistry. I’m an atheist, as a disclaimer, but there was a LOT of faith-based talk in the clubhouse. Both Wentz and Foles seem to be very religious, with Foles talking about wanting to join the church as a leader after he hangs them up. There was a lot of prayer going on in this locker room, but you didn’t get a sense that it was phony – it seemed genuine, and they all seemed like genuine good people that had faith, not only in their god, but in each other. This also allowed them to be selfless at times, and this attitude allowed them to put the team above themselves. This is very hard to do – I played team sports on some really good teams and some really bad teams. Sometimes, it’s just hard fitting with others. You had some really big time egos in that locker room checking it in place for the team. One week, I think Blount had no touches. When Wentz went down, you could genuinely see him cheering on Foles. When Foles won the Super Bowl MVP, he was humble and you could see him and Wentz were close. What many of you don’t realize, is this team was absolutely decimated by key injuries. Like, we lost our goddamn kicker for the year. So what happens? We sign a no-name rookie and he drills a 61-yard field goal to win it against the Giants. 61 yards? For real? The dude continued to drill 50+ yard kicks…like it was his job. Right before the 61 yard kick, he missed a short one. This team jelled on all levels.
- Front office. I am sort of in awe with Howie Roseman. I believe he was pretty instrumental with Andy Reid building up a lot of the team that the “idiot” traded away. For example, we had Desean Jackson, LeSean McCoy, and Jeremy Maclin. We got a bag of chips for them. Many people outside of Philly recall a good 25 years without any good goddamn receivers (outside of one year with Terrell Owens), and then he took them from us. Then, he was fired (he shall remain unnamed). Then, Roseman was tapped to take back over, and within 2 years, he assembled a Super Bowl team. Yes, our left tackle Jason Peters will probably be in the Hall of Fame. What did he do? He got Ajayi for a 4th round pick and a bag of baseballs. Ajayi went on to be a major contributor through the year. It just seemed like he was able to get the right people setup for the right positions – time and time again.
- Leadership. I LOVE Doug Pederson as a coach. But this was not the case when he was hired. Again, those of you who didn’t know who Doug Pederson was, he was the guy brought here to teach Donovan McNabb the highly complex West Coast Offense. He promptly led the Eagles to a 5-11 season. His QB play was ugly. But guess what? All of those years holding the clip board for Favre. And everywhere else. Sometimes, these guys don’t have the best physical traits, but maybe they are wicked smart and they go there through craftiness. One thing that is of interest here is he was adept with changing HIS way of doing things. Get this, Foles was hurt in preseason, so he didn’t really have much work in game situations prior to him going in when Wentz went down. It was kind of ugly. But get this – instead of forcing a QB to bend to his will and his playbook, he went back into the game film and watched what strengths he had – then he changed his plays/play calling to suit his quarterback’s strengths. Are you kidding me? Let me be clear – if Pederson does not do this, the Eagles don’t even GET to the super bowl after Wentz went down. Now, you have Foles, who once had 27 TDs and 2 INTs with Maclin/Jackson/McCoy with him. He somehow fades into obscurity under Jeff Fisher because they tried to have him fit into HIS system. They looked at their D line and said, “why are we doing a 3-4, let’s go back to the 4-3” and the players LOVED him for it (especially Cox/Graham). How many talented people switched teams only to fail because they didn’t fit into the new system? How many talented people around the league will now WANT to play for Pederson because he can call things to suit THEIR abilities? Leadership also started with putting the right team in place, getting people to buy in to the team-first mentality, and taking those risks to help the team win – and letting the players play! It was rumored that Suh was willing to play “for free” for the Eagles after seeing how well coached they were in summer camps last year. Now, not sure if that will happen, but it was a testament to how well coached/led they are.
When you really stepped back and looked at this team, it encapsulated everything great about this region of the country. It’s hard working, it’s spiritual, it has a “family-first” mentality – and the city/region fell in love with this team, and for good reason.
Thank you, Eagles, for making this 42 year old happy like he was 6 and rooting for them for the first time!