Sunday night, there were 67,000 fans clapping their hands over their heads. No, Minnesota Vikings fans hadn’t taken over the Linc, nor were any of them chanting, “Skol, Skol, Skol.”
The words were clear: “Foles, Foles, Foles.”
Ever since moving to the City of Brotherly Love in 2003, I’ve seen more than my fair share of Eagles games. But Sunday night was something new—and special.
It feels like only a few weeks ago that I sat in this very same place and let out an audible shriek that might have been heard all throughout Durham when it was announced that quarterback Carson Wentz would be done for the rest of the season. Fourteen weeks into a season that had given me as much excitement as any other year, arguably the most miraculous win to that point felt about as empty as any game I’ve ever watched due to the ACL tear.
The last few weeks did little to inspire confidence. I watched the defense surrender 29 points against a miserable Giants offense before Nick Foles and the Eagles put up just 19 in the final two weeks of the regular season combined. There was no reason to think the NFC’s top seed could definitely win one playoff game, let alone a pair.
Yet, when Lane Johnson broke out those German Shepherd masks after beating the Falcons in the divisional round, I felt hope. This team had found an identity—not that it hadn’t before, but this time, it was one that Philadelphia could be a part of.
The Eagles are not a ‘they.’ The Eagles are a ‘we.’
No city is more of a football town than Philadelphia, plain and simple.
When I got off the subway Sunday night, there were just as many fans getting on the train as there were getting off. For the nearly 70,000 that packed into Lincoln Financial Field, there were probably another 30,000 or more in the parking lots just to tailgate before heading home or back into Center City to watch the game.
All of this took place before a minute of the NFC Championship Game was even played. And less than five minutes in, a Viking touchdown sucked most of the energy out of myself and the rest of the juiced-up, towel-waving, green-and-white clad crowd.
How else was I supposed to feel? It’s not like we hadn’t been here before. Prior to Sunday, the Eagles had played in five conference title games since the turn of the century. The result? One Super Bowl appearance, which ended in a loss to the New England Patriots.
Then, it turned.
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Patrick Robinson’s pick-six wound up in the end zone, just about one hundred feet from where I stood. LeGarrette Blount pounded one in from 11 yards out, and just when the excitement was starting to flow, Alshon Jeffrey broke off his route, setting up a pass that I wouldn’t have thought in my wildest dreams Foles was going to complete.
Yet, he did—and we scored. And if that weren’t enough, Foles did it twice more.
It wasn’t just Foles, though. It was a defense that made Case Keenum look less than ordinary. It was an offensive line that held up against one of the NFL’s most fearsome fronts. It was Torrey Smith, who dropped balls all season long before hauling in a 41-yard score on a flea flicker.
It was general manager Howie Roseman pulling all the right strings in the offseason, making the moves to put the pieces around a star quarterback. It was Wentz, who was the first person to greet Foles when he left the game at the two-minute warning and has been a major influence on the team’s play-calling all year long.
It was the fans that ran into subway poles before the game and climbed Crisco-coated light poles afterwards.
Perhaps most importantly, it was Doug Pederson, who one analyst called “less qualified to coach a team than anyone” he’d ever seen last September, drawing up incredible gameplans time and time again this season, especially last night.
I went home for last night’s game because more than anything, I wanted to share it with my grandfather—someone who is the reason why I love this team as much as I do. But I also wanted to be there to share it with my city.
“We all we got. We all we need.”
These were the words uttered by safety Malcolm Jenkins and echoed by Eagles fans all over. No one believed in us. Each of the last two weeks, just a handful of people outside Philadelphia picked us to win, and both games, Vegas had us as the underdogs.
But even underdogs have to eat, and eat we did. We feasted on the NFC East, we chowed down on the Falcons and Sunday, we polished off the Vikings.
For me, it’s going to be a long two weeks until Super Bowl LII kicks off in Minneapolis. I can barely remember when we lost to the Patriots 13 years ago—yet, this one I don’t think I’m going to forget.
When I finally left South Philadelphia, a smile on my face and confetti in my pocket, I rode the subway back up Broad Street. Coming up to street level, there were close to 5,000 standing in the middle of the busiest road in town.
Just remember, folks, there’s one more game to be played.