The Run For The Lombardi
The Story of How an Underdog is Knocking on Goliath’s Door
“Super Bowl 52 is priming up to be one of the most anticipated events of the year.” This is a phrase that seems logical to just about a majority of Americans every year, since the beginning of the Super Bowl era of the National Football League. However, this year presents an aurora fans are unaccustomed to. Viewers have all seen the familiar faces of the past decade of football play on the biggest stage: Brady, Manning, Brees, Rodgers, Belichick, and even the 12th man of Seattle. We have watched a dynasty rise in the Patriots: Payton close out his career with a trophy; and countless Cinderella stories. In 2018, familiar names have been lost and new ones have made their case to represent the league.
In this year’s Super Bowl we will not see a Manning; Aaron Rodgers will not be making a playoff run, and the Dallas Cowboys will not rise to the occasion like so many predicted. The playoff picture was shocking to just about everyone who watched it unfold. An astounding eight new teams made an appearance in this year’s “dance.” The NFC contenders consisted of the Eagles, Vikings, Rams, Saints, and Panthers while new teams of the AFC were even more surprising: the Jaguars, Titans, and Bills. Last year’s contenders faltered too: the Dolphins, Texans, Raiders, Cowboys, Giants, Packers, Lions, and Seahawks, who have been watching and waiting for the new season to give them new glimmers of hope.
The NFL playoffs represent dreams and nightmares. They fulfill and crush lifelong hopes, of both players and fans as well as the dynasties in which they represent. This year marks 40-year-old Tom Brady’s eighth Super Bowl appearance. Arguably, the most successful quarterback of all time, Brady has once again defied the idea that performance is based on age. As miracle-driven as this year’s playoffs were, Brady has once again backpacked his appearance to a Super Bowl plowing through the AFC.
On the flip side, the Philadelphia Eagles have flown high, as of late. Despite all that has been thrown at them: injuries to future hall of fame left tackle, Jason Peters, upcoming linebacker Jordan Hicks, and a devastating week 14 loss of young phenom quarterback, Carson Wentz, the Eagles stand at the biggest stage in sports, the Super Bowl.
But, how did these two teams get here? The story begins on a week 14 matchup for both teams, undeniably a good week to forget. On Sunday in the LA Coliseum, the 10-2 Eagles traveled to face off against a young Rams team on fire, then 9-3. It was a marquee matchup between two former number one and two draft picks in 2016. The game would flash offensive and defensive talent, sparkling in the eyes of all fans in attendance, ironically majority Eagle fans. On a goal line drive mid-game, Carson ran out of the pocket in pursuit of a running touchdown to keep the Eagles in the game. However, his season would end seconds into the play in which he got a torn ACL after getting sandwiched by Rams’ defenders. It was later confirmed that an MVP caliber season for the young North Dakota State alumni quarterback would be cut short. Nick Foles, a backup who once took the starting helm in 2013 under then head coach, Chip Kelly. That season he threw for 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, a remarkable season that sent him to a Pro Bowl. But, after bouncing back and forth between teams, he made his way back for one mission: to save a lost cause, the Philadelphia Eagles. He lead a high scoring 43-35 victory.
That same week, on Monday night, in Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, the Patriots had a divisional matchup against the Dolphins. What seemed like a cake-walk after previously beating them 35-17 in week 12, the Patriots for once looked vunerable. Tom Brady threw two interceptions to one touchdown, Patriot running backs only rushed for just 25 yards, and the Patriots’ defense got torched on a few occasions that allowed Jay Cutler to throw three touchdowns. The Patriots fell to 10-3.
Despite this lackluster performance by the Patriots that week, since the beginning of the new season, the Patriots have been boasting themselves as clear favorites to win the Super Bowl; rightfully so perhaps. The discussion in the dawn of the season was, “Will this be the season Tom Brady’s age catches up to him?” This has been proven to be quite an absurd notion. Tom Brady and his stellar wide receiving core have a monstrous 32 touchdowns to eight interceptions with an insane 4,577 yards. He is going nowhere, except to the Super Bowl on February 4th, in Minneapolis.
Brady stole the first seed and home field advantage in the AFC with a 13-3 record and saw himself in Foxborough looking to crush a new playoff edition: the Tennessee Titans. The projection of this game was that it would be close, and that the Titans should not be looked over so easily in this divisional round. However, the harsh reality was that this was not even a game. The Patriots dominated the game winning 35-14. They held the Titan’s rushing game a who was coming off a stellar performance against the Chiefs to just 65 yards and shutdown their defense. Tom Brady created three touchdowns to 337 total yards of passing.
They went on to face arguably the toughest opponent of the season, the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Jaguars defense is often referred to as “Sacksonville,” to illustrate the strength of their team. The once 3-13 team was a loud and proud league prize who was arguably the definition of a Cinderella as well as the definition of their own downfall. Jalen Ramsey, Jacksonville’s best cornerback even went to say they were going to march to Minneapolis and win it all a whole week before they even landed in Massachusetts to play the Patriots. Goliath, was silent, but the media reported an article about Tom Brady having a hand injury that happened during practice. Silent, Tom and the Patriots played the game, looking fairly unfazed by the buzz of the media.
It looked like Jacksonville had this game won, until the fourth quarter. After losing tight-end Rob Gronkowski, the team marched up in the final drive of game. Tom Brady threw a four-yard touchdown pass to Danny Amendola with 2:48 remaining in the game, rallying the New England Patriots back to the Super Bowl with a 24-20 comeback victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC championship. The world was silenced and the Patriots clinched the Super Bowl spot and became the five-point favorite to win the Super Bowl.
In Philadelphia, the air was different. Doubt whisked into the noses of every Eagles fan. The possibility existed that the Eagles could finally add a Super Bowl onto the city’s short resume of success in the sport. Week 14, snapped hope from the hearts of all die-hard fans and confidence from the media. For the first time in football history a first seed in the playoff was deemed underdogs to win their divisional game.
The question has and continues to be Nick Foles. Could Nick Foles, a backup who disappeared from the league after a stellar second season, take his team to it’s first Super Bowl since 2005. The Eagles, though finishing 13-3, looked absolutely lackluster in their final three games of the regular season. They barely beat the Giants and Raiders teams, 34-39 and 19-10 respectively, before losing 6-0 against the Cowboys. The sixth-seeded Atlanta Falcons team, 10-6, was favored to crush the hopes of the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles' season looked over to most fans.
The game was close, but one to remember. Nick Foles and the Eagles offense played enough to win. The Falcons were not going out without a fight however. The final minutes had just about every single viewer at the edge of their seats. The Falcons stood knocking on the doors of the end zone of the Philadelphia Eagles. Four plays is all the Falcons needed to end the Eagles’ season. The Eagles Defense stole the show on fourth down, with their Conference Championship dream on the line. A flashy throw to star, Julio Jones, after he slipped too high over the hand on the leaping receiver sealed it. A Lane Johnson “underdog” mask postgame became an instant hit, as well as meme. The mask would soon be sold out on Amazon.
This is what the Eagles are however; an underdog of major proportions. The city embraces it, uses it, and loves it. Being an underdog has undoubtedly lit a fire in the heart of the Eagles' locker room.
The red hot Vikings team then headed to Philly to play the Eagles. The Vikings defense was ranked number one in the league and had an offense utilizing a stellar wide receiver and running back core. The matchup was between two former Rams’ teammates Case Keenum Foles; two quarterback who no one thought would headline a NFC Championship. The game was lights out. The Eagles played to perfection and never looked back. Nick Foles came to play, throwing 26-33 in attempts, 352 yards, and three touchdowns. In three postseason starts, Nick Foles had an incredible 75% completion percentage for 793 yards, five touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a 116.3 rating. The defense dominated with a fumble, two interceptions, and a touchdown. The underdog had became a beast snatching Super Bowl hopes from the team who hosts the big game on February 4th. The Vikings' home will be taken over by the team who beat them, making the city of Philadelphia a force to reckon with.
The Super Bowl this February will mirror the matchup of the Super Bowl XXXIX, played in 2005: The Philadelphia Eagles vs. The New England Patriots. During that game, three points decided the game and the Patriots edged out the Philadelphia Eagles, 24-21.
The Patriots are last year's Super Bowl champions, and have five championships during the "Brady-Belichick era" . Since their last Super Bowl match up of 2005, the Eagles Fans lost three wildcards, one divisional round, and one conference title. On February 4, 2018 the Philadelphia “underdogs” will look to make revenge theirs and claim what could have been theirs years ago.