It’s been a big week for the underdogs.
That nickname has stuck with the Philadelphia Eagles for weeks now, ever since the first-time offensive tackle Lane Johnson donned a German Shepherd mask in the end zone of a playoff game.
The image was rather macabre — a burly lineman shaped like a soda machine, with a plastic dog head askew on his broad shoulders — but it sold an idea that quickly became a mantra for the team. Over the past weeks, the Eagles’ success has been accompanied by a sea of German Shepherd, pug and poodle masks as the fans of Philadelphia fully embraced and celebrated their role as the league’s underdogs.
It was fitting for a team whose odds were low for every game of the playoffs. It was even more fitting in the Super Bowl, for a team that had never won, playing the team that has become one of the greatest juggernauts of the game. When it comes to football, everyone is an underdog against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
Let me just say this. No one could have predicted this ending. No one could have foreseen that Carson Wentz, well on his way to a MVP trophy, would take a hard hit in a game that meant little-to-nothing, then never return to the field. No one could have predicted that a backup quarterback, who struggled to find his rhythm in his initial starts, would string together a series of improbable playoff victories.
And similarly, no one could have predicted that Super Bowl game. Tom Brady tore it up with 505 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, but the Eagles somehow still beat the greatest quarterback in the league? Unheard of. Run a trick play on 4th and goal to give your backup quarterback the first reception — not to mention touchdown — of his life? You’ve got to be kidding me. Win the game on a high-flying, almost-too-good-to-be-true dive into the end zone? This sounds like a deleted scene from the Disney classic Invincible, rather than an actual, real life football game.
But this is the season that Philly has been waiting for over the last five decades, over a dry spell that has lasted the entire lifetime of the Super Bowl and the entire lifetime of almost every resident of the city. Philadelphia fans are many things — loyal, passionate and, yes, more than a little crazy — but above all they have been patient in waiting for this final, inevitable coronation. And they did it without any of the legacy or royalty that the Patriots brought to the table.
Take, for example, the head coach, the man who made the 4th and goal “Philly Special” play call that will probably go down as one of the greatest and gutsiest decisions in Super Bowl history. Ten years ago, Pederson was preparing for spring ball at a high school in Louisiana, game planning how to break into the state playoffs again. He was used to being held to the sidelines, a guy who played backup quarterback his whole life. Now, in only his second season at the helm of the Eagles, he’s got everything a coach could ask for — a loyal fan following, two stud quarterbacks and a Super Bowl ring to boot.
“Our coach has got some guts, huh?” said tight end Trey Burton, who threw that touchdown pass to Foles. “Got some big ones.”
Everyone from Pederson down to the water boys had a reason to bring a chip on their shoulder into the game. But what’s amazing about what the Eagles did is that they didn’t play as if they were the underdogs. From the start, they gave the Patriots a taste of their own medicine — efficient drives with a mix of that slashing RPO attack paired with deep bombs from Foles — and put New England in a hole early on.
Despite the David and Goliath setting of the game, the Eagles never faltered or seemed overwhelmed by the challenge ahead of them. Even Brady described the game as feeling out of his control. And perhaps that’s why it felt like such an uncharacteristic showing for the Patriots — for a team used to dominating, especially in late-game, high-stakes situations, this was a complete turning of the tables.
It’s a bit of an annual pastime for football fans whose teams long ago fell out of Super Bowl contention to cheer against Brady and the Patriots. They are, after all, the Evil Empire of the league, the proverbial Bad Guys who are easy enough to hate. But this year, I saw something different unfold.
I watched the game at a friend’s house with a crowd of about 30. Only two people were cheering for the Patriots, per usual, but the rest of the crowd was resoundingly cheering for the Eagles. It was similar to the 2016 World Series, when everyone in America seemed to agree that if you weren’t cheering for the Cubs, well, you didn’t have much of a heart.
Everyone had their own reason to cheer for the Eagles — they’re a fan of Nelson Agholor, the former USC star and current Eagles wide receiver; or of Julie Ertz, the World Cup champion and wife of the tight end who caught that final touchdown pass; or of Malcolm Jenkins, whose political activism has earned attention and respect throughout the league this season. But the core of the support came down to those dog heads that Johnson and his team wore with such pride. Everyone loves an underdog.
In yet another year when we all needed a story of the little guy winning big, the Eagles came through to deliver one for the ages, complete with a storybook finish right down to the very last seconds. And while the true fans are still probably recovering from their celebrations (RIP to most of the major streets in Philadelphia), for the rest of us, the truth about this Super Bowl is settling in — we were all lucky to witness a classic.
Julia Poe is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. Her column, “Poe’s Perspective,” runs Tuesdays.