Nick Foles is the man of the hour. A second string quarterback who took down the best quarterback and the best team of the decade in a Super Bowl shootout that was fun to watch. Plus, he’s an adoring father of an adorable baby girl. Who wouldn’t want to be him this week? But what I admire about him was who he was a couple of years ago. In many ways, he’s all of us.
Like almost all NFL players, Foles was an early phenome. As a high school player in Austin Texas, Foles threw for 5,658 yards and 56 touchdowns, breaking most school records previously held by Drew Brees. He also started on the school’s basketball team for three years, and winning MVP two of those years. He was recruited to play hoops for Georgetown, Baylor, and Texas. A Golden Boy. A winner. Drafted by the Eagles in the third round in 2012.
But time and luck weren’t kind. An Atlantic article by Alex Putterman written in late January describes him as a very long shot to lead the Eagles to victory against the Patriots. “Nick Foles, the quarterback who in 2013 carried the Eagles to the playoffs, then collapsed the next year, lost his job, and bounced to two other teams before quietly returning to Philly this season, mainly to hold a clipboard on the sideline. The Eagles were entrusting a playoff-bound team to someone who had thrown almost as many interceptions (20) as touchdowns (23) over the past four years.”
Foles had had a good year in Philly before the team decided to go in another direction and drafted their quarterback of the future, Carson Wentz. Being thrust unwillingly into free agency (in the real world, we call it ‘getting fired’) is a blow to your confidence, and Foles struggled in his next two seasons. He questioned himself, and it showed in his performance.
Putterman writes about Foles’ low points ruthlessly: “…this is the guy representing the conference in the Super Bowl? The guy who was benched by the lowly Rams in 2015 and could barely escape the sideline with the Chiefs in 2016? The guy who weighed retirement only 18 months ago? The guy who played so poorly in a Christmas-night win over the Raiders that home fans began to boo?”
Foles considered retirement. He took some time to think about what he really wanted and what would be best for his family. In an interview with ESPN, he said, “I had to take a week off when I was a free agent just to think about it, and it was the best thing that ever happened because I think people are fearful of feeling that way because they feel like they’re the only ones that feel that way, but everyone, we’re professional athletes and we have moments where we step back and think and assess everything in our life.”
Foles prayed and talked it through with his wife before deciding that he would come back, serving as a backup to the man who had replaced him on the team that had let him go. It was surely a humbling experience, in a role that has always fascinated me. Backup quarterbacks have to keep all their skills sharp. They practice and study just as much as anyone on the team. All in the hope that they never take a snap. In fact, all 65,000 fans in the stadium are hoping and praying he remains firmly on the bench. What must that do to someone’s ego?
During the Eagle’s great 2017 season and Nick Foles’ dark night of the soul, Carson Wentz tore his ACL , ending his season in week 10. Foles was thrust back into a starting role. He play; he wobbled; pundits predicted the Eagles had lost their chance at the playoffs.
An old sports adage says that competition doesn’t build character; it reveals it. And this crucible was what forged Foles’ true character. The Eagles, embracing their underdog status, made it into the NFC championship, dispatched the Vikings, and found themselves headed to the Super Bowl, heavy underdogs to the Perennial Patriots. And Foles and the Eagles pulled it off – a win for the ages.
After the game, Nick Foles said something that showed not only grace under fire, but also what all that humbling history had taught him. “I think the big thing that helped me was knowing that I didn’t have to be Superman. I have amazing teammates, amazing coaches around me. And all I had to do was just go play as hard as I could, and play for one another, and play for those guys.”
This is what humility sounds like. He understood that he was human; he’d failed. He’d been booed. He was able to give up the idea of being Super Man and could simply be a guy doing his best and working together with – and for – his team. Golden Boy shows us he’s grown into Golden Man.
Lily is one lucky lady to have a dad like that. She didn’t look all that impressed with his Super Bowl Victory, but I bet she’ll learn a lot over her lifetime from her Dad’s grace and character.