MINNEAPOLIS — Nick Foles, the man most responsible for the biggest party in Philadelphia sports history, had missed everything.
He missed the dance party at the center of the locker room. He missed the Gatorade showers, and the two now-empty bottles of Johnnie Walker Blue, and the emotional speeches from the head coach and captain that promised a legendary celebration.
“Dude, where have you been?” Carson Wentz, the man he replaced at quarter of this team, asked when the Super Bowl LII MVP finally walked into the room. Foles sized up the wild scene, then took Wentz and backup quarterback Nate Sudfeld into a quiet room to talk.
He barely had time for a hug, much less soak up the scene after this wild 41-33 victory over the Patriots. Maybe that was fitting. Foles, after all, had been an after thought for most of this season — for most of his career — until a wild two months had turned him into the perfect Philadelphia sports hero.
It is only fitting that a city that embraces Rocky as its sports inspiration have a backup quarterback, one who seriously considered retiring just two seasons ago, lead its tortured NFL franchise to an unforgettable championship against the league’s greatest dynasty.
Think about it: When has as athlete led a team to a championship in one season and not even be considered for a starting job the next? That’s Philly to the core. That’s Foles.
“Man, here you go. Shut you off, man! You know who is throwing the ball,” receiver Alshon Jeffery said when asked who should be Eagles quarterback next season. “Carson, of course.”
No one — not even Foles — would argue that. And that’s what makes this story so perfect.
“I always thought he had the talent to be a star in this league, but he had to make up his own mind that that’s what he wanted to do,” his father-in-law, Dan Moore, said as the Foles entourage left U.S. Bank Stadium. “And he did that. I don’t think there’s any surprise that he was able to pull off what he did.”
About an hour earlier, Foles was kissing his 7-month-old daughter — who wore oversized pink headphones to protect her young ears — on the forehead before the MVP trophy presentation. She kept grabbing at his microphone, and when he gazed into her eyes, he looked like he was on the verge of bursting into tears.
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That was the only time that the moment seemed to overwhelm him. He completed 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards — his most yards in a game in 1,197 days — and three touchdowns. The most remarkable part about those remarkable stats is that his biggest play came as a wide receiver.
The Eagles were up 15-12 near the end of the first half when head coach Doug Peterson, facing a fourth and goal at the Patriots 1-yard-line, decided to roll the dice.
He called in “Philly Special.” It’s a play in which backup tight end Trey Burton, who has never attempted a pass in his career, throws a pass to Foles — who has split wide and, when the ball is snapped, stands passively in an attempt to sell the defense that he’s not involved.
“Bro, you’re talking the Super Bowl. Super Bowl 52,” Burton said. “Philly’s never won a Super Bowl and we’re on the 1-yard line, fourth down and he calls a trick play pass to the quarterback.
“Like, bro, come on. You can’t be serious. He’s got a lot of guts.”
Pederson had the guts, but Foles had the hands. Earlier in the first half, New England attempted its own trick play with Tom Brady on the receiving end of a pass, and it slid off his fingertips. Could that really have been the difference in a Super Bowl?
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Brady was brilliant in defeat, throwing for a record 505 yards and three touchdowns. But that drop and his devastating fumble late in the fourth quarter were the razor-thin margin between victory and defeat in this game.
Foles, meanwhile, made a difference with big plays and small. The drive that won the Super Bowl for the Eagles came after Brady gave the Patriots their first lead, a 14-play, 75-yard, seven-minute masterpiece that ended with a perfect strike to tight end Zach Ertz for the touchdown.
Foles said he was “just playing ball,” not concerned about the time on the clock or the enormous stakes. The quarterback who nearly walked away from the sport looked like the best in the world.
“We talked a lot this last week about a couple years ago, there was a time where I was thinking about hanging up the cleats, and I think as people, we deal with struggles,” Foles said. “And that was a moment in my life where I thought about it, and I prayed about it. I’m grateful that I made the decision to come back and play.”
Now all of Philly will wonder: Where will Foles play next? The Eagles have their quarterback in Wentz. But no matter what happens, this city will forever have its perfect sports hero in Nick Foles. Move over, Rocky.
Steve Politi may be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @StevePoliti. Find NJ.com on Facebook.