Super Bowl Guide: Foles ready to perform on super stage

Make no mistake — the largest storyline of Super Bowl LII is Foles.

PHOTO BY ANDY LEWIS

By Brian Baldinger

In the Philadelphia Eagles draft of 2012, they selected Fletcher Cox with the first pick. They had two selections in the second round and took Mychal Kendricks and Vinny Curry.

Baldinger

Do you see where this is going? In the third round, they selected out of the University of Arizona, a quarterback named Nick Foles.

I never forgot what they said about Foles in the thumbnail of information after the selection: “We know how Andy Reid loves drafting QBs, so this isn’t a shock pick. Foles has great size at 6-foot-5, 243 pounds and is an accurate thrower with a big arm. What he does not have is mobility. He is basically a statue in the pocket. The Eagles haven’t developed any starters with these mid-round QB picks, but they have had success trading them for value later.”

Nothing could have been written at that moment in time with any more accuracy. After the Eagles traded Foles to the Rams in 2015, he signed with the Chiefs for the 2016 season before signing with Philly as a free agent before this season.

Make no mistake about the largest storyline in Super Bowl LII — Foles. The Eagles are heavy underdogs for the third straight game in large part because the people who make the betting lines are still unsure about how Foles will perform on the league’s largest stage. I think both Foles and his teammates who have always fully supported him crave the underdog role.

In 2012, I was announcing the Eagles preseason games for Channel 6. I was at many of the summer training camp practices at Lehigh University and spent time around a lot of the younger players, including Foles. I knew he attended Austin-Westlake High School, which had turned out Drew Brees more than a decade earlier.

Foles would break most of Brees’ passing records. He was also a Division I basketball recruit and for a long time he thought basketball would be his ticket to Division I sports. During that stretch, I met his affable father, Larry Foles. He was a self-made multimillionaire by climbing from the very bottom of the restaurant business to one day owning and eventually selling a chain of restaurants.

His first preseason game that 2012 season was home at the Linc against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Reid and the quarterbacks coach, Doug Pederson, were excited to see what Foles could do.

It was to be a major storyline going into the first preseason game.

When Mike Vick jammed his thumb by accidentally hitting a helmet, Foles was thrust into action. He entered the game with the Birds down, 13–0. He really responded. I distinctly recall him using an audible to take a deep shot for a touchdown on a throw that looked like the flea flicker throw to Torrey Smith for a 41-yard touchdown pass in the NFC championship game against the Vikings.

He would toss another touchdown pass in his debut and the Eagles would prevail, 24–23. There was a lot to like about him on that hot August night.

And there is a lot to like about him now as we build with “Go Birds” excitement leading up to Sunday in Minneapolis at U.S. Bank Stadium.

His opportunity to lift this starved franchise on his broad Texas shoulders happened in an instant in Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Dec. 10 against the Rams.

The rising star of the entire National Football League, Carson Wentz, dove into the end zone the way he had dived on a football field his entire life.

Except on this dive, he would rupture the all-so-important ACL ligament. He would heroically limp back onto the field and toss a sturdy touchdown pass to Alshon Jeffery.

Simultaneously, at the other stadium in Carson, California, the Chargers were busy whipping up on the Washington Redskins. I was announcing that game for national radio. Later, after both games were wrapped up, I headed to LAX to take the red-eye flight home.

It was jam packed with celebratory Eagle fans, but bittersweet, due to the imminent injury to Wentz. Concerned fans were coming up to me throughout the six-hour flight home asking me how good Foles was. Could he finish the job that Wentz had started with his amazing season? Or would the playoff-bound Birds be the feared “one and done.”

I didn’t think it was fair to give knee-jerk analysis since he hadn’t played in preseason due to shoulder soreness and due to Wentz’s emergence as a bonafide star.

He would have to play himself in to shape. There were ups and downs and more doubt than belief as the Birds played that first playoff game versus the Falcons. It was a playoff nailbiter, going down to the final fourth-down throw to Julio Jones. Lots of relief, but a real belief that the team around the QB was really, really good.

But the Vikings victory took all belief to astronomical proportions. Foles was at his best in every category. He looked like he was the reincarnation of Wentz and against the league’s best defense.

I don’t know if Foles can duplicate that performance on the super stage. That would be difficult to imagine. But perhaps he doesn’t have to. What we have come to realize is the team in every area is really good, and very well prepared around the QB.

The opponent has the league’s best coach in Bill Belichick. Whatever he has shown in the 18 games they have played thus far, will not be what he will show in the Super Bowl. Not because he wants to show new tricks, but because each game is a new game with a new game plan designed to beat that team. It won’t be any different come Sunday.

The important thing for the Eagles is to be quick to adjust to new defenses, different personnel and new formations.

The Pats also have the best quarterback of all time. Cerebral, cunning, 17 years’ worth of plays and concepts and nothing the Eagles can show that Tom Brady has not seen many times before.

What they seem to lack, because they have been in these big games so many times, is raw emotion, something the Eagle players and the adoring fans have no shortage of.

That can be used to jump out to early leads. The problem with raw emotion is that it’s hard to sustain for three-and-a-half hours. That’s when the Patriots come alive when they need it the most, when they can no longer make mistakes, when they have to be at their very, very best.

I believe that regardless of the famous coach and quarterback, the Eagles are a better team. I think they are much better built in the trenches on both sides of the ball, and that’s where this game will be decided. I think Foles believes this as well. He knows he has to be much more than just a game manager.

That won’t be enough. In the NFC championship game, the Birds were an astounding 11-of-15 on third down.

The success on this important down eventually broke the sword of the Minnesota Vikings. Foles was a huge part of that success. The thought of Pederson and Foles defeating the glorified combination of Belichick and Brady is also the story of Rocky, our city’s famous fictional character who defines this city’s underdog mentality.

It’s a theme that is also that of America’s proud history. I believe the Foles story will supplant that of Rocky Balboa on Sunday in Minneapolis.

It will be even better. It will take place on a football field and not a boxing ring. And it will be even better because it will be real and not fiction.

And I can’t wait to watch this Nick Foles Story be told. And his adoring and growing Philadelphia fan base. ••