It’s Sept. 21, 2014.
The Philadelphia Eagles are in a divisional dog fight, a 3-0 start perhaps slipping from their grasp at the hands of Kirk Cousins, still a relatively fresh topic in Washington. The Redskins appear to pick off a fourth-quarter pass and threaten to break a 27-27 tie, and as the would-be turnover unfolds, one defensive lineman takes it upon himself to throw his shoulder and 333-pound frame into the Eagles quarterback — the one left defenseless as he trots to halt Washington’s interception return.
The quarterback is left lying on the ground, rolling ever so slightly as he grimaces from the blindside shot. The scene erupts as Eagles rush to avenge the blow to their signal-caller — stalwart left tackle Jason Peters is thrown from the game after shoving the late-hit culprit, one Chris Baker, and so is Baker himself. Eight plays later, though, it is that quarterback, that maimed victim of an unforeseen attack, who rises above the rest, returning to the huddle and firing a dart of a touchdown pass to put the Eagles back in front.
It’s Oct. 12, 2014, and the roles are reversed.
Darren Sproles takes a hand-off for the Eagles as Philadelphia milks the clock up 27-0 on the rival New York Giants, but as he goes to the ground, an opposing defensive lineman goes to great — excessive, maybe — lengths to ensure the 5-foot-6 back is down, dragging Sproles backward as the runner’s leg is all but pinned beneath bodies. It certainly isn’t a blindside shot, but it endangers Sproles nonetheless.
The Eagles quarterback responsible for giving Sproles the ball is none too pleased, rushing to an official, infuriated by the recklessness — “This guy is a special dude right here,” he pleads to the ref, “(And) that pisses me off! That’s my teammate!”
The quarterback, defended by teammates and a defender of teammates, wins over his on-field comrades even if, deep down, he hasn’t won over his coaches, the Eagles front office or a city desperate for consistency in the pocket.
The quarterback is Nick Foles.
Now, in 2017, the same guy is not only back in Philadelphia but back in that precarious position — a man whose resume screams for blue-collar adoration yet cannot fully inspire in the starting job he holds. As Eagles fans rightfully mourn the loss of injured second-year standout Carson Wentz, this decade’s surest Philly franchise QB and the classiest of acts off the field, they should, however, note one thing: For as much as Foles is not Carson Wentz the athlete, he is most definitely a Carson Wentz character.
Rip his footwork. Point to his statistical regressions. Poke fun at his Pro Bowl MVP award. Quote his historic touchdown-to-interception ratio but only in jest.
One thing you cannot do when discussing Nick Foles, however, is accuse him of lacking character — and with that character, toughness.
At the forefront of the team, especially amid the wild success of 2017, Wentz embraced the role of “face of the franchise” like a pro, embodying model leadership with a deadly dose of on-field grit and off-field humility. All of it was accentuated by his ability to, you know, play really good football.
But it also mirrored the actions of — guess who? — Foles, a man who modeled on-field grit and off-field humility to a tee even before Wentz became a possibility at quarterback for the Eagles.
Never did Foles capture the hearts of Eagles Nation like Wentz (not even with that historic TD:INT ratio, you jokesters), but familiar No. 9 has long been just as heralded inside the Philly locker room.
Heck, take it all the way down to the faith that Wentz so fervently proclaims and models through his team-first attitude, and you’ll find that Nick Foles is actually the one who rekindled the flame of team Bible studies back during his original Eagles tenure, that his return to Philadelphia came only after a decision to prioritize his faith, and that he has never failed to project the team-first mentality from behind the podium.
Does character win you football games? Without talent, probably not.
But if you’re smart enough to know just how special Wentz is as an extender of plays and the future of the Eagles franchise, you’re also smart enough to know that Philadelphia didn’t clinch its first NFC East title and playoff appearance in four years only because No. 11 was elite. That being said, you don’t necessarily need Nick Foles to be Carson Wentz the athlete for the Eagles to capture home-field advantage and, dare we suggest, advance to the Super Bowl.
And along the way, it sure can’t hurt that he is a Carson Wentz — no, a Nick Foles — character.