Here we stand, unabashedly dumb once again.
The worst part about being a Philadelphia sports fan is believing in these teams. Since that 1982-83 championship season for the Sixers, the four major sports teams of Philadelphia have made it to the postseason a combined 63 times. The Eagles made it to just the 10th Philadelphian championship game across those 35 long years—and they’ll kick the ball off with a 1-8 record in such contests.
That saving grace—the 2008 Phillies championship—is identified by many Philadelphians as the greatest (non-fictional) moment in Philadelphia sports history. If everything goes according to plan on Sunday, it may be unseated by the most improbable championship climb of recent memory.
Three years ago, Kansas City offensive coordinator Doug Pederson spent this final week of January watching the Super Bowl festivities from his living room. Pederson was in his second year as the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs, but to this point, he had not yet called a play at the professional level—he hadn’t even called a play at the college level.
Pederson’s entire coaching career was tethered to Andy Reid, his ex-coach whose encouragement had led to Pederson taking his first coaching gig—the head position at Calvary Baptist Academy in Louisiana—after retiring from NFL play. Reid brought Pederson on as a quality control assistant in the twilight of his Eagles tenure in 2009, promoted him to QB coach in 2011, and brought him along to Kansas City as his offensive coordinator when Philadelphia fired him in 2013.
Pederson’s Chiefs limped to the finish in the 2014 season after a fiery 7-3 start. They had just missed the wild card race at 9-7, averaging almost 6 less points/game across the final 6 games of the season. Their longest offensive play of the year was a 70-yard touchdown catch by RB Knile Davis, who spent 65 of those yards with the ball already in his hands. The next longest pass? 48 yards.
Oh, and lest we forget: for the first time since 1964, not a single WR on the Kansas City Chiefs caught a touchdown pass.
Three years ago, Howie Roseman spent this final week of January holed up in a dark corner of the NovaCare Complex. Forever seeking the elusive moniker of “football guy,” Roseman had just been displaced from the player personnel department in Philadelphia—a branch of team organization he had spent almost a decade desperately clawing his way into.
His four-year stint as the GM of the Eagles ended at the hands of then-HC Chip Kelly, who assumed control of personnel decisions. Sure, owner Jeffrey Lurie gave Roseman a title “bump” and a salary increase as he smashed the reset button on the front office, but Roseman was now spending more time on the equipment staff than he was on the players.
Roseman’s demotion stirred the staunch defenders of “football guy” dogma. With the door open to question Howie’s football acumen and leadership, Louis Riddick, Roseman’s ex-Director of Pro Personnel, took to the airwaves on 97.5 The Fanatic:
Leadership, to me, is all about credibility and being trustworthy, competency, and being someone people respect as far as skills are concerned...that’s what leadership is. So if you’re starting to hear news of it being a “toxic environment,” obviously, you’re not fulfilling those three criteria as far as I’m concerned from a leadership perspective. You can draw whatever conclusion you want from that.
Three years ago, Eagles third-year QB Nick Foles spent this final week of January thinking his starting job was pretty safe. After powering the Eagles to a 5-2 start in 2014, a nasty sack against the Texans forced Foles to leave the field. He turned the keys over to backup Mark Sanchez and spent the rest of the season laboring on IR with a broken collarbone. Sanchez finished the win over the Texans, but went 4-4 as a starter to finish out the regular season, and the Eagles missed the playoffs all together.
Little did Foles know—and most anyone else, for that matter—that one of Chip Kelly’s first moves as newly-crowned decision-maker would be trading Foles away. Across 18 starts for Kelly, Foles turned in a 14-4 record, a 40:12 TD:INT ratio, a 62% completion percentage, and a quarterback rating of 100.5. Before he could see his nineteenth, Kelly packaged Foles, a second, and a fourth to bring in ex-Rams QB Sam Bradford, the captain under which Chip’s ship would eventually sink.
Three years ago, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady spent this final week of January preparing to defeat the Seattle Seahawks for their fourth Super Bowl championship.
These are the three men to whom the fate of Philadelphia belongs—at least, for the next five days. Should you look down the years, you will certainly see a healthy Carson Wentz and Jordan Hicks, new coordinators and draft selections. But any glance beyond this Sunday is for 30 other teams in the league—not this team; not Philly’s team. Despite all of the hardships, all of the doubts and the roadblocks and the disappointments—no matter how undeniably stupid it is, Philadelphia believes once again.
And those doubts? Those doubts are crucial. From the outside, you might look at those doubts and see examples of this fanbase losing faith in its team—you could not be more mistaken.
Faith without doubt is fact. That’s what you get out of the Super Bowl Easy-Bake Oven that spits out yearly AFC titles in Foxborough: wire to wire Super Bowl favorites, sideline tantrums and impassive press conferences masquerading as “competitiveness,” and more whining about nothing than you’d hear from an entitled toddler. When your team makes it to the Super Bowl every other year, you have expectations, not faith; you have complaints, not doubts.
You can’t live and die with a team that doesn’t die, so don’t put your frustrations with ESPN reports and some pasty dude named Goodell up against our toiling through 51 championships we haven’t seen our team win. Because I’ve doubted, I don’t believe?! Only because I’ve doubted can I believe—only because I’ve struggled through every power grab, every injury, every national media potshot, every Philadelphian roast session does it matter that I’m standing here, an 11 on my chest, green running through my veins.
In the middle of the city there’s a statue of a man and his story of crippling doubt. Yeah, Rocky’s fictional—but that doesn’t change what he means to this city. We are far more interested in proving people wrong than proving people right—if you can’t rock with that, feel free to hop on 95 South and roll down to D.C., where the weather is warmer and the people are softer and say nicer things. We’ll send you a card on Christmas.
Philadelphia believes in this team in a way you haven’t seen—not because they believe in Doug, or Howie, or Nick, but because they believe in underdogs; they believe in proving people wrong. That 1-8 record? That breeds in a city a love for hardship; a welcoming of doubt. We aren’t comfortable when we’re ahead; we don’t like it when you believe in us. We’ve seen far too little success from that story.
So knock out our franchise left tackle and defensive signal-caller on the same night. Take out our MVP quarterback while you’re at it. Give us home dogs as the #1 seed just to give us home dogs again, and we’ll mask up and lay 38 points on you. We’ve stared down every barrel we’ve come across and haven’t flinched yet—so give us your modern-day Goliath, running out of fingers to hold all his rings, running out of adjectives to describe his transcendence, because that only makes our David stronger.
“There’s no underdogs in the Super Bowl,” said 8-time attendee, 5-time champion, 4-time MVP Tom Brady on Monday. I do appreciate the lip service tossed down from your lofty throne, Tommy boy—but you’re facing a city of underdogs on Sunday, and we’re far less interested in taking your throne as we are tearing you down from it.
Doubt Philadelphia. That’s just the way we like it.