I’ve covered the Eagles in one way or another for more than 35 years and have never seen the giddy reaction from their fans liked they showed after the Eagles dominated the Minnesota Vikings 38-7 on Sunday to win a trip to Super Bowl 52 (we’re too lazy to look up the Roman numeral).
So, why has this team stirred unprecedented emotion in its fans? Why does this team have such a special vibe? Other Eagles teams had great players, even Hall of Fame players, and they also had great success, including trips to the Super Bowl. But none of them – not even Dick Vermeil’s beloved rag-tag group – brought out the warm feelings that Doug Pederson’s team does.
Maybe the biggest reason is that this success was unexpected. Most people thought the Eagles might compete for a playoff berth and they were content with that, as long as young Carson Wentz continued to grow into a franchise quarterback. Nobody expected the Eagles to win 13 games and then two more in the playoffs, nobody expected them to be the No. 1 seed in the NFC and play all of their pre-Super Bowl playoff games at home and, certainly, nobody expected them to make it all the way to the big game.
But, as the Eagles kept winning and Wentz kept shining, people began to hope – and then Wentz was lost for the season. Nick Foles, his replacement, struggled at first and the immediate future looked grim. Some fans even cried when Wentz got hurt. And now they’re crying for a different reason.
It’s human nature to enjoy unexpected delights. That’s why people throw surprise parties and Alfred Hitchcock twisted his plots. Eagles fans are still in shock, not because they crushed the Vikings or because Foles played so well, but because this NFC Championship was truly a bolt from the blue.
That wasn’t the case in 1980 and 2004, the other times the Eagles played in the Super Bowl. Vermeil’s team had been steadily improving and had made two previous trips to the playoffs before Super Bowl XV. And the joy from that season wasn’t that the Eagles made it to the Super Bowl – it was beating Dallas to get there.
It would be 24 years before the Eagles made it back to the Super Bowl, but Andy Reid’s 2004 team had been to three NFC Championship games before they finally got over the hump and beat Michael Vick and Atlanta to advance to Super Bowl XXXIX. That victory generated feelings of relief as much as joy – finally! – and there weren’t the spontaneous, city-wide celebrations like we saw after the Eagles’ victory over Minnesota on Sunday.
Another reason why this team and this trip to the Super Bowl has resonated so much with Eagles fans is the fact that they were the underdogs in both playoff games, even though they were the No. 1 seed and playing at home. Face it, Philadelphia sports fan are more comfortable in that underdog role, and even though it’s a cliché to bring up Philly’s favorite son, there’s a reason why Rocky Balboa has come to represent Philadelphia even more than Benjamin Franklin. Rocky was the ultimate underdog and that’s who we are – we identify with journeyman Nick Foles much more than we identify with cover boy Tom Brady.
Of course, there’s another reason why this Eagles team has become even more of a fan favorite than past teams – they have really good players who seem to be really good guys. General manager Howie Roseman – already selected as the NFL executive of the year by the Pro Football Writers Association – put together a roster where temperament is as important as talent. Newcomers like defensive end Chris Long and defensive tackle Tim Jernigan are true professionals who do things the right way, on and off the field, and they are great leaders and examples for the younger Eagles, as are holdover veterans like safety Malcolm Jenkins and tackle Lane Johnson.
The Eagles also added a few key players who came here with reputations that weren’t the best, notably wide receiver Alshon Jeffrey and running backs LeGarrett Blount and Jay Ajayi, and those guys have been model citizens even though they’ve had to share the ball more than they would like.
Like everybody else – coaches, players, fans – they bought what Pederson and the Eagles were selling, and that sum-greater-than-the-parts mentality has carried the Eagles all the way to the Super Bowl. And, once again, they are the underdogs – just like we like it.