Sports often serve as a healing salve. Films such as Invictus, We Are Marshall and others demonstrate how competitive contests developed into something more than just a game.
The Philadelphia Eagles organization and its fans experienced that on a smaller scale during their exciting last-second 27-24 victory over the rival New York Giants on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.
Rookie kicker Jake Elliott provided the type of theatrics that made everyone forget the politics, rhetoric and everything surrounding the players' pregame protests. Instead, the excitement returned to the game for a few fleeting seconds and unified a fanbase.
Elliott is a modern-day Rudy Ruettiger, with a story so unbelievable it had to be seen to be believed. The specialist is more than "5-feet nothin', 100 and nothin'," with "hardly a speck of athletic ability." In fact, the Cincinnati Bengals spent a fifth-round draft pick to obtain him. But the organization had an open competition to find its kicker, and veteran Randy Bullock won the job.
The Bengals released Elliott and signed him to their practice squad the next day. When Eagles kicker suffered a hip injury and needed to be placed on injured reserve, Philly plucked Elliott from Cincinnati.
Twelve days later, Elliott is now the most popular man in the City of Brotherly Love. He booted a 61-yard, game-winning field goal against the Giants to boost the Eagles to 2-1 on the season, as seen below via the NFL:
The NFL isn't immune to outside influence. This was evident throughout the weekend after President Donald Trump described players who protest during the national anthem as "son of a b---h" and said they should be fired.
These remarks prompted responses from NFL players and owners alike, including Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.
"We at the Philadelphia Eagles firmly believe that in this difficult time of division and conflict, it is more important than ever for football to be a great unifier," he said in a statement.
The NFL as a whole united Sunday, while its fanbase couldn't be more divided. A chasm emerged between those who believe the players have the right to protest and others who view the act as disrespectful to the flag, country and/or military.
While that could prove to be problematic for the league's product. exciting finishes and closely contested games will continue to draw fans in. More importantly, such moments have the power to unite.
Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid is a social media savant. He'll make over $6 million this season to play basketball, yet there he was Sunday celebrating with fellow Eagles fans after Elliott's conversion:
Pure joy can be seen on every visible face, and the reaction speaks louder than any political statement. The fans were lost in the moment, because...sports.
The impossible happened. A replacement kicker, who wasn't even on the roster when September began, converted a kick from his team's 50-yard logo to snatch victory away from a hated opponent. That same young man wasn't good enough to stay with the team that drafted him just five months earlier.
The power of sports is strong.
The former castoff is now a conquering hero who'll be treated like the Eagles' new Vince Papale, as SiriusXM NFL Radio's Ross Tucker noted:
No Eagles fan will care if he kneeled or supported those on the team that did. Instead, Elliott provided a moment in history that the Philadelphia faithful will never forget. Those in attendance celebrated the moment with a rousing rendition of "Fly, Eagles, Fly" after the improbable ending.
Race, creed or color didn't matter. All that mattered was the Eagles capturing an important early-season victory. Everything else faded away once the officials raised their hands indicating Elliott's kick was good:
Elliott's kick served as a microcosm to what makes everyone fall in in love with football in the first place. The anticipation and exhilaration of the game bring so many diverse people together for one purpose: to root for their favorite teams and experience the possibility of greatness.