Inside the Eagles' Super Bowl Run: The Stories That Led to Legends

Tyler Dunne @TyDunne NFL Features WriterFebruary 5, 2018

The celebration rains down on Vinny Curry.
The celebration rains down on Vinny Curry.Patrick Smith/Getty Images

MINNEAPOLIS — The booming bass of "Dreams and Nightmares" breaks players into dance as champagne sprays in all directions. They hold cellphones to capture themselves singing Meek Mill's lyrics in unison.

This was the song that blared when the Eagles stormed out onto the U.S. Bank Stadium field.

Damn right this is the song that blares right now.         

Hold up wait a minute, y'all thought I was finished?

A bottle of Blue Label makes its rounds. The party rages. Finally, head coach Doug Pederson gathers his team around for one final message.

"Right here," he tells his team, "right here" is the reason he's so hard on them. This moment. "You're world champions," he says, arms in the air. "Just look around. Look around." Jay Ajayi, wrapped in a British flag, leaps up and down like a kid in a candy store. Everyone pays attention. Everyone knows what's coming before Pederson gets the message out of his mouth.

Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

"This is a team game," Pederson says. "We said before, an individual can make a difference…"

And they join in.

"But a team makes a miracle."

That's precisely what the Eagles accomplished: a miracle. Pointing one finger in the air, Pederson cracks a smile and promises they'll be partying tonight. They'd better. This was a team written off as deceased. Date of death: Dec. 10, 2017, when Carson Wentz went down for the year. After that, Philly had no business slaying the dragon that is Tom Brady and Bill Belichick and a dynasty the sport will never see again in our lifetimes.

Brandon Graham shoots across the room, looking for Nick Foles. He has someone on FaceTime, and that someone needs to see Nick for themselves. Vinny Curry is losing his voice in a conversation with former teammate Trent Cole on his phone. Patrick Robinson, eyes still red from tears, sits nearly speechless in a back corner.

All that's left is joy in every form, because everyone also knows what led to this point: pain. That's the root of one, two, three improbable playoff upsets. Long before this 41-33 Super Bowl triumph that may or may not have reduced the city of Philadelphia to rubble by the time you're reading this, Curry spotted his homeless mother on the street in the cold. Robinson was in a pit of mental misery in New Orleans.

Foles was ready to retire.

Countless others in this very locker room saw their pro careers shoved to the brink. But somehow, the Eagles kept winning and winning and brought glory to a city starving for a winner. Philly is a sports punch line no more. When people outside the city talk about the Eagles, they won't reference the snowballs thrown at Santa Claus or the cheering of Michael Irvin's injury or whether Donovan McNabb puked on the field during Super Bowl XXXIX.

No, everyone will remember the 2017 team that overcame an avalanche of injuries that would spiral any other team into middling oblivion. Over a Yuengling or 12, they'll reminisce about the Eagles team that pulled dog masks over their faces, promised life with Foles would be just fine and spoke a Super Bowl win into existence.

Take it away, Doug.

"We are going to party tonight."


Like everyone else, Vinny Curry smiled for the cameras. He cherished Super Bowl week.

Once those cameras left, though, the Eagles defensive end opened up. He admitted that once his team plane landed in Minneapolis, once this bonanza began, he couldn't help but think of the one person who should've been sharing this experience with him: his mother. On the Thursday before the biggest game of his life, Curry admitted her death still brings him pain.

Especially during a week like this.

A week that would've brought her so much happiness.

Eric Gay/Associated Press

"This is my first time ever talking about this publicly," Curry explained in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. "Everybody has a story, but motherf--kers haven't been through what I've been through."

And then Curry bared his soul. Like many players in the NFL, he grew up in a cesspool of gangs and drugs and violence. But what folks probably don't know was just how close his "close calls" were in Neptune Township, New Jersey. Curry's eyes widen with each word. More times than he can count, Curry admitted he was moments away from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A split-second. "Ninety-five percent" of his friends were in gangs. The Bloods and Crips ran rampant here.

Some died, some went to jail, some still live in the streets. Curry managed to sidestep all land mines.

"Every day," Curry said, "you hang with a crowd. They use the words 'birds of a feather flock together.' The majority of the time, you're going to be doing what your friends are doing. It's not even peer pressure. It's wanting to be cool for that split second. … Every time trouble would come, I would leave like two minutes prior! It was crazy. So many incidents, man."

Fights. Stabbings. Shootings. Curry wouldn't detail the play-by-play but promised it was bad.

He easily could've been swept into that life.

After all, his mother was. For two years, she was homeless and hooked on heroin. Curry's friends never quite understood why he was talking to this random woman in the streets when they prowled about town. That is, until one frigid day when Curry spotted Mom and asked a friend to pull over. He handed her money and a jacket and said to find shelter.

He admitted then that, yes, this was his mother.

Over time, Linda "Cissy" Jackson was able to get clean. She escaped the streets and built a new life for herself; Curry served as her light at the end of the tunnel. A bull of a pass-rusher, Curry headed to Marshall and promised to anybody who'd listen that he would be special. He was special, too. He molded himself into an NFL-worthy pass rusher.

And then, Jackson died.

Cancer took his mom's life at 50 years old. One day after the funeral, Curry had nine tackles and 3.5 sacks against Rice. The performance clouded the reality that he never truly was able to move on. He cried many nights then in college and still does today.

"I have my time," he said, "my moments. But I try to stay positive and keep it moving and understand she's looking down upon on me and is very proud of what I've become."

So this week, he thought about Mom rubbing nickels together to get him Eagles gear growing up. He thought about seeing his favorite team lose in that 2004 Super Bowl. Curry relates to Philly's sports heartbreak because he was always a part of that very heartbreak. Right here, against Tom Brady, he could make history. Right here, Curry could cap his mother's transformation. Just this week, the mother of one of his incarcerated friends called him in tears. Her son had been in jail for 10 years, and she simply wanted Curry to know how proud she was.

Thinking back to all the nights he prayed for his life and Mom's life to change, Curry's voice skipped.

"My mom was a fighter. She was a survivor."

But Curry also knew he was lucky to even be here. One split-second, he repeated, could have changed "everything." So in this game alone, Curry knew, one split-second would change everything. One play. One sack of Brady. It's why he refused to psych himself up too much for the Super Bowl. He needed to stay calm, stay ready. Someone on this defensive line was bound to make a play with the game on the line.

On this Eagles defense, it was inevitable. Their strength is in numbers, attacking you in waves. Be it Curry or Fletcher Cox or Brandon Graham or Derek Barnett or Timmy Jernigan, someone up front will get to you. Eventually.

"We have an opportunity to make history," he promised.

With two minutes and 16 seconds left in Super Bowl LII, they had sacked Brady zero times. Brady was set to author yet another GOAT fairy tale. Then Graham slid inside over guard Shaq Mason and collapsed the pocket to tomahawk the ball out of Brady's hand. The Eagles recovered and extended the lead. Brady's Hail Mary fell incomplete. And as the green confetti rained down, Curry sat on the turf in a waterfall of his tears. The feeling was indescribable, the play emblematic of Philly's pass rush all season.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04:  Brandon Graham #55 of the Philadelphia Eagles celebrates with teammates after forcing a fumble by Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots (not pictured) during the fourth quarter in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Nobody knows who is rushing from where. It's an unselfish, deep stable that never tires.

Back in the locker room, as Drake's "Big Rings" blares from the speakers, Curry shouts so Cole can hear him on the phone. "I'll see you when we get back to Philly, bro! I love you, bro!"

Curry hangs up and then quickly thumbs through app after app as if to make sure this really happened.

"Dreams come true," he says. "It's an unbelievable feeling."

One moment ended up changing the lives of everyone on this team.

None of this is a coincidence either.


It was the injury to shatter all dreams. The season-ender, the soul-crusher, the sight that demoralizes you to your core as a competitor.

Carson Wentz, the MVP front-runner, spotted a gleam of daylight at the L.A. Coliseum, galloped toward the end zone, was sandwiched by two defenders and tore his ACL. All hope for the 2017 Eagles died right there.

That's how our brains are wired, anyway. We see the Packers spiral down the toilet when Aaron Rodgers is out. We see the Colts resemble a JUCO team with Andrew Luck. Hidden in the "next man up" bull spewed at a podium is the plain truth that it's natural for players to lose their will to fight when their leader, their quarterback, their heartbeat is lost for the season.

Yet when Wentz was placed on injured reserve, these Eagles were ready.

How?

How did this Eagles team—fueled by misfits and alleged busts and vets on their last NFL lifeline, all handpicked by general manager Howie Roseman—do it?

The sights, on the surface, are strange.

Why is LeGarrette Blount barreling through Patriots tackles when the genius Patriots moved on?

Wasn't Nelson Agholor fighting demons last year?

What's up with this Corey Clement kid from Wisconsin? How were 27 running backs drafted in 2017 but he wasn't?

How is Jay Ajayi fitting in so seamlessly? Wasn't he a malcontent in Miami?

And wait, is that really Patrick Robinson masterfully weaving through 11 Vikings en route to a 50-yard interception return for a touchdown in the NFC title game?

Robinson has a good idea why this Eagles team never lost its oxygen when it lost Wentz. Sure, there was no star here to bail the Eagles out, no suave celebrity spamming every third commercial selling you insurance or yogurt or DirecTV. But what nobody realized in that moment of truth for Philly was that so many players on this roster had already been buried in a dark place—and had found an escape route.

Robinson is the living, breathing, thriving epitome of such positive thinking. Too often, modern football is crunched into equations set out on Excel spreadsheets. Unfortunately, there's no magic equation for how to cope with losing your left tackle (Jason Peters)…and your kicker (Caleb Sturgis)…and your middle linebacker (Jordan Hicks)…and your third-down back (Darren Sproles)…and then finally your future zillion-dollar quarterback (Wentz).

But this team never blinked because of temperaments like Robinson's. Because guys here learned how to exterminate negativity from their minds.

A first-round pick in 2010, Robinson struggled mightily in New Orleans and let those struggles deteriorate his spirit. He's hesitant to even relive those days. Doing so feels like jaywalking across a highway.

"I try not to think about this a lot," Robinson said in the days before the Super Bowl. "But 2012 was, man, that year, man—that was a very disappointing year. I would say that year was when I was at my lowest. Mentally, I was definitely at my lowest. A lot of times, it's not if you're good or not, fast enough or athletic enough. A lot of it is up here in your head. You have to believe in yourself.

"That year, I started to really doubt myself. It showed."

Robinson's answer? Look himself in the mirror. He made the conscious decision to completely wipe out those thoughts. He removed the doubt, the temptation to quit, as he became one unofficial face of a ghastly 2012 Saints defense that ranked 31st in points against and 32nd in yards allowed. Robinson's wife helped—"she's tougher than me," he said—but it must truly be a personal battle.

No drug or workout program or anything external can relieve this mental strain.

"You have to clear your mind of all that negative energy, man," he said. "Really, you just have to have that decision in your head that something has to change. A lot of people take a long time to get to that decision in their head. And for some people, it comes to quitting."

The second play of the second game in the 2013 season, Robinson was tested. The tendon connecting his kneecap and shin snapped, sending his kneecap up to the middle of his quad. Robinson looked at where his kneecap should've been, only saw "a little dent" and started screaming. He thought his career was over.

"I was really down," he said.

But soon, Robinson walked. He ran. He started to cut. He suppressed all potential demons, never to resurface again. He remained steely-eyed focused through a concussion with the Colts, a groin injury that ended that 2016 season and a do-or-die summer with the Eagles this season. Oh, he was on the roster bubble. Those demons "briefly" entered his mind. But then Robinson stiff-armed them into the Delaware forever.

"When you question yourself like that, that's something negative," he said. "So I stayed positive. Now I'm here in the Super Bowl with a chance to make history. … Just took it back to when you were a kid and were just playing—you weren't thinking about what would happen, what could happen."

Robinson locked down that starting slot corner job and supplied the momentum-changing play that catapulted Philly into the Super Bowl.

Along the way, he shared his wisdom. While he won't say which players he assisted, it's hard not to wonder if Robinson's transformation resonated with someone like Agholor, who admitted to having a "mental battle" in 2016 that was met with a Pederson benching to clear his mind. In 2017, Agholor caught 62 passes for 768 yards and eight touchdowns.

Whoever Robinson spoke to, demons were clearly extinguished.

There was no panic when Wentz went down, and there was no panic when Brady threatened to ruin their dream season. Nobody flinched when Brady lofted a 26-yard score to Chris Hogan to cut the Eagles' lead to 29-26, when he tossed a four-yard lob to Rob Gronkowski to take a 33-32 lead, or when Brady stepped up to the line of scrimmage—twice—with a chance to keep New England alive late.

When Patrick Robinson—Super Bowl champion Patrick Robinson, that is—looked up at the clock and read the triple zeroes, he dropped to his knees and cried.

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04:  Patrick Robinson #21 of the Philadelphia Eagles  celebrates with his family after defeating the New England Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  (Photo by Pat
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Here, as the celebration continues in the locker room, Robinson takes a deep breath.

He didn't quit. The Eagles never quit.

"It was a long road, man, a bumpy road," Robinson says. "But I finally got to the top. … We stayed close. We kept that belief in ourselves and just played as a team. We had each other's back."

One player nearby screams above Robinson's soft, deliberate voice. "We ain't taking no shower!" the player orders. "I want to smell like a championship!"

Robinson continues. The magnitude of everything coming full circle hits him, and man, it feels so sweet.

"To go from the bottom and end up at the top of the world," Robinson says, "being a part of the best team in the world, that's a great feeling, man.

"I can't describe how happy I am."


The bowels of Super Bowl stadiums are always home to very weird traffic flow. It is no different here in Minneapolis. There are frenetic-elated family members, and there are wretched-sad ones, both sets wearing their son's or brother's or dad's jerseys. There are celebrities. This night features Floyd Mayweather Jr., surrounded by bodyguards, donning a coat soft enough to serve as a down comforter for puppies.

But this night feels even stranger than usual.

In the "MVP Room," there is no sign of Tom and Gisele. No, this night belongs to Nick Foles and his family.

Foles steps up to a microphone and attempts to answer the question on America's mind.

How. Was. This. Possible?

These were "normal nerves," he admits. "Butterflies." A Super Bowl audience glued to your every move will do that. But Nick Foles claims he was honestly calm out there trading delirious haymakers with Brady.

"The big thing that helped me," Foles says, "was knowing that I didn't have to be Superman."

Chris Carlson/Associated Press

But here's the thing: He did. He needed to be Superman. He needed to be the one strutting to the MVP room for the Eagles to win their first championship in 57 years. For as cutthroat as their defense was all season, Brady torched 'em for a Super Bowl-record 505 passing yards. Foles couldn't afford to play with training wheels on, and he didn't.

Instead, Sunday served as a (serene) climax to one of the truly great turnarounds in NFL history.

Two years ago, in St. Louis, Foles completely lost his love for the game and was ready to quit.

He underwent a spiritual awakening, decided to sign with the Chiefs and, above all, decided he'd never stress again. Because, well, why stress? Over a game? Please. He eventually worked his way back to Philadelphia, where he had thrown 27 touchdowns and two interceptions back in 2013, and now the Patriots felt the newfound wrath of Foles' let it go equanimity.

Every Hollywood script needs a hero, and Nick Foles was something greater than Superman.

He was some icy-calm 6'6", 243-pound assassin, with a partner in crime named Doug Pederson. Neither operated with any semblance of normal human consciousness Sunday, instead base-jumping repeatedly without breaking a sweat.

From the 34-yard rainbow to Alshon Jeffery for the game's first touchdown.

To "Philly Special," where Foles faked an audible, Clement took a direct snap and flipped the ball to Trey Burton, and Burton threw a touchdown to Foles.

To a 3rd-and-6 dime of a 22-yard touchdown into Clement's breadbasket.

To a 4th-and-1 dart to Zach Ertz, under duress, trailing with five-and-a-half minutes left.

To the game-winning strike to Ertz.

"I didn't switch my mindset," Foles says. "I wasn't worrying about the scoreboard. I wasn't worried about the time. I was just playing ball. Sometimes, you start worrying about that so much, and it starts creeping into your brain. I was just playing. Whatever play Doug called, I was just going to go out there and rip it, and that was sort of our mindset going into this."

And that's how you beat the Patriots. You put your foot on their throat and finish the job. You don't let the villain escape with life in their lungs because this villain will always be back, hiding behind your bushes. You finish.

No way does Philadelphia end its title drought if Foles retired.

"I think as people, we deal with struggles," Foles says. "I'm grateful that I made the decision to come back and play."

The heroes here come in all shapes, all sizes, with all the battle scars.


Matt Slocum/Associated Press

Eye black covering his face and smearing into his beard, left tackle Lane Johnson soaks in the satisfaction. He's been the one pouring gasoline on this playoff run and lighting the match weekly—the inspiration behind Philly's underdog battle cry.

Rather than tiptoe around the subject and wait to see a playoff win first, Johnson made it very clear, very early that nobody should count out this team. Before the playoff run, he told B/R while scowling around the Eagles locker room, "There's always negativity they try to put inside this locker room." Then the Eagles upset Atlanta, Johnson put on that dog mask and the entire team started barking, too.

He called each point spread and each slight "an insult," and everybody took it to heart.

Red paint is splattered all over Brandon Graham's shoulder pads. He was the superhero on defense. He says he strained his hamstring in the first half but played on because he knew this game could boil down to one play. One moment. One "swipe at the ball." After a while, adrenaline took over and he never even felt that hammy.

"We needed a play," Graham says. "I didn't know I was going to make it. I knew somebody was going to make it."

And as the party rages around Graham, it becomes obvious. These Eagles are not underdogs. Not heartbreakers. Not a Philly sports curse or cliche.

They're champions—and man, do they love each other.

At one point amid the postgame pandemonium, linebacker Mychal Kendricks cuts through a small group of reporters to lean into Graham's face and say: "I love you, bro. I f--king love you. I'm serious."

Graham tells Kendricks he loves him, too, and then shouts words that'll ring from arctic Minneapolis to (probably, no, definitely) crumbling Philadelphia.

"We got that ring, boy!"

"We're legendary for life!"

"We always coming back to Philly…always!"

Champs, at last. Their way.

           

Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TyDunne.

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