The Eagles picked Foles in the third round of the 2012 draft. He was picked eighty-eighth over-all, and not before six other quarterbacks had already been taken by other teams. Andrew Luck, the first pick, and Russell Wilson, the seventy-fifth, are now franchise cornerstones for the Colts and the Seahawks, where Wilson has won a Super Bowl. Robert Griffin III, the second pick, is a third-string backup for the Baltimore Ravens; the other three—Ryan Tannehill, the eighth pick, Brandon Weeden, the twenty-second, and Brock Osweiler, fifty-seventh—are bouncing around the N.F.L., mostly as backups, too.
In 2012, Andy Reid was then in his final year of coaching the Eagles, and Michael Vick was the quarterback. As a rookie, Foles got some playing time, because Vick was frequently injured, but the team went 4-12 and Reid was fired by the team’s owner, Jeffrey Lurie, who replaced him with Chip Kelly for the 2013 season. Foles took over when Vick pulled a hamstring in the Giants game at the Meadowlands—Harry and I were in the stands that day—and, in the ensuing weeks, the Q.B. went on a remarkable run, peaking in the Oakland game in which he threw for seven touchdowns and earned a perfect passing rating, the only time any quarterback has done both at the same time. Was Foles the Messiah? The fans embraced the unmuscular Christian, and Foles loved the city right back, especially the strong strain of family that runs through Eagles fandom. The Eagles won their division that year and hosted New Orleans in the wild-card round, but lost 26-24 to Drew Brees in a game they would have won if Riley Cooper makes that catch at the end. But let’s not rehash that.
In 2014, Foles’s numbers weren’t as good as they had been the previous season, and then he broke his collarbone and spent the rest of the year recovering. One late-winter day during the off-season, Foles was working out at the gym when he got a pleasant but brisk call from Coach Kelly informing him that he was being traded to the St. Louis Rams for Sam Bradford. Kelly thanked Foles for his contributions and hung up. The call lasted a minute. So much for the Messiah.
The Rams were in the midst of a string of losing seasons and were slated to move to Los Angeles the following year. Foles never connected with the team nor with the city in the way he and his wife, Tori, had connected with Philadelphia; he played badly and was benched midseason for Case Keenum. Now he wasn’t anyone’s franchise Q.B. anymore; he was a backup. In his book he writes:
Nobody aspires to be a backup . . . part of me
still cringes every time I hear myself described that way. Not only is
it limiting and one-dimensional, it doesn’t come close to describing
who I really am.
After the end of the 2015 season, Foles asked the Rams, who had just drafted their future franchise Q.B., Jared Goff, to release him. He decided to quit football and went on a camping trip with his brother-in-law that summer, but during the trip he changed his mind. On returning, he called his old coach and mentor Andy Reid, now at Kansas City, and, in 2016, Foles became the backup quarterback to the Chiefs’ Alex Smith. Meanwhile, the Eagles fired Chip Kelly, replaced him with Doug Pederson, and traded up to draft Carson Wentz, the North Dakota State phenom who became the Eagles’ franchise quarterback. Foles was brought back to Philadelphia the following year to be the new Messiah’s backup.
Wentz started the 2017 season, his second in the N.F.L., on fire, leading the team to a 10-2 record before going down with a torn A.C.L. against the Rams in Game 13. Foles stepped in, and secured the win and the N.F.C. East title. After a couple of shaky outings, he clicked in the second half of the divisional playoff game, against Atlanta, crushed Minnesota in the championship game, and then out-duelled Tom Brady to beat the Pats in the Eagles’ thrilling come-from-behind Super Bowl win.
But, in spite of being anointed Super Bowl M.V.P., Foles returned to serving as the backup when Wentz came back from his knee injury, in Game 3 of this season. The Wentz-led Eagles looked oddly rudderless, and even, at times, defeatist, such as in the disastrous fourth quarter against the Carolina Panthers, when their 17-0 lead turned into a 21-17 gut-punch of a loss. Still, there was no serious talk on replacing the faltering Wentz with the Super Bowl M.V.P. Foles—because, dummy, Foles was the backup.
Then Wentz got hurt again, this time fracturing a vertebrae in his back. When Foles stepped in, the Eagles were 6-7, had beaten no team with a record better than .500, had lost to New Orleans, embarrassingly, 48-7, and to Dallas twice, and were facing elimination. Foles beat Jared Goff’s mighty Rams, in Los Angeles, and the Texans, at home, playing brilliantly in both games. He then played well enough to beat the Redskins in the final regular-season game, while the Bears were doing the Eagles the favor of besting the Vikings, allowing the Birds to squeak into the playoffs. These events set up the next chapter in the Foles legend—the winning drive to beat the Bears in the din and cold of hostile Soldier Field, when he went six of nine passing with the game on the line against the best defense in football, and scored the winning T.D. on fourth down with fifty-eight seconds left, on a side-armed flip to the Eagles’ Golden Tate.