Some months back, I was listening to an interesting debate from the guys from the Grandex Media Podcast “Back Door Cover”. They were discussing what it’s like to be a backup quarterback and whether or not that’s a desirable position. On one hand, backup QBs just ride the bench. They get paid, have limited injury risk because they’re not out on the field, and they still enjoy being part of the team. If and when the superstar QB goes down, they have an opportunity to shock the world. On the other hand, being thrust into the spotlight under the shadow of someone who probably played more minutes than you for a reason, can be crippling. The first part of this new year, however, has belonged entirely to the guys in the shadows.
Rewind a few weeks back to the Alabama Crimson Tide winning yet another national championship. Nick Saban did what Nick Saban does- he found another way to win. This time, he managed to pull a hat trick no one anticipated. Saban looked at the 13-0 score at halftime and chose to bench his seasoned QB, Jalen Hurts, for inexperienced true freshmen Tua Tagovailoa. After a series of astonishing defensive plays, failed kicks, and patience from the Alabama coaching staff, they found themselves bringing home their 5th trophy in 9 years. The Hawaiian hero had not played in the last 4 games, but became their most pivotal piece. Tagovailoa did not wilt under the pressure, but rose to the occasion.
“I don’t know how Coach Saban found me all the way in Hawaii from Alabama…but thank God he did and thank God we are here,” Tua said in an emotional speech after the win.
And then Sunday night there was the retelling of a story we know all too well- Brady, Gronk, & Belichick a few breaths away from the Lombardi trophy. But this time, they were stopped by a third round pick from the 2012 draft by the name of Nicholas Edward Foles. Standing 6’6, weighing in at 243 lbs from Austin, Texas, Foles was the last person anyone expected to defeat Goliath. His story reads somewhat like that one movie where a person is stuck living the same few hours on a loop (see Groundhog Day, Edge of Tomorrow, The Flash: Flashpoint). Each time Nick Foles got close to his happy ending, things went horribly wrong. Until Sunday.
In 2012, Foles’ debut came about as a result of an injury to Michael Vick. What followed was somewhat of a quarterback duel between the two, headlined by injury after injury. Ultimately, the slow starts and turnover woes became too much for the Eagles. He was traded to the St. Louis Rams in 2015. Foles worked hard, but the turnovers continued and his run there also came up short. The Rams chose to replace him with a shinier toy- Jared Goff, the first overall pick. Kansas City was the next team that came calling when their QB suffered a concussion. Foles came through and did what was asked of him, but still ended up a free agent the following year.
Anyone would have understood if Nick Foles had chosen to step back from it all after so many pumpkins, but he chose to go back to Philadelphia this year. When Carson Wentz suffered a tragic injury and all hope seemed lost, there was Nick Foles waiting in the wings. Leading the Eagles to a win over the Patriots (41-33), Foles became the first QB to both throw and catch a touchdown pass in a Super Bowl. The Eagles trusted their quarterback and treated him as more than a backup or a rental. They never wavered and it paid off.
“I wasn’t worrying about the scoreboard; I wasn’t worrying about the time; I was just playing ball,” Foles said.
Both Tagovailoa and Foles seized the opportunity when it was given to them and they can now call themselves champions. No one makes it to the top on their own, however. The fans, the coaches, and the families behind these men obviously had a positive impact. The unconditional support of the quarterbacks they replaced however, may have been what made the biggest difference. Sports is about competition, but things like courage, integrity, and friendship shine through more than any title. Both Jalen Hurts and Carson Wentz probably hated every second they could not be on the field, but they chose to support their respective replacements as teammates, brushing aside their own feelings.
“I love you. This is what you were made for. You were built for this. You worked for this.”
-Jalen Hurts to Tua Tagovailoa
Carson Wentz Tweets about Nick Foles before & after the game
“My bro is gonna shine bright tonight. So excited to see him & this team go out and compete…WE ALL WE GOT. WE ALL WE NEED.”
“God is so good!!!! World champions!!! So proud of this team. Told yall my boy was gonna shine tonight, Well deserved…love this guy and love this team!”
Not all heroes wear capes, have the biggest contracts, or put up the biggest numbers all the time. The heroes are simply the ones ready to show up and show out when called upon. Maybe the Cinderella story continues and an unlikely hero steps up to save the day during the 2018 NBA Finals, as well. My favorite candidates for most likely to shock everyone in that league are Nick Young (GSW), Lance Stephenson (IND), Jamal Murray (DEN), Josh Hart (LAL), CJ McCullom (PTL), and Bradley Beal (WAS). Will they rise to the occasion?