Philadelphia Eagles: Dear Nick Foles (Part One); First Flight Around

(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) /

In the first of a four-part letter, we reflect on Nick Foles first stint with the Philadelphia Eagles and how it helped to shape the player he would become.

Dear Nick Foles,

Let’s get the obvious out of the way. Thank you. Thank you for bringing joy to a city that lived through what felt like endless turmoil. Years of misery, missing out, coming up short and “almost” seasons.

As we transition into a new era of Philadelphia Eagles football, and you move on to the next stop on your journey, it feels appropriate to point out that you were the perfect individual to bring this city its first Lombardi Trophy, and that’s why it hurts all the more to see you go. Your career is an embodiment of the Philadelphian, an underdog.

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Let me take you back to a steamy mid-July early morning in 2012, the sun far from its peak yet beads of sweat already pour down my 16-year-old neck. It’s soupy and soggy, and I’m slammed against a temporary fence, drowning in the sea of midnight green around the practice fields at Lehigh University.

The morning session is underway at Eagles training camp and the coveted “cherries” trot to the field. The men in red, the crimson kings, the quarterbacks. For years prior, it was number five. In recent years, everyone flocks to number seven and rightfully so, but someone else catches my eye.

There’s a tall, lanky quarterback taking reps and making plays with the second team. It’s nothing extraordinary, no incredible athletic ability, a seemingly quiet individual who puts in his work then stands off on the sideline, taking in Michael Vick with the several thousand fans who made the trek to Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.

Foles. Number nine. Your name rang a bell from draft day coverage, but there was never a noteworthy buzz surrounding your pick. While many pull out their phones and cameras for a candid shot of Vick, I watch you complete pass after pass, play after play.

Sure it’s the second team. But after dealing with the likes of A.J. Feeley, Koy Detmer, Jeff Garcia, Vince Young and Kevin Kolb in seasons past, it’s a breath of fresh air to have the second team QB legitimately catch my eye.

The Lehigh Valley is home to me, so every summer training camp is my chance to witness the team in my backyard, up close and in person. Where heroes would become human before my very eyes, and where I fell in love with the Birds from before I could walk. My father would drop me at camp in the morning on days he couldn’t attend, then pick me up at lunchtime. That day, I got in the car and gave him the daily report, the name to watch. “Foles”.

That season, the team struggled, and the ‘Michael Vick’ experiment was on the decline. You weren’t brought in to take over the franchise, but injuries forced you to step up as a rookie, to lead an NFL team. You struggled early, but what did we expect from a third-round pick labeled “heavy footed” and “flat” on draft day, thrown into the heart of the division schedule on a team destined for failure.

But you showed us a flash of hope, and the first flex of your “clutch gene” when you led the team back from an 11-point fourth quarter deficit for your first NFL win in Tampa Bay. You gave us the lone bright spot in a season filled with disappointment and disarray. The secession of the failed “Dream Team” brought an end to the Andy Reid-era in Philadelphia, leaving as the winningest coach in Eagles history (more on Andy to come).

With that brought a complete reshaping of the franchise and a regime change which favored the versatility of a Michael Vick, so you returned in an all too familiar position. The backup.

You didn’t pout, you didn’t complain, you simply went back to doing what you do best. You were a professional teammate, and when your number was called, you stepped up to the challenge. When Vick went down with yet another injury early in the 2013 season, you entered the game cold and led the team back from a 21-20 deficit late in the third quarter on the road at Metlife. “Clutch gene”.

You had your best start to date against Tampa Bay the next week, but a poor performance and a concussion against the Cowboys sidelined you once again. Not for long. Vick’s inability to stay healthy placed you back in the saddle just two weeks later, where you went on a tear.

You threw an NFL record-tying seven touchdown passes, had the highest completion percentage (78.57%) of all to accomplish a seven-touchdown game, and set the NFL record for touchdown pass-interception differential in your historic performance against the Raiders in Oakland. You became the first quarterback in NFL history to put up a passer rating of 149 or higher in back-to-back starts. You set an Eagles record for most passes without an interception.

You led the Birds to the first division title in three seasons by defeating the Cowboys in Dallas and, in the Divisional Round, overcame a Riley Cooper would-be touchdown drop with another fourth-quarter comeback to take the lead against the Saints. Clutch gene”.

An atrocious special teams blunder and a Carey Williams horse collar penalty overshadowed that drive and your two touchdowns (should’ve been three), zero interception and 105 passer rating performance in the 26-24 loss.

Your 27-2 touchdown-interception ratio was the best in NFL history (until Brady reclaimed the record in 2016), your 119 passer rating was the best in the league and third best in NFL history, you earned a spot in and won the Pro Bowl Offensive MVP award. Most importantly, you gave this city a quarterback of the future.

Though you weren’t able to replicate your superhuman numbers in the 2014 season, you picked up right where you left off as a leader. Despite GM/coach dumping your biggest deep threat, you carried the team to a 6-2 start including two fourth-quarter comebacks and three game-winning drives, before breaking your collarbone, cutting your season short. The team went 4-4 after your injury, ending the year 10-6, falling short of the playoffs.

And with that, you were gone.

In a sixty-second phone call amidst an offseason workout, you were informed by Chip Kelly of the trade that sent you away. When times were good, it was easy for him to name you his starter “for the next 1,000 years”. 999 years short of your residency, you were deemed worthy for one literal minute of your coaches valuable time.

You fell victim to Kelly’s fetish for letting go of quality players in return for injury-prone has-beens (or never-weres). After a 14-5 record as a starter in two seasons under Kelly, he chose to trade you away for “Sammy Sleeves: The Injury Machine” and a pick that would be traded away to draft Eric Rowe (ouch).

You joined the likes of fan favorites and game changers in DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin (though per his own decision), all making an early exit from Philadelphia, leaving fans to wonder what could have been.

The fan base was split on the decision, but nobody seemed as devastated to see you go as they were the names above. Those three were athletic freaks, studs, playmakers. It’s understandable that they won us over with exciting plays and electric speed. But you were the quarterback, the most praised (and criticized) player on the field. And all you seemed to do was win.

People are quick to overlook your first stint in Philly, mainly because it was over before it ever started. But also because you weren’t flashy. You didn’t provide the excitement and the thrills that came with Vick when he would drop bombs to Jackson, or McNabb when he would escape the pocket running back and forth, back and forth, extending the play. Off the field, you didn’t have that “starting quarterback” personality.

You read the field, made the throws, won the games. You said the right things, always defended your teammates and never spoke a lick of negativity.

But you lost your first and only playoff game (despite the fourth quarter comeback), and Butt Fumble couldn’t take advantage of your hot start once you were sidelined with an injury the next season, failing to make the playoffs. You came off as an average guy in your press conferences, and perhaps that left some with the perception that you were just an average guy on the field.

Like I said before, the quarterback is the most criticized player in the game when times are bad, and because of that, some associated you with losing. Because the team didn’t achieve what the fans wanted, you (the quarterback) were blamed. The irony burns when I watch interviews of you in the present day, refusing to say the word “I”, only referring to the success of the team.

Yet back then, so many people failed to acknowledge your personal successes, called your historic 2013 “a fluke”, refused to call you the franchise quarterback, and because you didn’t put up heroic Pro Bowl numbers the following year, it was easy for them to watch you go.

The wins and losses didn’t matter. Your ability to achieve substantial success despite a system that “worked so vigorously against your strengths” was overlooked. As a whole, we’re a city that’s known for our “tell it how it is” mentality. But we’re also known for always having our players back. We didn’t have yours.

Losing the coach that drafted you, the only coach to give you a chance coming out of college, after your rookie season would crush most players. Losing a competition for the starting spot in your first season under a new head coach would lead most young players to question their abilities. And you certainly did. But you persevered and gave us all that we could ask for. Wins.

The unimaginable burden to consistently produce record-setting statistics at the rate of your 2013 season would lead anyone to force the issue. Instead of believing and supporting, we followed in the footsteps of so many before us, doubting.

For fans like myself, it stung. I grew attached to you and thought we’d finally had our guy. The franchise quarterback.  I’ll never forget when my roommate broke the news to me in the Morgan Hall dining facility at Temple University on North Broad. Sam Bradford, are you kidding me? I muttered those words often that season.

DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews, Kiko freakin’ Alonso?! Are. You. Kidding. ME!? Chip Kelly destroyed the Eagles, and I wasn’t sure if we could ever recover.

When you were sent packing, I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.

But as we all know, I was dead wrong.

Carson Wentz faces even more pressure with Jared Goff. dark. Next

In the next installment of “Dear Nick”,  I follow the paths of the Eagles and Nick Foles in the aftermath of the sudden decision to part ways. Stay tuned!