OPINION: Making a case for the Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles warms up before the NFL football NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings Sunday, Jan. 21, 2018, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

As a Cowboys fan living in Minnesota who loves the concept of competitive balance, it’s hard for me to imagine a Super Bowl matchup that is both as exciting and as dreaded as the upcoming showdown between the Eagles and Patriots.

On one hand, you have the two No. 1-seeded teams in the playoffs facing off. Both teams have top-five rated defenses and top-10 rated offenses in a rematch of Super Bowl XXXIX. Tom Brady, a seemingly immortal figure in the football world, has the opportunity to further cement his case to be considered the greatest of all time. Nick Foles, the improbable starting quarterback for the Eagles who was contemplating retirement just two seasons ago after a miserable stint in St. Louis, has a shot to take down the greatest dynasty in NFL history and prove that he belongs in the league as a starter. This game has so many great story lines and two historically good teams; it would be near impossible for the matchup to disappoint.

On the other hand, though, it’s the Eagles and Patriots. Philly has a reputation for being less-than-Minnesota nice; many antagonized Vikings fans mercilessly for simply going to the NFC championship. Plus, on top of all of that, they embarrassed the Vikings just mere days ago in what can only be described as a microcosm for Minnesota sports of the past two-and-a-half decades. Now we have to watch these guys play for the Lombardi trophy on our home turf? That stings.

As for the Patriots, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are in their eighth Super Bowl and have won five up to this point. They’ve been to the AFC championship 12 times since Brady took over under center in 2001. Last year they proved that even being down by 25 points wasn’t enough to keep them from winning. The “Patriot Way” is legendary, but it’s boring and the antithesis of competitive balance.

If you’re like me, i.e. stuck with either the Cowboys or Vikings, who have disappointed on the biggest stages since at least the mid-90s, you’re probably having a hard time deciding on a team with which to side because of the above points. But fear not, for I have done some research and am here to aid in your plight. Here are the three reasons why the Eagles are the team to whom you should pledge your allegiance. And to my brother Nick, a die-hard Eagles fan, this is for you… Fly, Eagles, fly.

Hope for the perennial underdogs

As much as you probably don’t want to hear it, the Eagles are a very similar team to the Vikings both personnel-wise this season and historically.

Before the Super Bowl was started in 1967, the Eagles had been around for 34 years. In that time, the team won three NFL Championships in 1948, 1949 and 1960. Since then, however, they haven’t had much success and have since racked up the NFL’s third-longest title drought and an 0-2 record in the Super Bowl.

This season, the Eagles have lost their starting quarterback, running back and left tackle, generally considered three of the most important positions on the offense. They were counted out time and time again by people who thought that they just couldn’t handle the staggering losses to their roster, especially after starting quarterback and second-year sensation Carson Wentz went down with a gruesome knee injury in Week 14. Despite that doubt, on the backs of a fantastic defense, a competent quarterback who made the plays when he needed to and didn’t lose games and a coaching staff that was dynamic enough adjust on the move to get the most out of what 11 guys were on the field, the Eagles were able to accumulate a 13-3 record, a first-round bye in the playoffs and a really good shot to take down the defending Super Bowl champions.

Now look at the Vikings, a franchise that has only one NFL championship, a 27-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns in 1969, and no Super Bowl wins. They’ve gone 0-4 in the Super Bowl and have endured countless heartbreaks over the years, from Gary Anderson’s miss in 1998 to Blair Walsh’s in 2016.

At the beginning of the season, it looked like it would be more of the same. Just like the Eagles, the Vikings lost both of their projected starting quarterbacks to knee injuries, their star rookie running back to injury and faced countless accusations that a team with that many injuries couldn’t make it far. Like the Eagles, though, they managed a 13-3 record and a first-round bye in the playoffs on the backs of a hard-hitting defensive, competent quarterback play and an ever-adapting coaching staff.

Sure, the Vikes were absolutely embarrassed in the NFC championship by the Eagles. But that was an outlier, not the norm. This Vikings team is built surprisingly like the Eagles – tough defense, dynamic offense. Would it have been preferable to see the Vikings in the Super Bowl this season? Absolutely. Will it sting a bit to cheer for a team that gave the Vikings their most heartbreaking loss since 2016? Definitely. But if this Philadelphia Eagles team is able to take down the New England Patriots, the best team of the last two decades and proverbial Goliath of the National Football League, who’s to say that next year it won’t be the Vikings? The Eagles give hope to teams who have had a rough few seasons or, you know, decades. If they win, it sets the stage for the Vikings to do so in the near future.

They aren’t all actually that bad

I’m sure I don’t have to remind you of the way some Vikings fans were treated at Lincoln Financial Field during the NFC Championship game. Eagles fans have gained a reputation for being some of the meanest and most violent in all of football, and some of that is more than deserved. Vikings fans were physically and verbally harassed for just showing up in a Vikings jersey, and some called it the worst experience of their lives.

As a Cowboys fan, I was more than inclined to agree with the mass of people who said that Eagles fans are the worst. However, at the prompting of my brother, I gave the fan base as a whole the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it really was just a few bad apples who tarnished the reputation of the city.

As it turns out, a lot of people from the City of Brotherly Love really do that moniker justice. On the team, players like defensive end Chris Long have dedicated themselves to social work a making a difference in the community at large. Long donated all of his base salary, in total worth around $1 million, to a scholarship fund in his hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. He was named the Byron White Community MVP by the NFL Players Association, which recognizes outstanding work by players in their communities. Last year, safety Malcolm Jenkins won the same award for his work with underprivileged youth in Philadelphia, New Jersey, Ohio and Louisiana.

Off the field, sure, some of their fans can get a little aggressive. Most of them, however, feel embarrassed and sorry for the way Vikings fans were treated at the championship. Since the game, Eagles fans have donated over $7,000 to Vikings coach Mike Zimmer’s charity as an apology and show of sportsmanship.

The Eagles have earned a bad reputation for their behavior, but it’s mostly the result of a few bad apples ruining it for the rest. The team is a tight-knit group of good people, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a team more dedicated to its fans and to its city than the Eagles.

The proverbial ‘X’ factor

Perhaps this is a more subjective argument, but the Eagles are just more fun to watch. With the Patriots, you know that the offense starts and ends with Tom Brady. With the Eagles, it’s tough to pinpoint that one player who can make or break the game for the team.

Their offense is one of the most dynamic in the league; in LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi, they have a lethal one-two punch that can run a team over. Their receiving core is one of the best. The trio of tight end Zach Ertz and wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor hauled in 25 combined touchdowns during the regular season, more than any other receiving trio in the league. They have an offensive line that boasts three of the top-10 rated linemen by Pro Football Focus, with center Jason Kelce holding the No. 1 spot. And the whole unit is led by a QB who, despite starting the season as a backup, has the best postseason passer rating in NFL history.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles have one of the best defensive units in football. Ranked fourth in both total defense and scoring defense, Philadelphia thrives on getting to the quarterback. Despite only registering 38 sacks in the season, good for 15th-best in the league according to NFL.com, they tallied 226 total quarterback pressures, 53 more than the next-best team. Tom Brady said during Super Bowl Media Day that “they’ve got some of the best linemen in the league” and that “their linebackers are super athletic. They’re not going to give us anything.”

It’s a darn good unit that plays a full 60 minutes and that has the physicality to go toe-to-toe with the Patriots. They win through disguising who their big playmakers will be because it’s such a talented roster.

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I know it’s hard to bring yourself to root for the Eagles. Trust me, I probably know it better than most anyone. However, there are a lot of similarities between this Philadelphia team and the Vikings, they’re actually pretty nice people and they’re such a fun team to watch. Plus, hearing Patriots fans brag about their sixth ring will be even more annoying than listening to Cowboys fans talk about how great the team was in the ‘90s. They were really good, just to clarify, but no one wants to hear about it. Just like no one should want to see the Patriots win again. Root for hope for the Vikings and Cowboys of the world. Root for competitive balance. Say it with me: Fly, Eagles, fly.

Noah Brown can be reached at brow7736@stthomas.edu.

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