Thompson: Eagles players and fans had each other’s back all year

Eagles head coach Doug Pederson addresses the crowd on the steps of the art museum during last week’s Super Bowl celebration. Photo by Webster Riddick

By Al Thompson

I have been blessed to cover the Eagles for 28 seasons now. There have been some exciting seasons and some you wish you could forget.

I have seen so many eras over that span including Randall Cunningham, Donovan McNabb, Brian Dawkins, Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas, Brian Westbrook, Eric Allen, William Thomas, Troy Vincent, David Akers and the late Reggie White.

In all those years though, I have never seen a team so completely connected to its fans as this Philadelphia Eagles team was with its followers.

You can talk about how the Birds improved the receiving corps or how well cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Patrick Robinson responded to the roles they were given by defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz and defensive backs coach Cory Undlin.

One could look at the leap Carson Wentz took in his second year as the starting quarterback and that he was a MVP candidate until a knee injury sidelined him on Dec. 10 for the season.

Where would this team be without the outstanding play of its offensive and defensive lines and how could the journey be completed without the spectacular play of backup quarterback Nick Foles or the creative play calling of second-year coach Doug Pederson?

The Eagles would have been a very good football team no doubt. But would they have won Super Bowl LII and experienced the parade of parades last week without their fans?

No, no way.

Every player who donned an Eagles uniform this season will admit that.

This team suffered an extraordinary number of critical injuries and kept going, kept winning games. This team was lifted by a rabid fan base that would not let them give up. And the Eagles didn’t.

“The Philadelphia Eagles fan base has been amazing,” Foles said in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. “Each and every day, especially at the Linc. They’ve been loud on the road as well. When we went out to LA to play the Chargers earlier in the year, they had to go to a silent count because our fans were so loud in the stadium. That helps us, that helps us in so much and this week we know they will be here and loud … they have had a big impact with us this year.”

Foles was right. Tens of thousands of Eagles fans, many without tickets, poured into Minneapolis during the week leading up to the Super Bowl to support their team.

Eagles fans flooded Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., all week chanting “E-A-G-L-E-S” up and down every concourse throughout the massive shopping and entertainment complex.

At one point there were reports that mall security actually tried to stop Eagles fans from chanting … right. That idea disappeared quickly.

Eagles faithful clearly outnumbered New England Patriots fans by at least a margin of three to one, on the streets and at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Why was the connection so much more intense this season than it has been in years past?

Perhaps they see something in each other they can relate to.

Since the 1960 Eagles NFL title, Philadelphia has had two World Series championships (1980, 2008), the Flyers had the two Stanley Cups (1974, ’75) and the Sixers won titles in 1967 and ’83.

So over 57 years the Delaware Valley has had one parade every 10 or 11 years. In New York and Boston, it seems like there is a parade every other year.

So the City of Brotherly Love has always felt left out.

Look at some of the key players on the Eagles roster and you can see right away what the attraction was to their fans.

Many players were basically unwanted and unclaimed before ending up in Philadelphia. The underdog theme created by offensive tackle Lane Johnson and defensive Chris Long wasn’t just a gimmick to sell dog masks to raise money for a good cause, it rang true with most of the players.

The three main running backs in the Super Bowl combined for 255 yards of offense and two touchdowns. Corey Clement was undrafted, as was LeGarrette Blount. Jay Ajayi was a fifth-round pick. He was unwanted in Miami and traded to the Eagles for basically a bag of footballs.

Last year, many fans and observers thought Jason Kelce was washed up and should be replaced. He ended the season first team All Pro.

Mills was a seventh round pick in 2016, started in the Super Bowl and finished leading the team with nine total tackles and two defended passes.

Robinson was released by the Indianapolis Colts after the 2016 season. They gave up on him. The Eagles moved him to the slot and all he did was record an electric 50-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter of the Eagles 38–7 win over the Minnesota Vikings, earning the Birds the NFC Championship.

Kicker Jake Elliott was plucked off the Cincinnati Bengals practice squad after starter Caleb Sturgis went down in the season opener. He was cut after the Bengals training camp.

Elliott scored 11 points in the Super Bowl and throughout the season provided clutch kick after clutch kick to help the Birds earn their memorable season.

Safety Rodney McLeod was undrafted. The five-year veteran recorded a monster sack against the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional round playoff game and registered six total tackles and a defended pass against the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

After the parade, McLeod could only shake his head when asked if it had sunk in about what impact this title has had with the Delaware Valley.

“I know the Eagles were really big here, but I had no idea it could be this big,” McLeod said on the steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum where the formal ceremony and speeches took place at the end of the parade. “You just see all the smiles and happy faces with the millions of fans we saw today. It is overwhelming.”

Foles, the Super Bowl MVP, was overwhelmed for a few seconds when I asked him shortly after the Super Bowl win if he understood the impact this win was going to have on the City of Philadelphia. He was released by the Kansas City Chiefs after the 2016 season. … another unwanted player the Eagles grabbed. Foles composed himself and spoke from the heart.

“To be part of the Eagles’ first championship, we’ve all waited a long time to be in this position to be world champions,” Foles said. “The people who bleed green, the people of Philadelphia, the people all across the nation who have supported the Eagles, they’ve all waited a long time. Mr. (Jeffrey) Lurie’s waited a long time. Being part of this, being drafted by Philadelphia and to be fortunate enough to come back and be part of this…it’s been a long time coming.”

The Eagles 2017 season started with question marks all over the roster. These Birds soared with their fans providing the wind for their wings and finished with a standard as a franchise that is now officially certified Gold.

Follow Al Thompson on Twitter @thompsoniii