Cardella: A Story About Magic

By Tom Cardella:

If there were a Philadelphia edition of the dictionary, next to the word “magic” would be a picture of Eagles quarterback Nick Foles. In the season that just ended for the Eagles, starting quarterback Carson Wentz went down with an injury. His backup, Foles was able to recapture the magic of last season’s Super Bowl win. Foles was “St.” Nick once again. Leading the team to improbable win after improbable win. Until Foles revived what had seemed a few weeks ago like a lost season. After upsetting the Chicago Bears, the Eagles headed for New Orleans full of hope that they could keep their drive to a second consecutive Super Bowl championship alive.

Funny thing about magic. In a fairy tale, we all were taught, magic turned a young girl-scorned and used by her step sisters as a human mop into a princess. In a similar way, magic turned a seemingly journeyman football player such Nick Foles into a Super Bowl MVP. Maybe all of us Philadelphians are not Eagles fans, but for the past few weeks, it seemed as if we came together as one. Once again, St. Nick carried all of us — fans and his battered and bruised teammates — on his shoulders for another remarkable flight.

There’s a cruel axiom of both professional sports and real life. It’s that funny thing about magic. Magic is fickle. Magic can disappear as suddenly as it appears. Magic cannot be measured. Magic defies rational explanation. Magic can raise you to dizzying heights. That’s why it IS magic. But magic can let you down without a warning. Just ask Cinderella. And on Sunday, January 13th, with a tick over two minutes left in the game in New Orleans, Nick Foles found Alshon Jeffery open over the middle. Jeffery — one of the most sure-handed receivers in all of football. The power of magic was tested one more time.

Prior to that pass, the Eagles had shaken off the disappointment of losing a two-touchdown lead. Foles himself had struggled since the first quarter. But then the magic had suddenly returned. The Eagles’ running game had disappeared after two of its best run blockers were injured. But the defense had kept them in the game. A defense that had been far from perfect. A defense that couldn’t lay a hand on the Saints future Hall-of-Fame quarterback Drew Brees. A defense that had allowed New Orleans to consume more than eleven precious minutes driving almost the length of the field to take the lead. But with the help of a missed field goal for the second straight week by their opponent (magic works in mysterious ways), the defense had allowed only 20 points. Any fan could’ve told you going into the game that if the Saints could be held to 20 points, the Eagles had a great chance to survive the cauldron called the NFL playoffs for another week.

The magic moment had arrived. Foles unfurled what’s likely the last pass that he’ll ever throw as an Eagle. The ball rocketed out of his hands straight and true. Alshon Jeffery leaped in front of his defender. Jeffery, whose season had come to life when Foles became the starting quarterback in those last furious weeks. The ball was there. In Jeffery’s hands. And then it wasn’t. The ball deflected away from him and came to rest in the hands of a Saints defender.

As I always do during Eagles games, I had muted the sound from the TV in favor of the radio broadcast. Through a fog of disappointment, I heard the Voice of the Eagles, Merrill Reese, shouting, “It’s intercepted!” Reese’s anguish and disbelief a reflection of my own. “The game is over and the Saints are going to win this ballgame,” Reese continued or words to that effect. For by then, his words were an anti-climax to what all of us had witnessed on our television screens.

“It’s impossible!” was my first thought. All of us had rooted too hard. Believed so strongly in the Eagle’s ultimate triumph. We believed the magic would never desert us.

On the TV screen (the sound still muted), our radio carrying Reese’s concluding words. We watched the Saints huddle in what is euphemistically called “the victory formation.” Then the kneel-down, as we helplessly looked on. And the teams congratulating one another. We tried to adjust to the cold-hard reality. The Eagles season was over. Came to a sudden, jarring end. There would be no next week.

And then we saw the forlorn figure of Alshon Jeffery walking off the field. His body seemed to shrink within itself. Make himself invisible. Inconsolable. Jeffery will remember that moment for a long, long time. Unfair though it may be, the disappointment will linger as long as the memories of the triumphant Super Bowl win last season. The look on Jeffery’s face seemed to say, “I’ll dream of that pass hurtling toward me. I’ll feel the ball go through my hands over and over again.”

The next day, the players cleared out their lockers, knowing that some of them will be playing elsewhere come next September. The game, despite our passion, is after all still a business. There’s a new season for which to prepare.

Nick Foles will likely be gone. Will he be able to recapture the magic elsewhere? Who knows? That’s why it IS magic.