Eagles Fans at Middlebury Rejoice

Middlebury sports had some tough breaks these last few weeks. One bright spot for some on campus was the Super Bowl.

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Despite a record-setting 505-yard day, Super Bowl LII will go down in Tom Brady lore as the drop game. Despite the drop taking place early in the second quarter with New England only trailing 9–3, the play proved a pivotal moment in what turned out to be a close game. On the subsequent play, Jalen Mills and Brandon Graham worked to break up a Brady pass intended for Rob Gronkowski leading to a turnover on downs at midfield. The Eagles scored on the ensuing drive to briefly take command of the game, 15–3.

Despite a record-setting 505-yard day, Super Bowl LII will go down in Tom Brady lore as the drop game. Despite the drop taking place early in the second quarter with New England only trailing 9–3, the play proved a pivotal moment in what turned out to be a close game. On the subsequent play, Jalen Mills and Brandon Graham worked to break up a Brady pass intended for Rob Gronkowski leading to a turnover on downs at midfield. The Eagles scored on the ensuing drive to briefly take command of the game, 15–3.

Huffington Post

Huffington Post

Despite a record-setting 505-yard day, Super Bowl LII will go down in Tom Brady lore as the drop game. Despite the drop taking place early in the second quarter with New England only trailing 9–3, the play proved a pivotal moment in what turned out to be a close game. On the subsequent play, Jalen Mills and Brandon Graham worked to break up a Brady pass intended for Rob Gronkowski leading to a turnover on downs at midfield. The Eagles scored on the ensuing drive to briefly take command of the game, 15–3.

By ROB ERICKSON

“I can honestly say I’ve been waiting my whole life for this moment,” said field hockey captain Lauren Schweppe ’18 just days after her team won it all for the first time — after years of highs and lows, of high expectations and dashed hopes. Not the NCAA Division III National Championship, mind you. In case you forgot, when she and the rest of the Middlebury field hockey team brought home the national title last fall, it was their second in three years. And as monumental as their achievement was, who’s ever heard of someone “waiting their whole life” to win something for the second time?

“Losing in ’05 was rough,” she continued, “but I think we all felt like this year was our chance for redemption, and it was.” Naturally, she was talking about her hometown team and the champions of Super Bowl LII: the Philadelphia Eagles. And if Schweppe thinks she’s waited a long time, imagine how her parents, her grandparents — heck, the whole city of Philadelphia — feel. Despite being one of the oldest franchises in the NFL (founded in 1933), the Eagles were one of nine teams who had been around for all 51 Super Bowls and hadn’t won a single one.

But on Sunday, February 4 the Eagles crossed their name off the list of teams who have come up short 51 times and hoisted the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy (still remaining are the Bills, Browns, Cardinals, Chargers, Falcons, Lions, Titans, and Vikings). For most Philadelphia fans, the joy of the victory has as much to do with the company that they’re joining as with the past they’re leaving behind. The two sides are inseparable: for a place that Time Magazine dubbed “The Worst Sports City in America” as recently as 2015, the long-awaited championship tasted that much sweeter on account of all the heart-wrenching seasons that Philadelphia fans have suffered in the past.

Brendan Donohue ’18, a lifelong Eagles fan as well as a member of the Middlebury baseball team, still hasn’t given up hopes for his first collegiate championship — but also didn’t let that get in the way of celebrating Philadelphia’s success. “I grew up as an Eagles fan and watched every game with my dad,” he recalled. “I still remember the devastating feeling we felt each year watching them lose. I can’t explain how amazing it feels to be Super Bowl champions.

“As a 9 year old in 2005, I cried when we lost. This time I cried even harder when we won.”

As befits the city of Philadelphia, the Eagles’ road to the championship was hardly uneventful. After a blistering 10-2 start that had them positioned as easy favorites to win the NFC, their quarterback and MVP candidate Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL in their week 14 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Although fans of some teams might have had their doubts, Philadelphia fans — accustomed as they are to hardship and suffering — see doubt as a luxury not worth indulging in. “Philly fans never give up on their team,” said Schweppe. “Even after we lost Wentz, the overwhelming feeling was that we were confident in our team and confident in [Nick] Foles. We knew the Birds would pull through no matter what.”

Nick Foles, the unassuming backup with the goofy grin and who nearly hung up his cleats two years ago, took the helm in Philadelphia after Wentz’s injury. First, a little background: Foles was a third-round pick for the Eagles in 2012, and would step in to play when the starter, Michael Vick, suffered a concussion about midway through the season. In 2013, he tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes in a single game and finished with one of the best single-season passer ratings of all time (119.3). The next season, Foles’ record was not nearly as clean, as he threw 13 touchdowns but also 10 interceptions in eight games. In his ninth game of the season Foles broke his collarbone, ending his season. At the time the Eagles were 6–2, but they went 4–4 the rest of the way and missed the playoffs. Foles was traded to the Rams after the 2014 campaign, ended up losing the starting position to Case Keenum, and asked to be released after the team drafted Jared Goff the next year. At this point, Foles was moments away from calling it quits and moving on from the NFL, he has said openly since that time. However, he took a chance and signed a contract with the Chiefs to play as a backup under his former coach Andy Reid. He saw limited action as a backup, but wasn’t satisfied with his role on the team and asked to be released; luckily for him, his skillset convinced the Philadelphia Eagles to re-sign him as backup before this past 2017 campaign.

Which brings us back to the weeks following Wentz’s injury. The Eagles had an uncertain finish to the regular season, to say the least: Foles showed some flashes but didn’t look outstanding on the whole, and it would be hard hard to say that the Eagles were coming in to the playoffs on a hot streak after their 6–0 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in week 17 (of course, the Eagles’ starters barely saw the field — after all, that contest didn’t affect their place in the standings — but it certainly wasn’t a high note to end the regular season).

Despite being the number one seed in the NFC coming into their divisional round matchup against the Atlanta Falcons, there was enough doubt surrounding the Eagles team that Las Vegas books actually had them as the underdog coming into the game — at home, to boot. Philadelphia managed to come away with a 15–10 win behind a solid performance from Foles: certainly not resounding enough to silence their critics, but enough to keep them alive for one more week.

But the team kept on driving, and their fans followed suit, doubling down on their grit and even getting a little cocky about it. “The biggest surprise for me,” Donohue said, “was seeing how resilient the team was once we lost our MVP-caliber QB in Carson Wentz. Everyone talks about the Patriots’ ‘Next Man Up’ mentality, but I could guarantee they don’t make it past the divisional round with a backup QB.”

That faith paid dividends during Philadelphia’s head-turning performance in the NFC championship. Facing a Vikings team led by Case Keenum — the same quarterback that took his job a few years earlier on the Rams — Foles threw for three touchdowns and 352 on 26 for 33 passing en route to a 38–7 trouncing of Minnesota. The highlight of the game came with Foles under center with a 24–7 lead on the Vikings’ 41-yard line: Doug Pederson, the Philadelphia coach who never met a trick play he didn’t like, called the flea-flicker that would seal the game when Foles lofted a pass carefully into the hands of Torrey Smith just inside the end-zone pylon.

Sure, there was some time left in the game at this point, but the narrative for Super Bowl LII was already starting to take shape. Waiting for the Eagles were the New England Patriots juggernaut, led by the Brady-Belichick duo with five Super Bowls to their credit — including last year’s, which they won with the greatest comeback  in NFL history, let alone on the biggest stage in football. It was the evil empire versus the lovable losers, the playoff perennials that everybody loves to hate against the against-all-odds, down-but-not-out upstarts with their eyes on the throne. Luke Skywalker versus Darth Vader; Rocky Balboa versus Apollo Creed.

Any sports fan could find a team to root for under such circumstances; still, many student-athletes might feel a special affinity for the thrill of this particular athletic contest, since so often in their own careers they’ve been in the place of one if not both teams on the field. Take Schweppe, who, despite being a Philadelphia fan, plays for a Middlebury team that has more or less been the New England Patriots of Division III field hockey, let alone the Nescac, over the past few years. The fact that she could personally relate to the swagger and absolute confidence that the Patriots play with, only made it all the more exciting for her to root for her underdog Eagles on the big stage. “I think any athlete can relate to the competitive spirit of the Super Bowl,” she later said. “Although it’s definitely more stressful being a spectator who can only sit and scream at her TV than being one of the actual athletes on the field with the game in your hands.”

The game itself was nothing short of an absolute classic, a back-and-forth thriller guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. Even if you didn’t have skin in the game, it was damn good football. Although Foles gave the Eagles a 38–33 lead with his third TD pass of the game with 2:25 remaining, the game was far from over: indeed, the Philadelphia faithful were more than likely seeing visions of the Patriots’ comeback from last year’s Super Bowl. With the Eagles holding a five-point lead, overtime seemed out of the question in this contest: Brady and the Patriots were set for an all-or-nothing drive, end zone or bust. But just two plays in, Eagles defensive end Brandon Graham beat his man to strip sack Brady well within New England territory, and the Eagles fell on the fumble. Foles and company would play it safe and settle for the field goal to push the score to 41–33 with about a minute remaining. Of course, Brady managed to put the Patriots in position for in a last-second Hail Mary, as everyone more or less knew he would, but Eagles fans across the country leapt for joy as the pass was swatted to the ground to seal the victory.

The City of Brotherly Love may not be known for its hospitable fans, but their victory was one that everyone outside of New England — and a good deal of folks within it — could take at least some share in rejoicing over. With characteristic Philadelphian irreverence, Donohue summed up what the victory meant for him and, by extension, countless others. “Being a Philadelphia fan is in my blood,” he said: “it’s something my dad and I bonded over during my childhood. Being an Eagles fan isn’t just about sports for me. It’s about family, and I don’t care if people think we’re scumbags, because now we’re scumbags who are champions.”

Unlike Schweppe, Donohue is still waiting on his turn to taste a championship in his Middlebury career. But that hasn’t stopped him from taking lessons from his fandom and putting them to use on the diamond. “I love to take the grit I’ve developed over the years as an Eagles fan and apply it to the grit I have on the baseball field,” he later explained. “I never really knew that ‘tears of joy’ were a thing until the Eagles won, and I can’t wait to bawl my eyes out again when the baseball team takes home the Nescac title.”

Here’s to all those underdog dreams coming true — for Middlebury students and athletes alike.

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Eagles Fans at Middlebury Rejoice