“Fly Eagles Fly” – The Icarus of the NFL
From Super Bowl glory to dispiriting mediocrity, Calum Muldoon charts the rise and fall of the Philadelphia Eagles over the past few seasons.
Most people are familiar with myths and legends. Whether they come from Ancient Greece or centuries-old tales from Scandinavia, you are bound to be familiar with at least one. One of the most famous of all is the story of Icarus, and the Philadelphia Eagles came as close to that story a football team could ever get. They rose to the top and they tried to touch the sun, only for them to come crashing back down to the earth below. While their Super Bowl victory back in 2018 will be remembered, the franchise failed to build upon that glorious day. The 2018 Philadelphia Eagles will be remembered as legends, but the Eagles of that year will not be remembered for their legacy.
February 4th, 2018. Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Philadelphia Eagles were set to make their third Super Bowl appearance in their history and while hopes were high, expectations were not. The Eagles would be facing off against a rampant New England Patriots side who were being led by Tom Brady. While both the Eagles and the Patriots ended their seasons with 13 wins compared to three losses – both breaking the NFC and AFC respectfully, the Eagles came into the game as the underdogs considering Philly’s star quarterback Carson Wentz suffered a season ending injury near the end of the regular season. The fact that the Eagles went the entire post-season with just their backup quarterback and still made it to their first Super Bowl in over 13 years is frankly, a miracle.
Philadelphia played exceptionally; they kept the superb New England offence in check, only losing the lead once over the course of the entire game. Backup quarterback Nick Foles had an inspired game throwing 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards. The play of the game came from Foles himself as he moved behind his offensive line and the ball was directly snapped to running back Clement. Clement would then pitch the ball to Burton, who passed the ball to Foles who was wide open in the end zone to score. With that move, Foles became the first player in Super Bowl history to both throw and catch a touchdown pass in the same move. The play became infamous and was named the Philly Special, a key reason Foles would go on to be named the MVP for Super Bowl LII.
The game finished 41-33 and the Philadelphia Eagles would be taking home their first Super Bowl ever and their first NFL title since 1960. 700,000 Eagles fans welcomed their champions home with open arms. The team looked to the future and expected to remain up with the best and challenge for more. The fans started to pile on pressure to keep the good days rolling. With the fanbase being the most important part of the fear factor behind playing at Lincoln Financial Fields, it is vital to keep them happy.
The Eagles have sold out their stadium every game since 1999 and will let the players know when they are not happy with a performance. According to Philly talk show host Glen Macnow “you could drop a Martian into Philly the day after a game, and within three minutes, he’d know whether the Eagles had won or lost.” When you have one of the most passionate fanbases in all of football, you have to be sure that when you feed them glory, you better have more servings lined up. Unfortunately for Eagles fans, they’ve been left to go hungry.
Going into the new season, the Eagles lacked any proper squad depth. Wentz was still on the mend from last season and Foles had to carry the load, which was difficult considering the growing list of side-lined players. Numerous key defensive players including their star cornerbacks Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby were ruled out for the rest of the season. Their absence sent ripples through the squad and the team suffered a very weak regular season. They crawled to a playoff place with a 9-7 record. Fans clung onto some hope after scraping past the Chicago Bears in the wildcard round and would face the New Orleans Saints in the NFC divisional match and played a good first quarter. However, the Saints prevailed and took advantage of a weak offensive display by the Eagles.
The next two seasons were a disaster for the Eagles. After being knocked out at the wildcard round in 2019 and then being eliminated during the regular season in 2020, the Eagles said enough was enough and head coach Jim Schwarz stepped down. Despite the proposed new beginning, the Eagles have still failed to fly high in the seasons since.
Team owner Jeffrey Lurie believes the Eagles can be at the top. He has a vision of league domination and silverware galore for the Eagles and their passionate fanbase. While the intentions are there, it appears just to be all bark no bite, but then again, it can be argued this was bound to happen. The pressures of having a fanbase wanting more can add pressure and the bitter taste of failure is even worse when you expected something sweeter. Fans set themselves up for a Patriots-like era of trophies and Super Bowl wins and flew towards the sun of success, but the squad depth and injury list melted the fans’ wings and sent their hopes crashing into the ocean of mediocrity below.
While the fans have every right to want more, when a franchise and a fanbase are not on the same page, it can create disillusion and confusion between both sides. After Super Bowl LII, it could be argued that the team had the vision of further success but not the plan. It is hard to see if we will see another Eagles victory in the coming years, as the balance of the sport can seemingly shift in seconds, but I do know one thing: the team that gave Philadelphia one of the happiest moments they could ever experience, has failed to prepare themselves to fit their now sky-high expectations. So while the Eagles dared to fly those few seasons ago, it remains hard to envisage a near future in which we once again see them soar.