With confetti flying at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis amid a grand post-Super Bowl LII celebration, and with millions watching on television, Dan Patrick of NBC Sports turned the microphone over to winning Philadelphia Eagles coach Doug Pederson to explain what had just happened.
Pederson, who was a high school coach just nine years ago, and quarterback Nick Foles, a backup the majority of his career who almost became a 27-year-old retiree two years ago, had just led the Eagles to a 41-33 win over the dynastic New England Patriots, whose coach (Bill Belichick) and quarterback (Tom Brady) were hailed all week leading up to the big game as the all-time bests at their crafts.
It was, after all, a record eighth Super Bowl together for Belichick and Brady—the first for Pederson and Foles. Needless to say, the Patriots were favored, even though both teams came in with 15-3 records.
In a classic battle filled with thrills, the two teams combined for more yards of total offense than had ever been accumulated in a single game in NFL history—1,151.
A comeback drive won it at the end—led by Foles, not Brady, with Pederson doing some astute, courageous play-calling from the sidelines.
“How do you explain this? …” Patrick asked.
Pederson replied humbly: “I can only give praise to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for giving me this opportunity.”
He was echoed moments later by his quarterback, who was named Super Bowl MVP.
“All glory to God, first and foremost,” said Foles, who threw for 373 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Foles also caught a TD pass on a trick play.
Foles would add a few minutes later: “I wouldn’t be here without God in my life, without Jesus in my life. … I don’t have the strength to come out here and play this game like that.”
Pederson and Foles are part of a deeply committed group of Christians on the Eagles team, with players and coaches serious about growing together in their faith. This past season, there was a Bible study for couples on Monday nights, another for players on Thursdays, yet another for coaches on Friday mornings, chapel on Saturdays and sometimes baptisms in the team pool.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich, a former quarterback who played in four losing Super Bowls with the Buffalo Bills, is a former seminary president and pastor. A current pastor, Ted Winsley, is the team chaplain.
The Eagles had to endure trials this year due to injuries to key players. Carson Wentz, not Foles, was the starting quarterback for the first 13 games and was playing as well or better than any quarterback in the league, including Brady, but suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament and was lost for the season.
Wentz, like Foles, is a deeply committed follower of Christ. Wentz preaches at churches during the offseason and has a ministry named Audience Of One.
Foles aspires to be a youth pastor after his football career. He probably had no more avid supporter going into the Super Bowl than Wentz.
“My bro is gonna shine bright tonight!” Wentz posted on his Twitter account the morning of the game. “So excited to see him & this team go out and compete tonight. Been through it all this year as a team, & yet, here we are! … God’s writing an unbelievable story and He’s getting all the glory.”
Two other devoted Christians—backup tight end Trey Burton and starting tight end Zach Ertz—teamed up with Foles to make two of the most important plays of the game.
It was Burton who threw a 1-yard TD pass to Foles on a gusty, fourth-and-goal trick play. Burton is one of the team’s most mature spiritual leaders. He helped baptize five Eagles players last season.
Ertz scored what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown with two minutes, 21 seconds remaining, catching an 11-yard pass from Foles. Ertz was baptized last summer, the day before his wedding. He told reporters during Super Bowl week that the believers on the Eagles team have a singular purpose: “Our No. 1 goal on earth is to make disciples.”
Last year, Foles, Ertz, Burton and Wentz teamed up on a project to make spiritual champions, putting together a Bible study with video content for the popular YouVersion Bible app.
“[Football] is the platform we have to draw people to the Word [of God], to Jesus, and it’s not something we take for granted,” Ertz said.
Defensive back Malcolm Jenkins is another believer who helps fuel the Eagles on and off the field. “Whenever I get the opportunity, I want to tell people what God has done in my life,” Jenkins said.
The Super Bowl gave another Eagle, defensive lineman Brandon Graham, a new chapter to add to his Christian testimony. With the Eagles leading 38-33 after Ertz’s go-ahead touchdown, Brady and the Patriots had gotten the ball back. Brady is known as one of the greatest come-from-behind quarterbacks in NFL history, but Graham broke through the line, swiped at Brady’s hand and forced a fumble that helped finish off New England.
Earlier in the week, Graham told reporters that he had met with Winsley, the team chaplain, at 5 a.m. each Tuesday morning during the season for one-on-one discipleship.
Moments after the Super Bowl ended and the celebration had begun, Ertz, Jenkins and other Eagles gathered at midfield for a prayer, led by guard Stefen Wisniewski.
“God, we ask that what was seen on this field today would bring glory to You,” Wisniewski prayed. “You gave us the talent. You gave us the strength. … Take all the glory. Your glory is forever and ever and ever. We praise You, God. This is not about us. Let it be about You.”