Tom Brady and Nick Foles sat side-by-side for an Opening Night interview to start Super Bowl week. In terms of experience and playoff pedigree, that was like pitting me against Ryan Gosling in a best-looking contest.
Brady has started 36 career postseason games. Foles has made 42 starts total, regular season and postseason combined.
Brady won his first Super Bowl in 2002. Foles had just turned 13.
Brady owns five Super Bowl rings and holds the (un)official title of Greatest of All Time. Foles has been traded, demoted and released and gave retirement serious consideration after his fourth NFL season.
“It’s just different roads, different paths,” Foles said.
That’s one way of putting it. If he’s feeling any anxiety about facing a living legend on the NFL’s biggest stage, Foles didn’t let on during multiple media sessions last week.
“Obviously Tom Brady is one of the greatest to play the game,” he said. “I’m excited to compete against the Patriots.”
Smart answer. The marquee might read “Brady vs. Foles,” but Foles is trying to conquer the Patriots defense, not Brady’s mystique. One reporter went so far as to drop a “David vs. Goliath” angle in a question.
“Nick is comfortable in his own skin,” Eagles receiver Torrey Smith said. “Nick Foles is the same guy who threw seven touchdowns in a game. He’s a bad man.”
The Eagles need Foles to be the same guy who shredded the Vikings defense in the NFC Championship Game. He had the golden touch that night, especially on deep throws. The combination of Doug Pederson’s play-calling and a weird unraveling by Mike Zimmer’s defense made Foles look like Joe Montana.
Foles has never experienced Super Bowl pressure, though, which makes him a wild card. Give Bill Belichick two weeks to prepare and smart money says he will know how to attack the Philadelphia’s run-pass option plays.
The Super Bowl will be Foles’ sixth start in place of Carson Wentz, an MVP candidate before his knee injury. Foles’ relief performances have been a mixed bag. Some good, some bad, some average, one terrific. Basically a snapshot of his entire career.
He certainly proved a lot of people wrong (hand raised here) with his gem against the Vikings.
“He’s not your average backup,” Eagles defensive end Chris Long said. “I don’t think he’s a backup. He’s proven that.”
Foles sounded like a wise old man at times in reflecting on the peaks and valleys of his career. Maybe not having that straight-line path has allowed him to cherish this opportunity, rather than spend every waking minute uptight over the magnitude of the moment.
“Everyone is going to be critical about different things,” he said. “But this is a process. You want to go out there every single game and play lights out. But that’s very, very hard to do. I haven’t played lights out every game obviously.
“It’s not necessarily the football experiences that have shaped me. It’s the off-the-field stuff. Having a daughter, being married, having more responsibilities. That’s the stuff that shapes your heart and changes your perspective of the game.”
His Super Bowl memories as a child are a little fuzzy because he didn’t sit glued to the television. He vaguely recalled Brady’s first Super Bowl victory.
“I was always outside playing,” he said. “Obviously I knew who Tom Brady was and watched him as I was growing up. In college, you want to watch the best players at your position and learn from them.”
Foles wouldn’t be the first backup quarterback to win a Super Bowl, so this isn’t space exploration. And he went to the Pro Bowl in 2013, so he has proved he can play at a high level. The Vikings certainly won’t argue with that.
Can he replicate that performance, on a bigger stage, with the greatest quarterback in league history on the opposite sideline? That’s a lot to ask, but who knows? Maybe he’ll play like a bad man again.