Tony Dungy listened to the “no way Nick Foles can win the Super Bowl” crowd and had enough. Dungy’s message to the doubters: Think again.
“I keep telling Eagles fans to relax,” the former coach tweeted on New Year’s Day, just after the Eagles completed the regular season with Foles having replaced the injured Carson Wentz. “Nick Foles will play well. The NFC Championship Game will be in Philly.”
Call him Tony “Nostradamus” Dungy.
While most people believed the Eagles’ Super Bowl hopes vanished after Wentz suffered a knee injury on Dec. 10, Dungy was convinced there still was a chance. That chance has turned into a stunning Super Bowl run.
So, what gave Dungy the confidence to come out with an opinion that was in stark contrast to the prevailing sentiment?
A little inside information.
“My son [Eric] played at Oregon, so I saw Nick Foles play in college, and I was close to [former Ducks coach] Chip Kelly,” Dungy said Tuesday at an NBC news conference for Super Bowl LII. “I had visited there a couple of times, and I saw that year he had under Chip, and I knew he was a good player.”
Dungy theorized that Foles ultimately could be functional as Wentz’s fill-in, but he knew it would take time and require some patience — patience that very few experts were willing to exercise when it came time to handicap the Eagles’ chances.
“It wasn’t like Philadelphia didn’t have a good team,” Dungy said. “Carson Wentz played great, and he’s special, but they had very good running backs, they had a solid offensive line, they had tight ends that could get open and do multiple things and receivers that could catch the ball. So once Nick Foles got on his groove, I thought he was going to be fine and he’d fit right in.”
Dungy was spot on.
Foles was efficient in the Eagles’ 15-10 divisional-round win over the Falcons, going 23 of 30 for 246 yards. A week later, he put on a masterful performance in a 38-7 trouncing of the Vikings in the conference championship game. Foles was 26 of 33 for 352 yards and three touchdowns to get the Eagles into the Super Bowl.
“To come in and play great right away, it wasn’t going to happen,” Dungy said, referring to Foles’ slow start. “But once he had enough time, be able to work his way in, get the throws with the first-team receivers and tight ends, get his timing down, they were going to be OK.”
The big key: earning home- field advantage in the conference playoffs.
“If they could get that No. 1 seed and get the bye week, then you could go back to a training camp mode,” Dungy said.
It was only a few years ago that the 29-year-old Foles considered retirement, having lost his passion for the game after a mediocre 2015 season with the St. Louis Rams.
He reassessed his life, enrolled in seminary classes on-line at Liberty University with the eventual goal of becoming a pastor, and ultimately decided to continue playing. After playing for the Chiefs in 2016, he signed a two-year deal with the Eagles to be Wentz’s backup.
And now he’s one step away from winning it all.
“This is a journey,” Foles said Tuesday. “It’s not necessarily football experiences that have shaped me. It’s off-the-field stuff, having a daughter, being married, having more responsibilities. The trials you go through, almost retiring. It had nothing to do with the football stuff. It had to do with the life stuff.”
His priorities in order, Foles now has one immediate goal in mind: to raise the Vince Lombardi Trophy Sunday night.