Doug Pederson will try to lead the Eagles to their first Super Bowl championship, which would make him one of the most legendary figures in Philadelphia sports history — a stark contrast with how he once was viewed by Eagles fans.
Mention the name Doug Pederson to anyone at Veterans Stadium in 1999, and the reaction would have been one of utter contempt. We’re talking some serious Philadelphia hate here, the kind that featured fans throwing batteries at him.
“Those big ones,” Pederson said after being hired as the Eagles’ coach in 2016. “Those ‘D’ ones. I was spit at. Beer [thrown at him].”
Back then, Pederson was the Eagles’ starting quarterback in Andy Reid’s first season as head coach and No. 2 overall pick Donovan McNabb’s rookie year. With Eagles’ fans clamoring for McNabb to start immediately and Reid knowing the former Syracuse star simply wasn’t ready, it was Pederson who served as the bridge quarterback.
Or sacrificial lamb, if you prefer.
“I just remember the roster turnover. [Reid] made a lot of changes that year,” Pederson recalled this past week. “Half the players [from 1998] were basically gone, so it was kind of a rebuild. We were young, we brought in a lot of free agents and we were trying to piece it together on offense.”
Pederson said the fans were “passionate, and we heard it. I heard it.”
And felt it. Especially the batteries and the beer.
While Pederson wouldn’t wish that kind of treatment on anyone, it is a testament to his resilience that he willingly committed to the Eagles’ head-coaching job two years ago. And it is a salute to his resourcefulness that he has mastered the learning curve much more quickly than anyone could have anticipated.
After a 7-9 rookie season in which Pederson went with then-rookie quarterback Carson Wentz right from the get-go, the coach led the Eagles to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. And now he’s within a victory of a championship after guiding Philadelphia to Super Bowl LII with backup quarterback Nick Foles, who replaced the injured Wentz on Dec. 10 and hasn’t missed a beat.
A win over the favored Patriots at U.S. Bank Field, and the only thing Eagles fans will be throwing at him will be confetti in a Super Bowl parade down Broad Street.
It’s an incredible turn of events for a coach once considered an afterthought in the Class of ’16. The Eagles initially targeted Ben McAdoo as their first choice, but the Giants were so intent on promoting their offensive coordinator to replace Tom Coughlin that they signed McAdoo to a contract before letting him travel to Philadelphia for an interview. Adam Gase also was a target of the Eagles, but he wound up going to the Dolphins.
The self-deprecating Pederson took it all in stride, was more than happy to be the third choice and has made the most of his opportunity with a stunningly fast run to the Super Bowl.
Despite his inhospitable run as the Eagles’ starter — he gave way to McNabb after going 2-7 — Pederson embraced a return to Philadelphia as head coach.
“I really love the city, I love the fans,” said Pederson, who coaches in a stadium, Lincoln Financial Field, that replaced the crummy building where he once played. “I love it at ‘The Linc’ when they’re out there and they’re crazy and cheering us on. They’re gonna let us know one way or the other if we’re doing a good job or not. But it had no bearing on the decision to come back.”
Credit Pederson for tending to his team with a patient, straightforward approach that reflects his even-tempered personality. Pederson is a disciple of Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense, which Reid adopted during his days as the Packers’ quarterbacks coach under Mike Holmgren. He did a fine job shepherding Wentz through a sometimes rocky apprenticeship last year, but the investment paid off as Wentz had a breakthrough season in 2017 before getting hurt.
The true measure of a coach is how he performs in adverse circumstances, and Pederson has done a masterful job in getting this far with Foles, who considered retirement before playing for Kansas City last season and then signing a two-year deal with the Eagles last offseason. If Pederson wins it all with Foles, it would be just as spectacular a coaching job as Bill Parcells did with the Giants in 1990, when he won Super Bowl XXV with backup Jeff Hostetler after Phil Simms went down with a broken leg in December.
You could argue that if he beats the Patriots, Pederson will have done an even more amazing job than Parcells did. After all, when the Giants beat Buffalo, the Bills were simply an AFC team on the rise, not the longest-lasting dynasty in NFL history.
At the end of an exhilarating run to the biggest game of his life, Pederson goes into Super Bowl LII comforted by the fact that he has covered every conceivable angle and done all he possibly can to get his team ready.
“We’ve exhausted everything in practice, studied the film,” he said. “[Now] you try to free your mind just a little bit. Players are the same way. I know they’re going to be anxious and ready to go, and Sunday’s a long day. You just tell them, ‘Listen, you’re ready to go. Just go cut it loose, play loose and play like you have all season long, and we’ll see what happens.”
As he prepares to perform on the grandest stage of all, Pederson expects to be excited but not overwhelmed.
“For me, there will be a peace, understanding the guys are ready to go and I’m ready to go,” he said. “Just waiting for kickoff.”