When Carson Wentz suffered a torn ACL on Dec. 10, it ended his MVP-caliber season. Many others wondered if it also would end the Eagles’ championship aspirations. When a team poised for a postseason run loses such an important player, it usually isn’t able to rebound with a backup.
Jeff Hostetler was one of those who wondered, but he did so from a far different perspective than most.
Hostetler was the quarterback who led the Giants to their win in Super Bowl XXV some 1 1⁄2 months after starting quarterback Phil Simms was lost for the season with a broken foot. The Giants won all five of the games he started — the last two of the regular season and three in the postseason — to cement his place as one of the few late-season backups to emerge with a ring.
So yes, when Wentz went down, Hostetler noticed.
“Any time you get sometime in December and a starter goes down, yeah, you make that connection,” he told Newsday in a phone interview Tuesday. “It’s not been kind to quarterbacks who are put in that position. I’ve been very fortunate that I took advantage of that situation and we were successful to take it the whole way.
“Yeah, it brings back a lot of memories from a long time ago.”
Now Nick Foles is looking to be added to the list. He took over for Wentz for the final three games of the season. He already has become the first quarterback in 20 years to win a playoff game after starting three or fewer games in the regular season (Randall Cunningham for the 1997 Vikings had been the last to do so). Now he is one win away from joining Hostetler and becoming only the 10th quarterback to go from the bench at the start of the season to a Super Bowl victory.
Most of the others took over the starting job early or midway through the season, though. That includes Foles’ opponent in Super Bowl LII, the last quarterback to make the journey from bottom to top: Tom Brady in 2001.
That’s why Foles is more similar to Hostetler than any of the others. Their teams already were at the precipice of the playoffs when they were called on because of an injury to a star.
They are not exact copies, though.
“For me, it was a little different because at that time [there] was no free agency and I had waited 6 1⁄2 years for a chance to play,” said Hostetler, 56. “It was one of those things where you’d better be ready because when it does come, if it does come, you have to be ready to perform. I was fortunate enough to be able to do that.”
Hostetler had started only two games in his career when Simms was injured in 1990. Foles had been a starter — for the Eagles, even — before bouncing around to several teams and returning to Philadelphia.
Hostetler said it was a “whirlwind” after Simms’ injury. The Giants lost the game in which Simms was hurt — against the Bills, their eventual Super Bowl opponent — to give them three losses in four games after starting the season with 10 straight wins.
“Everybody jumped off the bandwagon,” Hostetler said. “It was a rally-the-troops mentality for our team, but we thought we could get it done. Nobody believed in us except for the guys who were inside that room. It was kind of a special time, too. It’s one of those when it’s us against the world in the underdog role, which you see Philly playing now. It is a rallying cry.”
Hostetler said there was one group of players on the Giants in particular who never lost faith when the team had to switch quarterbacks.
“One of the things I remember the most was how the defense seemed to rally around me,” he said. “I felt real confident that they had confidence in me. They had seen me every day [in practices] and they were excited about what I brought to the table. I felt like those 11 guys had my back and they were going to be there no matter what.”
That, it seems, is another similarity between the 1990 Giants and this Eagles team.
“You have a defense that rallies around their quarterback, they’re playing well,” Hostetler said of the Eagles. “Even offensively. You have guys who believe that this guy can come in and do the job. They’re giving him opportunities to make plays and he’s giving his guys opportunities to make plays. That’s what you have to do.”
Hostetler was hesitant to give any advice to Foles for his Super Bowl experience.
“He’s doing all the right things,” he said. “He’s got his head on right. He’s performed well and is doing the things that he does well. And he’s showing his guys that he can do it.”
Hostetler did say that the best thing he did during his Super Bowl run was to eliminate the noise, especially from doubters.
“For myself, it was just leave all the outside stuff and put it away,” he said. “Just get away from it. Get prepared, get prepared mentally for what you are going to face, and throw everything else out, those outside forces. Hey, you have less than two weeks. You just want to make sure you’ve done everything you can to prepare yourself to be successful and let all the outside stuff, all the distractions, let them go. There’ll be enough of that later on.”
Given their shared bond, you might think Hostetler is rooting for Foles and the Eagles on Feb. 4 against the Patriots.
“Hey, it’s hard as a former Giant to root for the Eagles,” he said, laughing. “But I have a lot of respect for Nick Foles. For a team that has been put in the position they were put in, my hat is off to them. They found it within themselves to be able to pull it together and continue. That’s a sign of a good team when you handle adversity and are able to keep the whole thing moving forward.”
Hostetler did just that 27 years ago.
“I think the Eagles have put themselves in a position to be able to do the same thing,” he said. “They just have to finish it.”
The nine quarterbacks who went from riding the pine to hoisting the Lombardi Trophy in the same season:
Super Bowl V, Colts
After Johnny Unitas was knocked out of the game in the second quarter, Morrall came in and led the Colts to a comeback over the Cowboys with 10 unanswered points.
Super Bowl VI, Cowboys
Craig Morton started the season for Dallas, then played in a platoon with Staubach before Tom Landry made Staubach the permanent starter midway through the season.
Super Bowl IX, Steelers
Joe Gilliam started the first four games of the season with Bradshaw on the bench. The Steelers used the league’s top defense and a running game led by Franco Harris to win a Super Bowl in which Bradshaw threw for just 96 yards.
Super Bowl XV, Raiders
Plunkett was considered a bust as a former Heisman winner and No. 1 draft pick until 1980 when starter Dan Pastorini hurt his leg and Plunkett brought the Raiders to the title. It was the first of two championships for Plunkett.
Doug Williams, Super Bowl XXII, Redskins: Williams started just two games in 1987’s strike-shortened season before Joe Gibbs yanked the ineffective Jay Schroeder for the playoffs. Williams threw for 340 yards and four TDs against the Broncos in the Super Bowl.
Super Bowl XXV, Giants
Stepping in for Phil Simms who broke his foot in Week 15, Hostetler won the final five games of the season. He was 20-for-32 for 222 yards and a TD in a game that was decided by Scott Norwood’s missed field goal attempt for the Bills as time expired.
Super Bowl XXXIV, Rams
Trent Green, the big free-agent acquisition in 1999, hurt his knee in the preseason and Warner stepped in to not only become the NFL’s MVP but take the team to a championship.
Super Bowl XXXV, Ravens
Brian Billick made the change from Tony Banks to Dilfer in late October (the Ravens had a winning record at the time) and he was able to do just enough with a dominant defense to win the title over the Giants.
Super Bowl XXXVI, Patriots It’s hard to remember how it began for Brady after all of his accomplishments, but in Week 2 of the 2001 season Jets linebacker Mo Lewis knocked Drew Bledsoe out of the game. The rest is history.
— TOM ROCK