By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
GREEN BAY, Wis. – Philadelphia football fans embraced the Eagles’ first championship since 1960 by celebrating with a rousing chorus of “Fly Eagles Fly!”
Philadelphia’s Pederson out-coaches Belichick en route to 41-33 victory
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The underdog Eagles’ 41-33 victory over New England came in a wildly entertaining Super Bowl LII on a frigid Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
It featured a record-setting 1,151 yards in total offense, a slew of tremendous catches (especially by Eagles’ receivers), and even a quarterback (Nike Foles) catching a touchdown pass.
It stood in stark contrast to the Eagles’ 1960 NFL Championship victory over the Green Bay Packers, a 17-13 slugfest at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field. That game is notable to Packers’ fans because it was THE ONLY championship game loss of legendary head coach Vince Lombardi’s illustrious career.
For the NFL’s modern-day Lombardi – Patriots’ head coach Bill Belichick – it had to be equally devastating.
The difference is that Lombardi’s loss came at the beginning of his career and led him to declare that he would never lose another title game. Belichick’s third Super Bowl loss, compared with a record five wins in the big game, has the feel of finality.
Will the Patriots and the great Tom Brady ever get back to the Super Bowl? I doubt it.
Frankly, I believe the end is in sight.
Building a Super Bowl-caliber team is an incredibly difficult challenge. Sustaining it for as long as the Patriots, Belichick and Brady have is quite another.
It was previously unheard of.
Now, it appears, it’s the Eagles’ turn to rule the roost.
The bad news for the Packers is that Philadelphia is in the NFC.
The good news is the Eagles proved a team coming off a 7-9 season can win it all. They also proved that all is not lost if a team’s starting quarterback goes down, especially if you’ve got a capable backup, play-makers and a strong defense.
Furthermore, the Eagles reminded everyone that the NFL’s best teams – the elite, upper-echelon outfits – have true balance.
That’s balance as in an offense that can run as well as pass. That’s balance as in an exceptional offense backed by a sensational defense, all led by a gutsy, even-keel coach.
Pederson’s staff did an excellent job getting the most out of their players while putting them in positions to succeed. The Eagles’ use of center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson as the driving forces in the running game was brilliant. Their speed, strength and football IQ gave the Patriots’ defense fits.
Foles, the Eagles’ quarterback, was voted the game’s MVP. He played wonderfully while executing the game plan.
However, if the media could vote for a head coach as the MVP, I’ve got to believe Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson would’ve received a boatload of support.
I can’t imagine him coaching a better game.
Pederson, the former backup quarterback to Brett Favre, displayed an unrelenting aggressiveness in his play-calling blended in with a calm, cool disposition.
His intelligence, communication skills and temperament are exactly what the job description of “NFL head coach” requires.
I covered Pederson during his seven seasons in Green Bay.
He never shied away from answering difficult questions – we had a great level of trust – but he always had the team’s and the quarterback’s best interest in mind.
If I asked about Favre or the offense, Pederson might say, “Well, that’s one way to look at what’s happening. But how about looking at it this way? Have you considered X, Y or Z?”
Pederson was thoughtful way back then.
On Sunday night, on the NFL’s grandest stage, Pederson’s performance under pressure was nothing short of amazing.
He made two gutsy decisions to go for it on fourth down.
The first came late in the first half.
Faced with fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Pederson drew up a direct snap to running back Corey Clement, who pitched it to tight end Trey Burton (a former Florida quarterback), who then threw an easy toss to a wide-open Foles in the end zone.
It made it 22-12 Eagles at the half.
The second extended a fourth-quarter drive with about five minutes to play and the Eagles trailing 33-32. That led to the go-ahead touchdown to make it 38-33 with five minutes to play.
Then the Eagles’ defense rose up to strip-sack Brady to set up a late field goal and make it an eight-point lead.
To those who worked with Pederson in Green Bay, I suspect most of what happened didn’t come as a surprise.
In 2006, Sherman Lewis and Gilbert Brown talked about Pederson’s role as backup QB on the Super Bowl XXXI winner. Those comments were made in the book, “A Year of Champions: The 1996 Green Bay Packers.”
Lewis described Pederson as extremely confident and a natural born leader, great attributes to have as a head coach.
“Doug showed he has outstanding leadership qualities,” Lewis said. “He showed the staff he can move the team and win. He’s got a nice presence about him in the huddle. In addition, he has a good strong arm with the ability to throw on the run.”
Brown appreciated Pederson’s professionalism.
“A pro’s pro,” Brown said. “Doug understood the game as well as anybody, and he used that knowledge to help Brett and the offense in every way possible. He didn’t get much attention, but he didn’t need any. He was great in the locker room.”
In his quiet, understated way, Pederson was a vital resource to Packers’ head coach Mike Holmgren, Favre and the offense.
Clearly, Pederson was paying attention to everything.
On Sunday night, he out-coached one legend to capture the prize named after another: The Lombardi Trophy.