As part of the celebration of the NFL's 100th season, each team is selecting its Best Play Ever, as voted on by the fans. On Saturday, the Eagles announced that the Philly Special is the Best Play Ever in team history. Philly Special will be entered into a league-wide vote to identify the NFL's Greatest Moment.
On a day when the teams combined for an NFL record 1,131 yards, it might seem silly to focus so much on one yard. It is like talking about one grain of sand on the beach, one note in a symphony, or one line in a Broadway play.
But when that one yard has its own name – The Philly Special – and that one yard is immortalized on T-shirts, tattoos, and restaurant menus then it deserves to be discussed, relived, and celebrated for generations. It is one yard that says everything about the 2017 Eagles and their against-all-odds drive to an NFL championship.
There were 143 plays run in Super Bowl LII but this was the one people will remember the longest. This was the one that had people leaping out of their chairs, pointing at the TV screen, screaming, and pushing the rewind button again and again. It may not have won the game, but it will forever define it.
Let's set the scene ...
The Eagles lead the New England Patriots, 15-12. They have the ball on the Patriots' 1-yard line. There are 38 seconds left in the first half. It is fourth down. All eyes are on Eagles head coach Doug Pederson. He has been daring in these situations before but this is the Super Bowl. The sensible call is to kick the field goal.
On the Patriots' bench, running back Dion Lewis says, "That's a no-brainer. He ain't going for it."
But Pederson calls time out and quarterback Nick Foles comes to the sideline. The coach has already made the decision: he's going for it. Pederson is studying his play chart considering his options. Foles in his typically low key way offers a suggestion.
"You want Philly Philly?"
Pederson pauses. Clearly, he wasn't thinking about the Philly Special, but he looks Foles in the eye and says, "Yeah, let's do it." Thanks to the superb work of NFL Films – Foles was wired for sound; my son, David, was the cameraman – we see and hear the whole conversation.
LeGarrette Blount, who normally does the short-yardage running, asks Pederson, "What we got, Dougie?" The coach shows Blount his play sheet. "Philly Special?" Blount says. He can't quite believe it either.
Foles returns to the huddle and says, "Philly Special, Philly Special." He looks at rookie running back Corey Clement and tight end Trey Burton as if to say, "OK, guys, this is it."
The Eagles line up in the pistol formation with Clement directly behind the quarterback. As Foles calls signals, he slides to the right behind tackle Lane Johnson. Foles calls out, "Kill, kill," which normally indicates he is changing the play. Then he calls out, "Lane, Lane," which is the cue for center Jason Kelce to snap the ball.
Kelce snaps the ball to Clement who begins running to his left. Clement laterals the ball to Burton who is coming across the formation to the right. Meanwhile, Foles slips unnoticed into the end zone.
Burton, a former high school quarterback, floats a pass to Foles for the easy touchdown. The sheer audacity of the play leaves Patriots coach Bill Belichick staring onto the field with a "What just happened?" look on his face.
"The all-time trick play," said NBC's Al Michaels.
"That might be the best play call in Super Bowl history," said color analyst Cris Collinsworth. "Absolutely breathtaking."
The NFL Films cameras captured the celebration on the Eagles' sideline. Running backs coach Duce Staley tells Pederson, "Hell of a call." Burton jokingly asks Foles how he was so wide open. Foles says, "I sold it. I did some acting."
The idea came from assistant quarterbacks coach Press Taylor who saw the play run successfully by the Chicago Bears the previous season. He brought it to Pederson as the Eagles were preparing for the playoffs. They practiced it before the NFC title game against Minnesota but the game was such a blowout, they didn't feel the need to use it. They practiced it again prior to the Super Bowl and rolled it out at just the right moment.
There never had been a play like it in a Super Bowl where the quarterback catches a pass, much less for a touchdown. It explained how the Eagles were able to pull off the upset. Simply put, they were unafraid.
To beat the Patriots, especially in a Super Bowl, a team has to be willing to take chances. If you play by the book, you won't beat the Patriots because they know the book and play it better than anyone. To beat them, you have to be bold, you have to take chances, and think outside the box. Pederson had done that all season and he wisely took the same approach in the Super Bowl.
The Eagles won the game, 41-33, and there were highlight moments galore, but the play that everyone remembers is the Philly Special. It spoke volumes of the trust that developed between Pederson and Foles, who replaced the injured Carson Wentz and led the team to the postseason. That trust was a key factor in the Eagles' win because Pederson let Foles go toe to toe with the great Tom Brady and trusted his judgment on that fourth-down call, even though Foles got the name wrong.
"We knew exactly what we were talking about," Pederson said. "Listen, Philly Philly, Dilly Dilly, Philly Special, it was all the same to us."
An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the year for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. You can read all of his Eagles History columns here. He is also the author of The Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition which is in bookstores now.