MINNEAPOLIS— About 30 minutes before kickoff of Super Bowl LII, former Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook appeared on the U.S. Bank Stadium big screen and led the team’s boisterous faithful in a thunderous version of “Fly, Eagles, Fly.”
Before the New England Patriots got the ball for the first time, “Gonna Fly Now,” the theme from the movie “Rocky,” blared over the speakers.
And when the game ended Sunday, the Eagles, their fans and the city of Philadelphia were soaring.
Nick Foles, a backup at the start of the season, passed for 373 yards and three touchdowns — and also caught a touchdown pass — as the Eagles won the Super Bowl for the first time by defeating the defending champion Patriots, 41-33, before a crowd of 67,612.
Foles, who stepped in for injured Carson Wentz in a Week 14 win, was named Super Bowl most valuable player after outscoring Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the NFL MVP and future Hall of Famer.
“I felt calm,” said Foles, who considered retirement after he was released by the Los Angeles Rams before the 2016 season. “We felt confident coming in and we just went out there and played football.
“We’ve played this game since we were little kids. We dreamed about this.”
On a day when the temperature was below zero outside the stadium, the Eagles warmed the hearts of NFL fans who had grown tired of the Patriots’ domination.
Second-year Eagles coach Doug Pederson put the finishing touch on a 13-3 season that was followed by playoff victories over Atlanta and Minnesota. The Eagles won their first NFL championship since 1960, when they defeated the Green Bay Packers in the pre-Super Bowl era.
They had lost to Brady and the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX to cap the 2004 season, and to the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV at the end of the 1980 season. But now they are finally champions.
“Our fans have been waiting a long time for this,” Pederson said. “I just can’t wait to get back there and celebrate with our fans.”
The Eagles denied Brady and Patriots coach Bill Belichick a chance to celebrate a sixth Super Bowl title, and what would have been their third in four years.
In last year’s game, the Patriots trailed the Falcons 28-3 in the third quarter before Brady engineered the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history.
In the AFC championship game two weeks ago, the Jacksonville Jaguars had a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter before Brady passed for two touchdowns to rally the Patriots back into the big game.
But while Brady managed to bring New England back against Philadelphia in the fourth quarter after trailing all night, finding Rob Gronkowski for his third TD pass and the Patriots’ first lead, the Eagles were too much, and Brady’s magic ran out on the final drive.
Belichick said he was proud of his team but that it did not play good enough defense — the 41 points allowed were the most since New England’s season-opening 42-27 loss to Kansas City — and missed several opportunities on offense in the first half. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a field-goal attempt after a mishandled snap and also missed an extra-point attempt.
“We just came up a little bit short,” Belichick said. “Tough, tough way to end.”
Brady, 40, made it interesting until the final play. He completed 28 of 48 passes for a Super Bowl record 505 yards and three touchdowns, but his last-gasp Hail Mary to Gronkowski in the end zone fell incomplete.
“Losing sucks,” Brady said.
This time, it was Foles’ turn to claim the MVP.
“Like this football team, a lot of people counted him out and didn’t think he could get it done,” Pederson said. “I believed in him, the staff believed in him, the players believed in him. ... This whole postseason, Nick has shown exactly who he is and what he can do.”
Foles passed for a touchdown and caught a one-yard touchdown pass from tight end Trey Burton near the end of the first half as the Eagles took a 22-12 lead.
On fourth and goal, Foles lined up in the shotgun formation, walked up the line of scrimmage and then stopped behind the right side of the line. Running back Corey Clement took a direct snap and pitched the ball to Burton, who hit a wide-open Foles.
“That’s something we’ve been working on,” Foles said, “and Doug and I were talking. I was like, ‘Let’s just run it.’
“It was a good time, and the end was a little wider than I thought, so I was like, ‘I really need to sell like I’m not doing anything.’ And it worked.”
The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter before Brady brought the Patriots back, connecting with Gronkowski for a 33-32 lead with 9 minutes 22 seconds left.
Foles then engineered a 75-yard scoring drive that ended with an 11-yard pass to tight end Zach Ertz, who dived into the end zone.
The Eagles seemingly clinched the victory when linebacker Brandon Graham stripped the ball from Brady — the Eagles’ only sack — and lineman Derek Barnett recovered the fumble. Jake Elliott’s third field goal gave the Eagles a 41-33 lead.
But Brady still had about a minute to work a miracle. He threw a fourth-down pass to Danny Amendola to keep alive the drive, and found Gronkowski twice to move to midfield.
But the 6-foot-7 Gronkowski could not come down with his last-second heave into the end zone. And when the ball hit the ground, green and silver confetti rained down on the field.