It’s not the way he would have wanted it, but it’s kind of cool that Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson is headed to the Super Bowl with a backup quarterback, Nick Foles.
In a storyline that you’ll hear much more about in the two weeks before the Eagles face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII, Pederson himself was a career backup in the NFL and bounced around in the World League of American Football, too.
He started 17 NFL games in his 10-year career with Green Bay, Philadelphia, Miami and Cleveland but is best remembered for a game he didn’t start.
It was Pederson who came off the bench in 1993 to help Don Shula to his 325th career victory, the one that moved the coach past George Halas and into first-place all time.
The game was in Philadelphia, as if there aren’t enough circular connections to this thing, and the Dolphins already were without Dan Marino because of a torn Achilles. Scott Mitchell had been doing a credible job in his stead for a couple of weeks but then Mitchell, too, was knocked from the Eagles game early in the second half with a separated throwing shoulder.
In came Pederson, whose name Shula sometimes had trouble remembering during the crazy scramble to find viable depth and the race to get the new guy ready for an emergency. Pederson had never thrown a pass in an NFL game and he showed some early nerves, fumbling the ball away at the 1-yard line on the first scoring opportunity that he got.
“He (Shula) just told me to keep my head up,” Pederson said. “He told me to just do the things I knew how to do. Kept giving me support and encouragement.”
In the end the Dolphins had just enough to get by, winning 19-14 on a couple of field-goal drives as Pederson (3-for-6 passing for 34 yards) tried simply to make the basic plays that were required of him.
He wasn’t with the team much longer as Shula, who was carried off the field that day at Philadelphia, turned back to 39-year-old Steve DeBerg and eventually to Mitchell to finish out a 9-7 season. The Dolphins were 7-2 on that magical afternoon, however, and Shula, in his wildest scramble since having to start halfback Tom Matte at quarterback in his Baltimore Colts days, had not given up hope.
“I would love to see this football team continue to win and go all the way to the Super Bowl,” Shula said. “We have to continue to believe in ourselves.”
That’s how Pederson is working this Eagles’ postseason run now in the absence of starting quarterback Carson Wentz, and so far it’s working. Foles, by the way, is far more competent than Pederson was and came make all the plays, as demonstrated in a 38-7 NFC title game win over Minnesota on Sunday.