The Eagles’ Season—and the $20 Bet—of a Lifetime
It’s March of 2017, and my friend Eric and I are in Vegas for our friend Dan’s bachelor party. It’s the opening weekend of March Madness, and we’re at a massive NCAA Tournament watch party.
“Hey,” Eric says to me after three or four hours of open bar and buffet. “Let’s go put bets on the Eagles to win the Super Bowl.”
“Dude. You want to bet on the Eagles, who have never won a Super Bowl, to win this year — coming off a 7–9 season in which they didn’t make the playoffs?”
“I love it. Let’s go.”
We reach the betting window, and Eric asks the lady if they take NFL bets. “Um, yeah,” she says, “but the season doesn’t start for months.”
“What are the odds on the Eagles to win the Super Bowl?” Eric asks.
Clearly mistaking us for the idiots we are, she looks it up anyway.
“Sixty to one,” she says.
We both place $20 bets.
At the time, it seemed absurd that the Eagles would win the Super Bowl. My preseason expectations were for the team to improve over last year, finishing anywhere between 8–8 and 10–6. I thought a first round playoff victory was the absolute best the Birds could hope to achieve this year.
Then the season began, and we beat the Giants on a 61-yard field goal in Week 3. Maybe that was a sign of things to come … because even as we lost Jason Peters, Darren Sproles, and Jordan Hicks to season-ending injuries, we kept winning.
As weeks went by, people started considering the Carson Wentz-led Eagles one of the better teams in the NFL. As Eagles fans, though, we were conditioned to expect the bottom to drop out at any moment. (It makes it easier to cope when it happens.) And yet … they kept winning.
By the time Week 14 rolled around, the Eagles were 11–2 (11 and 2!) and in the driver’s seat in the NFC. About this time, Eric and I — and our friend Sam (great name), who also was in Vegas with us in March — began thinking that our $20, 60-to-1 bets were starting to look pretty damn good.
Then Carson Wentz went down.
In a group chat with Eric, Sam, Dan (the bachelor-turned-groom-turned-husband) and other friends, my immediate reactions (before we knew the extent of Wentz’s injury) were to A) try to lighten the moment by saying hey, at least my fantasy team is beating Dan in the playoffs, and B) saying “In Foles We Trust.”
Neither comment went over well.
In my defense, I was A) three margaritas deep on vacation in Mexico, B) unaware of videos circulating which showed that Wentz’s knee had buckled, C) hopeful that the injury would be minor, and D) very pleased that I was beating Dan in the fantasy playoffs.
And as we now know, my second comment, “In Foles We Trust,” was downright prophetic. (Thanks, Don Julio.)
My feeling was that, if the Eagles could hang on to the #1 seed in the NFC and claim home field advantage, all Nick Foles would have to do was win three games in a row. Unlikely, sure, but doable. He’d shown in the past that he could play at a very high level if he had the right offensive pieces around him.
The Eagles managed to beat the Rams down the stretch without Wentz in the lineup, and in Week 15 (Foles’ first start), he looked good — 4 TDs, 0 INTs — against the Giants.
Side Note: The Eagles beat the Giants and Redskins twice each this season, and they split with the Cowboys. In other words, 5–1 vs. the rest of the NFC East, with their only divisional loss coming in a meaningless tune-up game before the playoffs. #justsaying
Foles’ last two starts before the playoffs, though, had the entire city rightfully worried. In Weeks 16 and 17 against the less-than-vaunted defenses of Oakland and Dallas, the Eagles’ offense scored a grand total of 13 points.
But — they clinched a first-round playoff bye, and home field advantage. And all they had to was win three games in a row.
It’s the Divisional Round of the playoffs, and I’m watching the Eagles-Falcons game on the floor of my stepbrother’s house while my stepsister-in-law opens presents from my stepniece’s first birthday party, which took place during the first half and featured a mix of treats for adults and infants which I’ll refer to here as “pigs in binkies.”
I’m not thinking about the bet at this point. I’m thinking about surviving and advancing, which is exactly what the Eagles do — by the skin of their underdog teeth. We go wild as the defense completes a remarkable performance with a goal-line stand for the ages, sending the Birds to the NFC Championship for the first time since 2008.
All we’ve gotta do to reach the Super Bowl is beat the Vikings, who: enter the game having defeated the Saints in absolute miracle fashion, only need to win this game to have a Super Bowl in their home stadium, and appear to the entire nation like the Team of Destiny while the Eagles look like a great defensive team that can’t score without Wentz at quarterback.
I’m at Eric’s apartment a couple days before the Minnesota game, and we start talking about the bet. His roommate (a Jets fan) suggests that we hedge our bet: He tells us how, by putting money on Minnesota in this game, we can ensure that we’ll win at least something even if the Eagles lose—and if the Eagles win, we can just bet even more money on the Patriots in the Super Bowl, so whatever happens, we’re guaranteed to turn a profit.
We think about it. A guaranteed couple hundred bucks — starting from a $20 bet — has a definite appeal, especially when you have to pay New York City rent.
But. We made the bets hoping for a miracle, and to this point, the dream was still alive.
“Eric,” I say, “we can’t hedge. It’ll ruin the Eagles’ ju-ju. We’ve made it this far.”
“Ah, the ju-ju,” he says. “You’re right. We’ve gotta’ roll with Lady Luck and Lord Victory. Philly Philly!”
All along, I had a good feeling about the Minnesota game. Dan and I argued about who we’d rather face — the Vikings or the Saints — and I said the Vikings, even after their stunning win, because:
- The Vikings had to come play a cold-weather road game with a quarterback and team that had no experience doing that.
- The Vikings had all the pressure in the world on them, expected to win and play in a Super Bowl in their own stadium.
- The Eagles’ defense looked fantastic against the Falcons.
- Not having to face Drew Brees in a playoff game is always a good thing.
- Being an angry, pissed-off, disrespected “underdog” in a playoff game is always a good thing.
- The Eagles had beaten the Falcons without playing even a decent game offensively. Foles had looked good enough, but the team had made multiple miscues. A cleaner performance against Minnesota would bode well.
- Vikings fans did this to Rocky. And that’s some bad, bad ju-ju.
And you all know what happened: The Vikings stormed out to a 7–0 lead, then they didn’t score again. Foles and the Eagles’ offense went bonkers en route to a 38–7 rout. Beers, cheesesteaks and sarcastic “Skol!” chants all around.
Side Note: I just discovered that Patriots fans did this before the Super Bowl. Again, you gotta’ watch out for that ju-ju. It’ll get ya.
It’s 5:30 on Super Bowl Sunday when we get to the bar, and my stomach is doing so many twists and turns it might as well be training for the upcoming figure skating finals at the Olympics. The funny thing is, I’m not even thinking about the bet. I swear to the holy ghost of William Penn, I’ve got $1,200 on the line, and all I care about is the Eagles winning their first Lombardi Trophy.
Much of the core crew from Dan’s Vegas bachelor party is here — Dan, Other Sam, Eric, myself and others. So are my father, my sister, and my sister’s friend who claims the entire game that she has the superpower to affect the outcome of athletic events … and she may be right about that. (At the very least, she may be able to affect referees during instant replays.)
Eric and I make sure to wear the exact same outfits — unwashed, naturally — that we wore the game before. Everyone knows you can’t mess with a winning streak.
The stretch of time between approximately 5:45 and 10:45 p.m. is one of the most emotionally turbulent of my existence. Watching this game is like experiencing an entire teenage romance in the span of four quarters.
At one point during the game, I lean over to my father and tell him I have a theory that I’ll reveal to him at the end of the game (so as not to offend the ju-ju gods). My theory, which I can now safely share, is: We’re better than them.
And we are. Not by much, and maybe not in a best-of-seven series, but on this night, we are just a tiny bit hungrier, a tiny bit more complete on both sides of the ball, a tiny bit better-coached. (Yeah, I said it.) And yes, we may be a tiny bit luckier as well.
Side Note: With Eli Manning and OBJ starring in the “Dirty Dancing” commercial during the game, Eli has officially appeared in all three of Tom Brady’s Super Bowl defeats.
In the final minutes, when Brandon Graham knocks the ball out of Brady’s hands and into the arms of Derek Barnett, I legitimately worry if the balcony supporting us will hold. But — good Eagles fans that we are — we do not assume the game to be over. Just like Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, we caution ourselves to settle down, to play out the game, even to kindly (with four-letter words) berate the few hooligans near us who start chanting, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, hey, hey, goodbye,” while the Patriots still have the ball and time on the clock.
Then New England’s Hail Mary hits the end zone turf, no yellow flags appear, and zeroes show on the scoreboard. The Eagles are Super Bowl champions.
I cannot remember the last time I have hugged so many people in such a short amount of time, nor with such emotion. Though I’ve watched my Tar Heels win a pair of championships, and the Phillies in 2008 (but not in Philadelphia), there’s something about this moment — with the friends I grew up with, with my sister and father, with the combined suffering of a fan base that has never won — that turns me into a sniffling little kid.
We’ve won the Super Bowl. We’ve beaten the New England frickin’ Patriots.
And oh yeah — we’ve just won $1,200.
The entire game, I think about the bet twice — once at halftime, for about 30 seconds, and once after the initial shock of winning settles down. It is, by far, the largest bet I’ve ever won. And, I imagine, the most satisfying.
The bet is the perfect representation of just how much of a storybook season this is. Sam, Eric and I purchase $20 tickets at 60-to-1 odds on a whim because we’re in Vegas for our boy’s bachelor party. For me, it’s the first non-fantasy football bet I’ve ever placed. None of us even remotely thinks it’ll pay off.
Then the Eagles turn out to be awesome. They look like legit contenders. Our odds look shockingly good.
Then Carson goes down. All hope is lost. Except: #InFolesWeTrust.
The Eagles go from 7–9 team to 13–3 team who lose their franchise quarterback, left tackle, middle linebacker and Hall of Fame running back for the season and still manage to reach the playoffs. They escape the defending Runner Up Falcons, they trounce the “Team of Destiny” Vikings, and they outlast the Brady Belichicks in a Super Bowl for the ages — all with a quarterback everyone counted out, a second-year coach most Eagles fans doubted at the start of the year, and a GM who two seasons ago was Chip Kelly’s coffee boy.
I don’t know which is more improbable—winning a 60:1 bet, or the Eagles’ miracle season.
But I know which one is sweeter.
End Note: Coincidentally, I did bet against the Eagles once this season — or not against them, but not for them. It was Week 5, and I needed to pick one team to win in my friend’s Survivor Pool. My best two options were Philadelphia vs. Arizona, or Pittsburgh vs. Jacksonville. I went with the Steelers.
You win some, you lose some.