Two Philadelphia folk heroes emerged from the Eagles’ 41-33 victory in Super Bowl 52.
There were plenty of other heroes that day, too. Players and coaches who have become legendary in the archives of Eagles’ history.
But two players had their legacy cemented in the minds of Eagles fans — then, now and forever.
Nick Foles, of course. And Brandon Graham.
Foles’ performance went beyond the gutsy, Philly-Philly play-call he suggested to coach Doug Pederson. Foles caught the touchdown pass from that now-celebrated trick play. They built a statue at the stadium to remember the moment Foles and Pederson signed off on the play.
Foles, a back-up quarterback, passed for 373 yards and three touchdowns against the mighty, dynastic Patriots.
When you look at Graham’s stat line, it’s not gaudy. But it is significant. He had two solo tackles, two quarterback hits, one tackle for loss, one sack.
One sack. One strip-sack of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady that helped secure the Eagles’ victory. With 2:16 to play and the Eagles ahead 38-33, Graham bulled past an offensive guard and hit Brady’s arm. The ball came loose and was recovered by Derek Barnett.
The sack was the Patriots’ only turnover of the game. It was the only time the Eagles sacked Brady and he threw 48 passes.
“Brady is hit. The ball is out and Philadelphia has it,” Al Michaels said incredulously on NBC.
Michaels didn’t say, “Do you believe in miracles?” but he could have.
It was one of the monumental plays in Super Bowl history.
- “It’s definitely a life-changer. It changed my life.” Graham said. “Nobody can take that one away.
- “Going against Brady in the Super Bowl, somebody who you know put daggers in people’s hearts.”
When the Eagles defeated New England in February 2018, Graham was completing his eighth season. He was a first-round draft pick in 2010, the 13th player taken overall, a defensive end out of Michigan.
In the beginning of Graham’s career, he was considered something of a bust based on expectations of a first-round draft pick. Through eight seasons, he had 29 sacks.
His career took off in the Super Bowl year with a career-high 9.5 sacks. He was a Pro Bowl player in 2020, his only such distinction.
He has played 178 regular season games and nine playoff games, third all-time behind David Akers and Brian Dawkins on the Eagles.
In Philly, Graham has emerged as a leader of the NFL’s second-ranked defense. He is free-spirited, an upbeat guy who keeps teammates loose and focused.
Being able to return from an Achilles’ rupture to play this season at age 34 tells you plenty about Graham’s dedication and work-ethic. He set a career-high with 11 sacks, part of the defense that led the NFL with 70 sacks.
- “Who would’ve thought in Year 13, I would still be here after we won the Super Bowl the first time, then how things went last year with me tearing my Achilles?” Graham said.
- “Now, coming off the Achilles and having one of my best year and I’m not even playing half the snaps that I had been playing.”
Graham could be an important player in the Super Bowl. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is mobile, quick and creative. He’s the best quarterback in the league and will be a real problem for the Eagles’ defense.
In the Eagles-Patriots Super Bowl, Brady was the best quarterback in the league. Nobody said these games are supposed to be easy.
- “If anything, I’m happy because it was another Michigan guy, something that I can always go back to Michigan and if I see Brady, we can always have a good conversation about that one,” Graham said about his strip-sack.
Brady announced his retirement Wednesday, ending a 23-year career. The timing was superb — Brady retiring, Graham and the Eagles heading to another Super Bowl.
- “You know what? I felt that one this time,” Graham said. “I really felt that. Because you could see that he was ready to let it go a little bit as far as crying.
- “He had a hell of a career. You shouldn’t have no regrets, even if this year didn’t go as well as you wanted it to go. People are always going to remember you of all the great things you’ve done …
- “Brady shouldn’t hang his head about anything. He’s a Michigan man. He’s definitely got an opportunity afterwards with that big [television] deal that he got. I definitely don’t feel sorry for him.”
Graham is of the age when most NFL players are either retired or thinking about it. He said earlier this season he wants to play in 2023, even if it’s not with the Eagles, his preferred choice.
Graham’s future will include likely induction in the Eagles’ Hall of Fame
- “To make a play like that and in a town that never had a [Super Bowl] championship and we finally brought us one,” Graham said.
- “It changed my trajectory of how people view me as a player. And it’s just gotten better ever since.”