PHILADELPHIA — Nick Foles went searching for clarity, for guidance and for direction, but in time, he found the answer resided within him all along.
Nearly two years ago, the trajectory of his career led him to the same crossroads all NFL players eventually reach. And when it came time to choose his path, to decide whether to give up the game he loved or postpone retirement for at least one more season, Foles could think of only one thing to do.
He prayed. Then he waited for an answer.
“My heart said, ‘Go back,’ ” he said of his decision to reunite with Coach Andy Reid in Kansas City in August 2016.
At the time, Foles couldn’t see the bigger picture, nor could he have predicted that he’d now be reflecting on that pivotal moment while standing in front of an NFC championship game backdrop at the Philadelphia Eagles’ facility Wednesday afternoon.
As he prepares for the biggest game of his 6-year career, Sunday’s NFC title game against the Minnesota Vikings, Foles couldn’t help but point to that 2016 season with Reid as a career-defining moment — one that has helped him to this very day.
“I’m a better person because of that decision,” said Foles, whose turnover-free performance in last week’s 15-10 divisional-round win over the Atlanta Falcons helped pave the way for the Eagles to reach the penultimate stage of these playoffs.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” added the veteran quarterback, a third-round draft pick of the Eagles in 2012 when Reid was their coach. “It wasn’t like it was 100 percent, but my faith and my guidance and the way I felt going into that experience allowed me to grow to make me a better player now.”
Foles signed a two-year deal with the Eagles before this season after his contract was up in Kansas City. His personal growth has made all the difference for the Eagles, who earned the No. 1 seed after losing starter Carson Wentz to a season-ending knee injury in Week 14. In Wentz’s absence, Foles has proved to be a dependable and calming spirit in the huddle. But more importantly, he has shown that he can withstand the pressure of the big moment.
The lights at Lincoln Financial Field will be even brighter Sunday, when he’ll be pitted against Vikings quarterback Case Keenum, his friend and former teammate, in a game that determines the NFC’s representative in Super Bowl LII.
The pair have gone from being considered expendable to being among the four remaining quarterbacks still playing in the postseason. And the coincidence isn’t lost on either of them.
“I mean, it’s pretty wild,” Foles said, smiling.
In March 2015, the Eagles traded Foles to the St. Louis Rams for quarterback Sam Bradford. That same season, Foles’s inconsistency led then-Rams coach Jeff Fisher to bench him in favor of Keenum. After the Rams drafted Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall pick in 2016, Foles requested his release and signed with Reid and the Chiefs. After Philadelphia drafted Wentz No. 2 overall in 2016, the organization traded Bradford to the Vikings. And when Bradford was sidelined by injury this season, Keenum was tabbed as their new starter.
“I know this is what all you guys predicted back in the day, a Foles vs. Keenum NFC championship,” Keenum joked with reporters Wednesday.
In some ways, it’s fitting that these two friends, both former backups-turned-starters who many doubted, would share this moment.
“Case’s success and the way he plays, it doesn’t surprise me because him and I were together,” said Foles, who turns 29 on Saturday. “And we prepared together, we were around each other every day. But I think the big message there is, no matter what happens, you’ve just got to keep believing in yourself, keep working hard, never give up.”
Foles almost walked away from the game. But in those quiet moments and those private conversations with his wife, he found his answer.
“When you have your heart into something, you give it everything you have,” he said.
And the Eagles, a team holding on tight to its underdog identity, firmly believe in one another.
“In these moments where we’re in front of this new backdrop, we’re playing for this championship game, you do reflect,” Foles said. “A few days ago, I just sat there with my wife and we just talked about how blessed we are to be in this moment. But I know where my heart is, and my heart was all in being in Philly, being with these guys, going out there on the field, stepping in the huddle and knowing that each guy is playing for each other. That’s a special thing. And that’s been the testament of this season.”