The funny thing about all of this is that Nick Foles never wanted it. Not only that, he actively avoided it. A lot of guys are just being proper when they claim such things, but Foles is a different kind of character. If he never seemed entirely at ease during his first go-round, that’s because he wasn’t. At least, not when the whole world is watching the way that it does when you’re the starting quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles. Some guys are attracted to that glare, addicted to it even. But to a lot of others, it is a laser beam, like the sun through a magnifier, and you are the bug smoldering beneath its inescapable concentration.
There’s a reason the most visible ones often seem to us the oddest ducks in the flock, particularly in this town. Our comfort with attention is one of those fundamental divisions that siphons our species into buckets of personalities, the I vs. the E in the Myers-Briggs, and when you consider the idiosyncrasies that came to define guys such as Donovan and Randall and Michael Jack, a lot can be explained via that first binary split.
Foles has always come across as an introvert in the most classic sense, a quiet, gentle, self-reflective person whose sensitivity to criticism is rooted not in an overestimation of his own abilities, but in the abundance of time he already spends alone with the knowledge of his shortcomings. He strikes you as one of those people who harbor a deep inner knowledge of oneself, and, thus, cringes at the attempts of others to define him. As the circle around him increases and his interpersonal connection with the eyes looking inward grows more tenuous, he finds himself taxed by the energy required to play whatever two-dimensional part the crowd expects.
>> READ MORE: Eagles practice observations
Yet there he was Tuesday afternoon, flashing an easy smile into the swarm of microphones and cameras that had gathered around him for a peek inside, his blond hair fluttering in a high-definition glow beneath a perfect late-spring sky, fresh off his latest batch of first-team reps, comfortably fielding the kinds of questions that a few years ago would have split the words that he spoke from the true thoughts in his head as an inner monologue on alert ferried him toward the nearest rhetorical exit. And not only was he fielding these questions, he did so with a degree of revelation that only true comfort can yield. His book tour was set to begin on June 26, his invitation to the ESPYs had been accepted, the latter with a reflexively humble and entirely gratuitous explanation that he had never been to the ESPYs before.
“I really have to preach to myself right now to stay in the moment,” Foles said as he relaxed his posture backward into the heels of his cleats, “because that kind of stuff overwhelms me. Football doesn’t, but that kind of stuff?”
He did not need to expand any further. The people gathered around him knew what lingered on the other side of the question. And, more important, he knew that they knew, because that is what life in the spotlight breeds for a certain brand of personality, the knowledge of everybody else’s knowledge, of the things that they see, or think they see, as they strain to glimpse within. People around Foles will tell you that the big difference between the quarterback who left the Eagles in 2015 and the one who returned two years later was his acceptance of that knowledge. The world around you will see what it wants to see, and think what it wants to think, and, thus, the only constructive course of action is to accept that both are outside of your control.
In light of recent events, one suspects that he is a different man still, one whose acceptance of the nature of the world around is now fortified by the validation that beating Tom Brady in a Super Bowl can bring. Not only did he find peace, but through that peace he found the performance that the world had been blind to see.
That’s another thing about all of this: the way it speaks to what time feels like a universal truth. There is a parable about a coachman who found that the more effort he spent on controlling his horses, the less control over his coach he thought he had. Each inch of reins wrapped around his hands and each ounce of pressure cutting into his palms seemed to lessen the acquiescence of the beasts in his charge. It was only when he loosened his grip that the animals settled and his vehicle straightened from its serpentine course.
Five months after Foles climbed down from that Minneapolis stage with his daughter in his arms, he still exudes a satisfied calm. That it stands in such conspicuous contrast to the modern human condition, which might help to explain our fascination with his inevitable transition back to the second team.
“”I’m equipped, I think I’ve shown that, but it takes more than one person to make a team,” Foles said. “I think that’s what’s beautiful about this team. I think that’s what this team showed last year. It’s not one person, it’s the entire group. … Everybody puts their egos aside when they walk into this building. We’re all working for the Philadelphia Eagles, and I think that’s why we have something so special here.”
For however long it lasts, they’ll have a special kind of leader driving the way, one who is armed with the knowledge of what each moment means.