In the closing minutes of Sunday night’s Super Bowl between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots, the NBC commentator Al Michaels took a moment to praise the evening’s all-around play, before the ending elevated one participant at the expense of the other. “You know what’s so great about this game,” Michaels said, “is that the game has been terrific from start to finish.” Michaels’s partner, Cris Collinsworth, added his own full-bore adjective: “The game has been relentless.”
The descriptions fit. The 52nd Super Bowl, which ended with the Eagles knocking off the Patriots 41–33 to capture their first Lombardi trophy, felt like a classic from the opening moments. It had a narratively rich setup—the five-time champion Pats and the ageless Tom Brady going against an Eagles team led by the backup Nick Foles, who two summers ago had contemplated moving on from pro football—combined with nearly nonstop action. It was the highest-scoring title game since 1995, and the previous Super Bowl record for total yardage fell in the third quarter; the teams ended up combining for 1,151 yards of total offense.
What won the game for the Eagles ultimately seemed not so much a difference in quality as a difference in nerve. Foles, who as recently as the final two weeks of the regular season had looked overmatched against teams that didn’t even reach the playoffs, performed Sunday night with the confidence of an MVP, threading short throws between lines of defenders and dropping two long touchdown passes perfectly into his receivers’ hands (he threw for three TDs overall). The running backs LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi muscled through New England tacklers time and again, each averaging more than six yards per carry. The Eagles’ defensive line, thought to be an advantage entering the game, broke through at the crucial moment, when Brandon Graham sacked Brady and forced a fumble on the Patriots’ penultimate possession, snuffing New England’s best hope of a comeback.