Play by Play
In his new book, SalPal tells how the Eagles got to the Super Bowl – and won 

ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio was the only reporter allowed into the Eagles team hotel at the Super Bowl. He was the only reporter to ride with Coach Doug Pederson to a game, the only one allowed behind-the-scenes access on their historic, star-crossed trip to the West Coast, and the only one to have one-on-one interviews with Pederson the morning of and the night before the biggest games of the year, including the Super Bowl. He had exclusive access to Carson Wentz, Nick Foles and all the Eagles players and coaches from training camp to Minneapolis. 

Who else could better chronicle their rise to win the Super Bowl? 

In “Philly Special: The Inside Story of how the Philadelphia Eagles won their First Super Bowl Championship,” SalPal provides the first and only week-to-week, behind-the-scenes account of how the team captured its first Lombardi Trophy.  

SalPal has chosen the excerpt below exclusively for SJ Magazine readers. It is adapted from Chapter 19, which gives a day-to-day inside look at the Eagles’ week leading up to Super Bowl LII. It’s called “We Got This.” 

Wentz walked with a heavy brace on his surgically repaired left knee. It was a sad sight, really. This guy is a total stallion on the football field. To see him sidelined like this made me feel for him. Wentz seemed in good spirits. He sat down across from me. But when I looked into his eyes, I got worried. His face quickly revealed that this interview was going to be more obligation than revelation — until I asked him how difficult it has been to “recalibrate” his life in professional football since the injury on December 10. Then, he began to open up. 

“Well, it was definitely tough, being hurt and missing time was without a doubt tough for me personally,” he said. 

“What was tough about it?’ I asked. 

“It was tough knowing that I won’t be running out on the field again with my teammates this year,” he said. “It’s just tough. I mean during the week and everything, the preparation, it’s all fine. But, you know, really on Sundays when the offense runs out for the first time, and I’m not with them….” His voice trailed off. “It’s just tough. They’re running out to the field and I’m limping off to the side with a crutch or with crutches or a cane or whatever it may be, it’s definitely not easy. I can tell you that.” 

This was the first time Carson Wentz was expressing this. And the fact that he was doing it on the first day his team was in Minneapolis, meeting the media for Super Bowl week, was very revealing. It was almost like he wanted to get it off his chest, relieve his mind of the pain he’d been keeping bottled up for weeks. He had done an interview session with reporters at his locker before leaving Philadelphia, but this was the first time he had really unfurled his soul. Of course, I tried to be gentle. I had been interviewing him since the day he was drafted. He had always been accessible to me – with time and candor – throughout his short career. When a player gives of his time like that, it’s only natural that you gravitate toward his success. Seeing him now in this setting, I wanted to make sure that I asked the questions in a way that got him to reveal as much as possible while respecting that he was still a very young man – my children are all older than he is – and something terrible had happened to snuff out a big dream of his. However, I did want to dig deeper into why he made the decision to dive into the end zone in Los Angeles, rather than throw the football away and live for another play. It was only first down, I reminded him. 

“There was a lane and I got in,” he said. “I made the dive and just kind of got hit kind of flukey in a weird way from both sides and obviously it was a pretty hard hit on my leg.” 

This was the first time Wentz confirmed that it was the hit on his leg that caused the torn knee ligament and other damage. Previously, it had been suggested that Wentz got hurt before he was hit, while he was scrambling toward the Rams goal line. “It was tough,” he said. “I didn’t exactly know at the time until I started walking to the huddle. And I knew something was unstable in there.” Wentz finished the drive. But then quickly hobbled to the sideline and decided he needed to get the knee checked out. “Unfortunately, it was what I feared,” he said. “But that’s what you sign up for when you play this game.” 


Tom Brady, playing in his eighth Super Bowl, hopped on stage at the Xcel Energy Center, wearing a glove on his right hand to hide the nasty five-inch gash between his thumb and forefinger that he suffered in practice prior to beating the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Championship game. It happened during a hand-off in practice and Brady was still reluctant to reveal any details about it. He didn’t have to. He was Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback to play the game. At this point in his career, Brady is always playing off the sheet music of history. Everything he does goes in the record books. And winning the AFC title with his hand mangled up only added to the myth, putting his name on the list of legends who went to work with a glove on one hand: Tom Brady, Michael Jackson, Luke Skywalker. You look at Brady with that glove and you ask, “Wonder where he’s hiding the light saber?” 

Brady was sitting next to Nick Foles. Sitting opposite the two quarterbacks were the two defensive captains, Malcolm Jenkins of the Eagles and Devin McCourty of the Patriots. Between the players sat Chris Rose of Fox-TV and me. This little Q&A was happening between the Patriots interview session and the one for the Eagles – on live TV. And Brady, of course, was the center of attention. He was in full TB12 mode, calm and measured – seen that, done that. I reminded him that the last time the Eagles visited Foxboro, Jenkins intercepted Brady and returned it for a touchdown. I asked him what he learned about the Eagles’ defense from that play. He said: “Don’t throw it to Malcolm.” And the 5,000 or so people watching in the hockey arena had their first collective laugh of the night. 

Nick Foles, sitting just to Brady’s right, looked like he just met the Wizard of Oz. Of the three quarterbacks of the night, he faced the most pressure. And he sounded like it. Afterward I was asked about how Foles did and I replied on a radio show that “he sounded a little nervous.” After all, I said, he was sitting next to Brady – the guy with five Super Bowl rings – and this was his first nationally televised Super Bowl event. What’s more, when Rose asked Foles a question, his answer was drowned out by boos from the crowd, mostly Vikings fans who just watched their team get waxed by Philly in the NFC Championship game. (So much for Minnesota Nice.) So, it was perfectly natural for Foles to feel a tad out of sorts. Nevertheless, my use of the word “nervous” went viral on social media and I was asked about it for the next three days. The truth is, it was the only time all week that I detected any nerves at all in Foles. As the week progressed and the team returned to the practice field, all I heard from coaches and players was that Foles was calm and confident. 

“Philly Special: The Inside Story of How the Philadelphia Eagles Won Their First Super Title” by Sal Paolantonio will be available in bookstores Aug. 1.    

August 2018
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