Philly likes its Super Bowls wit some drama.
In 1981, the Eagles’ all-world defense led them to their first Super Bowl appearance, but they were denied by the Jim Plunkett-led Raiders. In 2005, a one-legged Terrell Owens tried to will the Eagles to a Super Bowl win, while Donovan McNabb may or may not have blown chunks on the field.
Arguably the most memorable moment of any of the Eagles’ Super Bowl appearances, however, happened in 2018, when Nick Foles and Doug Pederson stared down Bill Belichick and Tom Brady and called the “Philly Special.” The trick play put the Eagles ahead of the Patriots by 10 points just before the half, and helped Foles and Co. hoist the first Lombardi Trophy in franchise history.
.@NFoles_9 made the call, made the touchdown and made history. #PhillySpecial
Watch more @NFLFilms highlights on the #InsideTheNFL finale TONIGHT 9PM ET/PT on Showtime.@Eagles #SBLII #FlyEaglesFly #Eagles pic.twitter.com/jIDrfeYpVW
— Inside the NFL (@insidetheNFL) February 6, 2018
MORE: Watch Super Bowl 57 live on fuboTV (free trial)
It was rare when teams in the playoffs would have the guts to challenge a Belichick-coached squad like that Eagles team did — so it’s no surprise that the play is etched in the brains of all who saw, and into NFL history, too.
“This play call has the chance to be remembered as one of the all-time greats,” NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth said in the moment.
Well, Collinsworth was certainly right.
With the Eagles taking on the Chiefs in Super Bowl 57, here’s a look back at one of the most iconic play calls in NFL history:
What is the Philly Special in football?
The “Philly Special” was a play called by Eagles head coach Doug Pederson in Super Bowl 52. Rather than use an absurdly long play call name like a standard play, the trick play was simply known as the Philly Special.
The scene: With 38 seconds left in the half, the Pederson and the Eagles opted to go for the end zone on a fourth-down play, passing on the idea of kicking a field goal.
The ball was snapped to running back Corey Clement, who would rush to his left and pitch the ball to tight end Trey Burton. Burton, who snagged the ball on the reverse, would toss it to quarterback Nick Foles, who had aligned behind the right tackle to start the play.
.@TreyBurton8 has a career #SuperBowl passer rating of 118.8.#FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/KGTw4WBQ5v
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) February 5, 2018
The score (and subsequent point after) would put the Eagles up 22-13 at halftime, and they would go on to win 41-33.
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Who threw the Philly Special?
Eagles backup tight end Trey Burton threw the pass to Nick Foles. Burton had never thrown a pass in the NFL before that. It was the first — and last — pass attempt of his NFL career.
That’s not to say Burton was unfamiliar with throwing a football. In fact, he was recruited by then-Florida coach Urban Meyer as a quarterback. He played a few different positions for the Gators, including tight end, wide receiver, fullback and quarterback.
“It’s not always the best spiral, it gets there, where it needs to be, but it’s not gonna be the best spiral coming from me,” Burton said in 2018. “All I saw was Foles — that’s all I saw. I didn’t see anybody else. I just threw it up there.”
Interestingly, Burton said that his first option on the play was to run, but he obviously opted to pass the ball in that spot.
“Ain’t no way I was running it — no shot.”
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Was Philly Special an illegal formation?
In years past, there has been some debate as to whether or not the Philly Special was actually an illegal formation. It appears as though wide receiver Alshon Jeffery may not have been in line with the line of scrimmage, which would have deemed the formation illegal.
My NESN colleague @chatham58 pointed out that the Eagles only had six players on the line on Foles’ TD catch. He’s right. pic.twitter.com/TRfB2teuMJ
— Zack Cox (@ZackCoxNESN) February 5, 2018
As long as the receiver’s helmet is in line with the belt line of the player snapping the ball, then the formation is legal. It was very close, but Jeffery checked with the official nearby to see if he was OK and in line, as most wide receivers do.
The referee clearly gave him the OK, which made the play legal in the moment. But there was still plenty of grey area surrounding the ruling on the field.
In the following days, rules analyst Mike Pereira said the play should have been whistled for an illegal formation, and that Jeffery was too far off the line.
“We always use a yard (within the line of scrimmage), maybe a yard and-a-half,” Pereira said. “But that’s two. And even a little bit beyond two. It’s kind of one of those that has no effect on the play. I get it. But they didn’t line up properly. And it really should’ve been called.”
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Philly Philly vs. Philly Special difference
While cameras caught Nick Foles asking Doug Pederson for “Philly Philly” and the “Philly Special” being called in the huddle, there actually is a difference.
The Philly Special featured running back Corey Clement taking the direct snap, with a wide receiver outside the far hash. Philly Philly was a bit different, but still the same.
In the 2018 season opener, the Eagles ran a similar trick play, but this time, Foles took the snap and handed the ball off to Clement, who pitched a reverse to Nelson Agholor, who then threw a pass to Foles for a first down.
THAT’S THE PHILLY SPECIAL’S MUSIC#FlyEaglesFly pic.twitter.com/JPddGV2wYT
— Philadelphia Eagles (@Eagles) September 7, 2018
While it was the same personnel grouping — two receivers, two tight ends, one running back — it was a different formation.
So, Philly Special was what the Eagles ran in the Super Bowl, while Philly Philly was what they ran the following year.
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Philly Special statue
Foles and Pederson helped bring Philly its first Lombardi Trophy, and a gutsy call like that deserves to be immortalized, so the folks over at Bud Light decided to erect a statue in the play’s honor. Featuring Nick Foles and Doug Pederson discussing the Philly Special play call, it also features Foles’ “You want Philly Philly?” quote from that very moment.
The “Philly Special” now has its own statue outside Lincoln Financial Field https://t.co/6ACgDYpurG pic.twitter.com/V4qIensSEK
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) September 5, 2018
No, the statue wasn’t actually made by Philly or the town of Philadelphia — but it’s still cool nonetheless.
Maybe their next trick play can be called One Whiz Wit.