Putting together a documentary of a Super Bowl season is an extensive and exhausting project.
Except when it becomes a labor of love.
For dozens of employees at NFL Films, the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles season was particularly special. Thus, the DVD that chronicles it and becomes available to the public on Tuesday — PHI-NALLY is how it is dubbed — wasn’t exactly work.
“We are in Mount Royal, New Jersey, which is about 20 minutes from the Linc,” says Todd Schmidt, who produces such enterprises for NFL Films. “So many of our people are lifelong fans of the Eagles, who have suffered for all those years. And that is something the becomes part of the film; we wanted people out there to understand what some of these people went through during that crazy game and this season.
“I would love for an Arizona Cardinals fan to get the same bang out of this as my 22-year-old son and a lifelong Eagles fan will, and I like to think that the story will do that. This is more than a story of a football season. It’s about why teams and fans don’t quit, and that’s what Philly fans are like. They may get a lot of criticism, but there’s a reason Rocky means so much and showing the heart to never give up means so much.”
NFL Films had the good fortune of being able to place microphones on coach Doug Pederson and quarterback Nick Foles. The exchanges between them not only are insightful football-wise, they provide a window into the aggressiveness that was so critical to not only upending the Patriots in a classic Super Bowl, but in the Eagles putting together such a successful season.
Indeed, Philadelphia’s 41-33 victory in Minneapolis probably made for a much more enchanting story than had the Patriots won. After all, New England taking the NFL title is anything but new, and the Eagles last won it in 1960, when Norm Van Brocklin was the quarterback and Chuck Bednarik was playing linebacker and center.
So Schmidt opted to open the documentary with a shot of Franklin Field on the University of Pennsylvania campus — the site of that 1960 win over Green Bay. And he decided to close the film with the parade witnessed by more than 700,000 “so you get a clear idea of what this meant to the city of Philadelphia, the people of Philadelphia, and to Eagles fans.”
NFL Films actually makes two 55-minute films annually. The 2017 version of the Patriots’ season “will not see the light of day,” Schmidt explains. But it also would have had plenty of cachet.
“I think every team has a story,” he says, though how many viewers would be interested in, say, the Browns’ 0-16 campaign is debatable.
“Had the Patriots won, it would have been a film of dominance; if they had won they would have been the ’27 Yankees. It would have been magnificent if they had pulled out that game, two of the most amazing Super Bowls back to back. Tom Brady would go down as the greatest magician ever to walk the earth.
“We are storytellers and we would have made the elements we had work well.”
Still, the elements they had on Philadelphia’s side certainly seem more compelling. A team loses five key players, including late in the schedule the QB who appeared headed to league MVP honors. It’s an underdog in all of its postseason games despite being a top seed. Its history of falling short is monumental.
And then it wins a classic Super Bowl against an NFL dynasty.
“The Eagles story has a lot more historical context, which is red meat to a storyteller,” Schmidt says. “The more context and unique elements of the story, the better the story. So I loved the Eagles story.”
As did so many of his co-workers.