PHILADELPHIA — Doug Pederson strolled into the NewsControl Compound Monday, shared what everyone already seemed to know, and refused to answer questions. Nick Foles, he finally half-snarled, would be his Week 1 quarterback. And with that, he would race off to someplace else.
So he'd done it again, Pederson had. In the hours before the season-opener, he had again become knighted as the prince of the city. He was the picked-on victim, and with that, he would be the embodiment of an Eagles-vs.-Everybody spirit that allowed the last season to both begin and end with him ducking a high-and-tight tub of flying sports-drink goo.
Everyone enjoys a good confrontation between a public figure and the press. And the Eagles last year took one and ran with it, from beginning to end. Though they were still on their 0-for-57 championship slide after one successful game, Pederson was drenched in Gatorade by a couple of his players. While that ceremony typically is reserved for more substantial achievements than defeating the Washington Redskins, that one had a message: The Birds had Pederson's soggy back after he'd been characterized earlier in the week by a failed football executive as the least qualified coach in the NFL.
From there, the dance continued, all through a season that, early on, seemed different. By the time they reached the playoffs, certain Eagles would wear German shepherd masks to emphasize their underdog status and mentality. Famously, Malcolm Jenkins would verbalize it, saying, “We're all we got, we're all we need,” with the Birds borrowing it for inspiration.
By the time the Eagles won the championship, Jason Kelce was emboldened to scold the 700,000 who'd been lured to the Parkway to celebrate, screaming at them that they were too quick to doubt the players, and neatly doing so in catalog form. Not content to let it rest there, the Eagles all had images of dogs engraved inside their championship rings, an eternal reminder that they were what they were, and everyone else was not.
It worked. So who's to argue? And if Pederson is anything, he is a coach who knows when to run a successful play. His choice this week: Make an international issue over something as fundamentally conversational as who would be his Opening Night quarterback, the sitting Super Bowl MVP or Carson Wentz, who had not yet been cleared to play after knee surgery.
“No, not publicly,” he said, in a Sunday press conference he'd be certain would go viral. “Not publicly. I don't do that. I don't do it with any position on this team. I will not do it.”
Less than 24 hours later, spoiler alert: He did it. Publicly.
“After consideration and everything and about the football team and this decision, Nick Foles will be the starter Week 1,” he said. “My press conference will be tomorrow. I’ll answer questions at that time, but I wanted you to hear it from me. It is about the football team and the best interest of the 53. And Nick Foles will be my starter Week 1.”
He was polite, by the way, adding, “thank you.” Hey, no problem. The only problem was that Pederson was protecting that information, and creating a bit of a conflict about the whole thing. By Monday afternoon, offensive coordinator Mike Groh was acknowledging that he'd already known of the decision. So, apparently, had the players, who were warned a day earlier not to let it slip, possibly even being threatened with corporal punishment. Said Lane Johnson: “We may get a spanking.”
The idea: Keep everything in-house, behind the locked gates of the practice compound. The starting quarterback was for the Eagles to know and for everyone else to ask talk-show hosts about. And by Sunday, Pederson was finding a way to make that work by trying to characterize the assembled media sorts as impatient, demanding pests. And never mind that it was an NFL-subsidized website that first leaked the truth that Foles was the Week 1 starter.
“First of all, I appreciate you all putting words in my mouth this week,” he said. “Therefore, I'm not going to discuss it.”
He did everything but jam his index fingers in his ears and make humming noises.
“What's the point of this?” he said. “It's my decision.”
That was the point. It was his decision. And he turned something that simple into a conflict. Finally admitting his secrecy had a loose tie to an urge to befuddle the Atlanta Falcons, as if they don't finance enough assistant coaches to prepare for two quarterbacks, Pederson didn't have to be so secretive. That Opening Night opportunity to roll onto the field for a standing ovation belonged to Foles anyway. He won that in the Super Bowl. Foles, in fact, should have been a little irked that he had to go through Pederson's little game before being given the starting job.
But that's not the Eagles' way. The Eagles' way is to bold-face their enemies and, short of that, invent some. That's what Pederson did this week, at a time when a world-championship team should have been above it all. Ah, whatever works for them. Just have the Gatorade ready in Week 1. Save some for later, too.
Contact Jack McCaffery @firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @JackMcCaffery