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January 17, 2018

Two years after nearly retiring from football, Eagles QB Nick Foles one win from reaching Super Bowl

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011718_Eagles-Foles_usat James Lang/USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles during the third quarter against the Atlanta Falcons.

We've all felt it before. Those days where you wake up and wish you could do something – anything – other than your current job. Sometimes it melts away by the time you finish showering. Other times, it might last a few days or more.

Two years ago, following the conclusion of the 2015 NFL season, Nick Foles had that feeling. For the first time in his career, the then-26-year-old quarterback was a free agent. And, following his worst season since being drafted by the Eagles in 2012, Foles was considering retirement. 

"I think the big thing is, you've got to know where your heart is," Foles said Wednesday when asked about his decision to return despite "leaning" toward retirement. "Why are you doing it? I think that's what you've got to ask yourself whenever you play this game, whatever you do. I know I did several years ago; I had to take a step back and say, you know, 'Am I doing this for the right reasons?' Because if I can't do it with my heart, I can't do it. I'm not going to do something unless my heart's in it. So, when you have your heart in something, you give it everything you have, and I think that's the big thing."

Now that he's leading the team that drafted him into the NFC Championship Game, it's hard to argue that Foles made the right decision. But he didn't make it on his own. 

"I talked a lot to my wife, and I just remember saying a prayer," Foles said. "I literally said a prayer and then, like I said, my heart said go back. At that moment, it was going back to play for Coach [Andy] Reid. And when I did – I'm a better person because of that decision.

"It wasn't an easy decision. It's not like it was 100 percent, but my faith and my guidance and the way I felt going into that experience allowed me to grow, to make me a better player now because you experience those emotions, you go through that – it's an emotional thing. It's something I've done my entire life. And to go through that and to make that decision, it wasn't easy. But I leaned on my wife, I leaned on my family, and I leaned on my faith in those moments and I'm very grateful I made the decision I did." 

In the time since Foles decided to return, his uniform is not the only thing that's changed. Off the field, he and his wife have welcomed a daughter. And it's given him a whole new perspective on life – and role football plays in it. 

"To me family is everything," an emotional Foles said prior to last week's divisional round win over the Falcons. "I am fortunate to play this game now but my family will be there the rest of my life. They love me no matter what. No matter how I play, when I go home my wife always loves me and my daughter has no idea what's going on, she just smiles and makes noises."

Foles could've used that kind of balance during his final year with the Rams, the one that almost led him to retire after going 4-7 and posting a career low in completion percentage and passer rating.

But he didn't give up. Instead, Foles took the backup job in Kansas City before signing with the Eagles prior to this season. And had it not been for that time he spent away from football, he might be watching Sunday's NFC Championship game against the Vikings from his couch.

I have a family; I have a wife; I have a daughter; I have a dog. I had to step back and focus on that because that's so important to me.

The importance of that period of self-reflection wasn't lost on Foles then, and it certainly isn't now.

"There's going to be some point when we all finish playing this game," he said. "I had to take a week off when I was a free agent just to think about it. And it was the best thing that ever happened because I think people are fearful of feeling that way because they feel like they're the only ones who feel that way. But we're all professional athletes and we have moments where we have to step back and think and assess everything in life. 

"I have a family; I have a wife; I have a daughter; I have a dog. I had to step back and focus on that because that's so important to me. I'm so fortunate I have my wife there to talk through these things.

"In these moments where we're playing in this championship game, you do reflect. A few days ago I sat there with my wife and we just talked about it and how blessed we are in this moment. But I know where my heart is. And my heart was being in Philly, being with these guys, going out there on the field and stepping in the huddle knowing that each guy is playing for each other. That's a special thing, and that's been a testament to this season. It's an honor and a blessing to be here playing this game."

Foles won't be the only member of that 2015 Rams team leading his team out of the tunnel at Lincoln Financial Field on Sunday. Case Keenum, Foles' backup that season in St. Louis, has helped lead the Vikings to their first NFC Championship Game appearance since 2010.

Like Foles, Keenum has played for three different teams, and both are in their first season with their current teams. Furthermore, neither was supposed to be starting this game, but injuries to Carson Wentz and Sam Bradford paved the way for this improbable matchup. 

"It's pretty wild, absolutely," Foles said. "I mean, we were on the same team not too many years ago. But that's where I know – I've said over and over again that Case's success and the way he plays doesn't surprise me because him and I were together, and we prepared together. We were around each other every day.

"But I think the big message there is that no matter what happens, you've got to keep believing in yourself, keep working hard and never give up."


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