There was a stretch of years, not that long ago, that saw seven of eight Super Bowl underdogs win — from 2004-to-2011.
The Patriots have taken care of business a bit too often since then, but there is ample evidence that teams expected to lose, win more than they should.
The Eagles adorn the moniker of underdog in Super Bowl LII, to no one’s surprise (they were held in the same regard in each of their playoff wins to make it to Minneapolis). But it seems like the team has tapped into something valuable, combining elite talent — which would be favored or close to it with a healthy Carson Wentz under center — and an “us against the world” mentality. According to sports psychologist Joel Fish, that’s a winning combination.
“If you take a look at teams where the underdog has kicked off the favorite there is a theme,” Fish, who has worked with prominent pro athletes across the city for decades, said. “If you look at the Red Sox when they broke their streak, the Cubs, the Phillies, each of those teams — and this is the kind of thing I study — they embrace the attitude of ‘why not us?’ When a team does that, when players do that in the key moments of these games, when you’ve embraced the ‘why not us,’ you’re more likely to embrace that attitude of ‘we’ve got them were we want them’ as opposed to ‘here we go again.’
“The underdog has nothing to lose here, the expectations are less and I really like where the Eagles are right now in terms of progression of overcoming adversity, embracing challenges, belief in themselves but most importantly in key moments.”
Ask the Eagles’ players themselves and you’ll hear the same thing.
“We’ve been the underdogs. I think that’s the mentality of our football team. I think that’s the mentality of our city, and I’m OK with that, I’m fine that,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson told NFL.com. “I’ve been an underdog my whole career, my whole life. Everything I’ve done, I either haven’t been good enough or something negative has been written or said, and I just blow it off. I have confidence in these guys and this team.”
All across the over-produced “Super Bowl Opening Night” Monday, you saw Eagles players like Brandon Graham with their underdog masks, and fans too.
Malcolm Jenkins took it further, claiming that Eagles players have “felt like underdogs our entire lives and all season. Most of the guys who’ve come here have been cut, traded, or drafted too low, and everyone’s had a chip on their shoulders. Really, we’ve been given the short end of the stick the entire year.”
Which is why Tom Brady, the Patriots future hall of fame quarterback — all too familiar with being an underdog on football’s greatest stage, leading the Patriots to the biggest upset in Super Bowl history over the rams a decade and a half ago — wasn’t quick to relent the underdog label to his opponent.
“They’re well-coached,” Brady said. “They’re good in all three phases. They play complementary games. They do a great job. There’s no underdogs in the Super Bowl. They’re the first seed in the NFC. Man, they’re 13-3. They had an incredible season. I don’t buy into any of that. I think they’re as dangerous as any team in the league. It’s going to come down to whoever plays the best, and hopefully it’s us.”
There can be an edge to being the underdog, for the right team. And this year it looks to be the Eagles. Which is why a key for New England could be to embrace being the favorite (by as many as six points depending on which betting website you check).
“The crowd flips in these neutral sites, you put the pressure on the favorite,” Fish said. “What’s made Brady, [Patriots head coach Bill] Belichick and the Patriots unusual is in those key moments they’ve been able to stare down the underdog and use their experience and confidence and will to stay aggressive.”