Before Chip Kelly became the biggest thing once associated with Oregon football to spread his influence on the Eagles, there was A.J. Feeley.
A career third-string and backup quarterback, Feeley was able to live out his dream as a fill-in starter during a few different seasons in Philadelphia, even going 4-1 during a five game stretch in 2002.
At the time, it was a fun story, but all of it might have never been possible were it not for one epic drive in the final preseason game back on August 30, 2001.
This is your Eagles history lesson of the day, and while it may not have been ridiculously important, it underscores a significant theme that will run rampant throughout tonight’s Eagles-Jets preseason finale almost a decade and a half later. While the fourth preseason game can be a vacation for the starters, it is the complete opposite for some of the backups. It’s their career.
The Eagles were trailing the Jets 12-6 with time winding down. Whether or not they won or lost was irrelevant, but for the rookie quarterback, it meant everything. The year before, Koy Detmer and Ron Powlus had backed up Donovan McNabb, who led the birds to a playoff victory on wildcard weekend in his first full-time season as the starting quarterback.
The following spring, the team had drafted Feeley in the fifth round, but they were still only going to keep three quarterbacks on the active roster. It was very possible that Powlus would hang onto the job and Feeley would have to find a home elsewhere, until things changed on that final drive.
Third year coach Andy Reid essentially said to Feeley ‘Alright rookie, get us in the end zone, you’ve got your spot on the team.’
Feeley delivered with an improbable 80-yard drive, eventually finding Sean Scott for a 16-yard touchdown pass in the Veterans Stadium end zone with only 23 seconds remaining. For as much as I like to flaunt my Eagles memory, it doesn’t translate perfectly to the 2001 preseason.
I recalled the touchdown pass that flipped the quarterback competition, but earlier on the drive, big passes were completed to Anthony Gray and Penn State graduate Tony Stewart.
A somewhat incomplete ESPN box score of the action is available here.
I never expected to be writing about it so many years later, but I remember watching it, probably well past my fourth grade bedtime at the time, just happy that the Eagles won even though it didn’t really count.
Powlus, who had a nice college career at Notre Dame, was cut a day or two later and never played in the NFL again. Feeley lasted for 11 years, and when McNabb and Detmer both suffered serious injuries in 2002, he helped keep the ship afloat, throwing for six touchdown passes over a six game stretch, allowing the Eagles to secure homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
He would fail as a part-time starter on a terrible Miami team in 2004 but eventually made his way back to Philadelphia, leading the Eagles to a victory against the Falcons in the 2006 season finale and nearly knocking off the then undefeated Patriots at Gillette Stadium in November 2007, throwing for three touchdown passes and 345 yards through the air.
Not a bad NFL career for a fifth round pick who lost his starting job at Oregon to Joey Harrington and wasn’t expected by some to make the team that summer of his rookie year.
What if Scott had dropped that touchdown pass though? What if Gray or Stewart had the balls thrown their way hit off their hands and turn into interceptions? What if a blocking assignment had been missed earlier in the drive and Feeley never made it past midfield?
We can fill a ton of space what-iffing to death, but the idea is to show that while many folks like to disregard the last preseason game, small details — even in the final few minutes — can mean everything to underdog players.
For an Eagles backup quarterback who has been out of the league less than five years, the game everyone loves to hate served as the springboard to a decade-long stay in the NFL, and there are other A.J. Feeley’s out there tonight, throughout the league, be it at quarterback or another position, just looking for that one moment that could be their big break.
Tonight’s game means nothing, eh? Travel back in time to the summer of 2001 and try telling that to A.J. Feeley.