As the NFC East backup quarterback lifted the Lombardi trophy for his raucous teammates to admire one more time, he caught one teammate’s eye in the crowd. The guy he’d replaced late in the season: the starter. The face of the franchise, now injured, rendered helpless on the sideline, reduced to a role of half advisor, half cheerleader. The two newly crowned champions exchanged a knowing glance, the backup and the man whose shoes he’d filled. Both knew they couldn’t have reached the top of the mountain without the other.
But what happened to New York Giants legend Jeff Hostetler after that, anyway? Only the most learned or trivia-happy fans will remember he eventually parlayed his historic playoff run into a large contract with the Raiders — naturally — before returning to the division where he unceremoniously closed out his career with a three-game stint in Washington.
After Super Bowl XXV, Hostetler won exactly one more postseason game (it’s a doozy and you should check it out, in all its 15.5 Y/A glory) as a starter. The NFL quarterback version of a one-hit wonder he remained. Others have traveled similar paths, though no backup quarterback between Hostelter in 1991 and present-day Nick Foles ended up covered in confetti after taking over so late in the season.
Now that Foles has Hostetled his way to a Super Bowl title, his career could play out a number of different ways. Does he turn into Hoss Jr., camping out in, say, QB-needy Denver for a few years, with a smattering of success? Does he fade away like Brad Johnson? Does he crater in his next postseason visit like Phil Simms? Does he regress to his mean — whatever that is? Part of the mystery is nobody really knows exactly what mean Foles would regress toward.
We know he’s worse than his 27-TD, 2-INT sophomore season in 2013 would suggest. Because everybody is worse than that. He led the league in TD percentage, QB rating, ANY/A, Y/A and Y/C, for crying out loud. (Sidenote: adding “fcol” to the chatspeak list when this article is done.) But we also know the 69.0 passer rating he posted in 2015, while a nice round number, is equally unrepresentative of his skill going forward. Most players this decade turn out better without the guidance/sabotage of Jeff Fisher.
So let’s look at a very eclectic group of comps — those quarterbacks who came out of nowhere to win a Super Bowl, then faded back into the fringes of stardom, the Dagobah systems of relevance. The list isn’t long, mostly because dynasties get in the way and good quarterbacks tend to return to the Big Game of Tide Ads. Foles doesn’t have to retreat into obscurity. He probably won’t just because other quarterbacks before him did.
To get two important details out of the way: A) Nick Foles will never again have to buy another beer in the greater Philadephia area, as long as he lives. B) However, with his contract running out in a year and a franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz already installed at the Eagles’ helm, Foles’ suitcases are as good as packed in the long term. Who knows where the next step leads? Maybe the guys below. They’ve traveled. We’ll take this trip chronologically, starting with the 1980s because that’s far enough back that the football being played is comparable to today’s, while giving us a hefty enough sample size.
Jim McMahon: Shuffling on and off the field
The Bears quarterback might be more famous for moves under the camera’s spotlights than his work under the playing field lights. Often remembered as a brash, mouthy leader, he followed up his Super Bowl victory with an 18-3 regular-season record... over the following three years. He started three more playoff games... and Chicago lost them all.
When McMahon played, the Bears won at a 75.4 percent clip. Problem was he didn’t play enough. He started double-digit games in a season five times but single-digit games ten times.
McMahon wrapped up his career as Brett Favre’s backup on the 1996 Packers team that went all the way. He did not appear in the game, however, and retired following the season. He was a winner, when he could get on the field.
Playoff victories after SB win: Zero as starter
Key stat: made a total of 97 starts but across 15 seasons. 67-30 in those, including 21-15 after leaving the Bears.
Phil Simms: One Fine Day
Back when Simms was a coherent human person, before his unique brand of sports announcing garnered headlines, his moment in the sun was as bright as you could imagine. But first. But first. The laughs. The laughs.
That Super Bowl, though. All he did was turn in a 22-25, 268, 3/0 line, good for a 150.3 rating, that set the standard for championship game performance.
After 1986, Simms continued to lead the Giants to goodness and occasional greatness. In case it wasn’t obvious or clear in your memory, he’s the guy Hostetler replaced in 1991. With a little better injury luck he’d have two appearances in the Super Bowl, two wins even, a far more legitimate Hall of Fame candidacy, but also this post would be seriously compromised. You win some, you lose some.
Also, Simms never recaptured any playoff magic. In three more postseason apperances, he failed to throw even a single touchdown, as his Giants went 1-2 with a total of 33 points scored.
Playoff victories after SB win: One as starter
Key stat: 119-221, 1185, 2/6 in the playoffs outside of the Giants’ 1986 run. He was great when it counted most, until suddenly he was awful.
Doug Williams: Milestone Man
Many will remember Williams as not only the first African American quarterback to win a Super Bowl, but the first to even start in one. By the time the Skins returned to the title game four years later, another man had taken over, and Williams was... out of the league for good.
The entire 1987 campaign saw Williams and Jay Schroeder play a high-stakes game of musical chairs for Washington, up until the season finale. As the team’s official website sums up the season with succintness:
Schroeder was benched twice because of erratic play, while Williams lost his job when a player strike ended and because of a back injury.
Once, when Williams was ready to return as the starter after his injury healed, coach Joe Gibbs kept Schroeder in. Williams became choked up when explaining his feelings about Gibbs’ decision.
In the season finale against Minnesota, Williams replaced an inept Schroeder and led the Redskins to victory. He started in playoff wins over the Bears and Vikings, and in Super Bowl XXII. He threw for a Super Bowl-record 340 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-10 rout of Denver and earned MVP honors.
At one point, Williams left the Super Bowl due to a knee injury. Schroeder went in, but Williams quickly returned.
The job-share Schroeder and Williams failed to excel at during the season evaporated as the latter annihilated the hapless Broncos defense with a 35-point surge in the second quarter of Super Bowl XXII. But it was Williams’ career that evaporated shortly thereafter. He declined in every statistical category in ‘88 and ‘89 and retired before the 1990 season.
Should Foles flame out rapidly over the rest of the decade, it’s Williams who serves as the best clone. Both men made strides with their first team, jumped ship to a worse situation, returned and were thrust into glory for the briefest moment.
Playoff victories after SB win: Zero
Key stat: sat out 1983 and played in the USFL for 1984 and 1985 after a contentious dispute with Tampa Bay ownership. Those were his age 28, 29 and 30 seasons. Alternate timelines would show a vastly different history for Williams.
Jeff Hostetler: The obvious comp
Which is why the post leads with him. Backup, takes over late, catches fire, leaves. Same plot as Foles. It’s not like Hostetler’s career went south after departing from New York. It just never rose to the same heights. Probably because he was a good enough quarterback who had a great run once. It happens. Nick. It happens. Just know that.
Playoff victories after SB win: One
Key stat: Between 1989 and 1996, his QB rating “fluctuated” between 80.5 (‘89) and 84.1 (‘91), never finishing higher or lower for a full season.
Mark Rypien: Forgotten shooting star
Maybe not in this corner of the country. The former Cougar led WSU to a 1985 one-point win in the Apple Cup. That’s the kind of thing people don’t forget.
And maybe not so forgotten in the nation’s capital either. For one shining season, Rypien directed a team that some call the best in NFL history. And by some, I mean the fantastic folks over at footballoutsiders.com and their DVOA machine. Read all about it.
But Rypien’s meteoric rise fell with the same intensity. By 1993 he was one of the worst quarterbacks in the league, almost incomprehensibly bad. Y/C had fallen into single digits, his QB rating was in the 50’s, his ANY/A in the 3’s, and his arm generated four touchdown passes in ten starts. In his final five seasons, he started six games total for the Browns, Rams, Eagles, Rams again and Colts.
Playoff victories after SB win: One
Key stat(s): Pre-Super Bowl, 91 TD / 54 INT; post-Super Bowl, 32 TD / 44 INT. In his 1992 follow-up season, his ANY/A somehow fell 3.16 points, from 8.34 to 5.16. Like he forgot how to play the football.
Trent Dilfer: A name we recognize
Dilfer was the sixth pick overall in 1994 and he won a Super Bowl. Well. Not for the team that drafted him. And not through any great skill of his own — unless you count getting out of the way a skill. With the 2000 Ravens, he finished below average in all major statistical categories besides completion percentage and touchdown percentage.
It’s fair to think of him as the shepherd that steered Baltimore to the Lombardi in 2000, as long you also acknowledge that his herd of sheep was actually eleven velociraptors playing defense. The Ravens allowed 2.7 yards per carry and permitted only 16 total offensive touchdowns while forcing 49 turnovers. With four shutouts.
Restating: the 2000 Ravens generated three times more turnovers than touchdowns allowed.
Thirty, forty or fifty different NFL quarterbacks would have won the title on the back of that defense. One did. Good for him. Bad for Tony Banks, the Ravens starter Weeks 1-8, who couldn’t hold the job.
Dilfer, of course, transferred to Seattle for the 2001 season, where he split some time with a developing Matt Hasselbeck. In the end, only 8 of his career 113 starts were with Baltimore. But he made them count.
You could look at Dilfer’s stat sheet, his Wikipedia page and his career highlights for hours and not find something that stands out. Foles might crater yet, but he’ll never be as nondescript as Dilfer. He was... there. Right time right place still counts for something.
Playoff victories after SB win: Zero, never appeared in another playoff game
Key stat: Owns ring
Brad Johnson: Game manager par excellence
2002 was the only year Johson’s passer rating exceeded 90. By 2004 his career was already winding down — due to injury, he only appeared in 30 more games, winning only 14. After the victory in XXXVII, he never again threw a pass in a postseason game. His teams were 1-3 in the playoffs outside of the title run.
Playoff victories after SB win: Zero
Key stat: Led the league in pass attempts the season following XXXVII, but the Bucs went 7-9. Sometimes you want to throw a little less when your quarterback isn’t special, maybe?
Reasons Foles is different
Of course, McMahon and Johnson weren’t backups who defaulted into a starting job. They earned their positions. Of course, Foles never had anything near the defense of the 1985 Bears, the 2000 Ravens, or the 2002 Buccaneers backing him up ever step of the way. These men are all stil apples, though, so a comparison is fair. Not every comparison has to be one Honeycrisp apple to another Honeycrisp. You can compare Fujis and Jonagolds, Granny Smiths and Jazzes. (Don’t compare Red Delicious to anything, or ever eat one.)
We already mentioned the 27-2. Foles’ follow-up act was to dominate the Minnesota Vikings in the NFCCG and the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
In four playoff games, Foles has yet to post a QB rating under 100 even once. He’s thrown eight touchdowns to one interception, a fluky bounce that caromed off the receiver’s hands and body before falling into enemy hands. He’s completed 72 percent of his passes, taken all of four sacks, and is 3-1 with the only loss coming on a Saints field goal at the buzzer after Foles had spent most of the fourth quarter driving down the field for the go-ahead score.
Foles is young — turned 29 in January. He’s cheap — cap hit of $7.6 million this year, the last of his contract. He’s been the franchise quarterback, the castoff, the journeyman and the savior. Did I mention he’s not yet 30 years old?
He also gets to negotiate for a big payday in an era marked by a paucity of good QB play. Alex Smith is in line to make $23.5 million annually with $70 million guaranteed. Matthew Stafford’s cap hits average $29 million the next four years. Average. Foles is going to get paid.
How are we going to know if someone overpays for him? I mean, his career already looks like the fourth quarter of a Seahawks win probability chart.
It’s impossible to say if Foles is more Williams, Johnson, or even Joe Flacco, to pluck a candidate from the list of active players. He’s not Drew Brees. Right? (Right?) Heck, Russell Wilson isn’t even Brees — yet. Is he more Rypien than Simms, more Hostetler than anyone else? The next few years of the NFL just got a little more interesting, as history solves the Foles enigma for us.
Whose career will Nick Foles’ most closely match from here on out?
This poll is closed
Trent Dilfer’s (no)
It will surpass them all