If the Philadelphia Eagles are to win Sunday’s Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs it will require quarterback Jalen Hurts to complete a journey from humiliation to the pinnacle of the sport.
Hurts has been to a big title game before — five years ago in his college days with the storied University of Alabama — and while the Crimson Tide ended that night celebrating their national title, it was far from a happy occasion for the quarterback.
With the team 13-0 down to Georgia, coach Nick Saban pulled Hurts out of the game and replaced him with back-up Tua Tagovailoa, who led the team to an overtime victory.
While his pride took a dent, Hurts knuckled down and after a season as back-up moved to Oklahoma where he impressed enough to be drafted in the second round by the Eagles.
There were plenty more doubters and critics as he worked to establish himself as an NFL quarterback, but Hurts has answered them on the field with a run to the Super Bowl and personal stats that rank him second only to Sunday’s opposing quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
A double-threat quarterback, Hurts threw for 3,701 yards and 22 touchdowns in the regular season but also rushed for another 760 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Hurts, whose willingness to run with the ball has cost him a nagging shoulder injury this season, has been wary of media talk of proving his critics wrong but it is clear the doubting voices were heard.
“I embraced all the opinions. I embraced all the hate, the doubt,” he said this week.
“But I didn’t let it define me, and I won’t start letting it define me now.”
If there is an element of motivation from the negativity, it has been channelled into a single minded determination to constantly improve and win.
His coach Nick Sirianni believes that such is Hurts’s desire that not even a Super Bowl victory will leave him fully content.
“His will to win is so strong. I think when your will to win is that strong I don’t think there is anything that actually satisfies you,” Sirianni said on Thursday.
“If we win this game, he is just going to look to win the next one. That is what makes him such a good player what makes him continue to reach his ceiling, he is always trying to reach the next thing.
“He might have played a really good game but he looks at the three things he can do better.”
But Hurts’s determination is the quiet version and despite being the on-field leader, he rarely engages in the loud, motivational pre-game speeches favoured by so many quarterbacks.
“Everybody has a role in the team, he understands he doesn’t have to be anyone who he isn’t,” Philadelphia’s Australian offensive tackle Jordan Mailata told AFP.
“He’s very chill, very even-keel, he doesn’t show too much, doesn’t say too much, he just does it. Just shows by example, leads by his actions, you see it on the field, in the classroom, he is a cool dude”.
Wide receiver A.J. Brown, who has developed a crucial understanding with Hurts, says that the Texan’s serene demeanor is near constant.
“He’s always like that. Never too high, never too low. He has one task on his mind, that is to win, to dominate, that is the only time he has fun,” he said with a grin.
“He has been like that since I’ve known him. He doesn’t laugh at everything, that’s just the way he is. Make sure you don’t tell him jokes because he may not laugh,” he added.
At his final pre-game press conference, Hurts batted off questions about emotions and nerves saying he wanted to “stay neutral.”
But he suggested that however cool he may be, there is some settling of scores on his mind.
“You can look at what motivates me to get up and keep going on and on but I had a purpose before everyone had an opinion,” he said.
“It’s not about anybody else, it is about doing it because that is what you want. I have always been my biggest critic and as the success has come I have continued to do that,” he added.
“This is the last game, the last one this team will play together. We had our last Thursday practice. Things like that resonate with us and with me.
“Now we just want to leave it all on the line and do what we have to do.”
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