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Doug Pederson: From Brett Favre's 'Front Doctor' to Super Bowl coach

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- It's easy to see now that Doug Pederson would someday be a coach -- maybe even a Super Bowl coach -- after he has led the Philadelphia Eagles to Super Bowl LII. But at least one of his former teammates insists he saw it way back when, too.

Pederson, however, didn't buy LeRoy Butler's pitch.

"He said, 'Nah, c'mon Roy-Lee, no way,'" Butler recalled. "When I used to say it, he'd downplay it. But Doug was smart. There was only one guy that can control Brett Favre, and that was Doug Pederson."

It was Pederson -- and not any coach -- Butler often would seek out after a Green Bay Packers practice to go over something that happened on the field, where Pederson ran the scout team during his two separate stints as Favre's backup from 1996 to '98 and 2001 to '04.

"I'd get beat on a play in practice, I didn't go to talk to [defensive backs coach] Bob Valesente," Butler said. "I went over to Doug and said, 'What was I missing on that play?' I've been dying to tell somebody this: Doug was the smartest guy I've ever had a conversation with."

Those stories are not uncommon among Pederson's former Packers teammates.

There's Matt Hasselbeck, the quarterback who learned more in his one season as Pederson's teammate than he did from any coach in his 17-year NFL career.

There's Matt Bowen, the safety who admired Pederson's leadership and preparation.

There's Ryan Longwell, the kicker who praised Pederson's team-first mentality.

There's Mark Tauscher, the offensive tackle who said Pederson wasn't just a smart player, but someone who could relate to everyone in the locker room.

'The Front Doctor'

Hasselbeck figured, as the practice squad quarterback in 1998, that it would be his responsibility to take on the menial task of charting everything that happens during a game.

But head coach Mike Holmgren and quarterbacks coach Andy Reid trusted one person with that job.

"Charting the game is the worst thing you could ever have to do," Hasselbeck said. "If I ever had to be in full uniform and chart a game, I would want to quit. But Doug wanted to chart because he felt like he was really in the game, and he was so good at getting Brett and Mike and Andy real accurate information, and he was doing it from the sideline.

"He was able to tell things that had to do with the D-line; he would be able to tell the defensive front -- most coaches have to be up in the press box, and they wouldn't even always get it right from up there, but he would do it from the sideline. Brett would call him 'The Front Doctor,' meaning he'd call the defensive front, and Doug could see it from his vantage point, and he was always right."

Pederson, according to Hasselbeck, had the uncanny ability to recognize what a defense had planned based on what the linemen would do before the snap.

"There was one game where he discovered if the defensive end was the last guy to put his hand in the dirt, that he would be the guy fire zoning -- dropping out -- so the blitz is coming away from him," Hasselbeck said. "I feel like I've been around a lot of great coaches. Doug was never my coach, but he probably taught me the most that first year."

The broken-jaw game

Pederson never started a game with the Packers and threw for only three touchdowns in his seven seasons. Two of them came against the Vikings on Oct. 5, 1998, when he replaced Favre in a blowout loss. On the second of his two touchdown passes, Pederson suffered a broken jaw thanks to a hit from corner Corey Fuller.

He would need his jaw wired shut after the game, but he still took the field for the next play because he was Longwell's holder on extra points.

"You can tell how much somebody loves it by how much of a sacrifice they're willing to make." Mark Tauscher on Doug Pederson's commitment as a backup
"He kind of mumbled, 'Something's wrong with my jaw,' but he got the hold down, and we made the kick," Longwell said. "We usually would head-butt after a PAT or a field goal, and instead he was like, 'I've got to get this thing looked at.' You could tell he was hurting. But he stayed out there and held and got the cadence out and everything. It was pretty impressive that he even shouted. I did his radio show the next day, and he was drinking his dinner out of a straw."

Yes, the backup quarterback in Green Bay had his own radio show. Such was the Packers' popularity -- and the respect everyone had for Pederson.

"He was a team-focused guy," said Bowen, who played with Pederson in 2001 and 2002. "The league is not full of team-focused guys all the time. A lot of teams that have losing records, that's one of the reasons. But veteran quarterbacks are unique, they're in the league that long for a reason, and it goes beyond skill set -- way beyond skill set."

Comeback kid

Longwell had only two holders during his nine seasons with the Packers -- Pederson and Hasselbeck. Pederson did it in 1997 and 1998, and then Hasselbeck took over in 1999 after Pederson signed with the Eagles, where Reid had become the head coach. When Hasselbeck was traded to the Seahawks after the 2000 season, Pederson came back at Longwell's request.

The way Hasselbeck remembered it, Pederson wanted nothing to do with a return to Green Bay -- or anywhere else. He had just gone 1-7 as a starter with the Browns.

"Doug had just had a couple of really tough years in Philly and then in Cleveland, and I think he was done with the NFL," Hasselbeck said. "He was completely done. He was beat down and somewhat broken, and he was done with football, and he was going home. I think he was going to coach high school football."

But Longwell urged Hasselbeck to call Pederson and convince him to come back.

"I just remember having this conversation and he was saying, 'You don't know what this year was like,'" Hasselbeck said. "I told him, 'Come here, hold for Ryan, back up Brett and play in four preseason games.'"

And Pederson did it -- for four more seasons.

"What that really tells you is that when you're a backup -- yes, it's a great job and you're making good money -- you have to love it because you're doing all this work and you never really get to see the rewards of it," said Tauscher, who played with Pederson during his second stint in Green Bay. "You're bouncing around and moving your family; that's always the first sign -- you can tell how much somebody loves it by how much of a sacrifice they're willing to make. He's obviously shown he was willing to pay the price to be an NFL player, and I think that just goes to show you his toughness."

Welcome to coaching

When Pederson finally retired after the 2004 season, he moved back to Louisiana and began coaching high school football.

"I always thought Doug was going to be a high school coach," Hasselbeck said.

Said Longwell: "I thought he'd stay there, but I thought the only thing preventing him from going to the next level was time commitment with his [three sons]. That's why I didn't know if he'd ever take the leap."

In the end, neither was really surprised that Pederson jumped back to the NFL, first as an assistant under Reid in Philadelphia and then as Reid's offensive coordinator with the Chiefs before he was hired as the Eagles' head coach in 2016.

"You see the personalities on that team, and you see Doug's fingerprint on all of it because he's letting guys be guys," Longwell said. "But it's all about the team because that's the way he always was."

It was Pederson's experience as a backup that several ex-teammates believe served the Eagles well this season after starter Carson Wentz was lost for the year due to a late-season knee injury.

"He lived it," Tauscher said. "So to be able to trust the backup quarterback and make sure they're prepared, he went through it and understood what he needed to be successful. Anytime a coach can be relatable because they were there and understand what the mindset is of that player -- and when your head coach has that experience and as a backup quarterback went through pretty much every scenario -- that only benefits you as a head coach."

Said Butler: "I know he practiced the hell out of Carson Wentz, but he also practiced the hell out of Nick Foles. I'm sure he told Nick Foles, I was in your position and I had to be ready, so I knew everything. It's hard to get guys to buy into that, but he did it."