There have been more than a handful of quarterbacks who began an NFL season on the bench and finished as starters on championship teams. Tom Brady is one. He entered the New England Patriots lineup in the middle of a Week 2 game in 2001 when starter Drew Bledsoe was injured. Brady, who has been the starter ever since, is attempting to collect a record sixth ring when the Patriots play the Eagles in Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4.
Jeff Hostetler remains the only quarterback to take over for a team -- the New York Giants -- late in the season and lead them to the title. After Phil Simms broke his foot late in the 1990 season, Hostetler took the reins and didn’t throw an interception in his five starts -- all wins -- including a Super Bowl victory over the Buffalo Bills.
Foles could join Hostetler in the ultimate backup quarterback club if the underdog Eagles are able to pull off the upset.
“That’s OK,” Hostetler said. “He would be great company to have. I’m impressed with the man. It would be great company.”
Hostetler, who currently lives in West Virginia, said he has never met Foles. He has heard only good things about him on and off the field.
Their situations, though, are different. Hostetler played at a time when there was no salary cap. Teams could stash quarterbacks such as Steve Young and Hostetler, a third-round pick in 1984, on the bench for years.
Still, Hostetler never considered himself a backup. Simms remained healthy and played at a high level until that 1990 season, so Hostetler started two games from 1984 to '89. He had no choice but sit and wait for an opportunity.
“There were no options,” Hostetler said. “I tried -- I don’t know how many times -- to get out of there because I wanted a chance to play. Physically, going through your early, mid- and late 20s sitting on the bench and not having the opportunity and physically knowing time is passing by you, that gets frustrating. But there wasn’t much of an alternative.”
What Hostetler remembers most from his Super Bowl experience was avoiding the media and trying not to be recognized in the hotel. He wanted to concentrate on the game, to the point where he barely spent time with his family that week. He was intent on being as prepared as possible. That was his priority.
Hostetler threw for 221 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions as the Giants beat the Bills 20-19. He forever became the king of all backups, and eventually became a starter for the Giants and Raiders.
“The term 'backup,' yeah [I was tired of it], because I never felt that I was a backup,” Hostetler said. “But at that particular point, I hadn’t had the opportunity. So that was the die I was cast into. That was who I was at the time. I hadn’t had the opportunity. The reason was the guy in front of me hadn’t gotten hurt and was playing real well. The alternatives was to shut it down and go home and give it up or continue to stick with it and be prepared and ready to go if the chance came. That is what I chose at that particular point, never knowing if I would get the chance or not.”
Foles, on the other hand, had been a starter (and had success during a 27 touchdown, two interception season in 2013) during his first go-around with the Eagles. Then, his career derailed in St. Louis before being resuscitated this season when MVP candidate Carson Wentz tore the ACL in his left knee in early December.
All Foles has done since is throw eight touchdown passes and two interceptions while winning all four games he has started and finished. He played the game of his life Sunday in an NFC Championship rout of the Minnesota Vikings.
While Foles and Hostetler traveled different paths to the big game, there are some resemblances with their teams. Both are led by strong defenses and weren’t supposed to be serious title contenders after losing their star quarterbacks.
“I see a lot of similarities,” Hostetler said. “I see the same type of underdog mentality and people jumping off the bandwagon and people saying it can’t be done. If you go statistically, it likely can’t be done. But I’m one of those that can say it has been done.”
Foles might be the next. The opportunity is right there at his fingertips -- one more stunning performance against Brady and the Patriots from the improbable becoming reality.
The Eagles insist they never wavered even after Wentz was lost for the season. They trusted Foles. Safety Malcolm Jenkins gave an impassioned speech immediately after Foles entered the lineup and led them to a victory over the Rams that clinched the NFC East.
“We set this up for whoever is in this room, that’s who we ride with,” Jenkins said in the locker room after that game. “We all we got, we all we need.”
Foles has completed 78 percent of his passes without committing a turnover in two playoff games. He dissected the league’s top-ranked defense last week in the conference championship game.
Much like Hostetler did, Foles has remained low-key and out of the spotlight this week. He has insisted on doing much of the same next week in Minnesota, soaking in the experience all while preparing as much as possible for the biggest game on the biggest stage of his life.
Foles and the Eagles are again underdogs, not that it matters.
“Anybody will tell you who has not won a Super Bowl: Nobody remembers who is the loser in the Super Bowl,” Hostetler said. “You get to that point and you have to win it.”
That applies for the most exclusive backup quarterback club, as well.