Australia’s Jordan Mailata was overcome with emotion after helping the Philadelphia Eagles reach the Super Bowl.
The 25-year-old left tackle is one of the great stories in Australian sport, taking a punt on an NFL dream after previously playing junior league for the Bulldogs and Rabbitohs.
A 203cm, 166kg man mountain, Mailata was a key cog in another dominant offensive line performance by the Eagles, who overpowered the San Francisco 49ers 31-7 in Monday’s (AEDT) NFC championship game.
READ MORE: Djokovic soaks up ‘biggest victory in my life’
READ MORE: ‘That hurts me’: Djokovic’s brutal call on father
READ MORE: Opponent’s beautiful nod to ‘greatest ever’
Mailata was in tears as the Super Bowl realisation sunk in, with the Eagles to play the Kansas City Chiefs on February 13 (AEDT) in Arizona.
The straight shooting Aussie has also endeared himself to Philadelphia’s notoriously tough NFL media – and delivered some more gold when asked about coach Nick Sirianni’s decision to run a fourth down play and not punt from their own 35 yard line.
“I thought f—! This guy is crazy,” Mailata quipped.
“They kept waving us (the offence) to stay on the field. So we said f— it, we’re going to get this yard.”
Jalen Hurts had one of Philadelphia’s four rushing touchdowns as the Eagles forced both of San Francisco’s quarterbacks out of the game with injuries.
The Eagles, who won the Super Bowl five years ago with a different coach and quarterback, will try to do it again behind the formidable duo of Hurts and Sirianni.
“We get to do it because we did it better than anyone in the NFC this year,” Sirianni said.
Hurts had a modest game by his standards after a season in which he was a finalist for MVP.
He was 15-of-25 passing for 121 yards and ran for just 39.
Hurts sat alone at his locker dressed all in purple and he took a few puffs of a cigar as the Eagles celebrated around him. He understood there was one more game to win.
“I never knew how far we’d go,” Hurts said, “but I never said it couldn’t be done.”
Miles Sanders ran for two touchdowns and linebacker Haason Reddick made the hit that forced 49ers rookie quarterback Brock Purdy out of the game with an elbow injury.
Reddick also recovered a fumble by Purdy’s replacement, Josh Johnson, who later suffered a concussion.
That forced Purdy back into the game, but his injury was clearly a factor as the 49ers all but gave up on throwing the ball, even while trailing by multiple scores.
San Francisco’s bad luck at quarterback was finally too much to overcome as its 12-game win streak ended.
The Niners lost both Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo to season-ending injuries, and Purdy – the final pick in April’s draft – lost as a starter for the first time.
Philadelphia police greased traffic and light poles in what proved again to be a futile attempt to slow the post-game revelry.
The city now has its beloved Eagles in the Super Bowl just three months after the Philadelphia Phillies reached the World Series.
“You see this city and the passion they have for this team. We’re so appreciative of these fans,” Sirianni said.
“Look at this place. There’s no place like this in the NFL. It’s a hard working city, it’s a blue collar city. We think that’s the type of team we have.”
The game disintegrated in the waning minutes and Philadelphia’s K’Von Wallace and San Francisco’s Trent Williams were ejected for their roles in a brawl.
Williams yanked Wallace from behind and slammed him to the ground.
At that point, who cared? Eagles fans waved their green towels and went wild as confetti fluttered around them. They sang the fight song – one more emphatic “E-A-G-L-E-S Eagles!” – in celebration of a franchise that advanced to its fourth Super Bowl.
The Eagles broke the game open in the final two minutes of the first half, getting a rise out of a crowd that had been quiet with nervous energy since a touchdown on the opening drive.
Sanders broke free for a 13 yard run for a 14-7 lead, concluding a 14 play, 75 yard drive extended by three 49ers penalties.
Johnson bobbled a shotgun snap and fumbled on the next drive, and Reddick – the free agent pickup from Carolina having one of the great defensive seasons in franchise history – recovered at the San Francisco 30.
Boston Scott scooted 10 yards for a touchdown and 21-7 lead.
Even with Hurts almost a non factor – he had 97 yards passing in the first half – the Eagles were firmly in control.
His one yard rushing touchdown on Philadelphia’s signature rugby-style QB sneak made it 28-7 late in the third quarter.
“We’ve got a chance to go out there and win it all,” Hurts said.
“So we want to go prepare to do that.”
Purdy left the game with an elbow injury after he was drilled in the arm by Reddick on San Francisco’s first drive, leading to a fumble.
The 23-year-old Purdy’s improbable rise from “Mr Irrelevant” to playoff starter ended with a whimper as he failed to become the first rookie QB to lead a team to the Super Bowl.
He was improbably needed again in the third quarter after Johnson, a journeyman backup signed in December, was also hurt.
The Eagles used quick thinking as they scored on their opening drive for the second straight playoff game.
DeVonta Smith made a sensational one handed grab for 29 yards, but replays showed he appeared to lose control of the ball as he hit the ground.
Smith popped up and frantically waved the Eagles to the line.
Niners coach Kyle Shanahan did not challenge the call and the Eagles got off the next play. Sanders scored on a six yard run.
“Smart players do smart things,” Sirianni said.
“He did a smart thing right there. I’m going to say he caught it, though.”
With little hope they could get anything going behind Johnson, the 49ers turned to Christian McCaffrey to get on the board.
He broke three tackles on a 23 yard touchdown run that made it 7-7 in the second quarter.
With no quarterbacks who could throw, that was about the end for Shanahan’s Niners, who managed 164 yards of offence and 11 first downs.
At the end, Hurts led fans in a fight song singalong from a stage on the field.
Championship banners hang atop the rafters. Hurts wants to add one more.
“We’ve got new moments,” Hurts said. “New moments and new times.”
For a daily dose of the best of the breaking news and exclusive content from Wide World of Sports, subscribe to our newsletter by clicking here