Ralph and Michelle Sudfeld stood in front of a row of jerseys hanging on the wall, each marking the journey their son has taken to Super Bowl champion.
There are the No. 7s Nate Sudfeld wore at Modesto Christian High and Indiana University, campuses where the record-setting quarterback is loved and adored.
There are the tops he wore at an NFL combine and with the Washington Redskins, the organization that selected him in the sixth round of the 2016 draft.
The first in this lineup, though, deserves a frame. Not a hanger.
It’s the same green jersey worn by the Philadelphia Eagles in a victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
The Sudfelds journeyed to Minneapolis, Minn., to cheer their son and his teammates to a historic victory, exhausting their frequent flyer miles and their vocal chords.
“You have to take the journey in its totality,” Ralph said. “From the Redskins to the Eagles, and the Eagles all the way to the top. It’s just remarkable how Nate navigated that journey and the way it played out. It was just really, really special.”
The Sudfelds understand that the odds of making an NFL roster are slim. Less than one-tenth of one percent of all high school seniors will be drafted by an NFL team.
Yet somehow the Sudfelds cracked the code. Ralph and Michelle count two NFL players among their sons: Nate, a 24-year-old backup quarterback for the world champion Eagles; and Zach, a free agent tight end who has played for AFC East rivals New England and the New York Jets.
“The path for a quarterback is a little different, but in any position, for a kid to go to high school and get on the playing field in the NFL, it’s a huge accomplishment in and of itself,” Ralph said. “It takes all the variables – talent, prototypical numbers, opportunity, the right coaching, and people that believe in you. Anyone who gets on the field has overcome a lot and worked very hard.”
Those words frame the story inside the Eagles’ quarterback room.
Starter Carson Wentz was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft –185 slots ahead of Sudfeld – but didn’t play his way into the lottery from a Power 5 conference. He attended North Dakota State University, a small Division I school. Before he tore his ACL, Wentz was a considered a front-runner for the NFL’s MVP award.
Backup Nick Foles probably won’t pay for another cheesesteak so long as he remains an Eagle, not after shredding the Patriots in a performance that earned him the Super Bowl MVP. After bouncing around the NFL for three seasons, Foles nearly retired to pursue a life in ministry before returning to Philadelphia, a team he starred for in 2013.
Offensive coordinator Frank Reich was a career backup. So, too, was head coach Doug Pederson.
And then there’s Sudfeld, the man with many jerseys.
In a room full of backups and long shots, here’s what sets Sudfeld apart: He’s the backup to the backup who somehow got it all backwards.
See, Sudfeld was a world champion long before he clutched the Lombardi Trophy, or felt the admiration of an entire city as he did Thursday during the champion’s parade.
In more specific terms, Sudfeld is a champion of the world. As a boy, he was exposed to developing countries, places of poverty and disease and little opportunity.
In 1990 after visiting Romania, Sudfeld’s grandparents, Bob and Charlene Pagett, founded Assist International in “a back bedroom” with nothing more than a fax machine and typewriter, Michelle said. Assist International designs and implements humanitarian programs to help the poor, needy and woefully underserved people of the world.
Now the CEO, Ralph estimates Assist International has more than 700 projects taking shape in 65 countries. That back bedroom office has been replaced by two offices, a 30,000-square-foot distribution center and 20 full-time employees.
Through the years, Michelle says Sudfeld has visited many of those countries, where the tasks are life-changing: Building schools, delivering medical equipment and establishing orphanages. Today, he helps spearhead sports camps, calling on many of the athletes with whom he’s played and trained.
“Nate was born into it,” Michelle said.
So on Super Bowl Sunday, the world watched with great interest, sifting through the crowd on the sideline, looking for that familiar No. 7.
Michelle said she received support from friends in Romania, Africa, Hungary and Tanzania. Well-wishes streamed in from Bloomington, Ind., where students printed special T-shirts and caravaned to Minnesota, and Harbor High in Santa Cruz, where Michelle went to school.
Win or lose, she says, her son was already a world champion.
“When you go into the developing world, Nate realized the opportunities he had living in America,” Ralph said. “He goes into the developing world and meets amazing young people who have just as much athleticism and intellect to do anything they want. But, they don’t have the access or opportunities.
“Nate came back and said, ‘I’ve got this opportunity and need to make the most of it.’ It’s shaped his worldview.”
That worldview has been the one constant in Sudfeld’s journey to Super Bowl champion.
The jerseys change, but not the man. Ralph and Michelle say their son remains a humble competitor, a man of deep faith with a sense camaraderie.
“With Nate, he knows ‘I can only worry about things I can control.’ Having been to developing worlds, it gives you perspective. You know what real needs are in the world.”