Super SiblingBy BETH BUNCH,
When Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and his teammates take the field Sunday in Super Bowl LII, no one will be prouder or yelling louder than his sister, Lisa Foles Henderson, a resident of Petal.
The game, being played in U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., pits the NFC Eagles against the AFC New England Patriots. The game is a rematch of 2004's Super Bowl XXXIX, which New England won in a close one, 24–21. Foles was just 14 years old.
Henderson, who works at the University of Southern Mississippi physical plant and also supports another group of (Golden) Eagles, was born in Oregon but moved to Petal with her parents when she was just six months old. Growing up in the Friendly City, she attended Petal High School, like her dad, Larry. While her dad was a football player for the Panthers, Henderson played softball and ran a little bit of track, but her sport was basketball. In fact, she and Rusty Phillips were named Most Athletic.
“Just like dad supports Nick now, he supported me then with basketball,” Henderson said. “He’d send me books, we’d talk about basketball stuff and play when we saw each other.”
Foles is the second of his father’s four children. Henderson, 51, was followed by Nick, who is 29, and then there are two younger sisters.
Henderson was a young adult when Nick was born, but remembers him as a baby and then as a teen, describing him as “a lanky teenager and someone who shot up fast.” He now stands at 6-6.
“He was into sports then – baseball, basketball – but he actually preferred basketball at one time,” she said. “Dad wanted him to go into baseball, but he didn’t like it that much because it was slower.”
And while he did get basketball offers, he took the gridiron route.
Henderson saw her brother and sisters every couple of years or so when their dad came back to Mississippi or she traveled to him. During Foles’ senior year at Arizona, Henderson traveled to San Antonio for the Alamo Bowl.
It was after the game that he gave his big sister one of the rubber sports bracelets he’d worn during the game. “He got in the car, just this college kid, and said, ‘Here, Lisa, you can have this.’” At the time she said it wasn’t such a big deal and she put it up somewhere, not knowing where things would go with him. Now she’s like, “Where did I put that?!”
She said while Nick was in college they’d talk on the phone, her inquiring about what he was up to, only to be met with “I’ve got to write this paper,” or “I just got through with this or that…”
Henderson said Nick has always been classified as nerdy. “He even calls himself nerdy,” she said. During a trip to see him play she was able to meet some of his friends, who she described as really smart. “He was a part of their little group,” she said. “It was good seeing him interact with them. Those are his friends, along with the ones he’s made in the NFL.”
Henderson said she’s always been an NFL football fan, always looking way ahead to see when the preseason gets underway, when the regular season starts and if there are any games close enough she might catch her brother in action. “I’m all into it,” she said. “I’ve always been a football fan, even as a kid. I taught myself how to follow football and had all these little helmets. I’m one of the girls who understands football.”
But don’t expect to see Henderson hanging out in a Pine Belt sports bar or in a big group of people come Super Sunday. She’ll be in the comfort of her recliner at home with maybe a family member or two with her. The fewer distractions the better.
“I sit in front of the TV and everybody knows when the game is getting ready to come on to leave me alone,” Henderson said. “It’s like don’t disturb me unless there’s a commercial. This is my focus; Don’t call me unless it’s an emergency. You might text me and I’ll check it every once in a while. I’m just a diehard fan and into the game.”
Henderson said during the entire football season she usually watches with just a couple of family members. “You never know when you have people over if they are going to want to talk a lot and if it’s somebody who doesn’t know football, they are asking questions.”
Henderson said she’d be having a Super Bowl party whether the Eagles were playing or not. But since her team is playing, bathroom breaks will have to be planned out and the food will be prepared in advance, so she’s not in the kitchen during the game. Super bowls snacks will include things like hoagies. spinach dip and traditional football-watching fare, as long as it’s easy and can be made ahead.
And she’ll be watching the pregame and other things being broadcast nightly leading up to the big game. “I want to see pregame and preps,” she said. “It gets me pumped and gets me ready for the game.”
Henderson said it’s particularly difficult to watch when her brother has taken a hard hit and is down on the field and she doesn’t know how bad it is. “I’m texting dad asking what’s going on, how bad is it and sometimes he doesn’t know. But once he does, he or my sister texts or calls me to let me know he’s OK.”
She describes times like that as some of the more difficult, not wanting him to get hurt, especially with concussions.
Before the Eagles, it was the Saints and Seahawks for Henderson, but once Nick became an Eagle, she was there. And then he was traded to the Rams and Chiefs. But now that he’s back with the Eagles, she’s discovered that Eagles fans are very passionate about their team. “Not that other fans aren’t,” she said. Being an Eagle at work on the USM campus has also taught her a thing or two about Eagles.
Henderson asked her dad earlier in the week how Nick was doing and got the kind of response she’d expect, ‘He’s just Nick’ and he is. His personality is who he is. It’s always been that way, even as a teenager he was that way.”
Back when Foles participated in the Senior Bowl, the family knew he was going to be coming up for the draft, They were at a party after the game when Henderson went up to him and as he towered over her, she pointed her finger, looking up at him and said, “Listen, you’re going to be drafted. All these people are going to come out of the woodwork, I’m telling you right now, you better be smart. And don’t you be falling for anything.”
She said he tries to stay grounded as much as possible and just be who he is. “I can only imagine the pressure,” she said. And while Nick may be holding up fine, she’s not so sure how her dad is handling the pressure. “He said he was good, but I’m not so sure about that. I told him to talk to me on game day and let’s see how you are.”
Henderson’s nails already sport alternating green and white fingernail polish, her SUV has an Eagles tag on the front, her keychain is Eagles and she’s got a variety of other memorabilia – from mugs and pictures to shirts, a jersey, decals for her vehicle, programs and magazines where he’s graced the cover.
She’s not very superstitious, so she won’t be following a ritual she’s followed since the beginning of the season or the playoffs. She does admit that at times she has pushed her recliner right up in the front of the TV, so she can really watch the game.
And when things get tense? You won’t find her walking out of the room, but rather standing up and waiting to see what’s going to happen. More times than not you’ll probably find her sitting on the edge of her seat.
Yes, she’s proud. And has been since Nick was in high school, the same one Drew Brees attended in Texas, and where Foles broke many of Brees’ records.
“Even back then it looked like this (football) was going to take him somewhere,” she said. After a year spent at Michigan State, Foles was back to Arizona, in a similar situation as this season, as the backup quarterback
“The physical part is a lot, but the mental and focus required…. I can only imagine. I’ve told him, ‘I know you have these skills and they’ve taught you all this, I’m just really proud of how well you do and handle yourself when they interview you.’”
The proud big sister said she’s watched as children came up wanting autographs and he was always accommodating.
She remembers going through the hotel after the Alamo Bowl. “Nick had stopped to give an interview or something,” she said. Wanting to say goodbye to him, she hesitated, not to interrupt, “but I walked over, he saw me and told the person to hang on. He stepped over to me, gave me a hug and said his goodbyes before stepping back to the interview. To him, family was more important at the time.” And still is.
“I’m extremely proud of him. I see Carson (Wentz, the Eagles starting quarterback who was hurt in Week 14 of the season) on the sidelines, with his headphones on, talking to Nick out there. I know they are good buddies. It’s a team effort, for him personally.” And although he’s not her child, she’s as proud of him as if he were.
To her he’ll always be “just Nick, a good guy. Yes, he’s a football player in the NFL, but he’s a good guy and to me that’s really important that he stays that good guy.”
She said to have this super supportive family behind him means the world to Nick. “Even though he has a wife, Tori, and a new baby daughter, he still needs that family connection. While he might have a whole stadium of people behind him, he wants to know where his family is.”
“We support each other so much,” Henderson said. “My dad and stepmom have done so much to support him and get him there, all the sacrifices that have led up to that. And watching the TV and seeing them on the sidelines after the NFC playoff win, it was just one of those moments that’s larger than life.’
Henderson will be watching her television screen watching for that “look” Foles gets when it’s “time to roll.” “It’s like, ‘Here we go!’” and it’s something she’s learned to read through the years.
It’s still sinking in that in just three days she’ll be watching her brother on the sports world’s largest platform – Super Bowl LII. “It’s still hard to take in,” she said.