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Las Cruces City Manager Ifo Pili will be pulling for his old team, the Philadelphia Eagles, in Super Bowl LVII this Sunday. After all, the former defensive lineman has an Eagles NFL championship ring from their 2004-05 season.
But Pili won’t be heartbroken if the Kansas City Chiefs wind up winning the Big Game. That’s because the Eagles coach then is the Chiefs coach now – Andy Reid – for whom Pili has great admiration and gratitude.
After a devastating elbow injury cut short his tenure with the Texas Rangers in his first NFL season, Pili was invited by Reid to join the Eagles.
“I’ll always be appreciative to Andy for giving me that shot,” Pili said.
The Eagles were 13-3, beating the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC championship game before losing to Tom Brady’s New England Patriots 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX 18 years ago this month.
Playing in what is widely considered the world’s greatest sports championship game “was an amazing experience,” Pili said. “It’s not something everybody gets to do.”
Pili is also connected to Reid by Brigham Young University, where each played for the legendary LaVell Edwards (1930-2016) during his 29-year career as Cougars’ head coach. Reid flew Edwards to Jacksonville, Florida to join him on the sidelines for the Super Bowl XXXIX.
Pili, a native of American Samoa who moved to Orem, Utah in 1994 during his sophomore year of high school, grew up a Chicago Bears fan, he said, remembering 1985 when the Bears were 15-1 and won Super Bowl XX with BYU graduate Jim McMahon at quarterback.
Playing for Reid and Edwards and for Bill Belichick and alongside Brady during his season with the Patriots, has helped guide Pili as Eagle Mountain, Utah city administrator 2012-2020 and as Las Cruces city manager since September 2020.
Unlike other sports, he said, in football, “you’re essentially playing different games.”
On defense, it’s almost like “hand-to-hand combat with the guy in front of you,” Pili said. “Everybody goes after the ball carrier. It doesn’t matter who gets there first.”
And, while it’s a ‘different dynamic” for the quarterback and the kicker, everyone shares the common goal of winning.
And because he played for one of the NFL’s worst teams (the Texans were 4-12) and two of the best (the Eagles and Patriots), Pili said he “was able to see, almost side by side, what a winning team looks like and what a losing team looks like.”
The great teams have strong leadership – Patriots owner Robert Kraft was at Pili’s locker to welcome him to the team on his first day – but good coaches know real leadership means “a collection of leadership moments that everybody takes part in,” he said.
On his high school football team, at BYU and in the NFL, Pili said he recognized that success means “learning how to work together,” with team members using their skills and talents to achieve “something bigger than you.”
Like the engraving on his Eagles’ NFL champions ring, Pili’s goal in Las Cruces is “One team. One city. One dream.”
When Pili played for New England, the Patriots had just won back-to-back Super Bowls under Brady’s leadership.
“I have a lot of respect for Tom,” Pili said. “Tom was a great guy.”
“Tom has nothing more to prove,” Pili said a few days after Brady announced his retirement after 23 seasons with the Patriots and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, agreeing with the widely held opinion that Brady is the NFL’s greatest player of all time.
Brady “has nothing more to prove,” Pili said.
Super Bowl prediction
Pili predicted the Eagles would win Super Bowl LVII 31-14.