From Bellingham to the Super Bowl: A look at Doug Pederson's football career
Ferndale High School may be known as the Golden Eagles, but there’s a good reason blue is the prominent color in the school’s athletic uniforms, and it’s not just because the two colors look good together.
The color befits the “small-town America” community the school is located in – a place where people still adamantly believe the secret to success is a little grit, some sweat on your brow and plenty of determination. It’s a place where hard work pays dividends, no matter whether you’re a dairy or berry farmer, work in the refinery, own a small business, teach ... or even if you’re a football coach.
The town’s blue-collar work ethic – a core pillar Ferndale was built on – will be rewarded and reinforced Sunday when native son Doug Pederson leads his Philadelphia Eagles into Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis against the New England Patriots. Pederson, who was born in Bellingham in 1968 and quarterbacked the Golden Eagles for three seasons in high school before moving on to play college football at Northeast Louisiana (now Louisiana-Monroe) and then a 14-year NFL career as a backup quarterback, is in his second season serving as Eagles head coach.
Though Pederson hasn’t called Ferndale home since shortly after he graduated in 1986, he still has plenty of friends and family members in the area, and none of them are surprised to see him reach the pinnacle of American sport. They know who Pederson is and that he always carries a little bit of that Ferndale blue collar mentality with him, wherever he goes.
Talk to any of his high school coaches or teammates, and one of the first things they’ll tell you about Pederson as a teenager is how impressed they were by his work ethic. Sure three-sport athlete had some natural athleticism – he even scored 42 points in a basketball game against Anacortes before the 3-point line was instituted – but Pederson made his own success.
“He was a guy that was always working, working, working,” former Ferndale football coach Vic Randall said. “If he wasn’t lifting or in practice, he was studying film. He was a really smart kid, too, and not just in football. Some guys watch film and don’t get anything out of it, but Doug knew how to break plays and players down and really learn from it.”
He also knew how to grade his own performance and learn and improve from it.
Former Golden Eagles teammate Donnie Finkbonner said he remembers a game against Sedro-Woolley early in their 1985 senior season – a game Ferndale won 24-6. Finkbonner said he stayed over at the Pederson house that night and listened to Doug and his father, Gordy, break down his performance in the game.
The next morning, Pederson and Finkbonner were back at the high school field working on the areas Pederson felt he could improve.
“He was a guy that put in the work to be good,” Finkbonner said. “He was a talented athlete, he had a strong arm and was pretty fast, but he worked really hard at it. That’s what made him good.”
That work ethic has continued to help him succeed as he prepares to head into the biggest game of his life.
There’s little doubt about where Pederson got that drive from – his father coached him as a youngster.
“Gordy always used to say he was trying to get us ready to play in high school,” said Finkbonner, who played on those same youth teams. “He always said if you give 110 percent it will pay off for you, but you’ve got to put in the work.”
The benefits of that hard work began to show when Pederson arrived at Ferndale High in 1982. He led the freshman team his first year before moving up to start as a sophomore in 1983, though his career got off to a rough start when he threw an interception on his first varsity pass attempt, Randall recalled.
“I went up to him after that and put my arm around him and told him it would be all right,” said Rick Brudwick, who is a cousin of Pederson and started his assistant coaching career at Ferndale that same year. “He looked at me and said, ‘Of course it will be all right, and I’m going to throw a lot more of ’em.’”
Actually, he threw just 16 more in 30 career games, 24 of which Ferndale won. In his three seasons with the Golden Eagles he passed for 1,794 yards and 19 touchdowns and rushed for five more scores. He also was the team’s place kicker, booting 34 extra points and four field goals as a junior and senior.
Though those numbers were solid, they’re hardly numbers you’d expect from a future NFL quarterback, but don’t let that fool you.
“Doug was mostly handing the ball off for us, but you could always tell he could throw it,” said Darin Nolan, who was a year younger than Pederson but grew up playing youth sports with him. “I mean, he was the best pitcher for us in baseball. When he left Ferndale, all he did was go to Louisiana-Monroe and break all of (former NFL quarterback) Bubby Brister’s school records. He could throw the ball.”
And perhaps more importantly, he could lead teammates.
“He was a guy everybody could relate to,” said Nolan, who replaced Pederson at quarterback after he graduated. “He was ASB president as a senior and just a real likeable guy. He was a guy you wanted to follow.”
Though Finkbonner said Pederson wasn’t the most vocal leader, teammates were impressed with his work ethic and naturally followed the example he set.
That sort of leadership led the Golden Eagles to wins in their first 10 games during Pederson’s senior season in 1985 and a Class 3A state quarterfinal showdown with Shelton in the Seattle Kingdome – a game Ferndale lost 17-16 on a disputed call late in the game, as the Highclimbers went on to claim the state title.
“We had a special team that year,” Randall said. “We had so many good athletes and good guys. Doug was one of them, but he wasn’t the only one. It was a fun group of kids to be around. They were all motivated, and they all worked hard.”
Soaking it all in
It was hardly the last time Pederson would be around a group of special athletes and coaches.
After passing for 6,304 and 33 TDs in his time at Northwest Louisiana, he signed as an undrafted free agent with the Miami Dolphins in 1991. Though he didn’t make the squad that year and didn’t attempt a pass in an NFL regular-season game until 1993, he passed for 2,762 yards and 12 TDs during a career that took him to Miami, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Carolina.
Pederson also got to learn from Hall of Fame quarterbacks Dan Marino and Brett Favre, was the quarterback for legendary coach Don Shula’s record-breaking 325th career coaching victory in 1993 and picked the brains of coaching icons Mike Holmgren and Andy Reid.
Evidently he made an impact on some of those legends, as well, as Favre accepted Pederson’s invitation to speak to the Eagles on Saturday as they prepare for Sunday’s big game.
“Everybody liked Doug,” Nolan said. “That’s just who he is. He’s a guy that everybody can relate to. ... You watch the video of him talking to the team after the NFC Championship in the locker room. That’s just Doug. Guys follow him because they like him.”
Shortly after retiring from the NFL following the 2004 season, Pederson returned to Louisiana and became a high school head coach at Calvary Baptist Academy in Shreveport, where he stayed for four years before accepting an invitation from Reid to return to the pro ranks as the Eagles offensive quality control coordinator – a post he filled for two years before being promoted to quarterbacks coach.
When Reid left for Kansas City in 2013, Pederson followed as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator for three seasons, before the Eagles hired him to replace Chip Kelly after a 7-9 2015 season.
Two years later, Philadelphia earned a division title with a 13-3 regular-season record and now finds itself in the Super Bowl for the third time in franchise history seeking its first title since it won the NFL crown in 1960.
“I’m not surprised how quickly he turned it around,” Randall said. “Look at all the good coaches he’s been around. Knowing Doug, he soaked up every bit of information he could from those guys.”
Since the Eagles’ 38-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings Jan. 21, social media has been buzzing about Pederson’s aggressive play calling during the NFC Championship Game and how he’s helped prepare back-up quarterback Nick Foles to shine on the biggest stage.
But none of that is a surprise to anybody that knew the coach from his days in Ferndale.
“When I played with him, Doug always used to say, ‘We need to take this game and not allow someone to take it from us,’” Finkbonner said. “He’s always been that way. I think if you look at it, Jacksonville took a knee at the end of the first half (in the AFC Championship Game). The Eagles had less time, and Doug decided to go for it, and they went down the field and scored. I think he believes in his guys, and his guys believe in him, and it’s just working.”
The key, now, is to make sure it keeps working for one more game this season.
While the Eagles’ win over the Vikings was impressive, the challenge gets much larger Sunday against the most successful head coach-quarterback duo in NFL history.
But Finkbonner said he thinks Pederson will enjoy that kind of “chess match against one of the greatest minds in football.”
“I don’t think he’s afraid of facing anybody, even the defending champs,” Randall said. “Going up against Bill Belichick is a big challenge, but I know Doug is looking forward to that challenge.”
Pederson said he’s dreamed of this opportunity since he was a child in Ferndale.
“Always as a little kid, I watched NFL games on Sunday,” Pederson said during a press conference leading up to Super Bowl LII. “Coming home from church you’d be ready to watch games. Watching the Super Bowl as a kid, you hope one day you can be in that game, whether as a player or a coach. These are sort of those special moments, special times I’ll always remember.”
Not surprisingly, those who knew Pederson from his time in Ferndale, and likely most of the entire community, will be pulling for his Eagles Sunday.
“I’m definitely rooting for Philly,” said Nolan, who’s now a teacher at Bellingham High and formerly coached baseball. “I’ve never been that big a fan of New England, anyways, but having Doug coaching the Eagles puts a little more fire into watching.”
Nolan and Finkbonner said they both sent texts to Pederson following the Eagles’ NFC Championship victory to congratulate their former teammate and friend, and both said Pederson replied.
Finkbonner said he has maintained a friendship with Pederson, and he and his son, Jake, went to Seattle when the Eagles visited the Seahawks Dec. 3. Pederson had on-field passes waiting for them, and they got to take pictures on the playing surface and CenturyLink Field.
“I’m so proud of him,” said Finkbonner, who’s worked for BP in Ferndale for 23 years. “That’s a (heck) of a mountain to climb to get to that pinnacle. You’re at the top of the top when you get there. To know somebody who made it is pretty cool. As we were growing up, you could kind of see success was going to find him, because of all the work he puts in. His parents instilled it in him, but he’s done the work. I couldn’t be happier for him – unless he wins Super Bowl title, of course.”
Win or lose, Finkbonner said, Pederson’s made Ferndale proud.
“It’s a matter of Ferndale pride,” Finkbonner said. “When Jake Locker was having success and they won the state championship, Coach (Jamie) Plenkovich said it was for all the Ferndale players who put on the blue and gold and sweated and didn’t make it and for the entire community. We had a great team in 1985 and didn’t quite make it, but it’s great to see one of those guys go on have some success like this. He’s definitely earned it.”