Both the Eagles and the Steelers (initially called the Pirates) were born on July 8th 1933, a few months after Pennsylvania voters repealed the law banning sports on Sundays. The Pirates were brought into existence by Art Rooney, while the Eagles were created by a syndicate headed by Bert Bell. Both teams were a disaster on the field and off: they lost almost every game they played and hemorrhaged money. The other Eagles investors dropped out, and Bell was left as the teams coach, owner, GM, scout, and ticket salesman. (By the late 30s, he would actually hawk tickets to Eagles games on Philly street corners. Can you imagine Jeff Lurie or Chip Kelly doing that today?).
The Birds played at the 102,000 seat Municipal Stadium (later known as JFK) with over 100,000 people disguised as empty seats. They won one game in 1939 and again in 1940: both of those wins were against the equally pitiful Pirates (In 1939, the Eagles lone win was against the Pirates and the Pirates lone win was against the Eagles). In 1940, the Eagles averaged less than a yard per carry.
Things weren’t much better for the Pirates, and in 1940, things got so bad for the Pittsburgh team that Art Rooney sold them to a 26-year old steel heir living in New York named Alexis Thompson, who planned to move them to Boston and call them the Ironmen. Rooney then bought a half interest in the Eagles, and Rooney and Bell decided to field a combined PA team known as the Keystoners that would play half of their home games in Pittsburgh, and half of their home games in Philly. But Thompson changed his mind about moving and decided to keep his team in Pittsburgh, foiling Bell and Rooney’s dream of the Keystoners (There would later be a PA soccer team called the Keystoners, or “Stoners” for short).
Not wanting to set up headquarters in Philly and having some regrets about leaving his hometown, Rooney asked Thompson if he would simply swap teams: Thompson would move his new Steelers to Philly to become the Eagles, and Bell and Rooney would take their players to Pittsburgh and come up with a new team name. Thompson agreed. So the players on the 1940 Eagles became members of the 1941 Pittsburgh team, and members of the 1940 Pittsburgh team moved to Philly and became the Eagles. Make sense?
To further confuse matters, Rooney decided he wanted a break from the past and held a contest to come up with a new name for his team. The winner was Steelers. The two teams actually went head to head in week 2 of the 1941 season, with the Eagles prevailing, 10-7. It would be one of two wins the Birds had all season. The Steelers had one. A change of scenery didn’t seem to do the players on either team much good.
Two seasons later, both teams still stunk, but the Steelers were in a further bind: most of their players had been drafted into the armed forces due to WWII, and with only a few weeks to go before summer practice, they had six players under contract*. That’s when Rooney and Bell decided to revisit their idea of a few years previous and combine the two teams. Thompson wasn’t crazy about the idea but agreed, and the “Phil-Pitt Combined” were born (they were never officially called the Steagles. The Philly press still called them the Eagles, but a writer for The Pittsburgh Press named Chet Smith coined the term and the name stuck). They were scheduled to play four home games at Shibe Park and two home games at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. They wore the Eagles kelly green.
The team was co-coached by Steelers coach Walt Kiesling and Eagles coach Greasy Neale. The primary problem with this arrangement was that the two men hated each other. They decided to split the team, with Neale coaching offense and Kiesling coaching defense. According to former Steagle Jack Hinkle,”There was a big blow-up about halfway through the season when Neale called one of the Steelers a ‘statue of s**t.’ Kiesling pulled all of the Steelers off the practice field.”
Despite the awkward arrangement, the team was fairly successful on the field, going 5-4-1. It was the first winning season for the Eagles franchise ever, and they actually defeated and tied eventual division winner Washington. The team played well and Rooney and Bell probably would have been up for reuniting when the leagues asked them to in 1944. Thompson was not. The rift between Kiesling and Neale was too wide to repair, and Thompson had supplied most of the manpower for the 1943 season and didn’t want any more credit going to Bell and Rooney.
The Steelers instead teamed up with the Chicago Cardinals in 1944 to become “Card-Pitt.” The team was awful, and sportswriters called them the “Carpets”, since everyone walked all over them. They finished the season 0-10. The Eagles, meanwhile, drafted Steve Van Buren in the draft that year, and went 7-1-2, missing the playoffs by a mere half game. The year as the Steagles would set into motion their greatest run in team history, as they would finish 1st or 2nd in the division in the following six years, appear in three championship games, and win two of them.
Thompson would sell the team a few years later and die of a heart attack at the age of 40. Rooney would continue to own the Steelers until 1974 when he handed it off to his son Dan. Dan’s son Art II now runs the team. Bell relinquished his role as c0-owner when he became NFL commissioner in 1945. He was still commish in 1959 when he died of a heart attack…while attending a game at Franklin Field between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles.
*The vast majority of NFL players who weren’t at war didn’t serve because they were either too old or classified 4-F. The Steagles leading receiver in 1943 was Tony Bova, who was blind in one eye and partially blind in another.
You can read a more in-depth report about the Steagles here, and there is also an excellent book on the topic. You can watch a short video history of the team, featuring Ray Didinger, here. The Steagles shirt is a Shibe Vintage Sports original. You will not find it anywhere else.
On July 15th, 1984, the Philadelphia Stars met the Arizona Wranglers in Tampa, with the USFL Championship on the line. The Stars had lost the championship game the year before, 24-22, in a thriller against the Michigan Panthers, and they did not want to get denied again. They stormed through the regular season, finishing a league best 16-2, then easily dispatched of Brian Sipe, Herschel Walker, and the New Jersey Generals in the first round of the playoffs, 28-7. In the Eastern Conference Finals, they cruised past the Birmingham Stallions, 20-10.
The Wranglers had a tougher road into the finals, finishing the season 10-8, then knocking off two future Hall of Fame QBs in the playoffs, Jim Kelly of the Houston Gamblers and Steve Young of the LA Express.
The Stars were led by their superstar running back, Kelvin Bryant, who had outgained Herschel Walker that season, running for 1406 yards and 13 TDs. At QB, they had the solid if unspectacular Chuck Fusina, who looked for receivers Scott Fitzkee and Willie Collier. The Stars had a terrific O-line, anchored by Irv Eatman and Brat Oates. Their defense, known as the Doghouse Defense, had allowed a stingy 12.5 ppg in the regular season.
Tampa Stadium was packed, and the 52,662 fans on hand were about to be treated to a clinic. On their first possession, the Stars methodically moved downfield, grinding up 66 yards on 10 plays before little used Bryan Thomas scored on a draw from 4 yards out to make it 7-0. After their defense shut down Greg Landry and the Wranglers offense, the offense went back to work, moving 54 yards in 9 plays before a Fusina QB sneak made in 13-0. The 2nd quarter was more of the same, but two Stars fumbles and a missed FG meant that Arizona was only down 13-3 at the half, despite being outgained, 249 yards to 49.
The second half saw more of the same, with the Stars dominating in every phase of the game, and when the final gun sounded, the Stars were USFL champions, having won by a score of 23-3. The Doghouse Defense had allowed Arizona a mere 119 yards of total offense and less than 17 minutes Time of Possession. Kelvin Bryant had rushed for 115 yards despite a bad toe, and Chuck Fusina was named MVP after a methodical game at QB.
The team would have a parade at LOVE Park the following week. It would be their last game as the Philadelphia Stars. The owners, spurred on by Donald Trump, made the fatal error of voting to move to the fall in 1986. KNowing he couldn’t compete with the Eagles, owner Myles Tanebaum moved the team to Baltimore that offseason. They would win a title as the Baltimore Stars in 1985 (despite practicing and maintaining their headquarters in Philly), but the league would fold before the 1986 season.
The Stars would finish as the best team in USFL history with a 48-13-1 record, and there were some who thought they could have competed in the NFL. In fact, legend has it that Tanenbaum and Tose once ran into each other at Old Original Bookbinders. Tanenbaum challenged Tose to a game between the Eagles and Stars. Tose wanted to bet $1 million on his Eagles. Tanenbaum replied, “Leonard, if I thought you were good for the money I’d do it in a heartbeat.” The two men had to be seperated, and sadly, the two teams never played. Sadder still, the most succesful pro sports team in Philadelphia history only called Philly home for two years.
If you want to learn more about the Stars, I highly recommend this piece in Jerseyman Magazine.
On Sunday afternoon, the Phillies got no-hit by Josh Beckett at Citizen’s Bank Park. It was only the 2nd no-hitter ever thrown at CBP (the first was thrown by Roy Halladay). But it was hardly the first time the Phils had been no-hit. Here’s a list of all previous no-hitters thrown against the Phillies with fun facts about each one.
September 13, 1883-Hugh Daily/ Cleveland Blues. The first man to no-hit the Phillies had only one hand…his left hand had been blown off in a gun accident when he was a kid. The next year he would throw 4 one-hitters in a single season, a record he still shares today with Grover Cleveland Alexander.
July 12, 1900-Noodles Hahn/ Cincinnati Reds. The first MLB no-hitter of the new century. Remarkably, the next day after getting no-hit, the Phillies scored 23 runs. (You can get yourself a 1900 Reds cap here.)
July 4, 1908-Hooks Wiltse/ New York Giants. This is a famous one, where a blown umpire’s call cost Wiltse a perfect game with 2 outs and 2 strikes in the 9th.
September 6th, 1912- Jeff Tesreau/ New York Giants. Tesreau was a rookie sensation, leading the NL with a 1.96 ERA that year.
September 9th, 1914- Iron Davis/ Boston Braves. The no-hitter was the highlight of Davis’s otherwise uneventful major league career. Interestingly, he also went 3-4 at the plate that afternoon. They were the only three hits he had all year. (You can purchase a Braves hat from that era here.)
May 7th, 1922- Jesse Barnes/ New York Giants. Three years earlier, Barnes and the Giants had beaten the Phillies at the Polo Grounds in 51 minutes, still the shortest 9-inning game in MLB history.
September 13, 1925-Dazzy Vance/ Brooklyn Robins.Known for his blazing fastball, Vance would lead the NL in strikeouts for 7 straight years, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.
June 12th, 1954-Jim Wilson/ Milwaukee Braves. Wilson was a journeyman who played for seven different teams in his 12 year career. He later became GM of the Milwaukee Brewers. (You can purchase a 1954 Milwaukee Braves hat here.)
September 25, 1956- Sal Maglie/ Brooklyn Dodgers. Two weeks after throwing this no-hitter against the Phils, Sal the Barber was on the losing end of Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series. (Get the iconic 1956 Brooklyn Dodgers hat here.)
August 18th, 1960- Lew Burdette/ Milwaukee Braves. The Braves beat the Phillies 1-0. Burdette scored the only run of the game.
September 16, 1960- Warren Spahn/ Milwaukee Braves. The 39 year-old lefty became the second Brave pitcher to no-hit the Phillies in less than a month. Both games took place at Milwaukee’s County Stadium.
May 17, 1963- Don Nottebart/ Houston Colt .45s. The 20-year old Nottebart (above, celebrating the no-no with teammates) threw the first no-hitter in .45s/Astros history. The Phillies did manage to push a run across, however, thanks to an error and a sac fly.
June 4, 1964- Sandy Koufax/ LA Dodgers. Koufax’s third no-hitter in three years, only rookie Dick Allen reached base, on a walk in the 4th.
July 29th, 1968- George Culver/ Cincinnati Reds. A few years later, Culver would become a member of the Phillies. (Get a 1960s Cincinnati Reds hat here.)
April 17th, 1969- Bill Stoneman/ Montreal Expos. Only the 9th game in the history of the Expos franchise, and only Stoneman’s fifth start in the majors. He would throw another no-no three years later. This would be the last no-hitter pitched against the Phillies on their home field until 2014. (The Phillies were never no-hit at Vet Stadium.) (Purchase a 1969 Expos hat here.)
July 20th, 1970- Bill Singer/ LA Dodgers. Pretty cool: you can listen to Vin Scully call the 9th inning of this no-hitter here.
April 16th, 1972- Burt Hooton/ Chicago Cubs. Hooton is of course best remembered for melting down in the famous Black Friday game in 1977. But five years previous, as a Cubs rookie, he threw a no-hitter against the Phillies in only the 4th start of his career.
April 16th, 1978- Bob Forsch/ St. Louis Cardinals. The last no-hitter thrown against the Phils until Beckett’s on Sunday, it was helped by a controversial call by the official scorer in the 8th inning, giving an error on a play the Phillies thought was a hit by Garry Maddox.
May 25th, 2014- Josh Beckett/ LA Dodgers. The 5th Dodger pitcher to no-hit the Phillies, the most of any team.
Part of the fun of being a baseball fan is the knowledge that otherwise ordinary players sometimes become legends overnight. Howard Ehmke was one of those players. Though he had been a very effective pitcher for the Red Sox in the early 1920s, by 1929 he had run out of steam, and Connie Mack was ready to let him go that August. But the 35-year old sidewinder convinced the Tall Tactician that he had one more great game left in his arm, and he remained on the roster.
Mack shocked the baseball world when he went with Ehmke as his starter before Game 1 of the 1929 World Series against the Cubs. Even Al Simmons was reported to have said to Mack when he saw Ehmke warm up, “Are you going to pitch him?” It was one of the greatest hunches in baseball history. Ehmke mowed down the Cubs right-handed heavy lineup, striking out 13 and leading the A’s to a 3-1 win (You can read the full story here). They would go on to win the Series in 5 games. Only three pitchers have ever struck out more than 13 in the 84 Fall Classics since then.
That winter, he decided to approach Mack with an idea. Baseball fields turned into such a mess when it started to rain, Ehmke thought it would be a good idea to maintain the integrity of the infield by spreading a large canvas tarpaulin over the diamond when it started to rain. Mack decided to invest in the company. It paid off. Both the tarp and Ehmke Manufacturing were born, and the company still operates out of Northeast Philadelphia (though they now make military gear instead of baseball gear).
The team was born at the Super Bowl. Philly construction tycoon Tom McCloskey was in LA for the 1973 Super Bowl with 8 friends, but couldn’t find a ticket. Kansas City Chief owner Lamar Hunt heard about McCloskey’s dilemma and scrounged him up 9 tickets. Hunt, an NASL owner as well as NFL owner, then persuaded McCloskey to buy an North American Soccer League team and put it in Philly.
Other than the Flyers,Philadelphia’s pro franchises at that point were a joke. The 1972-73 Sixers were wrapping up a 9-73 season, the worst in NBA history. The Phillies were coming off that famous 1972 season, where Steve Carlton recorded 27 of their 59 wins. Over the previous 5 seasons, the Eagles had gone a combined 17-49-5. So Philadelphians were excited by the prospect of a potential winner, and a league record 21,700 attended the team’s home opener. The team would finish the season averaging over 11,000 fans per contest, by far the best in the league. The fans delighted in the scrappy play of the squad, particularly the 5’5″ sparkplug Andy “The Flea” Provan and stingy rookie goalkeeper Bob Rigby. Coach Al Miller led a fast moving offense that was fun to watch, and the Atoms went 9-2-8 on the season, good enough for 2nd in the league after the Dallas Tornadoes.
The Atoms knocked off the Toronto Metros 3-0 in the playoff semifinals, then took on Lamar Hunt’s Dallas Tornadoes in the championship game. Bill Straub, a Philly native who was pressed into action after not playing for the team all season, scored a goal, Dallas kicked another one into their own net, and Bill Rigby shut down the powerful Dallas offense. Philadelphia was NASL champion in their first season of existence, and Rigby became the first soccer player to ever be featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated. You can watch highlights of that game here.
It was a rapid rise to the top, and an equally quick fall. They would never make the playoffs again, and after a promising start, the team folded in 1976. A new NASL team, the Philadelphia Fury, would begin play in 1978.
The Philadelphia Firebirds were a minor league ice hockey team that began play in Philly in 1974. One of their first owners was former Phillie great Robin Roberts, though he left after they lost a ton of money in their first season.
They began play in the North American Hockey League, where they played from 1974-1977. Among the players on that inaugural team was goalie Reggie Lemelin, who would play for the team for five years before later enjoying some success with the Calgary Flames and would be the Flyers goaltending coach for 13 years.
The team had some great nicknames. The best was Gordie “Road Hog” Brooks, but they also had Dave “Crash” Kelly, Fred “Fats” Williams, Bob “Waldo” Neely, and enforcer Mike “Barretta” Haworth.
The Firebirds won the league’s Lockhart Cup in 1976, defeating the Beauce Jaros, a team based in Quebec, 4 games to 2. (Here’s a great photo of a packed house in Philly for one of those games. A friend of mine who was at one of those games said that Paul Newman attended, as he was scouting for his upcoming film Slap Shot, which was based on the NAHL.)
The league folded in 1977, and the team moved to the American Hockey League. They played there for two years (in one of those seasons, they featured a right wing named Steve Coates; they also had a young left wing named Mike Eruzione who played with them for 6 games before becoming a national hero), then moved to Syracuse in 1979, where they played for one year as the Syracuse Firebirds. They folded a year later. For their 5-year run in Philly, they played at Convention Hall on the edge of Penn’s campus near Franklin Field.
Heading into the 4th quarter of the January 3rd, 1993 NFC Wild Card game between the Saints and Eagles, things were looking dim for the visiting Birds. The offense had sputtered for three quarters, and the Birds trailed the Saints, 20-10. Worse yet, the Saints D was the best in the NFL, surrendering a measly 12.6 ppg for the season, which would be the lowest average of any defense in the 1990s. The Superdome was rocking: the home team had NEVER won a single playoff game in franchise history, and they were 15 minutes away from their first.
On the Eagles side of the field, it was their superstars Randall Cunningham and Reggie White who were trying to get off the schneid. The two men had never won a playoff game, and the 29-year old QB had gone 0-3 with 0 TDs and 5 INTs while the offense had sputtered to 8 points a game in three playoff appearances.
With 10:37 left in the game, the Eagles faced a 3rd and 10 from the Saints 35. Randall lofted one into the left side of the end zone. Fred Barnett, who made his one and only Pro Bowl that season, made a spectacular leaping catch over cornerback Reginald Jones, and the Eagles had cut the lead to 20-17. Moments later, while rolling out to his left, Saints QB Bobby Hebert made an awful pass that settled into the arms of Seth Joyner. The Eagles leaned heavily on Heath Sherman in the ensuing short drive, and it was capped by a Sherman 6-yard run around the left end. The Eagles, seemingly dead in the water only minutes before, now took the lead, 24-20.
Momentum had clearly shifted, and the Saints meltdown continued on their next drive. On 3rd and 25 with the home team on its own 5-yard line, Reggie White bullrushed his way into the backfield and sacked Hebert for a safety. A Roger Ruzek field goal on the ensuing drive made it 29-20. Bobby Hebert’s nightmarish 4th quarter continued, as a pass into the flat was picked off by Eric Allen and taken 18 yards to the house. Final score: Eagles 36-Saints 20. The Birds had scored a remarkable 26 points in the final 11 minutes of the game. It was a shocking comeback, as the Saints hadn’t given up 26 points in an entire game all season. But the comeback was somewhat overshadowed by events earlier that same day: the Bills had overcome a 35-3 Oilers lead to pull of the greatest comeback in NFL history.
The Eagles season only lasted one week longer. The next week they fell to the Cowboys 34-10. The win over the Saints was, remarkably, the only playoff victory Randall and Reggie ever had as Eagles.
RELATED: Highlights of that game.
Boxscore of the game.
I’ve been away from here for a minute but with a good reason that I think most of you will be quite excited about…I’m teaming with Phillies Nation to do a Philly Dream Series between the 1929 A’s and the 2008 Phillies! That’s right, instead of recreating a Series like I did here the past two years with the 1911 World Series and the 1929 World Series, we’ve decided to create our own Series. We’ve done it by running the two teams through a sim called Whatifsports.com. We’re going to have pregame videos, box scores, postgame writeups and some other really fun stuff, as the games will take place on the same days as the actual World Series (Game 1 is Wednesday). Really excited to take this goofy little idea to the next level and to a larger crowd, and I certainly hope you faithful fans of the site who followed my last two Series will come along as well. This is gonna be a heck of a lot of fun.
1990 had not been a particularly memorable year for Terry Mulholland. He was 6-6 with a 4.34 ERA on the season, and as he took the Vet Stadium mound on August 15th against a Giants team led by Will Clark and Matt Williams, he didn’t feel particularly great.
“It wasn’t a great warmup,” Mulholland said. “I didn’t throw more than a handful of balls over the plate. I wasn’t that enthusiastic about the way I was pitching.”
But once the umpire yelled “Play Ball!” it was quickly apparent that he had something special. He struck out the first two batters, and mowed down the Giants lineup through the first six innings, with not a single Giant reaching first base.
Mulholland’s family, who were watching from their home in Uniontown, PA with Terry’s maternal grandparents, could feel the excitement rising. “We stayed with that tradition of not saying ‘no-hitter'” Terry’s father said. “We’re not even superstitious, but baseball players do it that way in the dugout, so we did too.”
Then, in the top of the 7th, a minor blemish. Charlie Hayes scooped up a Rich Parker grounder and threw it erratically to first. The throw pulled Kruk off the bag, and an error was charged to Hayes. Still, Mulholland had his no-hitter intact, and he enticed Dave Anderson to ground into a double play, eliminating Parker, then covered the bag on a grounder to Krukker to end the inning.
By that point, the crowd of 32, 156 at the Vet was going wild. The Phils had taken a comfortable 6-0 lead, so the only drama left was whether or not Mulholland would get his no-no. He goaded three Giants in the 8th to hit lazy fly balls into the outfield, and he was three outs away from becoming the first Phillie to throw a no-hitter in front of a home crowd since Red Donahue had shut down the Boston Beaneaters at the Baker Bowl in 1898.
Pinch hitter Bill Bathe led off the 9th by grounding out to Charlie Hayes. Then Juan Uribe sent a weak dribbler to short. Out #2. Up to the plate stepped a pinch hitter, future Hall of Famer Gary Carter. Mulholland quickly ran the count to 1-2. The crowd began to chant “TER-RY! TER-RY!” Mulholland began to feel the pressure, and took a timeout to gather his thoughts. “My right leg was beginning to feel kind of wobbly,” he said later. “I didn’t feel 100 percent behind the next pitch, so I huddled with myself.”
Two pitches later, Carter sent a screamer down the third base line, at the man whose earlier error had spoiled the perfect game. “It was a hard shot down the line,” Mulholland said. “I couldn’t tell if it was going to be fair or foul and [Hayes] didn’t have time to make that decision.” Hayes shot his left glove arm across his body, and reeled in the rope (You can watch the play here). It was done. Terry Mulholland had pitched the first no-hitter in Vet Stadium history, against the team that had traded him to the Phils less than a year earlier.
”You can’t realize what went through my mind when he caught that ball. It was such a rush of emotion. I’m not usually an emotional guy, but I knew the significance of that.”
Meanwhile, back in Uniontown, his parents were soaking it all in. “We all just looked at the zeros,” said the senior Terry Mulholland, “and said, ‘Isn’t that great?'”