The Oregon Ducks won their third Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day over Florida State. Their first win in the Rose Bowl came against a local squad, the powerful Penn Quakers.
The Quakers were led by quarterback Bert Bell, who would later found the Philadelphia Eagles. The Webfoots were led by brothers Hollis and Shy Huntington. Shy was not only the QB, but also a star defensive back, and had been named All-American.
The Quakers came into the game heavily favored, as the East was known for a more physical brand of football than the West. The Quakers also featured four All-Americans. Before the game, Oregon coach Hugo Bezdek lamented, “I’ve got only overgrown high school boys, while Penn can field a varsity of big university strength. We haven’t a chance.” As humble as Bezdek was, Penn’s coach Bob Folwell was equally as boisterous: “We are going to put a team on the field that won’t be licked and consequently can’t be licked.” Aw snap!
It was a very different brand of football than we watch today. The forward pass was nothing more than a gimmick. In fact, if a team passed into the end zone and the ball fell incomplete, the other team got possession. The QB had to be at least 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage when passing. You could only throw the ball once per series of downs. The ball was stubby and nearly round, much closer to a rugby ball than a modern football.
It was also a very different world. Many of the players on the field that day would later serve in WWI, including Bert Bell. It took the Penn team almost two weeks to make the cross-country trip. And there was no radio yet, so it was impossible to hear the game live. But it was possible to watch it live…sort of. In Eugene, a vaudeville theatre advertised that they’d be carrying the Rose Bowl live, and an overflow crowd packed the theatre to “watch”. Here’s how: there was a guy backstage who received play by play via telegraph. He then relayed that info to an announcer onstage, and there was a large plywood board onstage that looked like a football field, similar to the one below.
There was then a production of the game onstage. There was a system of ropes and pulleys that sent the ball back and forth across the field as the announcer described the action he was receiving from the telegraph operator. (You can learn more about this contraption in an excellent piece on Benzduck.com) The telegraph operator, Mac McKevitt, would describe the excitement of that game in a 1931 newspaper piece:
McKevitt took the results of that game play-by-play off the wire and gave them to the announcer at the Heilig theater. The house was packed, Eugene fans were standing in the aisles and clear back to the top of the balcony. The little gridiron was rigged up on stage, and the miniature football was being worked back and forth with the plays. “Mac” remembers getting the message and giving it a word at a time to the announcer: “HUNTINGTON …. MAKES …. TOUCHDOWN!” Pandemonium broke loose, and Mac couldn’t find out whether Oregon converted the [extra] point because the place was so full of noise that he couldn’t hear the ticker, even with his ear down against it. McKevitt was sitting on the stage, with the footlights turned on, and he said as he looked out over the glare of the lights, the theater looked like a giant fountain with hats, coats, sweaters, everything being thrown into the air.”
The Huntington in question was the Oregon stalwart Shy, who would turn out to be the star of the game. The QB would run for 69 yards and a TD on offense, throw for a TD, secure three second half INTs on defense, and the Webfoots pulled off a 14-0 upset.
It was a turning point for college football, as it proved that West Coast teams, which had been held scoreless in the previous two Rose Bowls, could compete with the East Coast teams. As for the two teams involved, it would be Penn’s first and last appearance in a bowl game, though they would be named co-National Champions in 1924 along with Notre Dame. Oregon would lose their next four appearances in the Rose Bowl before finally getting over the hump in 2012.
On December 7th, 1941, the Eagles took on the Washington Redskins at Griffith Stadium in the nation’s capital. They fell 20-14. Throughout the game, the players noticed that the PA had made numerous announcements paging all military personnel, but weren’t sure why. One of those players was Eagles rookie Nick Basca, who sent two extra points through the uprights. Later that afternoon it became apparent why the military had been paged during the game: the United States was at war. Three days after the Day That Lived in Infamy, Nick Basca enlisted in the army. He would never play in another NFL game.
Micheal Basca was born on December 4th, 1916 (some sources say 1917) in Phoenixville. As a young boy, he ran around town doing odd jobs for a nickel and got the nickname “Nickels”. It was later shortened to Nick. He was short and bashful, but on the football field the son of a coach was a beast. His senior season, the quarterback led his team to a 9-0 record and a Chester County Title. After some time at a preparatory academy, he attended Villanova. Again he excelled, making the all-state team and starring in the North-South game his senior year.
NFL teams were concerned with his small stature (5’8″, 170), and he went undrafted. But the Eagles quickly grabbed the local hero, and he made the team as a running back and kicker. He showed flashes of potential on offense, scoring a touchdown against the Lions and rushing 15 times for 44 yards. He also made all 9 of his extra point attempts and a field goal to boot.
He became a tank commander in Patton’s third army. He landed in France a month after D-Day and his division began aggressively attacking the Germans, trying to make their way to the city of Nancy. On November 11, 1944, the Americans received fierce resistance in the town of Obreck, near Nancy. A German 88mm round hit Basca’s tank. He was killed instantly.
Two of his brothers also served in the war, with Steve Basca receiving three purple hearts. Villanova’s Homecoming weekend was called Nick Basca weekend until the program discontinued in 1980 (the football program was revived in 1985, but Nick Basca weekend wasn’t).
This year will mark the 6th time the Eagles have done battle on Thanksgiving Day. Before them the Yellow Jackets actually had a Thanksgiving Day rivalry. Here’s a brief synopsis of every Thanksgiving Day NFL game played involving one of the two Philly teams.
1924-The Frankford Yellow Jackets defeated the Dayton Triangles, 32-7. In the pick below player/coach Guy Chamberlin and Johnny Budd chase down the Triangles Faye Abbot.
1926- The Yellow Jackets knocked off the Packers, 20-14, in front of a packed stadium of 12,000 people. The Jackets would go to on to finish the season 14-1-2 and win the NFL championship. They’re the last team to win an NFL title and later fold. The game also marked the start of a Thanksgiving Day rivalry with the Packers that would last until 1930. Here’s a great pic of that 1926 championship team.
1927-The Packers returned the favor, winning 17-9. You can read more about the Packers-Yellow Jackets Thanksgiving rivalry here. (The games were all played in Frankford. Once November hit, the Packers would play most of their games on the road.)
1928-The Yellow Jackets edged the Packers 2-0, the only score coming on a bad snap during a botched punt attempt by the Packers.
1929- Hard to believe that the 1929 game could be lower scoring than the 1928 affair, but it was. 0-0 was the final. The Yellow Jackets got the ball down to the 2-yard line at one point, but couldn’t punch it in. The tie would be the only blemish on the Packers 12-0-1 championship season.
1930- The Yellow Jackets franchise was starting to fall apart, and the Packers were on their way to a 2nd straight NFL title. The result of this game was never in doubt. The Packers, led by QB Red Dunn, won 25-7.
A fire to their stadium right before the 1931 season forced the Yellow Jackets to scramble to find places to play. Playing outside of Frankford meant that their fans couldn’t make it to the games, and fans in other parts of town didn’t come out to support a team from Frankford. The team folded midway through the 1931 season. Two years later the lesson was learned…don’t just represent a small section of the city, represent the whole city. The Philadelphia Eagles were born. They would play on Thanksgiving far less frequently than the Frankford Yellow Jackets did.
1939- The Eagles defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates, 17-14, on Thanksgiving Day. It would be the Eagles only win all season. Their young QB Davey O’Brien led the way with 208 yards passing.
1940- The Steelers (having changed their name from the Pirates) got their revenge, knocking off the Eagles 7-0. The Birds would finish the season 1-10. Of course, these two teams would join forces a few years later.
1968- The Eagles would finally play on Thanksgiving 28 years later. Once again they were one of the worst teams in the league, heading into their Thanksgiving Day tilt with an 0-11 record. A torrential downpour over the previous 36-hours turned the field into a swamp. The Eagles won the game 12-0 on four Sam Hall field goals, a rare bright spot in a disastrous season, one best remembered for the “Santa game”.
1989- This one is deserving of it’s own post, which I may do later in the week. The Bounty Bowl ended with the Eagles winning 27-0, the team trying to injure Luis Zendejas, and Jimmie Johnson screaming about Buddy Ryan’s big fat rear end. Here is Jimmie Johnson talking about that game a few years ago.
2008- The Eagles entered this game against the Cardinals with some quarterback controversy. The week before Andy Reid had benched a struggling Donovan McNabb against the Ravens and played Kevin Kolb. He didn’t announce McNabb as his starter until late in the week. McNabb seemed rejuvenated, and his 4 TD passes led the Eagles to a 48-20 win. Of course, these same two teams would meet in the NFC championship game later that season, and the Cardinals would knock off the Eagles 32-25.
And so the Eagles head down to Dallas for only their 6th Thanksgiving Day game in 81 years. The same number that the Yellow Jackets played over a 7-year stretch. Let’s hope the Eagles improve upon their 4-1 Thanksgiving Day record.
You can purchase the unique Steagles shirt to your left by clicking here. Get free shipping by using discount code “birds”.
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.
Click here to buy the Philadelphia Stars shirt you see to your right. To get free shipping, use the discount code “2014”.
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 Doug Flutie, 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.
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.
In 1951, the Eagles hired Bo McMillan to be their head coach, and McMillan hired an assistant named Jim Trimble to help him out. But two games into the 1951 season, McMillan was diagnosed with stomach cancer and had to step down. He handed the reins over to Wayne Millner. Millner coached the 1951 team to a 4-8 record, then stepped down two weeks before the 1952 season. Up stepped the unheralded Trimble, who struggled early on, as the Eagles fell to the Giants 31-7 and the mighty Browns 49-7. Afterwards, Philadelphia Bulletin writer Hugh Brown wrote, “The Eagles of 1952 are probably the worst football team to ever wear the Kelly green.”
Trimble posted the article in the locker room, and the team quickly got their act together. They then won 5 of their last 7 games to finish with a 7-5 record in 1952. The turnaround earned the 34-year old coach the NFL Coach of the Year Award. The next two years, they also won 7 games but finished 2nd to the Browns each year. In 1955, the team got stung with injuries and finished the year 4-7-1, losing 5 of those games by a touchdown or less. He was fired after the season, stating afterwards that, “I was completely stunned…It is the first time I ever lost a job.”
He was scooped up by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the CFL in 1956, and led them to a Grey Cup victory in 1957. He would later coach the Montreal Alouettes as well. But his impact on football wasn’t just as a coach. In 1966, he, a man named Joel Rottman, and an engineering friend, Cedric Marsh, took out a patent on a new type of goal post, known as the “sling shot”. Until then, goal posts were H-shaped and placed on the goal line. Trimble and Rottman’s design was the Y shape that is used almost exclusively today.
He would also work in the New York Giants organization from 1967 until 1991. Trimble passed away in 2006 at the age of 87. Below is a very cool interview of him in 1954.
With the Eagles on the hunt for a new head coach, I thought we’d take a look back at one of the most fascinating coaching hunts in Birds history.
On May 6th, 1994, a year after failing to buy his hometown Patriots, Jeff Lurie bought the Eagles from Norman Braman. At head coach he inherited Rich Kotite, coming off an 8-8 season. It was too close to the new season to fire him and start over, so Lurie reluctantly kept him on board. The Eagles surprisingly started the next year 7-2 under Kotite. Nonetheless, Lurie announced after the hot start that he would not be renewing Kotite’s contract, and Kotite made it clear that he was going to start looking for a new job. All momentum the team had built up was lost, as they dropped their next 7 games, and Kotite quickly got the ax. Lurie then turned his attention to a former Eagle coach in the hopes of returning the team to glory…Dick Vermeil.
Vermeil had quit coaching following the 1982 season, citing burnout. For the next 12 years he was an analyst on television. But like most coaches, he had the bug, and he almost took an offer from the Falcons in 1986 (When things fell through with Vermeil, the Falcons took former Eagle coach Marion Campbell instead).
Vermeil met with Lurie a few days before the Eagles last regular season game of 1994. By January 13th of 1995, it looked like a deal was imminent, according to the Daily News.
After weeks of anticipation, questions, delay, no comments, media speculation and a Monday breakdown at the negotiating table, a source close to the negotiations told the Daily News yesterday that, barring unforeseen complications, an agreement is “not too far away…These things just take time, and I’m confident that it will eventually happen, but at its own pace. No one is trying to force anything.”
Two days later, things completely broke down. Apparently Lurie got nervous about the fact he was hiring a guy who hadn’t coached since 1982, and who wanted to not only be coach but GM. “Understand this was a risky offer,” Lurie told the Reading Eagle after negotiations broke down, “Because it was an offer to someone who hadn’t coached in 12 years, but yet someone I had great hope and respect for.”
Lurie continues, “He’s an intense competitive guy, and I think he was bitter that we were unwilling to really meet his requirements. I just don’t think that would have been responsible for this football team to put us in the situation where we just didn’t know how well Dick would do.”
Vermeil had a different take on why things broke down. “In nine hours of meetings-three, three-hour meetings, every time I mentioned football things, he said, ‘I’d like to be collaborated with, but the final decision will be yours’. And then when it (the contract) became written, it just wasn’t that way.”
And so the coaching search continued. Later that same week, the Milwaukee Sentinel reported, “Mike Shanahan appears to be the man at the top of Lurie’s head coaching wish list now that Dick Vermeil has been erased from the picture.”
But on January 31st, 1995, Shanahan was hired by the Broncos. Eagle fans were getting restless. Lurie was flying from town to town, interviewing seemingly every coach in the country. But at this point it was down to three men: Gary Stevens, offensive coordinator for the Dolphins; Tony Dungy, defensive coordinator for the Vikings (right); and Ray Rhodes, defensive coordinator for the 49ers. Sal Pal reported that Stevens appeared to be the frontrunner.
Lurie met with them all in Miami. He had a meeting with Dungy for 6 hours. It went extremely well, but he was still a longshot. Lurie and Stevens met on the afternoon of Tuesday, February 1st, and it seemed like things were set in stone. On February 2nd, Kevin Mulligan of the Daily News reported that “sometime today – barring breakdowns in the contract-writing process – Stevens is expected to have a new title: Philadelphia Eagles head coach.”
But as Mulligan was going to press at around midnight, Lurie was having a late-night meeting with Rhodes that lasted until 2:45 a.m. Wednesday morning. After the meeting, he made his decision. Ray Rhodes would be his guy. He spoke with Rhodes’s agent on Wednesday and started hammering out a deal. By Wednesday afternoon, Ray Rhodes was the Eagles new head coach, signing a 5-year, $5 million salary. He would last 4 years in Philly, going 29-34-1. After a great start, going 10-6 and winning Coach of the Year, things went downhill rapidly, and he was fired after a disastrous 3-13 season in 1998. He is currently a defensive assistant for the Browns.
Gary Stevens would never become an NFL head coach, remaining Dolphins Offensive Coordinator until he was fired in 1998. He never coached in any capacity in the NFL again. Mike Shanahan was a long shot for the Birds, as most people figured he would take the Broncos job. He did, and led them to two Super Bowl wins. Dungy would remain Vikings coordinator for one more year before he was hired to be head coach of the Buccaneers, and after turning that franchise around, he later won a Super Bowl with the Colts. And Dick Vermeil would return to coaching with the Rams in 1997, and lead them to a Super Bowl victory in his third season as coach. Pretty amazing that Lurie interviewed three guys who would go on to win Super Bowls, and didn’t hire any of them. Doesn’t give me a ton of confidence this time around.
Andy Reid just signed with the Kansas City Chiefs. He’s far from the first coach to leave Philly and find work elsewhere as a head coach in the NFL. So let’s see where previous Eagles coaches ended up, and how they did in a new town. (Spoiler: Other than Vermeil, the answer is “terribly”.)
Bert Bell- (Eagles coach from 1936-1940. Details on his disastrous tenure can be read here.) This one is complicated. But long story short, Bell helped Art Rooney sell the Steelers to Lex Thompson in 1940, then let Art buy half of the Eagles, but after buyers remorse Rooney and Bell traded the Eagles to Thompson for the Steelers (it was known as The Pennsylvania Polka). Anyways, Bell coached the Steelers for the first two games of the 1941 season. They lost their first two games of the 1941 season, then Rooney convinced Bell to step down. His combined coaching record with the Eagles and Steelers was 10-46-2, and for coaches with at least three years coaching experience, it’s still the worst win % ever.
Nick Skorich- (Eagles coach from 1961 to 1963. Pictured left.) He took over a team that had just won the NFL championship, and within 3 years, they were 2-10-2. He then got a job as an assistant for the Browns. He worked his way up to head coach in 1971. He had some success in Cleveland, leading them to a 10-4 mark in 1972, and nearly upsetting the undefeated Dolphins in the playoffs before falling 20-14. He would be fired after the 1974 season and then served as supervisor of officials for the NFL.
Mike McCormack- (Eagles coach from 1973-1975.) Canned by the Birds after the 1975 season, he took an assistant job with the Bengals, then got a shot with the Colts in 1980. After leading them to a 7-9 record in 1980, the bottom fell out in 1981, as two wins over the Patriots by a total of 3 points were the only thing that stopped them from going 0-16. They were really one of the worst teams in NFL history, losing 12 of their 14 games by double digits, including 8 by 20 or more points. They were 26th in the league in scoring, and 28th in points allowed. He was fired after the season, and then got a front office job with the Seahawks. When Seattle fired its head coach two games into the 1982 season, he took over and guided the Seahawks to a 4-2 record in a strike shortened season. After the year he moved back upstairs, and eventually became GM and president of the team. He was later the first ever GM and president of the Carolina Panthers.
Dick Vermeil- (Eagles coach from 1976-1982.) Interesting to think how different things might have been here. It’s well known that Vermeil took over as Rams coach 15 years after burning out with the Eagles in 1982. But he interviewed for the Eagles job again in 1995, after Rich Kotite was fired. (I was not here and did not know that, and look forward to researching it further and writing about it in the coming days.) Anyways, he did not get the job and went on to coach the Rams to a Super Bowl victory in 2000, retiring after the game. He didn’t stay retired long, as he signed with the Chiefs in 2001. By 2003 he had led them to a 13-3 record and an AFC West title, but they lost a shootout to Manning and the Colts in the playoffs, 38-31. He would coach them for two more seasons, going 10-6 in 2005 before retiring for good.
Marion Campbell- (Eagles head coach from 1983-1985.) Campbell, Vermeil’s defensive coordinator and Chester native, was brought in to coach the Birds when Vermeil stepped down. The team hovered at mediocre for his three years there. In 1985, with a game left to go in the season he was fired. In 1987, he was hired by the Falcons to be their head coach for the second time (he had coached there for a season and a half in the 70s). Things were worse in Atlanta than they had been in Philly, and 2 1/2 seasons later he was out the door with a 11-32 record. His final NFL coaching mark was 34-80-1, third lowest all-time winning percentage for coaches with more than 3 years experience (only Bert Bell and David Shula had a lower mark.)
Buddy Ryan- (Eagles head coach from 1986-1990.) I don’t need to tell you much about Buddy Ryan’s tenure here in Philly. He was one of the few coaches in Philly to end his career with a winning record, a fairly respectable 43-38-1, though to hear the locals tell it he finished up undefeated with 5 Super Bowl wins. Anyways, he was fired after 1991, spent a year as defensive coordinator with the Oilers, and then returned to coaching with the Arizona Cardinals. It did not go well. He ended his two year stint with a 12-20 mark and retired to his farm in Kentucky.
Rich Kotite- (Eagles head coach from 1991-1994.) Kotite’s career in Philly started with promise, as he led the team to 10 and 11 win seasons. But then they went 8-8, and a 7-2 start in 1994 turned into a 7-9 finish, and he was out the door. He was quickly scooped up by the Jets, and the results were beyond disastrous. In two years with the Jets, he went 4-28 (Taking into account his last Eagles season, he was 4-35 in his last 39 games coached). He stepped down after the 1996 season and never coached anywhere else again.
Ray Rhodes- (Eagles head coach from 1995-1998.) Rhodes’s career in Philly also started with some promise, but like Kotite’s it ended poorly. After back to back 10 win seasons, the team slipped to 6-9-1, and then came 1998, which I wrote about recently. He was out the door after that disaster, but landed quickly on his feet, as the Packers scooped him up. He lasted all of one season in Green Bay, going 8-8 before being shown the door. He has been a defensive coordinator and assistant ever since, and currently works in the Browns front office.
With the Eagles stinking up the joint this year, we are looking back at some of their worst teams ever. Next up, the 1968 squad. In the photo at left are, from L-R, head coach Joe Kuharich, team treasurer Ed Snider (yes, that Ed Snider) and owner Jerry Wolman.
The 1968 Eagles are famous for one game, the game in which Santa Claus got booed. That was the final game of the season, on December 15th against the Vikings. But you’ll have to forgive Eagles fans if they weren’t really in a festive spirit. The season could not have possibly gone worse.
It started with the coach. “Joe Kuharich couldn’t sell iced tea to a Tasmanian at a dried up water hole,” wrote Sandy Grady in the Philadelphia Bulletin. He had been hired in 1964, and even at the time it was a poorly received choice. After all, Kuharich was at the time best known for being the only coach to have a losing career record at Notre Dame (a distinction he still holds). Incredibly, new Eagles owner Jerry Wolman gave Kuharich coaching and GM duties, and signed him to an unheard of 15-year contract. He instantly started making foolish moves. He traded fan favorite Tommy McDonald for two guys only their mothers could recognize. He traded Hall of Famer-in-the-making Sonny Jurgenson to the Redskins for a steady but unspectacular Sam Snead.
He did have one year of glory, a 1966 campaign that saw the Birds go 9-5 and finish 2nd to the Cowboys. But things went downhill fast after that. They went 6-7-1 the next year, and then the bottom fell out. The team opened the 1968 season with a 30-13 loss to the Packers. The Cowboys would humiliate them twice in 3 weeks, 45-13 and 34-14. In a battle between pitiful Pennsylvania teams, they lost to the Steelers 6-3. Philadelphia let out it’s frustration on Kuharich, wearing “Joe Must Go” buttons and even hiring a plane to fly a “Joe Must Go” banner over the Franklin Field.
By Thanksgiving day, the team stood at 0-11 and coming off a 47-13 loss to the Browns, looked like they were headed for an 0-14 season. There would be quite a silver lining in doing so: they would therefore have the number one pick in the draft, and acquire the electric OJ Simpson out of USC. Needless to say, they botched this opportunity too.
It poured rain nonstop for two days before their Thanksgiving day game against the Lions, and the teams played in a mess that came to be known as the Mud Bowl. In the end it was Eagle kicker Sam Hall booting 4 field goals to lead the Birds to a 12-0 win. Buoyed by their success, the team then came back to Philly and knocked off the Saints, 29-17, led by Tom Woodeshick’s 122 yards (he led the team in rushing that year with 947). It was a disaster. Needing only to lose their final three games, they had instead won 2. With the Bills already having finished their regular season at 1-12-1, the Eagles had cost themselves OJ Simpson before they even took the field for the infamous Santa game.
Say what you will about Eagles fans, they are nothing if not loyal. Almost 55,000 of them came out to Franklin Field on a snowy 28 degree day (Wind Chill 15) to cheer on a team so pathetic that it couldn’t even lose when it needed to. After a listless first half that ended in a 7-7 tie, the halftime Christmas pageant was set to begin. But the field had turned to muck, and the float Santa was supposed to be on got stuck in the mud. Furthermore, no-one could find Santa (Rumor had it that he got drunk). Whereas in Miracle on 34th Street, the real Santa took over for the drunk Santa, in this case the real Santa had decided not to attend this game (hard to blame him). The Eagles brass, desperate for a Santa, picked 20-year old Frank Olivo out of the crowd. Despite his 5’6″, 170 pound frame, he had decided to wear a Santa outfit that day. (You can read a great ESPN piece on what Olivo is up to today here.)
As this meager, skinny Santa ran around the field waving at fans, they began to boo. Olivo described it years later.
“At first I was scared because it was so loud. But then I figured, hey, it was just good-natured teasing. I’m a Philadelphia fan, I knew what was what. I thought it was funny.”
The booing soon turned into snowballs, as fans pelted him from the upper deck. Olivo took it all in stride, saying that he laughed it off. Nonetheless, when the Eagles asked him if he’d do it again the next year, he answer, “No way. If it doesn’t snow, they’ll probably throw beer bottles.”
The Eagles went on to lose the game 24-17 and finish the season 2-12. Their consolation was the third pick in the draft. The Bills got OJ Simpson, who would rush for 11,236 career yards. The Eagles took Leroy Keyes, who would rush for 369. With the 4th pick, the Steelers took Mean Joe Greene. Kuharich was fired in the offseason, when Wolman sold the team to Leonard Tose.
Nonetheless, he continued to get paid for the remainder of his incredible 15-year contract. Kuharich passed away from bone cancer on the same day the Eagles played in Super Bowl XV against the Raiders. Eagles GM Jim Murray visited him in the hospital a few days before, right before the Eagles left for New Orleans.
“The man is lying there devastated by that disease, and you know he’s in agony, and all he can do is wish us luck. The team that fired him, the city that crucified him, he’s wishing them nothing but success. There are more records in this life than winners and losers. And I’d love to have his report card.”