Longest Streaks In Eagles History

We’re in the heat of the summer and you know what that means… football is right around the corner. In fact, there are only 52 days left until the Eagles kick off their 2017 season at Washington on September 10. Training camp starts next week at the NovaCare Complex in South Philadelphia. The team will begin this season in the same way many have in the past, with higher expectations than last year. The Philadelphia fanbase seems to almost always have steep, often unreasonable, preseason expectations for their beloved Birds.

There’s an influx of new talent on the roster – the Eagles had a positive offseason by acquiring Torrey Smith, Alshon Jeffery, and LeGarrette Blount on top of a good draft class. However, the Eagles still have many weaknesses, namely their secondary which is ranked the worst in the league. It’s still too early to make clear predictions, but that doesn’t stop us. At the moment, I’m not sure they’re ready to be a first-time Super Bowl champion. I don’t want them to finish 7-9 again. I get the feeling that they will be either really GOOD, or really BAD. So, in honor of my hazy conjecture, let’s take a look back to the longest winning and losing streaks in franchise history.

1960 NFL Championship Game ProgramThe Eagles longest winning streak in a season is 9 games, which they have done twice. They first accomplished this feat in their 1960 Championship winning season. The Eagles, coached by Buck Shaw and led by Hall of Famers Norm Van Brocklin, Tommy McDonald, and Chuck Bednarik, lost the first game of the season to Paul Brown’s Cleveland Browns, but rebounded in week 2 with a 27-25 victory at Dallas. The team would remain undefeated until a week 11 defeat at Pittsburgh. They finished with a 10-2 record, which placed them atop the East Division and NFL. In 1960, there was only a single playoff game, the championship between the best team from the West against the best of the East. The big game was played at noon on the Monday after Christmas at Franklin Field in front of a crowd of 67,000. Despite the best efforts of QB Bart Starr and HB Jim Taylor, Bednarik and the Eagles D held on against the Green Bay attack, winning 17-13 thanks to a late game rush from Ted Dean. In what many believe to be the greatest game in Eagles history, the team celebrated their third and last Championship in front of their home fans. Shaw and Van Brocklin ended their careers as champions, delivering the great Vince Lombardi his only career postseason loss.

The team most recently won 9 games in a row in 2003. Andy Reid’s Eagles began the season with something to prove, they had lost in the conference championship in both of the previous two seasons. However, the 2003 season got off to a rough start. Big Red’s team had a chance at revenge against the dreaded champs, Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers, who had killed the Eagles’ title dreams in the final football game at Veterans Stadium. In the first regular season game at Lincoln Financial Field, the Eagles were shutout by Tampa Bay 17-0. Not the best start to a new era. As the season progressed, the team eventually found a winning gear, going undefeated from week 7 to week 15. McNabb, Westbrook, and Correll Buckhalter fit well in Reid’s west coast scheme while Jim Johnson and his blitzing defense bewildered opposing quarterbacks. They finished 12-4, matching their 2002 record. The Eagles squeaked by the Packers in the Divisional Round, winning 20-17 on a David Akers overtime field goal; made possible by the infamous “4th and 26” play. But, next week, much to the heartbreak of Philly fans, they would lose embarrassingly 14-3 to John Fox, Jake Delhomme and the Carolina Panthers. For the third year in a row the Eagles had lost in the NFC Championship, Super Bowl dreams crushed again.

The longest losing streak in franchise history stands at 14 games and stretches over two seasons, 1936 and 1937. The Eagles were a comically bad football team during their first decade (Only twice winning more than 2 games from 1933 to 1942). 1936 started out well as the Eagles beat the Giants in week 1. However, they would not score another touchdown until week 7, and would not win another game until week 6 of the next season! Click here to read a hilarious earlier entry from this site about these two pitiful years in our team’s history. The ‘36 season was doomed from the start as soon as the first selection of the first NFL draft, Jay Berwanger (also the first Heisman Trophy winner), rejected first-year Eagles owner and coach Bert Bell’s offer in favor of business pursuits. Bell never found success in running a team, but later became the league commissioner. He is notable for pushing to establish the system of drafting players which is used in professional sports leagues today. During these early years, the Eagles early rosters lacked talent and capable offensive lineman. Fortunately, they would see success in their second decade, winning two NFL Championships during the 1940s after Greasy Neale took over the reigns from Bell.

We’ll see how it goes this fall. Taking a rough glance at their schedule, it doesn’t exactly look easy. The Eagles will be challenged by the Chiefs, Seahawks, Raiders, and 6 games against the NFC East that don’t look so easy; the division was recently ranked the most competitive in the NFL. Based off of these matchups, I’ve penciled them down to go 7-9 again… As we do every year around this time, let’s hope against this mediocrity and for a great season more closely resembling 1960 or 2003.


A Remarkable Eagle You Should Know: Nick Basca

bascaOn 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.

nick_shadowHe 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).


The Strange and Fascinating History of the Phil-Pitt Steagles

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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).

packsteaglesNot 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.”

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Art Rooney (left) and Bert Bell.

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.

 


Eagles vs the Saints in the Wild Card…in 1993


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.

medium_bobby-hebert906Momentum 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.

 


Eagles Coach You Should Know: Jim Trimble, the Co-Creator of the Modern Goal Post

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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.


Terrible Teams: 1998 Eagles

With the Eagles totally in the tank this year, I thought we’d take a look back at some of their worst teams of all time. We’ll start with their last truly awful team and work our way backwards. We begin with the 1998 Eagles.

“You know what I want? I want the Eagles to lose the rest of their games,” one raspy voiced man said, “so Lurie will give up and sell the team.” A call on WIP earlier tonight? Nope, a call on WIP in November of 1998, as documented by this New York Times piece about the disastrous 1998 Eagles season.

In 1997, the Eagles had gotten quite excited about their young QB Bobby Hoying. After his first start, Rich Hoffmann wrote, “Bobby Hoying leaves you wanting to see more. It’s that simple.” He would have a couple of spectacular games and end the ’97 season looking like the QB of the future. He completed 57% of his passes and threw for 11 TDs and 6 Int’s. But at the end of the ’97 season the team lost offensive coordinator Jon Gruden, who went to Oakland, and running back Ricky Watters, who went to Seattle. Even with this exciting young QB, it would be tough to build on their 6-9-1 season the year before.

It was. The team was awful. The nightmare season started in their home opener against the Seattle Seahawks, who beat them 38-0. Hoying went 9-23 for 60 yards and had an INT returned for a touchdown. It would be the only TD he would throw all season.

There were more blowout losses on the horizon. The Broncos crushed them 41-16. The Cowboys beat them 34-0. The Redskins rocked them 28-3, the Giants 20-0. The offense was atrocious. They scored more than 20 points in a game once all season (a 24-21 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.) In fact, their 162 points (10 ppg) was the third lowest scored by any team since the NFL went to a 16 game game season in 1978.

Bobby Hoying was a complete disaster. Without Gruden as his offensive coordinator, he lost all confidence. He threw for zero touchdowns and 9 Interceptions and convinced the incoming administration that it was time to get a new QB and not Ricky Williams in the draft. In addition to not being able to complete passes, he was sacked constantly. His lone victory as QB was a 10-9 win over the Lions, a game in which he managed to throw for all of 97 yards.

There was some good to come out of that year, however. Young RB Duce Staley had a 1,000 yard season. Hugh Douglas, who had just come over from the Jets, was a breakout star, garnering 12.5 sacks. The team (with Rhodes as GM) picked well in the draft that year, getting Tra Thomas in the first round, Jeremiah Trotter in the 3rd, and Ike Reese in the 5th.

Rhodes, whose career with the Eagles had started with so much promise, was let go at the end of the season. Though Jim Haslett was considered the front runner for the job, it was Andy Reid who was the surprise hire. The rest, as they say, is history.

 


So What’s the Longest Losing Streak In Eagles History?

“Yes, we’ve got to put Eggs Manske in a better position to make plays.” -Bert Bell

It’s looking right now that the Eagles might honestly not win another game this year. If that is in fact the case, they will end the season with 12 straight losses. That would bring them close to the team record, and it would set a record for most consecutive losses in one season.

1936 was the first year that the NFL had a draft, which was done on the insistence of Eagles owner and coach Bert Bell (left), whose team had gone 2-9 the year before. Bell not only made the first selection of the draft as owner of the Eagles, he acted as emcee for the evening, as the draft was held at the Ritz Carlton in Philadelphia!

With their first pick, the Eagles selected the first ever winner of the Heisman Trophy, Jay Berwanger. (Incidentally, with the 3rd pick of the draft, the Pittsburgh Pirates selected a  player named William Shakespeare, who had possibly the greatest nickname in NFL history: “The Merchant of Menace”). But the Eagles couldn’t meet Berwanger’s money demands, and he was traded to the Bears (he never signed with them either). Much like the Eagles now, whose inability to sign even moderately effective offensive lineman has cost them the season, in 1936 their inability to sign a player of Berwanger’s ability hurt them greatly, both on the field and at the box office.

The season started promisingly enough, with a 10-7 win over the New York Giants at Municipal Stadium (below right). Then things went downhill, and fast. In their next 5 games, they were outscored 101-3. Finally, in week 7, they scored their second TD of the season, but still lost to the Boston Redskins, 17-7. The next week, they cracked double digits again, again versus the Giants, but lost a shootout 21-17. They then went on to score a total of 2 TDs for the rest of the season to finish 1-11, with 11 straight losses. They were outscored that season 206-51, with over half of their points coming in two games against the Giants.

Their stats for the 1936 season are absolutely hilarious. They had 8 different players throw at least one pass that season. These QBs combined to complete 22.9% of their passes for 603 yards, with 3 Touchdowns and 36 interceptions. The Eagles completed 39 passes that year, and threw 36 interceptions. Not a good year for the likes of Swede Hanson, Stumpy Thomason, and Reds Bassman. The leading receiver on that team was Eggs Manske with 325 yards. Hanson led the team in rushing.

1937 started out no better. They lost their first 3 games, then broke their losing streak at 14 with a thrilling 6-6 tie against the Chicago Cardinals. They would lose the next week, then finally go into Washington, where the Redskins were playing their first season after moving from Boston, and win 14-0. They would finish the 1937 season 2-8-1.

Their first decade as a franchise (1933-1942) has to be some sort of record for futility. They went 23-82-4 (23.8%). The 14 game losing streak was no apparition. Let’s hope the Eagles current losing streak is just a sign of a bad season, not of a franchise heading backwards to 1930s levels of ineptitude. And let’s hope we can sign this year’s first round draft pick. (Special thanks to Reuben Frank who told me on twitter what the longest losing streak in Eagles history was.)


Boomer Beats the Birds

The November 24th, 1996 matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Philadelphia Eagles was one of the most exciting games in Eagle history, featuring thrilling special teams play, two improbable comebacks, and 37 points scored in the last 11 minutes of the game.

The Eagles came into the game 7-4, but after a scorching start under coach Ray Rhodes and Ricky Watters they had lost their last two contests.  The Cardinals had won two in a row and with a 5-6 record were trying to make a late push towards the playoffs.

The first three quarters were fairly uneventful. Ricky Watters scored a TD for the Eagles in the first quarter, rookie Leeland McElroy had answered for the Cards in the 2nd, and otherwise Gary Anderson and Kevin Butler exchanged field goals. The Cards held a 16-13 lead entering the 4th, but then Boomer Esiason hit Pat Carter with a 6-yard pass to give the Cards a 22-13 lead with 10:58 left. Just over two minutes later, Ricky Watters went around right end from 4 yards out to pull the Eagles within 2.

Boomer Esiason then led the Cardinals on a methodical drive down the field and hit Larry Centers (remember how awesome that guy was on such terrible teams?) for a 4 yard score to give the Cardinals a comfortable 29-20 lead with 2:45 left in the game. Then things got crazy. Derrick Witherspoon (below right) returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards to the house to pull the Eagles within 2. The Birds then attempted an onside kick. It went out of bounds, but fortunately for them one of their players was onsides. Due to a strange quirk in the NFL rulebook, it meant they got to kick again. This time the ball bounced out of the hands of the Cards Anthony Edwards and was scooped up by Johnny Thomas of the Eagles. He would have scored a TD on it, but NFL rules don’t allow recovered onsides kicks to be returned (boo! Lame rule.) The Eagles then moved into field goal range while running out the clock. The Cards answered by burning all 3 of their timeouts. Finally, Gary Anderson nailed a 32 yarder with 52 seconds left to give the Eagles a 30-29 lead.

The Cardinals got the ball back on the 35-yard line and Boomer Esiason went to work. With no timeouts remaining, he kept hitting receivers along the sidelines, confounding Eagles cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. Finally, with 14 seconds left, he hit Marcus Dowdell from 24 yards out to give the Cardinals the win. It was one of Dowdell’s 3 career TDs. Esiason had led the team 65-yards down the field in 38 seconds with no timeouts left. It was a total collapse by Philly’s secondary. Boomer ended up throwing for 367 yards that day, 180 of them in the 4th quarter.

Ray Rhodes was crushed, saying he was at “an all-time low.” The defense took out their frustration on the Giants the next week, allowing an incredible 121 yards of total offense to New York. They would rally to finish the season 10-6, and lose to the Niners 14-0 in the playoffs. The Cardinals would only win one more game all season.

RELATED: Eric Allen’s incredible INT return against Boomer Esiason, one of the most thrilling plays in Eagle history.


#3 Most Underrated Philly Athlete of All-Time: Donovan McNabb

He smiled too much. He didn’t run enough. He played the air guitar. He threw up at the Super Bowl. He was passive aggressive. He didn’t lead enough 4th quarter comebacks. He told your boss not to give you that promotion. He convinced Napoleon to attack Russia in the winter.

If you ever needed anyone to blame for anything for 11 years, McNabb was a handy target. Part of that had to do with how tough it is to be QB in Philly, part of it has to do with a pricklish personality that never allowed him to “get” Philadelphia, and part of it (“he smiles too much”) was sheer nonsense.

But even if I concede everything that drives people crazy about McNabb, there is still simply no debate that “Five” is the greatest QB in Philadelphia Eagles history. And it’s not close. He has the record for Most completions, most yards, and most TDs. He played in 6 more games than the beloved Ron Jaworski and threw 41 more TDs and 51 less INTs. He had a winning percentage of 65.2%, while Jaws was just over 50%. He threw 66 more TDs and 5 less INTs than Randall, whose winning % was around 59%.

What makes these numbers even more impressive is the fact that, with one single notable exception, McNabb was playing with receivers who never approached the level of skill of Mike Quick, Harold Carmichael, or even Keith Jackson. Due to the Eagles insistence that “the system” was more important than anything else, McNabb spent season after season passing to James Thrash and Todd Pinkston. Just how good was McNabb? The mindblowingly bad Thrash played with the Redskins for nine seasons and caught for 1620 yards. In just three years with McNabb, he caught for 2026 yards. Coincidence, or an example of a great quarterback making a terrible player better? (As for Pinkston, once the Eagles let him go, not a single team showed interest.) In the one single season during his prime that McNabb had an unequivocally great wide receiver, he had the greatest season any QB in Philly has ever had, throwing for 3,875 yards, 31 TDs and a mere 8 INTs, while leading the Eagles to a 13-2 record in games he started, best in team history.

McNabb then threw for 357 yards in the Super Bowl (the most anyone not named Kurt Warner has ever thrown in a Super Bowl) against a Patriots team that was cheating so hard they made the Black Sox look like choir boys,but it was allegations of McNabb (maybe?) throwing up in the end that became the story of the 2004 season. Despite all the yards, and despite the fact that he shredded a Pats defense had completely shut down Ben Roethlisberger and Peyton Manning in the two games previous, McNabb’s Super Bowl, and season, were seen as a failure.

In addition to his questionable attitude, the other thing working against McNabb was the fact that he came along at roughly the same time as Brady and Manning. McNabb was not as good as the other two QBs that came along at the same time, and so, by some sort of twisted logic, he sucked. It was absurd and irrational, but Eagles’ fans pride themselves on their passion, not their rationality. McNabb never understood that (as opposed to local icon Brian Dawkins, who understood it implicitly), and his lack of understanding of their rather  diminished his accomplishments in the eyes of many Eagles fans.

Now that time has passed, it is time to re-evaluate McNabb’s value as an Eagle. His stats (and his close-but-no-cigar career) compare favorably with the undeniably great Jim Kelly. Kelly played 11 seasons with the Bills, McNabb played 11 for the Eagles. Kelly played in 160 games, McNabb in 148. McNabb passed for 2 more yards per game, Kelly threw slightly more TDs per game (1.48 to 1.46), and McNabb threw 75 less interceptions than Kelly despite playing in 12 fewer games. (And don’t forget that Kelly was throwing to Andre Reed and James Lofton, not Pinkston and Thrash.) McNabb also ran for 3249 yards for the Birds, while Kelly ran for 1,049 for the Bills. Kelly went 9-8 in the playoffs. McNabb went 9-7.  Jim Kelly is a God in Buffalo. And yet, here in Philly…Until more people in Philadelphia can separate McNabb’s incredible career from their own personal feelings for him, he will remain one of the most underrated athletes in Philadelphia history.


#4 Most Underrated Athlete in Philly Sports History: Ricky Watters

The defining moment of Ricky Watters career in Philadelphia came in his first game as an Eagle.  On September 3, 1995, the Eagles opened up the season at home against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. During the second-half, Ricky Watters alligator-armed not one, but two Randall Cunningham passes over the middle of the field.  It didn’t help that the Eagles lost 21-6, and Watters was held to 37 yards rushing with two fumbles.  Sure, Watters was booed by the hometown fans for not sacrificing himself for the team, but those boos were nothing compared to the aftermath of Watters’ postgame comments to the media.

Watters was honest, maybe too honest:

“Hey, I’m not going to trip up there and get knocked out.  For who? For what? I mean, there’s another day. I’m going to make a whole lot of plays. I made a whole lot of plays where I was at before. I’ve always made plays.”

“For who? For what?”   Those four words damned Ricky Watters in this town.  He had committed a cardinal sin.  The fans and the media jumped on Watters.  The Inquirer labeled it “Wattersgate.”  His words were spread in large print on the back cover of the Daily News.  No matter what Watters did from that point forward, he didn’t have a chance to be accepted in Philadelphia as one of our “Philly guys.”  And it’s a shame, because his on-the-field play stood in stark contrast to that comment.

His numbers are staggering.  After scoring three touchdowns in a winning-effort for San Francisco in Super Bowl XXIX, Watters came to Philadelphia as a free agent.  It didn’t take long for him to make an impact.  In 1995, he rushed 337 times for 1,273 yards and 11 touchdowns.  He also added 434 yards on 62 receptions.  In ’96 he amassed 1,855 yards from scrimmage with 13 total touchdowns. In ’97, he had 1,550 total yards and 7 touchdowns.  He never rushed for fewer than 1,110 yards and never caught fewer than 48 passes.  From ’95-’97, he carried the ball 975 times, more than any other player in the NFL.  In ’95 and ’96 he was selected to the Pro Bowl team and named All-Pro.

Even though he spent just three seasons in Philadelphia, Watters ranks 6th in franchise history in rushing and 5th in rushing touchdowns.  He is the Eagles all-time leader in rushing yards per game.

Based on his numbers, Watters is clearly one of the best running backs in Eagles history.  But he didn’t let his numbers speak for themselves, and so he lands on this list as the 4th Most Underrated Athlete in Philadelphia Sports History.

Previously:

#15- Byron Evans#14- John LeClair#13- Von Hayes#12- Freddy Leach#11- Brad McCrimmon#10- Del Ennis#9- Eddie Plank#8- Dick Allen#7- Kimmo Timonen#6- Bobby Abreu#5- Joe Frazier