This is the latest post in Kurt’s continuing series to identify the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player of All-Time. For an explanation of his methodology for choosing each franchise’s ultimate franchise player, and then how you and he will choose the NFL’s Ultimate Franchise Player from that list, click here.
Who is the biggest bird in Philadelphia Eagles history?
The franchise has been around since the early 1930’s, with the remnants of the old Frankfurt Yellow Jackets being bought out of bankruptcy. Since the Frankfurt club suspended operations, their records are not included in those of the Eagles.
The team was horrible throughout the 1930s and early 40s, had some glory just after World War II, struggled again for most of the 1950s, but then won the 1960 NFL Championship and contended again the following year.
From 1962 through 1978, the Eagles would have exactly one winning season. In other words, the first 45 years or so were not much. Since then, Philly has been a decent franchise.
For this reason you will see a lot of the more recent players on this list on the way to determining the Eagles Ultimate Franchise Player.
But a crusty old-timer has a legit chance at claiming Philly’s automatic berth for the Ultimate Franchise Player Tournament. Do I dare go old school?
35. Andre Waters (SS 1984-93)
Dirty Waters was the poster boy for the edgy defensive schemes of coach Buddy Ryan in the late 1980s-early 1990s. One of that unit’s proudest moments was the infamous ‘Body Bag’ game on Monday Night Football v. the Redskins, with Washington finishing that game fresh out of quarterbacks, or healthy bodies period.
Unfortunately, Waters committed suicide at age 44, with post-concussion syndrome as a likely cause.
34. Michael Vick (QB 2009-present)
His checkered career is well documented, but he made good on his second chance after signing with the Eagles following his federal prison stint. With talent around him, Vick finally proved he could excel as a passer as well as a rusher by finishing the 2010 season with a 100+ QB rating.
In 35 starts for the Eagles, Vick has completed just over 60 percent of his passes, a vast improvement over his early Atlanta days.
33. Bill Hewitt (WR 1937-39, 1943, HOF)
Makes the list simply for playing his career WITHOUT A HELMET – the last NFL player to do so.
32. David Akers (K 1999-2010)
Not bad to go from serving tables at Longhorn Steakhouse to being the franchise’s leading scorer by a country mile. Akers made the Pro Bowl five times during his career, hitting 82% of his field goal attempts. His best scoring year actually came with the 49ers after leaving the Eagles. The final body of work is impressive enough.
31. Bucko Kilroy (OL/DL 1943-55)
Mr. Roboto himself, IT’S KILROY!!! He played in 202 of a possible 203 games in his career, and he forced the game-deciding fumble that led to the Eagles’ 7-0 win over the Chicago Cardinals in a blizzard in the 1948 NFL Championship.
After his playing days, Kilroy was involved in coaching and scouting, as well as a stint as the New England Patriots GM. The Pats’ success in the 2000s was attributed in part to Bucko’s scouting abilities.
30. Asante Samuel (CB 2008-11)
Another who makes the list despite a relatively short tenure with the Eagles, as he made the Pro Bowl in three of his four years and scored on a Pick Six in a 2008 playoff game in Minnesota.
He definitely passed the eyeball test as one of the most intimidating offensive lineman of his era.
He summed up his job description this way…
‘I believed that I could block anything that was born from a woman, walked upright, and called himself a man…’
He also once described himself as being as subtle as a ’16-lb sledgehammer’.
Brown earned All-Pro recognition three times before getting fed up with the organization’s losing ways and being asked out of town. Brown would spend the second half of his career with the Raiders and Rams.
28. Norm Van Brocklin (QB 1958-60, HOF)
Most of his career was with the Rams, but his final three years in the league were also special, leading a resurgence culminating with the 1960 NFL Championship.
The plan was for Van Brocklin and coach Buck Shaw to ride off into the sunset after that game, but NVB was supposed to become the Eagles coach after Shaw’s retirement. Norm was not happy after management decided to change their minds on the next HC.
27. Keith Jackson (TE 1988-91)
One of my early fantasy football memories was KJ catching three TDs from Randall Cunningham in a 1989 game (I had both on my roster, as well as Redskins back Gerald Riggs, who also had a huge game).
With 81 catches in his rookie year, KJ appeared well on his way to becoming the league’s elite tight end, but injuries soon slowed him and turned what initially looked like a legendary career to merely a very good one.
26. Jon Runyan (OT 2000-08)
Was only once a Pro Bowler, but Runyan did his part in the most successful era in team history by getting under the skin of the opposition. He was usually near the top in ‘Dirtiest Players’ polls.
As his career wound down, Runyan started to eye a career in politics and in 2010 won a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.
25. Jeremiah Trotter (ILB 1998-2001, 2004-06, 2009)
The Ax-Man has to crack this list, being part of a select group of four Philadelphia linebackers to earn at least four Pro Bowl appearances.
One of his more memorable moments was has participation in a pre-game brawl with the Atlanta Falcons that got him ejected before the opening kickoff.
24. Clyde Simmons (DE 1986-93)
Reggie White and Jerome Brown got more ink out of the Buddy Ryan-era defensive line, but Clyde was a Clydesdale himself, particularly in 1992 when he recorded 19 sacks.
23. DeSean Jackson (WR 2008-present)
In the ‘work in progress’ category, DeSean is definitely one of the most explosive players in the league in recent years. Meadowlands Miracle II is currently the number one play on his career resume.
22. Herman Edwards (CB 1977-85)
These days Herm is much better known as a head coach, or as a player collecting the one hop and running untouched into the end zone in the original Miracle of the Meadowlands.
Edwards never made a Pro Bowl, but was a mainstay starting in 135 consecutive games.
21. Eric Allen (CB 1988-94)
Spent the first-half of his 14 year career in Philadelphia, during this time he made the Pro Bowl five times. In 1993 alone he took four interceptions to the house, tying a league record.
20. Troy Vincent (CB 1996-2003)
The Wisconsin alum became one of the most respected figures in the league during a 15-year career which saw him take an active role with the NFL Players Association. The peak of Vincent’s career was in Philadelphia, where he earned five Pro Bowl selections.
19. Jerome Brown (DT 1987-91)
If you ever get a chance to catch the Jerome Brown/Reggie White ‘A Football Life’ on NFL Network, it’s very worth the watch.
JB definitely had some of that Miami Hurricane swagger after being the ninth overall pick of the NFL Draft.
My favorite memory of Jerome? Playing in the Pro Bowl after the 1991 season, a fan ran onto the field late in the game and was gently corralled by Jerome before being turned over to authorities. No Mike Curtis there, it was like catch and release at the fishing pond.
Sadly, that was the last time he would compete on a NFL field. In his final season, Jerome would record 150 tackles and nine sacks.
18. Seth Joyner (OLB 1986-93)
Another mainstay of the Buddy Ryan era, Joyner earned two Pro Bowl selections while a member of the team.
The Eagles’ infamous ‘Fog Bowl’ loss in Chicago remains entrenched in NFL lore. What is not remembered about that game was that the Eagles were slugging it out toe-to-toe with the vaunted Bears on an unseasonably mild and hazy afternoon at Soldier Field before the fog suddenly engulfed the stadium in a matter of minutes. It’s very possible the Eagles would have had a chance in that game had normal weather conditions prevailed throughout.
17. Mike Quick (WR 1982-90)
He had the perfect name for his skill-set, once ending an overtime game by scoring on a 99-yard TD pass. Quick was a Pro Bowl regular from 1983-87.
16. Tommy McDonald (WR 1957-63)
In his era, McDonald could be called out for broaching the unwritten rules of excessive celebration. He was the excitable type. Tommy scored a key touchdown in the 1960 NFL Title Game and would lead the league in receiving yardage the following year.
From 1958-62 McDonald would find the end zone 55 times, he would had been fantasy football gold.
15. Tom Brookshier (CB 1953, 1956-61)
Another career that ended way too early, and is much more remembered for his network TV work in later years. During his playing days, he was considered one of the few players in the league who could take down Jim Brown in a one-on-one situation.
Brookshier’s career ended after a horrific leg fracture in a 1961 game. At the time the Eagles were 7-1 on the season – but then faded and lost the Eastern Division, and it would not be until nearly a generation later that the franchise would be relevant again.
14. Al Wistert (OL/DL 1943-51)
When he first arrived to the team, he wasn’t immediately endeared to the salty language of coach Greasy Neale. But by the time his number was retired he earned Pro Bowl recognition four consecutive years and was very much part of the 1948-49 championship nucleus.
13. Pete Pihos (WR 1947-55, HOF)
Got better as his career went on, earning Pro Bowl recognition in his final six seasons, and catching 60+ passes in his final three seasons, when the league schedule was still just 12 games.
12. Brian Westbrook (RB 2002-09)
Brian takes a little too much criticism from the fantasy football world for taking a knee just short of the goal-line to effectively end a game in Dallas, and not extending the game for the defense to face some late garbage yards. I’m surprised that it hasn’t become standard protocol since.
Westbrook’s career peaked with over 2,100 yards from scrimmage in 2007.
11. Wilbert Montgomery (RB 1977-84)
Exploded onto the scene early in his career just as Dick Vermiel was putting a title-contending team together. Wilbert’s signature game was 194 yards rushing against the Dallas Cowboys to win the NFC Championship following the 1980 season.
10. Ron Jaworski (QB 1977-86)
The Polish Rifle’s career actually spanned 16 years, vying for the Los Angeles Rams starting position before being sent east. The Super Bowl year would be Jaws’ lone Pro Bowl season, throwing 27 TDs versus just 12 interceptions. At the height of his career, Jaws started 116 consecutive games.
9. Pete Retzlaff (WR/TE 1956-66)
Started actually as a fullback, but later migrated to wide receiver before becoming one of the first big-time pass catchers at tight end (66 catches/1190 yards/10 TD in ’65).
Also served as President of the NFL Players Association and served in the Eagles front office post-career.
8. Bill Bergey (MLB 1974-80)
It took two first-round picks, and a second-rounder, to acquire Bergey from the Cincinnati Bengals. At the time Bergey had a contract in place to jump to the World Football League. Bergey ended up being worth every bit of the cost, earning Pro Bowl bids his first five years with the Eagles.
Bergey played sideline-to-sideline, and up towards 260 lbs by the end of his career. Bergey only doesn’t get rated with some of the other greats of his day because the Eagles were still a losing team for most of his time.
7. Randall Cunningham (QB 1985-95)
Yet another of the great ‘what-if’s’ in history.
What if Bryce Paup hadn’t grabbed hold of Cunningham’s knee in the opening game of the 1991 season? Randall was basically Colin Kaepernick played out a generation earlier, starting his career as a project before blossoming in the late 80s-early 90s, to the point that he was a consensus #1 overall fantasy football pick heading into the 1991 season. At his peak, Randall averaged over 3,500 yards through the air and rushed for 942 yards the year before the torn ACL.
Still, Randall lasted 11 years with the Eagles and successfully re-invented himself as a pocket passer in the later portion of his career. Cunningham’s signature play as an Eagle remains the Monday Night v. the Giants when he scrambled, eluded a Carl Banks hit, and threw a four-yard TD pass.
6. Harold Carmichael (WR 1971-83)
At 6’8”, 225 lbs, Carmichael provided unique mismatch problems at his position that had not been seen before or since, and he finished with a then-record streak of catches in 127 consecutive games.
Length of service plays into the high ranking. Except for his final seven-yard reception with the hated Cowboys, Harold’s entire career was in kelly green. The team being awful during his era kept him from getting more national pub, except for Irv Cross noting his ‘nifty’ catches during halftime highlights.
5. Donovan McNabb (QB 1999-2009)
It’s a microcosm of his career in general the McNabb falls just short on the Eagles all-time list.
He did lead the team to five conference championship game appearances during his time in midnight green. He threw for 216 touchdowns against only 100 interceptions. If you had him, or played against him, in fantasy football during the 2000s you knew just how good he was.
McNabb, for whatever reasons though, remains an enigma. Rush Limbaugh accused the media of having his back too much, and McNabb had the audacity to cough up his cookies late in the Super Bowl, etc., etc. He could never quite seem to win his fan base, or critics over – but his complete body of work is pretty damn good.
Perhaps the best Eagle so far in the 21st century.
In a 2002 game, Dawkins hit for the pro football equivalent of recording the cycle: he recorded a sack, interception, forced fumble, and a 57-yard touchdown reception.
In his 13 years as an Eagle, Dawkins recorded close to 900 tackles, 34 interceptions, 32 forced fumbles, and 21 sacks. A member of the all-2000s team, Dawkins career lasted through 2011, I would expect Brian to be standing in the Hall of Fame not long after his five-year wait.
3. Steve Van Buren (RB 1944-51, HOF)
Honduras’s contribution to the Hall of Fame, Van Buren took one look outside his window in December, 1948, deciding to sleep in knowing for certain that the scheduled NFL Championship Game that day would be postponed on account of excessive snow. It would not be until 2010 that the NFL got around to calling games on weather conditions.
Fortunately, coach gave him a wakeup call, and after grabbing some tokens and a couple of trolley rides and a walk to the stadium later, Van Buren helped lead his team to the Championship. It probably also helped that while he was on the trolley that members of both teams were busy doing the heavy lifting of getting the tarp off the field, and that the game ultimately began a half-hour late.
A year later, Van Bruen was at it again, rushing for 196 yards in a mudbath at the L.A. Coliseum as the Eagles repeated as league champions. The only bummer was the rainy conditions knocked down the gate from a possible 100,000+ spectators down to 22,000, costing players a huge cut of their share of the gate.
It was Van Buren’s practice habits of running on the beach with boots weighted with sand that helped in the adverse conditions. In his eight years SVB rushed for nearly 6,000 yards before injuries cut his career short.
THEN THERE WERE TWO..
Chuck Bednarik (C/LB 1948-60, HOF)
His final game in the 1960 NFL Championship Game was the capper, in which he participated in 139 of a possible 142 players from scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Fittingly, the game ended with Chuck tackling Jim Taylor ten yards short of the goal-line, and not letting the Packers back up until the clock reached triple-zeroes; at that point he told Taylor, ‘Now I’ll get up, this F—— GAME IS OVER!!!’
And this wasn’t early in his career, or even at the peak of his career, Charlie was going two-way, every play, in his FINAL GAME.
Bednarik remained outspoken well into retirement. Among other things he was not impressed with Deion Sanders version of being a two-way player (a few plays on offense and special teams before fetching a helicopter so he could pinch-hit in a Braves playoff game later in the night). ‘Concrete Charlie’ (his off-season job) also flew 30 missions over Germany during World War II
Reggie White (DE 1985-92)
Reggie remains the greatest player ever to play his position. His first eight years in Philadelphia rank with anyone’s who has ever played the game, averaging just over one sack per game (121 games, 124 sacks). In all Reggie made All-Pro in six of his eight years in Philadelphia and made the Pro Bowl 13 consecutive years.
So, who ya got???
Chuck Bednarik has a nice RPI from the NFL Network All-Time Top 100 countdown, he checks in at #35. Pro Football Reference even has him higher at #20.
Reggie White is of course on the very short list up top, being ranked #7 in the NFL Network show and ranked Numero Uno on Pro Football Reference.
Reggie had eight of his most dominant years in an Eagles uniform, but traded it in for a different shade of green playing his final six years as a Packer (and also came out of retirement as a Carolina Panther).
Meanwhile Chuck played nearly every minute on both sides of the ball for 13 years as an Eagle, and only as an Eagle.
We have a dilemma here, and I see Bednarik on a lot of lists as the all-time best Eagle, and that is a solid nomination.
Of course Reggie fell short in my Packers UFP selection, and if I don’t name him as the Eagles UFP, then I will ultimately have to burn an at-large selection on him. Or I could pick Reggie, and make Bednarik sweat out Selection Sunday in regards to making my 64-player all-time field.
Call me biased, but I’m going with the Minister. The Philadelphia Eagles Ultimate Franchise Player is…