The Philadelphia Eagles are one of the NFL’s oldest franchises. Throughout their long and storied history, the Eagles have experienced periods of great success and bouts of tremendous failure. Despite only winning three championships, the Eagles have fared quite well in the regular season. Their story can best be told by looking at their milestones down through years.
In 1931, the Frankford Yellow Jackets, the NFL’s only franchise in Philadelphia, went bankrupt and ceased operations midway through the season. Eventually a new franchise was awarded to Bert Bell and Lud Wray, former teammates on the University of Pennsylvania football team. Their entry fee was $2,500. Today, the Eagles are estimated to be worth $1.024 billion.
In 1936, with the first pick in the first NFL draft, the Eagles selected the first Heisman Trophy winner, Jay Berwanger. The running back from the University of Chicago chose not to play professional football and instead went to medical school. The Eagles finished the following season 1-11.
In 1939, the Eagles lost to the Brooklyn Dodgers, in Brooklyn at Ebbets Field, 23-14. It was the NFL’s first televised game.
In the early 1940’s, Art Rooney (who bought out Wray) and Bell swapped their Philadelphia franchise with Alexis Thompson and his Pittsburgh franchise. While the owners took the players, the front office staff and the rest of their business with them, they left the names behind.
In 1943, the Second World War prevented the Eagles and the Steelers from fielding full teams. For that one season the two franchises combined their players to form one team. They were affectionately known as the “Steagles.”
In 1948 and 1949, the Eagles won back-to-back NFL Championship Games. Led by head coach Earle “Greasy” Neale and running back Steve Van Buren, the Eagles defeated the Chicago Cardinals 7-0 and then the following year the Los Angeles Rams 14-0. The Eagles are the only NFL team to win back-to-back championships by shutouts.
In 1949, Thompson sold the team to a syndicate of 100 buyers who each paid $3,000 a share. The group was known as the “Happy Hundred.”
Also in 1949, the Eagles drafted Chuck Bednarik from Pennsylvania. Bednarik was the last player in the NFL to play every snap of a game. He was both a center and a linebacker. He would finish his career with eight trips to the Pro Bowl and ten All-Pro selections. An indelible figure for both the Eagles and the league, Bednarik was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.
In 1960, the Eagles handed legendary coach Vince Lombardi his only playoff loss. The Eagles defeated the Green Bay Packers 17-13 on a very cold day in Philadelphia. Bednarik tackled Packer great Jim Taylor on the last play of the game—Bednarik was the only Eagle between Taylor and the end zone. Buck Shaw was the Eagles coach at the time and their quarterback was Norm Van Brocklin—a nine time Pro-Bowler and a future member of the Pro Football Hall of fame.
In 1963, 36-year old Jerry Wolman bought the team from the Happy Hundred for $5,505,000. At the time that was an unheard of amount of money for a professional sports team. By the end of the decade Wolman’s empire started to crumble and he was forced to sell the team.
In 1968, the Eagles managed to win two of their last three games forcing the franchise to miss out on obtaining the number one overall pick in the NFL Draft. With the third pick they chose strong safety Leroy Keyes from Purdue. He would play just four seasons with the Eagles. The number one pick in the draft that year was running back O.J. Simpson.
Also in 1968, Eagles fan booed and threw snow balls at Santa Claus.
In 1969, Leonard Tose, a former member of the Happy Hundred, bought the team from Wolman for $16.1 million. At the time, it was the highest amount ever paid for a professional sports franchise.
The 1970 AFL-NFL merger put the Eagles in the NFC East Division along with their heated rivals the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins. As of 2008, the Eagles have won the NFC East seven times.
In 1971, the Eagles moved into Veterans Stadium. At the time the stadium was hailed as a monument to sports engineering. That distinction would be short lived although the team’s tenure at the “Vet” would last until 2002.
In 1976, the Eagles hired Dick Vermeil as head coach. Vermeil would stay with the Eagles until 1982. While with the team he won Coach of the Year honors in 1980.
In 1977, Vermeil acquired strong-armed quarterback Ron Jaworski from the Los Angeles Rams. Jaworksi would remain with the franchise, putting up solid numbers, until his departure in 1986. Since surpassed by Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, Jaworski did establish the NFL record for most consecutive career starts by a quarterback at 116.
In 1978, with linebacker Bill Bergey anchoring defense, the Eagles made the playoffs for the first time since 1960. The team would eventually reach the post season in each of the next three seasons.
Also in 1978, the Eagles defeated the Giants 19-17 in “The Miracle at the Meadowlands.” The Giants were seconds away from victory but instead of taking a knee they ran a play which resulted in a fumble. Eagles defensive back Herman Edwards recovered the ball and returned it for a game winning touchdown.
In 1980, Vermeil, Jaworski and Bergey, along with wide receiver Harold Carmichael and running back Wilbert Montgomery, led the Eagles to Super Bowl XV. Despite being heavily favored, Philadelphia lost the game 27-10 to the surging Oakland Raiders. Many blame the loss on Tose’s decision to allow Don Rickles in the locker room before the game to lighten the team’s mood.
In 1988, the Eagles were knocked out of the playoffs by the Chicago Bears in the infamous “Fog Bowl.” Played in what was basically a cloud that had enveloped Soldier Field in Chicago, the high expectations of the Eagles were dashed 20-12 by the Bears whose offense was better suited to the thick fog.
In 1989, the Eagles defeated the Cowboys in a pair of games that would be dubbed Bounty Bowl and Bounty Bowl II. Bounty Bowl took place on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas. After the game, the Cowboys accused the Eagles of putting a bounty on their kicker Luis Zendejas. Two weeks later, Philadelphia defeated Dallas in a game marred by Eagles fans throwing snowballs and beer bottles at players. Interestingly, CBS Sports was allowed to promote the second game as “Bounty Bowl II.”
In 1990, during a Monday Night Football game, the Eagles defeated the Redskins 28-14 on the strength of three defensive touchdowns. The Eagles tough “D” knocked the Redskins starting and backup quarterbacks out of the game. Redskins running back Brian Mitchell, a future Eagle, was forced to play quarterback. The brutal contest now goes by the sobriquet “The Body Bag Game.”
In 1986, the Eagles hired Buddy Ryan as head coach. Ryan led the team to three straight playoff appearances in 1988, 1989 and 1990. Leading the offense during these years was quarterback Randle Cunningham, tight end Keith Jackson and running back Keith Byars.
In 1991, the Eagles defense had a season for the ages. The squad, which featured hall of famer Reggie White, Jermone Brown, Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, Eric Allen and Andrew Waters, gave up the fewest rushing and passing yards in the league. Surprisingly, the team failed to make the playoffs.
In 1994, Jeffrey Lurie bought the franchise from Norman Braman for $185 million.
In 1999, Andy Reid was hired as the Eagles head coach. In his first ever draft, Reid selected quarterback Donovan McNabb. Eagles’ fans booed the selection wishing the team had drafted running back Ricky Williams.
In 2001, the Eagles played in their first of four consecutive NFC Championship games. They lost the first three before finally winning one in 2004.
In 2003, the Eagles moved into Lincoln Financial Field. They lost their first regular season game they ever played there17-0 to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
In 2004, the Eagles fell to the New England Patriots 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX. McNabb threw for 357 yards and 3 touchdowns while completing 30 of 51 passes. However, he threw three interceptions and was sacked four times.
In 2006, controversial wide receiver Terrell Owens publically complained about the franchise not recognizing his 100th touchdown catch. Then he agreed with commentator Michael Irvin that if Brett Favre was the Eagles quarterback the team would be undefeated. Owens later apologized to the organization, but not to Donovan McNabb, the Eagles quarterback at the time.
In 2008, the franchise won their 500th game.
In 2013, the team returned to the NFC Championship Game, their fifth in eight years, but were plucked by the Arizona Cardinals, 32-25.
In the years to come, the Philadelphia Eagles are sure to be annual contenders for the NFC East crown. The Eagles franchise may not have a Super Bowl victory to show for it, but over the past 30 years they have been a dominate force in the NFL’s regular season.