History of the Philadelphia Eagles
The official NFL history of the Philadelphia Eagles begins in 1933. The Eagles' history may be divided into eight distinct eras. In their history, the Eagles have appeared in the Super Bowl twice, but they have never won it. The Eagles have won three NFL Championships, the precursor to the Super Bowl, in four appearances.
The beginning era of the Eagles history, 1933 to 1939, was influenced by its owner, and then also coach, Bert Bell. After Bell ostensibly sold the team, to Alexis Thompson in 1940, the second era of the Eagles history was largely directed by their coach and future Hall of Famer, Greasy Neale.
- 1 Beginnings (1933-39)
- 2 "On the wings of Eagles": the golden age (1940-49)
- 3 Mediocrity (1950-59)
- 4 Struggles (1960-69)
- 5 From hopeless to hopeful (1970-79)
- 6 Mild success (1980-1990)
- 7 Kotite and Rhodes (1991-98)
- 8 The Reid era (1999-2012)
- 9 References
- 10 Bibliography
- 11 Further reading
Formation and Early Years
In 1931, Philadelphia's NFL franchise, the Frankford Yellow Jackets, who had won the NFL Championship in 1926, went bankrupt and ceased operations midway through the season. After more than a year searching for a suitable replacement, the NFL granted an expansion franchise to a syndicate headed by former University of Pennsylvania teammates Lud Wray and Bert Bell. Bell and Wray had previously played football together on the "Union Club" squads, the Union Club of Phoenixville in 1920 and the Union Quakers of Philadelphia in 1921.
In exchange for an entry fee of $2,500, the Bell-Wray group was awarded the assets of the failed Yellow Jackets organization. Drawing inspiration from the insignia of the centerpiece of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, the National Recovery Act, Bell and Wray named the new franchise the Philadelphia Eagles. Neither the Eagles nor the NFL officially regard the two franchises as the same, citing the aforementioned period of dormancy. The Eagles simply inherited the NFL rights to the Philadelphia area. Also, almost no players from the 1931 Yellow Jackets ended up with the 1933 Eagles.
The new team played its first game on October 15, 1933, against the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds in New York City. They lost the game 56-0. The Eagles struggled over the course of their first decade, never winning more than three games. For the most part, the Eagles' rosters were composed of former Penn, Temple and Villanova players who put in a few years before going on to other things.
In 1935, Bell, by that point the team's General Manager, proposed an annual college draft to equalize talent across the league. The draft was a revolutionary concept in professional sports. Having teams select players in inverse order of their finish in the standings, a practice still followed today, strove to increase fan interest by guaranteeing that even the worst teams would have the opportunity for annual infusions of the best college talent. Between 1927 (the year the NFL changed from a sprawling association to a narrower, major-market league) and 1934, a triopoly of three teams (the Chicago Bears, New York Giants and Green Bay Packers) had won all but one title since 1927 (the lone exception being the Providence Steam Roller of 1928).
Sole Owner and Coach Bell (1936-1939)
Having finished last in the standings, the Eagles were "honored" with the first pick, an opportunity they squandered by selecting the University of Chicago's Heisman Trophy-winning back, Jay Berwanger. Fortunately for the Eagles, they had managed by then to trade his rights to the Chicago Bears. Berwanger, who had no interest in playing professional football, elected to go to medical school instead.
The Eagles' first major recruiting success would come in 1939, with the signing of Texas Christian's All-America quarterback, Davey O'Brien; O'Brien proceeded to shatter numerous existing single-season NFL passing records in his rookie season. That year, the Eagles participated in the first televised football game, against the Brooklyn Dodgers, at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn (as was to be expected of the 1930s Eagles, they lost the game, 23-14).
"On the wings of Eagles": the golden age (1940-49)
The 1940s would prove a tumultuous and ultimately triumphant decade for the young club. In 1940, the team moved from Philadelphia Municipal Stadium to Shibe Park. Lud Wray's half-interest in the team was purchased by Art Rooney, who had just sold the Pittsburgh Steelers to Alexis Thompson. Soon thereafter, Bell/Rooney and Thompson swapped franchises, but not teams. Bell/Rooney's entire Eagles' corporate organization, including most of the players, moved to Pittsburgh (The Steelers' corporate name remained "Philadelphia Football Club, Inc." until 1945) and Thompson's Steelers moved to Philadelphia, leaving only the team nicknames in their original cities. Since NFL franchises are territorial rights distinct from individual corporate entities, the NFL does not consider this a franchise move and considers the current Philadelphia Eagles as a single unbroken entity from 1933. [dead link]
After assuming ownership, Thompson promptly hired Greasy Neale as the team's head coach. In its first years under Neale, the team continued to struggle. In 1943, when manpower shortages stemming from World War II made it impossible to fill the roster, the team temporarily merged with the Steelers to form a team popularly known as the "Steagles." The merger, never intended as a permanent arrangement, was dissolved at the end of the 1943 season. This season saw the team's first winning season in its 11-year history, with a finish of 5-4-1. In 1944, however, the Eagles finally experienced good fortune, as they made their finest draft pick to date: running back Steve Van Buren. At last, the team's fortunes were about to change.
Led by Van Buren and Neale, the Eagles became a serious competitor for the first time. They had their first winning season as a separate team in 1944. After two more second-place finishes (1945 and 1946), the Eagles reached the NFL title game for the first time in 1947. Van Buren, end Pete Pihos and Bosh Pritchard fought valiantly, but the young team fell to the Chicago Cardinals, 28-21, at Chicago's Comiskey Park. Undeterred, the young squad rebounded and returned to face the Cardinals once more in the 1948 championship. With home-field advantage (and a blinding snowstorm) on their side, the Eagles won their first NFL Championship, 7-0. Due to the severity of the weather, few fans were on hand to witness the joyous occasion. That would not be the case the following season, however, when the Eagles returned to the NFL championship game for the third consecutive year and won in dominating fashion in front of a large crowd in Los Angeles, beating the Los Angeles Rams, 14-0.
In Thompson's final draft, Chuck Bednarik was selected as the first overall pick in the 1949 NFL Draft. An All-American lineman/linebacker from the University of Pennsylvania, Bednarik would go on to become one of the greatest and most beloved players in Eagles history. 1949 also saw the sale of the team by Thompson to a syndicate of 100 buyers, known as the "Happy Hundred", each of whom paid a fee of $3,000 for their share of the team. While the leader of the "Happy Hundred" was noted Philadelphia businessman James P. Clark, one unsung investor was Leonard Tose, a name that would eventually become very familiar to Eagles fans.
With the turn of the decade came another turn in team fortunes. The Eagles were slated to open the 1950 season against the AAFC champion Cleveland Browns, who had just (with the other AAFC franchises) joined the NFL. The Eagles were expected to make short work of the Browns, who were widely reckoned at the time as the dominant team in a lesser league. However, the Browns lit up the Eagles' vaunted defense for 487 total yards, including 246 passing yards, in a 35-10 rout. The Eagles never really recovered, and finished 6-6.
Neale retired after the season and was replaced by Bo McMillin. Two games into the season, McMillin was forced to retire due to terminal stomach cancer. Wayne Millner finished out the season before being replaced by Jim Trimble. While the remnants of the great 1940s teams managed to stay competitive for the first few years of the decade, and while younger players like Bobby Walston and Sonny Jurgensen occasionally provided infusions of talent, the team lacked the stuff of true greatness for most of the 1950s. The Eagles considered trying to purchase Temple Stadium in 1952 when the team was unhappy with their lease at Shibe Park. Temple University claimed the property to have been appraised for $1 million and said they were uninterested in selling. In 1958, however, the franchise took key steps to improve, hiring Buck Shaw as Head Coach and acquiring Norm Van Brocklin in a trade with the Los Angeles Rams. That year also saw the team move from Connie Mack Stadium (formerly Shibe Park) to Franklin Field, and attendance doubled. The 1959 squad showed real flashes of talent, and finished in second place in the Eastern Division.
1960 remains the most celebrated year in Eagle history. Shaw, Van Brocklin and Chuck Bednarik (each in his last season before retirement) led a team more notable for its grit than its talent (one observer later quipped that the team had "nothing but a championship") to its first division title since 1949. The team was aided by their two Pro Bowl receivers, WR Tommy McDonald (who would later pen a short autobiography titled "They Pay Me to Catch Footballs") and TE Pete Retzlaff. On December 26, 1960, one of the coldest days in recorded Philadelphia history, the Eagles faced Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers in the NFL title game and dealt the mighty Lombardi the sole championship game loss of his storied career. Bednarik lined up at center on offense and at linebacker on defense. Fittingly, the game ended as Bednarik tackled a struggling Jim Taylor and refused to allow him to stand until the last seconds had ticked away.
Flush with excitement from the 17-13 victory, with the talented Jurgensen poised to take the reins of the offense, the future looked promising. That promise, however, proved illusory.
In 1961, the Eagles finished just a half-game behind the New York Giants for first place in the Eastern Conference standings with a 10-4 record. Despite the on-the-field success, however, the franchise was in turmoil. Van Brocklin had come to Philadelphia and agreed to play through 1960 with the tacit understanding that, upon his retirement as a player, he would succeed Shaw as head coach. Ownership, however, opted to promote assistant Nick Skorich instead, and Van Brocklin quit the organization in a fit of pique, instead becoming head coach of the expansion Minnesota Vikings. In 1962, the bottom dropped out as the team was decimated by injury, managed only three wins and were embarrassed at home 49-0 by the Packers. The off-field chaos would continue through 1963, as the remaining 65 shareholders out of the original Happy Hundred sold the team to Jerry Wolman, a 36-year-old millionaire Washington developer who outbid local bidders for the team, paying an unprecedented $5,505,000 for control of the club. In 1964, Wolman hired former Cardinals and Washington Redskins coach Joe Kuharich to a 15 year contract.
Many people have heavily criticized Kuharich as a coach, as they say he wasted top-tier talent such as that of Jurgensen, Timmy Brown, Ollie Matson and Ben Hawkins and effectively ran the franchise into the ground. At Kuharich’s insistence, Jurgensen was traded to the Washington Redskins for Norm Snead in 1964: Jurgensen would go on to a Hall of Fame career while Snead, although serviceable, lacked the talent to lift the team out of mediocrity. By 1968, fans were in full revolt. Chants of “Joe must go” echoed through the increasingly empty bleachers of Franklin Field. Adding insult to injury, the Eagles managed to eke out meaningless wins in two of the last three games of the season, costing the franchise the first pick in the draft, and with it the opportunity to add O. J. Simpson to the roster. (With the second pick, the Eagles chose Leroy Keyes, who played only four years in an Eagles uniform.) The last game of 1968, played on December 15, helped cement the rowdy reputation of Philadelphia fans when some of them booed and threw snowballs at an actor playing Santa Claus. By 1969, Wolman had lost most of his fortune and was bankrupt, leaving the franchise under the administration of a federal bankruptcy court. At the end of the bankruptcy proceedings, the Eagles were sold to Leonard Tose, the self-made trucking millionaire and original member of the Happy Hundred. Tose's first official act was to fire Kuharich.
With an earned reputation as a fast-living high-flier, Tose infused the organization with some much-needed panache. Initially, however, he ran the team with more enthusiasm than ability, as was exemplified by his choice to replace Kuharich, the hapless Jerry Williams. Tose also selected former Eagles great Pete Retzlaff as General Manager.
From hopeless to hopeful (1970-79)
In 1971, the Eagles moved from Franklin Field to brand-new Veterans Stadium. In its first season, the “Vet” was widely acclaimed as a triumph of ultra-modern sports engineering, a consensus that would be short-lived. Equally short-lived was Williams’s tenure as head coach: after a 3-10-1 record in 1970 and three consecutive blowout losses to Cincinnati, Dallas and San Francisco to open the 1971 season, Williams was fired and replaced by assistant Ed Khayat, a defensive lineman on the Eagles' 1960 NFL championship team. Williams and Khayat were hampered by Retzlaff's decision to trade longtime starting quarterback Norm Snead to the Minnesota Vikings in early 1971, leaving the Eagles a choice between journeyman Pete Liske and the raw Rick Arrington.
Khayat lost his first two games, but won six of the final nine in 1971 thanks to the exploits of the defense, led by All-Pro safety Bill Bradley, who led the NFL in interceptions (11) and interception return yardage (248).
The team regressed in 1972, and Khayat was released after the Eagles finished 2-11-1. The two wins (both on the road) proved to be surprises, however. Philadelphia beat Kansas City (which had the best record in the AFC a year before) 21-20 and Houston 18-17 on six field goals by kicker Tom Dempsey. The latter game became known as the "Johnny Rodgers Bowl", because the loser would finish with the worst record in the league and obtain the #1 draft pick of 1973, which was then assumed to be Nebraska wingback Johnny Rodgers. The Oilers ultimately got the #1 pick, which instead turned out to be University of Tampa defensive end John Matuszak (who would end up facing Philadelphia in the Super Bowl several years later). With the second pick, the Eagles selected USC tight end Charle Young.
Khayat was replaced by offensive guru Mike McCormick, who, aided by the skills of Roman Gabriel and towering young receiver Harold Carmichael, managed to infuse a bit of vitality into a previously moribund offense. New general manager Jim Murray also began to add talent on the defensive side of the line, most notably through the addition of future Pro Bowl linebacker Bill Bergey. Overall, however, the team was still mired in mediocrity. McCormick was fired after a 4-10 1975 season, and replaced by a college coach unknown to most Philadelphians. That coach would become one of the most beloved names in Philadelphia sports history: Dick Vermeil.
Vermeil faced numerous obstacles as he attempted to rejuvenate a franchise that had not seriously contended in well over a decade. Despite the team’s young talent and Gabriel’s occasional flashes of brilliance, the Eagles finished 1976 with the same result—a 4-10 record—as in 1975. 1977, however, saw the first seeds of hope begin to sprout. Rifle-armed quarterback Ron Jaworski was obtained by trade with the Los Angeles Rams in exchange for popular tight end Charlie Young. The defense, led by Bergey and defensive coordinator Marion Campbell, began earning a reputation as one of the hardest hitting in the league. By the next year, the Eagles had fully taken Vermeil’s enthusiastic attitude, and made the playoffs for the first time since 1960. Young running back Wilbert Montgomery became the first Eagle since Steve Van Buren to exceed 1,000 yards in a single season. (1978 also bore witness to one of the greatest, and unquestionably most surreal moment in Eagles history: "The Miracle at the Meadowlands," when Herman Edwards returned a late-game fumble by Giants' quarterback Joe Pisarcik for a touchdown with 20 seconds left, resulting in a 19-17 Eagles victory - the Eagles would later edge into the playoffs that year with a 9-7 season.) By 1979, in which the Eagles tied for first place with an 11-5 record and Wilbert Montgomery shattered club rushing records with a total of 1,512 yards, the Eagles were poised to join the NFL elite.
Mild success (1980-1990)
In 1980, the team, led by coach Dick Vermeil, quarterback Ron Jaworski, running back Wilbert Montgomery, wide receiver Harold Carmichael, and linebacker Bill Bergey, dominated the NFC, facing its chief nemesis, the Dallas Cowboys, in the NFC Championship. The game was played in cold conditions in front of the Birds' faithful fans at Veterans Stadium. Led by an incredible rushing performance from Montgomery, whose long cutback TD run in the first half is surely one of the most memorable plays in Eagles history, and a gutsy performance from fullback Leroy Harris, who scored the Eagles' only other TD that day, the Birds earned a berth in Super Bowl XV with a 20-7 victory.
The Eagles traveled to New Orleans for Super Bowl XV and were heavy favorites to knock off the Oakland Raiders, who were merely a wild card team. Things did not go the Eagles' way, beginning with the disastrous decision by Tose to bring comedian Don Rickles into the pregame locker room to lighten the mood. Jaworski's first pass was intercepted by Rod Martin, setting up an Oakland touchdown. Later in the first quarter, a potential game-tying 40-yard touchdown pass to Rodney Parker was nullified by an illegal motion penalty. The final score was 27-10. Veteran journeyman quarterback Jim Plunkett was named the game's MVP. In a bizarre coincidence, Joe Kuharich died on the same day.
The Eagles got off to a great start in the 1981 season, winning their first six games. They eventually ended up 10-6 and earned a wild card berth. However, they were unable to repeat as NFC champs when they were knocked out in the wild card round by the New York Giants, 27-21. After the Eagles finished 3-6 in the strike-shortened 1982 season, Vermeil quit the team, citing "burnout." He was replaced by defensive coordinator Marion Campbell, aka "the Swamp Fox." Campbell had helped to popularize the "bend-don't-break" defensive strategy in the 1970s. Under Campbell, however, the team struggled, although his stewardship was notable in that it saw the arrival of all-time football greats Reggie White and Randall Cunningham. The 1983-85 seasons would see the Eagles go 5-11, 6-9-1, and 7-9, respectively.
Campbell's reign of error ended in 1986, when Buddy Ryan was named head coach. Immediately infusing the team with his tough, hard-as-nails attitude, the Eagles quickly became known for their tough defense and tougher personalities. Ryan began rejuvenating the team by releasing several aging players, including Ron Jaworski. Randall Cunningham took his place, and despite a 5-10-1 season, he began showing considerable promise. 1987 saw another strike, reducing the season by one game. The substitutes who were filling in for the strikers turned in a poor performance, being crushed 41-22 by the Dallas Cowboys. After the strike ended, the regular Eagles team won a 37-20 revenge game against Dallas. The season record was 7-8, three games having been played by substitutes. The Eagles would reach the playoffs in 1988, but lost to the Chicago Bears 20-12 in what became known as the "Fog Bowl", due to the weather conditions during the game.
The following two years would see playoff appearances as well, but the team could not make it past the first round. This failure was greatly frustrating to many Eagles fans, as the team was commonly acknowledged as among the most talented in the NFL. On offense, the Eagles were led by quarterback Cunningham, one of the most exciting players of his generation; tight end Keith Jackson; and running back Keith Byars. The defense is commonly acknowledged as among the greatest in league history, and as the best never to win a championship.
The two 1989 matches with Dallas were known as the Bounty Bowls. Both were won easily by the Eagles (the Cowboys finished 1-15 that year), and were marked by Ryan insulting new Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson, putting a "bounty" on their kicker, and for Eagles fans throwing snowballs on the season ender.
On November 12, 1990, during a Monday Night Football game at the Vet, the Eagles crushed the Washington Redskins by a score of 28-14, with the defense scoring three of the team's four touchdowns. More lopsided than its score would indicate, the game quickly acquired the sobriquet "the Body Bag Game", attesting to the physical damage inflicted by the tougher Eagles squad. The Eagles knocked out the starting Washington quarterback, and then seriously injured his replacement as well. Running back Brian Mitchell, who would later be signed by the Eagles, was forced to play quarterback for the Redskins. Unfortunately, the Redskins returned to Veterans stadium in the first round of the playoffs and defeated the Eagles 20-6, ending their season. Buddy Ryan was fired at the end of the season. Despite his tough talk, the Eagles failed to win a playoff game in the five years he had been head coach.
Kotite and Rhodes (1991-98)
In 1991, the Eagles became the first NFL team since 1975 to rank first in the league in both rushing and passing yardage allowed, but competing in a strong division were unable to reach the playoffs despite a 10-6 record. Along with White, notable defensive stars included Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Eric Allen, Wes Hopkins, and Andre Waters.
With Ryan's firing by Norman Braman, Ryan's former Offensive Coordinator, Rich Kotite, took the helm of the franchise. Although Cunningham suffered a season-ending ACL tear in the season opener, the Eagles still made a respectable showing, missing the playoffs on a tiebreaker. In 1992, Kotite led the Eagles back into the postseason with an 11-5 record. In the Wild Card Round, the Eagles soundly defeated the New Orleans Saints by a final score of 36-20. The Eagles were eliminated by Dallas in the next round (34-10). At the end of the season, DE Reggie White would leave the team through free agency. In the 1992 NFL Off-season, DT Jerome Brown died in a high speed automobile crash on June 25. In 1993 and 1994, Kotite's Eagles would fall apart after initially promising starts, and missed the playoffs in each season, going 8-8 and 7-9. By this point, Braman had become unpopular among most local fans and a polarizing presence in the front office. Under rising scrutiny and deflating optimism, he sold the team to current owner Jeffrey Lurie. Almost Lurie's first act was to fire Kotite.
Lurie's choice to replace Kotite was San Francisco 49ers Defensive Coordinator Ray Rhodes, who successfully lobbied 49ers star Ricky Watters to join the team as a free agent. In 1995, Rhodes's first season, the Eagles got off to a slow start by losing 3 out their first 4 games: they subsequently rebounded, finishing with a 10-6 record and a playoff spot. In the Wild Card Round, the Eagles played at home and overwhelmed the Detroit Lions 58-37, with 31 of Philadelphia's points coming in the second quarter alone. Despite this dominating performance, yet again, the Eagles were eliminated in the next round by the Cowboys (30-11). Ironically, this would be Randall Cunningham's last game as an Eagle. Cunningham would score the only touchdown of the game and the last Eagles post season touchdown for six years.
1995 was perhaps most notable in that it signaled the end of Cunningham's tenure as starting quarterback. Rhodes benched Cunningham in favor of Rodney Peete, leading to friction between the two. Before the benching, news reports circulated that Lurie and Rhodes tried to trade Cunningham to the Arizona Cardinals. However, no such trade was executed and Cunningham retired shortly after the season.
In 1996, the Eagles donned new uniforms featuring a darker shade of green. They got off to a good start, winning three of their first four games. However, a week-5 Monday night game at Veterans Stadium against the hated Cowboys would witness a season-ending knee injury to Peete and the loss of the team's momentum, and the transition to an offense led by Ty Detmer and Watters. While Detmer played well and Watters rushed for 1,411 yards, the season followed an all-too-familiar pattern: 10-6 record, and early elimination (a 14-0 shutout by the 49ers) in the playoffs. The continued early playoff exits led to fans and local media blaming the high priced free agent signings (Irving Fryar, Watters, Troy Vincent, and Guy McIntyre) for not stepping up in big games, most notably the postseason. Rhodes gradually deteriorated under the stress of the job, and players were beginning to grow tired of his brash demeanor and often autocratic coaching style. After an up-and-down 6-9-1 campaign in 1997, the bottom fell out in 1998. The Eagles suffered a 3-13 record--the worst in franchise history. They were ranked dead last in numerous offensive statistics. Home game attendance was declining, a quarterback controversy was deteriorating an already rudderless locker room, and the players had all but tuned out the embattled coaching staff. Left with little choice after a disastrous season, fan revolt and sagging team morale, Lurie fired Rhodes.
The Reid era (1999-2012)
Resurgence would come under the leadership of new head coach Andy Reid, who began by drafting Syracuse QB Donovan McNabb with the #2 pick in the 1999 draft (the Eagles would have had the #1 pick, but it was awarded to the rebooted Cleveland Browns). Despite clearing up roster space for new talent by releasing unpopular, aging veterans (such as Watters and Irving Fryar), Reid was still a virtual unknown at the time of his selection as head coach, and his appointment was met with considerable skepticism in Philadelphia. McNabb was also not considered a good choice to draft by Eagles fans. When he was drafted, many Eagles fans booed the selection, believing that the Eagles should draft Ricky Williams. The choices proved wise, however: with Reid leading the way and McNabb emerging as one of the game's great players. However, 1999 was a rebuilding year and so the Eagles only won five games and game attendance was still looking stale as two home games were not sold out - resulting in local TV blackouts- while the other 6 were only sold out due to several small business owners purchasing the remainder of the unsold tickets to spare TV viewers. The Week 5 game, on Sunday, October 10, 1999, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, saw Dallas WR Michael Irvin suffer a career-ending spinal injury where Eagles fans stood up and cheered as he lay on the field. Even the TV commentators expressed their disgust at this behavior. The 2000 season saw the team go 11-5, reaching the playoffs as a wildcard which rejuvenated the fan base and optimism. After brushing aside the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 21-3, the Eagles moved to the second round of the playoffs, only to lose a 20-10 game against the Giants.
The 2000 regular season opener in Dallas (September 3), became known in NFL lore as the "Pickle Juice Game". Kickoff temperature in Texas Stadium was 109 degrees Fahrenheit and soared to nearly 120, making it the hottest game in league history, beating a previous record set during the 1997 Cowboys-Cardinals match in Arizona. The nickname came about because a certain Eagles trainer had been preparing for the projected high temperatures by having the players drink the juice from jars of dill pickles in order to retain body moisture and stave off cramps and heat exhaustion. The experiment proved a success as the Cowboys lost the game 44-14 and had multiple players benched for inability to handle the brutal temperatures (the Eagles had no players benched). The game also had significance because it marked the beginning of Philadelphia's domination of the NFC East and the end of the Cowboys' dominance.
After compiling an 11-5 record in 2001, the Eagles reached the playoffs again, this time at the top of their division. In a near-rerun of the previous year, they disposed of the Buccaneers in a 31-9 game. In the second round, the Eagles defeated the Bears 33-19 at Soldier Field. Reaching the NFC Championship game, they were unable to stop the St. Louis Rams, who defeated them 29-24
The 2003 team lost its first two games, both at their new home. In the opening game of the 2003 season, the Eagles were shut out 17-0 by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the first regular-season game ever played at Lincoln Financial Field. Once again, the team went 12-4 for the season. By reaching the conference championship game in the same year as this defeat, they became the first team in modern history to get that far in the postseason after having been shut out at home in its first game. They achieved that distinction despite getting only five touchdown catches all year from their wide receivers, which tied the league low since the regular-season schedule was lengthened to its present 16 games in 1978 (this record would be broken in 2004 when the New York Giants' wide receivers caught only two touchdown passes). The Eagle receivers even went through both September and October without a TD catch — the last time an NFL team had done that was in 1945.
2004 Super Bowl run
The Eagles actively pursued premier wide receiver Terrell Owens, and acquired him in a controversial three-way deal with the Baltimore Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers, on March 16, 2004. Owens would often feud with McNabb, and was released by the Eagles after the 2005 season.
The 2004 season began with a bang as Owens caught three touchdown passes from McNabb in their season opener against the New York Giants. Owens would end up with exactly 1,200 receiving yards and 14 touchdown receptions, although his season ended prematurely with an ankle injury on December 19, 2005 against the Dallas Cowboys. Their 12-7 victory in this game gave them home field advantage throughout the conference playoffs for the third year in a row. [This distinction also includes a "bye" in the first round (also known as the Wild Card Round) of the playoffs, which the top two teams in each conference receive.] The Eagles tied a record by clinching the NFC East division crown (their fourth straight such title) after only their eleventh game of the season, matching the mark set by the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 1997 San Francisco 49ers. Their final two regular-season games thus rendered meaningless, the Eagles sat out most of their first-string players in these games and lost them both, yet still finished with a 13-3 record, their best 16-game season ever. McNabb had his finest season to date, passing for 3,875 yards and 31 touchdowns, with only eight interceptions. This made him the first quarterback in NFL history to throw 30 or more TD passes and fewer than 10 interceptions in a single regular season. They then began their playoff run with the Divisional round at home against the sixth-seeded Minnesota Vikings. The Eagles led from the start and never looked back, as McNabb led a very efficient passing attack (21 of 33 for 286 yards and 2 TDs), Brian Westbrook dominated on the ground with 70 rushing yards, and Freddie Mitchell performed very well on the receiving corps (5 receptions for 65 yards and a TD), as Philadelphia won 27-14, setting up their fourth-straight NFC Championship appearance.
The Eagles' futility in Conference Championship games had become notorious. In 2002, the Eagles had fallen in the NFC Championship Game against the Rams in St. Louis, 29-24. In 2003, the Eagles hosted the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Veterans Stadium and were widely viewed as the overwhelming favorites—this view no doubt accentuated by the expected emotional boost that many anticipated would power the team, given that the game was to be the last at "the Vet." After a promising start, however, the game slipped away, and the ensuing 27-10 loss devastated a fan base that had already become too accustomed to disappointment. In 2004, a banged-up Eagles squad managed to overcome numerous injuries, particularly to its defense, to reach the NFC Championship for the third year in a row, only to suffer a heartbreaking 14-3 loss against the Carolina Panthers.
4th championship appearance
On January 23, 2005, the Eagles reached an unprecedented (in the salary cap era of the NFL) fourth consecutive conference championship game. At long last, the Eagles justified the hopes of their long-suffering fan base, defeating Michael Vick's much-hyped Atlanta Falcons, 27-10, sending them to their first Super Bowl in 24 years. The victory sent the city of Philadelphia into wild celebrations.
Super Bowl XXXIX
With two Super Bowl wins under their belt, the defending champion New England Patriots were heavily favored. The game was a defensive struggle through the third quarter, but in the fourth, the Patriots took the lead, with the Eagles trailing ten points. The early game struggle left everyone exhausted, and for his best efforts, McNabb could not get the team within field goal range. He was picked off in the closing seconds of the game. The final score was 24-21, and the Patriots had won their third Super Bowl in four years.
The defending NFC Champions did not fare well the next year. The 2005 season began in a strange and erratic fashion with a 14-10 road loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Monday Night Football, a game in which Donovan McNabb suffered a chest bruise. In addition, Eagles linebacker Jeremiah Trotter was ejected prior to kick-off for getting involved in an altercation with Falcons cornerback Kevin Mathis. In the Week 2 home opener in Philadelphia, the Eagles defeated the San Francisco 49ers in a rout 42-3; however, McNabb was diagnosed with a sports hernia following the game. Weeks 3 and 4 saw the Eagles struggle somewhat but still manage to defeat the Oakland Raiders (23-20) and mount a stunning comeback from an 18-point deficit to defeat the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium (37-31). In week 5, the Eagles were manhandled by the Dallas Cowboys in Texas Stadium, losing by 23 points (33-10). Following a bye week, the Eagles pulled off a miraculous 20-17 win against the San Diego Chargers when cornerback Matt Ware returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Fans hoped the play would “wake up” the Eagles and save the season similar to Brian Westbrook's fourth quarter punt return against the New York Giants in 2003. However, in the next week, the Eagles were unable to stop the running and passing attack of the Denver Broncos, losing 49-21.
Week after week, Andy Reid had come under criticism for the Eagles' lack of dedication to a running game and overworking an injured Donovan McNabb, who was on pace to break the records for all-time passing attempts and completions. The Eagles had also allowed themselves to get behind in the first quarters of games, only to end up fighting from behind in the remaining quarters. Some analysts speculated the Eagles' problems were due to not finding replacements for former defensive linemen Corey Simon and Derrick Burgess, poor pass rush, poor special teams, and the contract disputes with Brian Westbrook and Terrell Owens, along with Owens' virtually weekly controversies. They had also been hindered by injuries to McNabb, Correll Buckhalter, Todd Pinkston, Lito Sheppard, Dirk Johnson, and David Akers.
On November 4, 2005, on ESPN, Terrell Owens criticized the Eagles front office for not recognizing his 100th touchdown catch. He also agreed with Michael Irvin's statement that the Eagles would be undefeated had Brett Favre been the quarterback. Despite Owens's apology the next day to the front office (but not to McNabb), he was suspended indefinitely. There were also reports that he got into a fist fight with Hugh Douglas and challenged other players in the locker room which contributed to his suspension. At Andy Reid's press conference after the Washington loss, he announced T.O. would no longer be playing this year for the Eagles due to conduct detrimental to the team.
Things only got worse for the Eagles. They lost a Sunday night match-up to their division rival, the Washington Redskins 17-10. Then, when they went home and played a rematch with their much-hated rival, the Cowboys, on Monday Night Football, a late game interception by Roy Williams sealed their doom. Not only did they lose 21-20, but the already suffering Donovan McNabb got shoved to the ground, worsening his sports hernia and ending his season.
On November 20, former Detroit quarterback Mike McMahon was named the Eagles starter. However, his wild gun passing didn't do much to phase the Giants, as the Eagles went down again 27-17. Then, on November 21 Donovan McNabb announced that he would undergo surgery for his sports hernia. The Eagles would finish the season without at least eight of their projected starters heading into the season, including Pinkston, Hank Fraley, Dirk Johnson, and Pro Bowlers McNabb, Brian Westbrook, Lito Sheppard, Tra Thomas, and the exiled Owens.
Their next-to-last win of the season came a week later against the injury-ravaged Green Bay Packers 19-14. At a home game on December 5, on Monday Night Football, the Eagles retired #92, which had belonged to the late Reggie White. Unfortunately, they got shut out by the NFC West and eventful NFC champion Seattle Seahawks 42-0. Afterwards, they lost to the Giants at home 26-2. Their last win of the season came on the road against the St. Louis Rams 17-16. Then they lost their last two games of the season to the Arizona Cardinals on the road 27-21 and then at home to the wild card Washington Redskins 31-20. They ended their 2005 season at 6-10, which marked the first time since 1999 that the Eagles failed to make the playoffs.
After expectations of a return to the Super Bowl, it appeared the Eagles would have to retool in the 2006 off-season to make another run for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
In 2006, the Eagles started off hot, beating the Houston Texans in Houston 24-10. And they kept the streak going, jumping to a 24-7 lead against the Giants before losing 30-24 in overtime. They won their next two games easily, beating the 49ers in San Francisco and then returning home to limit Brett Favre's Packers to three field goals. The Birds' 3-1 record set the stage for Terrell Owens' return to Philadelphia.
Owens return to Philadelphia was being promoted by Fox as the "game of the year". The game had more at stake, because the winner would take the lead in the NFC East. Owens received boos and jokes about his accidental overdose from a sell-out crowd. Lito Sheppard's game-winning interception for a touchdown sealed the game for the Eagles, 38-24.
McNabb's season was already considered one of the finest in Eagles history and his career. After the win against Owens' Cowboys, they faced the upstart New Orleans Saints, with critics claiming the winner would be the NFC favorite. The Eagles ended up losing 27-24 on a last second field goal. The next week at Tampa, the Eagles would once again lose on a last second field goal. This time the field goal was an improbable 62 yarder by Matt Bryant - the second longest in NFL History.
One week before their bye, the Eagles faced the Jacksonville Jaguars and failed to score a touchdown in a 13-6 loss. After their bye, they routed the Redskins, which not only kept Reid/McNabb perfect after the bye week, it put them back on track after three consecutive losses. The Birds were on a roll going into their match with Vince Young's Titans, but were dominated throughout the game, losing 31-13. The bigger loss however was Donovan McNabb - injured for the second straight year.
With Donovan McNabb going down to injury, the Eagles called on Jeff Garcia to lead the team. The move was a highly unpopular one, because fans believed A.J. Feeley was their best bet. After falling to Peyton Manning's Indianapolis Colts, the Eagles' record stood at 5-6, and they did not appear to be in playoff contention.
However, Garcia led the team to an improbable five-game winning streak, which included a three-game NFC East road trip and a Christmas showdown in Dallas. The Eagles finished the season 10-6, but lost the tie-breaker to the Saints, meaning they would be the third seed.
The Eagles won their home wild card game against the Giants 23-20, on a David Akers' field goal. The game officially sent Tiki Barber into retirement. Their divisional playoff game was a Week 6 rematch against the Saints. The Eagles lost by the same score as in the regular season: 27-24. Andy Reid made the controversial decision to punt with less than two minutes remaining.
2007 marked the Eagles' 75th season. McNabb delivered average performances, and missed three games due to an injury. The team only achieved an 8-8 record and missed the playoffs.
The beginning of 2008 presented a good opportunity for the Eagles. Donovan McNabb got a good start to the season, Brian Westbrook ran for many touchdowns, and rookie receiver DeSean Jackson became an important figure in the Eagles' passing game. However the Eagles went against the 1-8 Bengals in Week 10 and McNabb played horribly, throwing consistent interceptions and leading the Eagles to a ten-point deficit at the half. Despite being able to score those ten points, the game went into overtime. A Bengals missed field goal led to Eagles ball, but McNabb's 'Hail Mary' was deflected with seconds left in overtime, and the game ended in a 13-13 tie, the first since 2002. McNabb then sparked controversy by admitting that he was unaware that an NFL game could end in a tie.
Against Baltimore, things were even worse. At halftime, due to bad performance, McNabb was benched. However, the Eagles needed him, and it would show. His backup, Kevin Kolb, managed to get the Eagles to the Baltimore two-yard line; he then threw an interception in the end zone that was returned by Ed Reed for a record 107-yard touchdown.
By this time, it was obvious that the Eagles needed a good quarterback for the next week's match-up against the Arizona Cardinals, who for the first time in several decades seemed poised to win their division. The game was scheduled for Thanksgiving night, and the decision was eventually made to start Donovan McNabb, but if he played like he did in the last couple of weeks, he would probably be benched for the season. But McNabb surprised everyone and lead the Eagles to what was perhaps one of the greatest games in franchise history, a 48-21 blowout in which McNabb threw for four touchdowns. The Eagles went on a three game win streak following up the Cardinals victory with wins over the Giants and Browns. The Eagles then lost to a mediocre at best Redskins team, 10-3 and putting their post season prospects in serious doubt.
However, the Eagles were able to run over the Dallas Cowboys 44-6 on December 28, 2008 and advanced to the playoffs. The Eagles then defeated the Minnesota Vikings 26-14 in the first round of the playoffs on January 4, 2009. They defeated their division rival and the defending Super Bowl champions the New York Giants 23-11 in the NFC Divisional Round to advance to their fifth NFC Championship game in nine years. For the third time in a decade, an all-Pennsylvania Super Bowl seemed possible, as the Pittsburgh Steelers won the AFC Championship against the Baltimore Ravens. However, the Eagles lost 32-25 to the Arizona Cardinals.
In August, the team stirred up controversy by signing ex-Falcons quarterback Michael Vick, who had recently been released from prison for federal dogfighting charges. On the regular season opener against Carolina, McNabb sustained a broken rib and sat out the next two games, with Kevin Kolb taking his place as starter. Afterwards, Philadelphia endured a bad loss to New Orleans, but then beat Kansas City the following week. McNabb returned, and Vick also began playing (as he had been barred from the first two games). He got off to a slow start and was used sparingly for much of the season. After a 13-9 loss in Oakland, the Eagles defeated the Redskins 27-17 on Monday Night Football. During this game, running back Brian Westbrook suffered a severe concussion and was knocked unconscious. He returned to play in the Week 10 game against San Diego, but was felled by a second concussion. Afterwards, Philadelphia went on a five-game winning streak and clinching a playoff berth after defeating the Broncos in Week 16, which marked Brian Westbrook's return to action after an absence of five weeks. However, the season ended with a whimper, as they were shut out by a resurgent Cowboys squad the following week. This put Dallas at the top of the NFC East and giving the Eagles a wild card spot. The two teams then had to play again the following week, but Philadelphia went down to defeat a second time, the score being 34-14.
On January 11, 2010, General Manager Tom Heckert was hired by the Cleveland Browns in the same role. He was replaced by Howie Roseman, who was promoted from Vice President of Player Personnel. On February 23, 2010 the Eagles released starting running back Brian Westbrook, Eagles' all-time leader in yards from scrimmage with 9,785 yards.
A bigger surprise came on Easter Sunday, when the team traded quarterback Donovan McNabb to their division rival Washington Redskins for a second-round (37th overall) pick in the 2010 NFL Draft, and a third- or fourth-round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. Kevin Kolb was named team's starting quarterback.
The Kolb era did not begin on a positive note as the Eagles donned their throwback kelly green jerseys and hosted the Green Bay Packers in their opening game as both teams performed poorly in the first half, although that was partially because of weather conditions and damaged turf in Lincoln Financial Field. Kolb was thrown to the ground by Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and was forced to sit out the game after it was determined that he suffered a concussion. Five other Packers and Eagles players were also injured in the game. Michael Vick replaced Kolb, but the Packers ended up winning the game, 27-20, the Packers' first win in Philadelphia since 1962 and their first-ever win on Lincoln Financial Field.
With Vick taking over as starter, the Eagles traveled and defeated the Detroit Lions 35-32 in week 2 with Vick's impressive performance in the team's offense. Although Kolb was presumed to be the starter after he recovered from injury, Andy Reid named Vick as the starting quarterback instead. The team then traveled to Jacksonville. Vick scored four touchdowns (three passing and one rushing) and no interceptions in a 28-3 rout of the Jaguars.
Week 4 saw the return of McNabb to Philadelphia. He was generally given a warm reception, and the Redskins got a touchdown early in the first quarter. After that, both offenses sputtered and the Eagles had to settle for two field goals. But things rapidly fell apart when Vick was injured late in the first quarter with chest and rib injuries he suffered when two Redskins defensive backs crushed him from both sides while running near to the endzone. Kolb was once again brought out as starter, but delivered an uninspired performance. He did manage a touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, but it was too little too late. A two-point conversion attempt after the touchdown failed, and Washington won 16-12. Afterward, Vick was diagnosed with cracked cartilage and forced to sit out at least one game.
With Kolb starting, the Eagles headed to San Francisco for a Sunday Night Football match against the 0-4 49ers. Kolb passed for 253 yards and one touchdown to lead his team to a 27-24 victory. Philadelphia won its first home game in week 6 by overpowering the Falcons 31-17. Kolb continued to improve, passing for 326 yards, three touchdown passes, and one interception. However, he was not able to sustain this momentum in the week 8 game against Tennessee, throwing two interceptions and only one touchdown. The Eagles lost 37-19 to enter their bye week at 3-3 and once again Vick was brought out as starter prior to hosting Indianapolis in week 10. This game proved an intense, highly physical contest as Vick scored two touchdowns (one passing and one rushing) and Philadelphia overcame stubborn resistance by the Colts to win 27-24. Afterwards, the Eagles headed to Washington, where, for the second year in a row, they faced the Redskins on Monday Night Football. Philadelphia quickly marched out to two touchdowns in the first quarter, putting them up at 14-0 within five minutes. By the second quarter, they had scored another two, leading by 28 points. Four more touchdowns followed in a 59-28 blowout of Washington. All in all, there were eight (four passing, three rushing, and one interception return), six of which were from Michael Vick, who had 333 passing and 80 rushing yards for one of the finest performances of his career.
For the third season in a row, the Eagles traveled to Chicago, a team that Michael Vick had a career 0-4 record against. This time would be no different as the Bears' defense slowed him down to win 31-26. Vick also threw his first interception of the season. The Eagles rebounded with a Thursday game against Houston. Despite winning 34-24, Philadelphia's defense turned in a relatively mediocre performance, which may have had to do with the fact that the team had played four games in a 17-day stretch.
On Sunday Night in Week 15, the Eagles headed to Dallas for a game with their arch-rivals. However, the Cowboys were a considerably weaker team than when they defeated Philadelphia three times in 2009. Their QB Tony Romo was out of commission from an injury, they had had their head coach Wade Phillips fired halfway through the season, and they were barely clinging to life at 4-9. Michael Vick delivered an average performance, although one of the game's highlights was a 90-yard TD pass to Desean Jackson. Although Andy Reid had gained a reputation as a pass-happy coach, the Eagles' scoring was mainly based on run plays and long field goals. Despite a close game, they prevailed 30-27 and eliminated Dallas from playoff contention.
In Week 15, the Eagles beat New York in a shocking upset by overcoming a 21-point deficit in the second half. In the closing seconds of the game, Desean Jackson returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown to win 38-31. This became known as the Miracle at the New Meadowlands. After locking up their first division title in four years, the Eagles played a surprisingly bad game against Minnesota and lost. The team lost a meaningless season ender against Dallas before preparing to host Green Bay again in the wild card round of the playoffs. Despite playing the Packers hard, Philadelphia's first home playoff game since 2006 ended in defeat 21-16 as Vick threw a hail mary interception in the closing minute of the 4th quarter. Pro bowler David Akers, who had one of the best seasons ever by a kicker, also contributed to the loss having a rare poor game going 1 for 3, missing from 34 & 41 yards.
2011: "Dream Team"
The off-season was marred by a lockout that began in March after the NFL's collective bargaining agreement expired, making practices, trades, and free agency impossible. During the draft, the Eagles did comparatively little. After the lockout ended in July, the team embarked on a rash of high profile FA signings, including Raiders CB Nnamdi Asomugha, Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown, Giants WR Steve Smith, Packers TE Donald Lee, Titans DE Jason Babin, Packers DT Cullen Jenkins, and Cardinals CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. Meanwhile, Kevin Kolb, displeased at losing the starting QB job to Michael Vick in 2010, was traded to Arizona for Cromartie. Replacing him as 2nd-stringer was ex-Titans QB Vince Young. Vince Young made a lot of hype by calling Philadelphia the "Dream Team".
Although the Eagles won their 2011 opener in St. Louis, the Dream Team failed to deliver as Michael Vick fell victim to injuries and turnovers. The Eagles lost four straight games. With Vince Young taking over, Philadelphia beat the Washington Redskins at last in Week 6. In Week 8, Vick returned to help crush the Cowboys at home 34-7. After further losses to Chicago and Arizona, the Eagles beat the New York Giants and then fell to New England and Seattle before winning their final four matches and finishing 8-8.
2012: 4-12 4 '12
The Eagles entered 2012 with strong hopes after winning their last 4 games of last season. When the team started 3-1, including a 24-23 victory over the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, the fans were thinking playoffs, even Super Bowl. However, these hopes came to a crashing halt as the team lost their next 8 and 11 of their next 12 to finish 4-12, their worst record since 1998. The Eagles proceeded to fire Andy Reid, the longest-tenured and winningest coach in team history. Reid would later join the Kansas City Chiefs as head coach. The team would later hire University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly, who led the Ducks to 3 straight BCS bowls, including the 2011 BCS Championship Game. Kelly led the team to a 10-6 record and an NFC Eastern Division title in 2013.
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- Didinger; with Lyons, p. 200.
- NFL Flashback, "You can get up now, Taylor. This fucking game's over.": Chuck Bednarik Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- Philly booed Santa, but Santa still smiles-ESPN Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- There is crying in football-ESPN Retrieved 10 July 2012
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- Eagles release headache Owens Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- Eagles suspend T.O. indefinitely for comments-ESPN Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- Media's Mistake Way Bigger Than Donovan McNabb's-Bleacher Report Retrieved 10 July 2012.
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- Miracle at the New Meadowlands sinks Giants-NBC Sports Retrieved 11 July 2012.
- Vince Young declares Eagles to be a dream team-Pro Football Talk Retrieved 10 July 2012.
- Didinger, Ray; with Lyons, Robert S. (2005). The Eagles Encyclopedia. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 1-59213-449-1
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- Eagles record-setting game in 1934 was against doomed Cincinnati Reds
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- Davis, Jeff (2005). Papa Bear, The Life and Legacy of George Halas. New York: McGraw-Hill ISBN 0-07-146054-3
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- MacCambridge, Michael (2005). America's Game. New York: Anchor Books ISBN 978-0-307-48143-6
- Peterson, Robert W. (1997). Pigskin: The Early Years of Pro Football. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-507607-9
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