The Philadelphia Eagles are another of the old-time football teams in the NFL, as they were founded in 1933. Throughout most of their history, the Eagles have been a symbol of the working class personality of their Philadelphia fans. Many times over the years, the Phillie fans, sometimes known as the Boo Birds, have been a big part of the Eagles story.
Like any good sports franchise, the Philadelphia Eagles measure themselves by the intensity of their rivalries. The Eagles have three major divisional rivals. The New York Giants is another manifestation of the longstanding Philadelphia/New York rivalry. The Washington Redskins have been a rival since the two teams came into the NFL together in the 1930′s. And then there are the hated Dallas Cowboys, who have been a thorn in the side of Eagles fans for most of the past 50 years.
Philadelphia Eagles Championships
The Eagles have won 11 division championships, 3 pre-Superbowl NFL league titles and 2 NFC titles in the Superbowl era. The Eagles have never won the Superbowl, though they have been a Superbowl contender in each of the past three decades under three different coaches: Dick Vermeil, Buddy Ryan and Andy Reed.
The Eagles won NFL Championships in 1948, 1949 and 1960. The title teams of the forties were led by running back Steve Van Buren, while the Eagles title team of 1960 featured quarterback Norm Van Brocklin and linebacker Chuck Bednarik. This last title was at the expense of Vince Lombardi and his Green Bay Packers. This was the only time during Lombardi’s Green Bay tenure when the Packers lost a title game. A long drought would follow the title win in 1960.
By the 1970′s, the Eagles were one of the league’s perennial whipping boys. When the Dallas Cowboys began their 20-year run in the mid-1960′s, they beat the Eagles regularly about 90% of the time for the first decade of that run. By the time Dick Vermeil arrived in the 1976, the Cowboys had become the chief rival for most Eagles fans.
Dick Vermeil and the Eagles
Dick Vermeil was a winning head coach out of UCLA, where he led the Bruins to their first PAC-10 title in ten years. Slowly but surely, Vermeil would build the Eagles roster and bring the franchise back to respectability. Vermeil was famous for putting long hours into the job, a habit which would eventually lead to early burnout in 1982.
Vermeil brought youthful energy into the Eagles job. One of his first acts was to hold open tryouts for the Eagles, a move which led to the inclusion of Vince Papale to the roster. This move was eventually turned into the movie Invincible, starring Mark Wahlberg as Papale and Greg Kinnear as Vermeil.
Another memorable moment of the early Vermeil years was the 1978 Miracle at the Meadowlands, when the Eagles defeated the Giants in the final seconds of what appeared to be a loss. The Giants fumbled a snap of the ball, allowing Eagles safety Hermann Edwards to grab the fumble and run for a game-winning touchdown.
Glory Years for Vermeil
1978 was also the first time Dick Vermeil led the Philadelphia Eagles to the playoffs. In his third year as head coach, the Eagles finished second in the NFC East and collected a wildcard berth to the playoffs. This season ended in a loss to the Atlanta Falcons, but would be the first of four straight trips to the NFC playoffs.
In 1979, the Eagles went 11-5 and once again finish second in the division to the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles would defeat the Chicago Bears in the wildcard playoff round, but would lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Playoffs the next week.
1980 was a magical year for the Eagles, as they finally broke through to win the division. After the two teams split the season series 1-1, the Eagles defeated the hated Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game to earn their first trip to the Superbowl. They would lose to the Oakland Raiders in Superbowl XV.
The Eagles would make the playoffs again in 1981, but the team began to decline in 1982. After this season, Dick Vermeil retired due to burnout. The Eagles would struggle from 1983 through 1985 under Marion Campbell.
Buddy Ryan Comes to Phillie
The 1986 season was the first with Buddy Ryan as the Eagles head coach. Ryan was fresh off his stint as defensive coordinator of the 1985 Chicago Bears, where his defense was considered the catalyst for the Bears only Superbowl victory. Buddy Ryan was expected to bring a tough defensive style to Philadelphia, and this is just what he did.
Ryan’s Eagles defense included Eagles greates like Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Wes Hopkins, Eric Allen, Andre Waters and Jerome Brown. This defense would be dominating enough to make the Eagles a perennial contender, and the Eagles made playoffs six of the next nine years.
The Eagles offensive star in these years was Randall Cunningham. Cunningham had rare skills running the ball, while he threw a solid deep ball. The Eagles offense was seldom consistent in these years, though many pundits blamed Buddy Ryan’s seeming contempt for offensive football. Many believed that Ryan wanted Cunningham to make one or two big plays a ballgame, while letting the defense do the rest.
This style never meshed enough to take the Eagles to an NFC Championship Game, though it did make them a dangerous opponent. Few teams wanted to play the Philadelphia Eagles in the late 1980′s and early 1990′s. The team could make bad teams look worse, as is the case with the Dallas Cowboys of that time.
The Bounty Bowl
The Dallas Cowboys were going through one of their worst stretches in 25 years during Buddy Ryan’s years with the Eagles. During the strike season of 1987, Buddy Ryan believed that Tom Landry ran the score up during one of the "scab" games.
When the players returned from strike later in the season, the Eagles found themselves defeating the Cowboys easily in the 4th quarter of the rematch. Buddy Ryan ordered Randall Cunningham to fake a kneel-down near the Cowboys goal line late in the game, then throwing for a late touchdown to embarrass the Cowboys. Eagles fans approved the move.
This seemed to encourage Buddy Ryan. When Jimmy Johnson took over as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys for the 1989, he was a hotshot college coach who had won a national title with the Miami Hurricanes. Buddy Ryan commented prior to the season that Johnson would find the National Football League different from college football, as there were no East Carolinas in the NFL.
In the week of the Cowboys-Eagles first matchup that season, it was rumored that the Eagles had put a bounty on the head of Dallas kicker Luis Zendejas. Zendejas had been cut by Eagles coach Buddy Ryan earlier that year. When Zendejas was knocked down on a kickoff, it was said the Eagles had a $200 bounty for players who would hit him.
The Jessie Small hit put Zendejas out with a concussion. Jimmy Johnson claimed that Buddy Ryan had put a bounty on the heads of both the kicker and Troy Aikman. Johnson claimed he wanted to take up the incident with Ryan, but Ryan ran his "fat butt" to the locker room before he could do so.
Bounty Bowl II
Two weeks later, the Cowboys and Eagles would play again. The game would be the second time in three weeks the Eagles would trounce the 1-15 Cowboys. Eagles fans were particularly rowdy during this game, throwing snowballs filled with batteries at Jimmy Johnson, the Cowboys punter, one member of the referee crew and the CBS announcing team which was working the game. Johnson needed a police escort as he ran off the field.
Buddy Ryan would lead the Eagles to the playoffs 3 out of his 5 years with the team. Their most famous playoff game of this era was in the 1988-1989 season, when the Eagles lost the Fog Bowl to the Chicago Bears in Soldier Field.
Buddy Ryan often had been critical of Eagles ownership in his years with the team, making few friends in the front office. After Buddy Ryan had failed to win a playoff game with the Eagles in five years, the Eagles owners refused to renew his contract.
Post-Buddy Ryan Decline
The 1991 season saw the Eagles defense set many defensive records, and some compared the defense favorably to the ’85 Bears Defense. They Eagles missed the playoffs, as they were knocked out of playoff contention by a resurgent Dallas Cowboys franchise, which was a measure of revenge for the Bounty Bowl incident two years earlier.
Andy Reid and Donovon McNaab
The Eagles continued to contend until the mid-1990′s with a combination of strong defense and Randall Cunningham’s amazing skills. But after Cunningham was slowed by age and injuries, Jerome Brown died in a tragic car accident and Reggie White left for the Green Bay Packers in free agency, the Eagles franchise fell upon hard times once more. The Rich Kotite and Ray Rhodes tenures, though there each had a few successes, were generally seen as failed. It would take the emergence of a new quarterback and a new head coach to revive the Eagles’ fortunes.
The Eagles front office hired Andy Reid to lead the team in 1999. Reid was a proponent of the West Coast Offense, having spent time on Mike Holmgren’s coaching staff in Green Bay. The Eagles had the second pick in the 1999 NFL Draft, and they chose Donovon McNaab with that selection. McNaab was a big-armed and mobile quarterback out of Syracuse. The pick was booed by Eagle fans at the NFL Draft, who wanted the Eagles to draft that year’s Heisman Trophy winner running back out of Texas, Ricky Williams.
Subsequent years would vindicate Eagles management in drafting McNaab. McNaab would start six games for the Eagles in 1999, and take over full duties in the 2000 season. He brought new hope to the Philadelphia Eagles franchise and turned them into perennial playoff team.
4 NFC Title Games in a Row
The Eagles would win four straight NFC East division titles in the early 2000′s, from 2001 until 2004. Philadelphia also appeared in four straight NFC Championship Games. The Eagles reached the Superbowl after the 2004-2005 season, when McNaab had the help of RB Bryan Westbrook and mercurial wide receiver, Terrell Owens.
The 2005 season saw Owens become a major story. T.O. badmouthed McNaab and got in a fight with a former Eagles player in the locker room, and eventually was suspended from the team for the year. McNaab was hurt in the season opener and struggled through the early part of the season, before eventually being placed on the injured reserve.
With Terrell Owens gone in 2006, McNaab led the Eagles to a hot start. He once again was placed on the I.R. late in the year and teams thought the Eagles were finished. But veteran Jeff Garcia led Philadelphia on a late playoff push, eventually helping them to make the playoffs and win a wildcard game.
The Eagles barely missed defeating the surprising New Orleans Saints and reaching the NFC Championship Game. The Eagles fell back to the pack in 2007, going 8-8, which was only good enough for them to finish last in the tough NFC East. Currently, the Eagles, Andy Reid and Donovon McNaab appear to be at a crossroads.