1980 Eagles vs. 2004 Eagles: A Side-by-Side Comparison
As the leaves begin to get darker and crisper, professional football games start to take on an increased air of significance.
For Eagles fans, the last two regular seasons have been abject disasters, as each year the team came in with high hopes, and then the wheels fell off (whether or not it was Michael Vick getting hurt or the pass defense getting worse with each new acquisition).
A new coaching change could help down the road, but it does little for the Eagles' fortunes this season after star receiver Jeremy Maclin went down with a torn ACL. As another rebuilding year looks to be on the horizon for Philadelphia, I've decided to look back at the great Eagles teams of yesteryear to see which club was the best.
Some fans may say the 1960 Eagles were better than the 1980 Eagles, but for the purposes of this comparison, we'll only use teams that played in a Super Bowl. That is to say teams since 1967. These guidelines mean that only two Eagle teams qualify for the comparison: the '80 Eagles and the 2004 Eagles.
Each aspect of the team will be matched up side-by-side, with the assumption that whoever has the most wins by individual aspect is the stronger ballclub.
We'll never get to see the two Eagles teams playing each other on the gridiron, but at least now readers will be able to pick a favorite.
- Ron Jaworski: 3,529 passing yards, 27 TDs, 12 INT, 91.0 QB rating
- Donovan McNabb: 3,875 passing yards, 31 TDs, eight INT, 104.7 QB rating
Make no mistake about it—Jaws could ball back in the day. His 1980 season proved it: This was the highest quarterback rating he ever achieved as a regular starter, and his adjusted net yards gained through pass attempt (6.94) led the league.
However, he has to be placed second when it comes to McNabb, perhaps the most underrated quarterback of the 2000s. This was Donnie Mac's crowning season.
Though he didn't lead the league in any category, his 8.3 yards per attempt total was the second-highest of his career, and he had the most passing yards and highest passer rating of his career by far.
McNabb also (with the exception of the disaster that was the last Eagles "drive" of Super Bowl XXXIX) came up big in games that mattered. After an excellent playoff performance against Minnesota (21-33, 286 yards, two touchdowns), he threw two touchdowns to Chad Lewis in the NFC Championship Game against Atlanta.
No. 5 also set a Super Bowl record for passing yards (357) despite his team's loss (and his three interceptions).
- Wilbert Montgomery: 193 carries, 778 yards, 407 receiving yards, 10 TDs (eight rushing)
- Louie Giamonna: 97 carries, 361 yards, five TDs (four rushing)
- Leroy Harris: 104 carries, 341 yards, four TDs (three rushing)
- Brian Westbrook: 177 carries, 812 yards, 703 receiving yards, nine TDs (three rushing)
- Dorsey Levens: 94 carries, 410 yards, four rushing TDs
- Reno Mahe: 23 carries, 91 yards
For only playing in 12 games in the 1980 regular season, Montgomery had a very good year. He was versatile throughout the season, catching 50 passes out of the backfield, and had one of the most memorable runs in Eagles history: a 42-yard run in the first quarter of Philly's 20-7 NFC Championship Game win over the hated Dallas Cowboys.
However, Brian Westbrook (who only started 12 games himself in 2004) takes the cake here.
Westbrook caught 73 passes and had six receiving touchdowns, after also handling return duties in prior seasons. Over the entire season, Westbrook fumbled just once. His rushing numbers also become more impressive after seeing that he got 16 less carries than Montgomery did (Andy Reid's teams were famous for their predilection toward passing the football).
Levens, a former Super Bowl winner in Green Bay, was a serviceable backup, serving as a stopgap when Westbrook was briefly injured.
Most important is this statistic: The Eagles were eighth in rushing offense out of 32 teams in 2004, while the '80 Eagles finished 14th in the same category with only 28 teams in the league.
- Harold Carmichael: 48 catches, 815 yards, nine TDs
- Charlie A. Smith: 47 catches, 825 yards, three TDs
- Keith Krepfle: 30 catches, 450 yards, four TDs
- Terrell Owens: 77 catches, 1,200 yards, 14 TDs
- Todd Pinkston: 36 catches, 676 yards, one TD
- L.J. Smith: 34 catches, 377 yards, five TDs
- Chad Lewis: 29 catches, 267 yards, three TDs
- Freddie Mitchell 22 catches, 377 yards, two TDs
No disrespect to Harold Carmichael, one of the finest receivers Philadelphia has ever known. But Montgomery actually had more catches than Carmichael did in 1980, though Carmichael and Smith provided a solid one-two punch throughout the season.
Coming into the 2004 season, the best wideout Donovan McNabb ever got to throw to was either Pinkston or James Thrash.
With Owens in the mix, the Eagles sprinted out to an 8-0 start while Owens put up video-game numbers. Brash and arrogant, but with the play to back it up, T.O. made Eagles fans fall into what turned out to be a very short-lived love affair.
Not mentioned is Greg Lewis, who caught 17 regular-season passes and a touchdown in the Super Bowl against New England. L.J. Smith also caught a Super Bowl touchdown after Lewis, who had caught two touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game, had to sit out the game with a broken foot.
Philadelphia finished seventh in passing offense in both the '80 and '04 seasons, but there were more teams in 2004 following expansion. Even if the '80 Eagles had finished one or two points higher in the yearly ranking, this wouldn't really be a contest.
- LT Stan Walters
- LG Petey Perot
- C Guy Morriss
- RG Woody Peoples
- RT Jerry Sisemore
- LT Tra Thomas
- LG Artis Hicks
- C Hank Fraley
- RG Jermaine Mayberry
- RT Jon Runyan
The 1980 Eagles only let up 32 sacks, while the 2004 Eagles surrendered 37. Tra Thomas made the Pro Bowl as a reserve for the '04 Eagles, but Walters made first-team All-Pro both years before the Super Bowl run in '80 and Sisemore made Pro Bowls in '79 and '81.
The slight edge here goes to the '80 Eagles for the simple fact that Jaworski was able to win the Bert Bell Player of the Year award. Jaworski was never that good again or prior, and much of that had to do with his comfort and time in the pocket.
- DE Dennis Harrison
- DE Carl Hairston
- NT Charlie Johnson
- DE Jevon Kearse
- DE Derrick Burgess
- DT Corey Simon
- DT Darwin Walker
Since sacks and individual tackles weren't tallied until later NFL seasons, it's more difficult to quantify the statistics for the 1980 defense.
We do know that, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com's approximate value statistic, Johnson (who picked off three passes from the nose tackle position, no small feat) led the league in the category at his position in 1980, which marked the second of three straight All-Pro seasons for him.
Hairston also posted a career high in the approximate value category, while Harrison played well as a starter in his second year (posting a nine in approximate value).
More specifics are known about the '04 Eagles D-line, like the fact that Kearse posted 7.5 sacks and Simon recorded 32 tackles along with 5.5 sacks. But it would be unfair to judge the 1980 Eagles on statistics which are unknown for their season, so we'll measure the Eagles linemen by their approximate value, as well.
Kearse and Simon, the two best players on the line by any measure, posted an eight, as did Walker. Burgess, a year before making two straight Pro Bowls, posted just a six and had only 2.5 sacks.
- LOLB John Bunting
- ROLB Jerry Robinson
- LILB Bill Bergey
- RILB Frank Lemaster
- LLB Mark Simoneau
- RLB Dhani Jones
- MLB Jeremiah Trotter
Trotter made his third career Pro Bowl following the 2004 season, recording 59 tackles, and Jones (49 tackles and a fumble recovery) had one of his better seasons, as well.
The '80 Eagles, however, win out once again.
Bergey, in his final season, posted an approximate value (AV) of 10, and Robinson had an AV of 16, taking a fumble recovery back for a touchdown and picking off two passes while stuffing the run and making second-team All-Pro in just his second full season (adding a 22-yard fumble recovery in the NFC Championship Game victory). He would make his first Pro Bowl the following year.
Lemaster (who would also make the Pro Bowl the following year) posted an AV of 10, and Bunting also posted a career high of nine in that category.
- LCB Roynell Young
- RCB Herman Edwards
- FS Brenard Wilson
- SS Randy Logan
- LCB Lito Sheppard
- RCB Sheldon Brown
- FS Brian Dawkins
- SS Michael Lewis
For the 1980 Eagles pass defense, Wilson led the way, snagging six picks. Young added four in a very successful rookie campaign.
And before he informed the nation that you do, indeed, play to win the game (hello?), Herm Edwards was a pretty good cornerback. He picked off three passes in 1980 and (along with Young) two passes in the NFC divisional playoff game win over the Vikings (a 31-16 victory in which the Eagles forced a whopping eight turnovers overall).
Logan also posted an approximate value of 14 during the season.
However, the secondary was the Eagles' calling card for most of the early 2000's. That was no different this season, as the likes of Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor and Al Harris handed the reins off to Sheppard and Brown.
Sheppard picked off five passes in the 2004 season and made his first of two Pro Bowls while also scoring two touchdowns off interceptions during the season.
Michael Lewis was also a Pro Bowler in 2004, posting 76 tackles, and Sheldon Brown also had two interceptions and three sacks.
Dawkins, obviously, is a future Hall of Famer, and was a first-team All-Pro with four interceptions. He also picked off Michael Vick in the NFC Championship Game victory.
In the closest battle of the day so far, the '80 Eagles (who had 14 interceptions compared to 12 for the '04 Eagles, plus a high combined approximate value) score their fourth straight win.
- K Tony Franklin
- P Max Runager
- KR Billy Campfield
- PR John Sciarra
- K David Akers
- P Dirk Johnson
- KR J.R Reed
- PR Reno Mahe
On the kicking and punting front, it's no contest. Franklin made just over half of his kicks on the season (16-of-31), while Runager punted 75 times for a net total of 2,947 yards (just over 39 yards per punt).
Johnson, meanwhile, punted three less times for over an average of over 42 yards per punt (3,032 yards total). Akers, as usual, was extremely reliable, going 27-of-32 for the year and making 17 of his 21 attempts from 40 yards or more.
Campfield and Sciarra posted return averages of 20.8 and 9.2, respectively, while neither of them returned a kick or punt for a touchdown. While Mahe averaged just 5.7 yards per return, Reed posted 23.1 yards per return on his kickoffs (neither Reed nor Mahe took a kick back for a touchdown, either).
Since the returners fought pretty much to a draw, and the kicking/punting wasn't close, the 2004 Eagles get the edge here.
After the 2004 Eagles won the offensive side of the ball, and the 1980 Eagles dominated the defensive comparison, this matchup of Eagles greats comes down to the coaching battle.
If we're going by who the better overall coach is, the answer is Dick Vermeil. While leading the Eagles to a 12-4 record in '80, Vermeil completed a five-year rebuilding project which saw his team win at least one more game than it did the previous season (beginning with a mere four wins in the 1976 season).
Reid, however, did something no NFC coach had ever done before, or since, in leading his team to four consecutive conference championship games (and five overall). While Vermeil eventually won a Super Bowl ring with the St. Louis Rams, Andy Reid enjoyed his best years as an Eagles coach.
Reid's 130 wins rank as the most all-time among Eagles coaches, and Philadelphia's 13 regular season wins in 2004 remain an all-time high for the franchise. While the Eagles lost in the Super Bowl to a Raiders team who they were favored against, Reid's Eagles nearly beat a Patriot juggernaut going for their third Super Bowl in four years.
The better coach overall is Vermeil, but in this season, Reid did an even better job with what he had than the future Hall of Famer did.
For this reason, the 2004 Eagles get the edge over the 1980 Eagles, by the slimmest of margins.