The 1990 Philadelphia Eagles finished second in the NFC East with a 10-6 record, losing in the first round of the playoffs. That’s not the type of season typically associated with a greatest of all time, but it was awesome still.
Not only is this my favorite football team of all time, it was also the season that I rose to the next level of Eagles "fandom."
There was nothing typical about this offense. A productive running back that didn’t run the ball, a quarterback that almost had 1,000 yards rushing and two electric rookie receivers characterized the 1990 offense.
The defense didn’t dominate in quite the same way as they did in 1991 and 1992, but it was the emergence of the “Gang Green” defense with the stars: Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Clyde Simmons, Seth Joyner, Byron Evans, Eric Allen, Wes Hopkins and Andre Waters. And the excitement was all there.
1990 also featured the infamous, “Body Bag” game, where the Eagles knocked out nine of the Redskins players as promised by head coach, Buddy Ryan. The defense recorded three scores in that match that ended with running back Brian Mitchell playing quarterback for the Redskins.
If you don't remember the "Body Bag Game," click the link. Click here for a "Body Bag" game refresher.
I definitely remembered Buddy Ryan. The man wore his machismo heart on his sleeve like no other coach in Eagles’ history.
Going a bit too far at times, Ryan told the media that the Eagles would lay a beating on the Division leading Redskins so bad that they would have to be carried off in body bags.
He might have had a big mouth, but he brought everything he had to every game, every play and every day. That’s why he was so embraced by Philadelphia.
What I Remember About the 1990 Philadelphia Eagles Offense
I remembered lanky Randall Cunningham just galloping all over the field.
Randall put up some quality passing numbers in 1990 with 3,466 passing yards, 30 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions.
Quarterback, Randall Cunningham also led the team with 942 yards rushing, five touchdowns, and a modest 8.0 yard average per carry.
The excitement of Cunningham palming the ball as he accelerated out of the pocket toward the sideline and leaping over defenders into the end zone was top shelf.
Dubbed “The Ultimate Weapon” by Sports Illustrated in 1989, Cunningham did not fall victim to the SI cover curse in 1990.
Cunningham made the pro bowl after the 1988, 1989 and 1990 seasons with the Eagles.
The real surprise story in 1990 was the emergence of rookies Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams. Although Williams would never recreate his 1990 campaign, the duo posted 17 touchdowns and 1,323 receiving yards combined.
Receiver, Mike Bellamy was actually the second round pick in a three consecutive receiver draft that year. Buddy Ryan drafted Fred Barnett in the third and Calvin Williams in the fifth.
I remembered rookie, “Arkansas” Fred Barnett, made the most beautiful leaping catch over a defensive back for a touchdown. It was one of his first.
I remembered Randall Cunningham running around the end zone and throwing a "hail mary jump ball" to Fred Barnett.
It was 3rd-and-14 Cunningham dropped into his own end zone, made some of the most incredible moves to get an opportunity to roll out of the pocket and heaved the ball down the field.
Barnett outstretched the defenders for the ball at the fifty and came down on his feet to turn the ball up the field and take it the distance for an incredible 95 yard touchdown.
If you have never seen this play before, click this link right away.
Barnett converted one of the most exciting plays in Eagle history. Fred had a flare for the spectacular. He had a huge leap and great speed. I am sure I heard that he boasted a 44” vertical.
Fred Barnett made the pro bowl after the 1992 season.
I also remembered another rookie receiver, Calvin Williams, turning an intermediate slant route between the safeties and running the field for one of nine touchdowns.
If it wasn’t Barnett, it was Calvin Williams making a big play in a clutch moment.
I remembered running back, Keith Byars perfection, going four for four passing with four passing touchdowns.
Byars was Cunningham’s favorite target in 1990. He pulled in 81 catches for over 800 yards, grabbing every ball that was within arms reach for the team lead in receptions and yards.
Byars wasn’t much of a traditional running back as Eagles fans may have hoped, but his contribution was unquestioned.
I remembered Merrill Reese’s voice saying Heath Sherman.
Sherman was a very workman like producer for the Eagles. He averaged 4.2 yards per carry, posting 685 yards rushing and 167 yards receiving. There was nothing sexy about him. He was a traditional back doing a traditional job. That was something the 1990 offense didn’t do often, traditional.
Anthony Toney, Thomas Sanders and Keith Byars added another 800 yards to the rushing total as the Eagles led the NFL in rushing.
Unforgettably, No. 88, Keith Jackson was second on the team with 50 catches for 670 yards and 6 touchdowns. Jackson was an unstoppable tight end that ran over defensive backs and dragged players down the field.
Jackson was another piece of pro bowl consistency for the Eagles offense. He was a first down machine.
Jackson made the pro bowl after the 1988, 1989 and 1990 seasons.
What I Remember About the 1990 Philadelphia Eagles Defense
I remembered the 46 defense and the emergence of “Gang Green.”
If you are too young to remember, Ryan was the defensive coordinator on Ditka’s ’85 championship Bears team where he ruled with his 46 defense. Ryan brought the vaunted defense to Philadelphia.
I remembered Eric Allen scoring his first NFL touchdown. It was one of the slower years for Allen only intercepting three passes. 1990 was one of just a few seasons that Allen didn’t make the pro bowl.
Eric Allen made the pro bowl after the 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993 and 1994 seasons.
I remember the opposing teams picking on rookie Ben Smith.
I remembered, the rookie, Ben Smith responding.
Ben Smith and William Frizzell accounted for six interceptions combined. Neither of these guys were pro bowl players, but each played an important complement in coverage.
I remember everybody cringing when Andre Waters was about to hit them.
Waters may have been a little dirty. He had a rule named after him, which usually says something. Nonetheless, Waters came to the game to hit without apology.
I remember Wes Hopkins jumping routes and watching the back of the No. 48 Jersey meandering down the field.
Wes Hopkins played the lone true safety role at free. He did a nice job as a ball hawk picking off five passes with a lot of help from intense quarterback pressure. Hopkins also recorded a pair of sacks and a fumble recovery.
Hopkins was a fantastic safety. He made the pro bowl in 1986.
I remembered Seth Joyner cleaning up everything around.
Joyner has 132 tackles, 7.5 sacks, 1 interception, 3 forced fumbles, and a fumble recovery in 1990. I don’t know how that wasn’t a pro bowl season.
Seth Joyner made the pro bowl after the 1991 and 1993 seasons.
I remembered Byron Evans doing the “Beanie” Wiggle.
If you have never seen Byron Evans dance, click this link.
Evans had 112 tackles in 1990 along with his infamous touchdown and celebration.
I think Evans might have played football just so he could dance one time in the end zone. He really looked like he loved it.
But seriously, Byron Evans and Seth Joyner were two of the best play making linebackers in the NFL.
I remembered Jerome Brown just clogging the middle of the field.
Jerome Brown was a completely immovable force in the middle of the defensive line. Mentored by Reggie White, Brown also dominated the interior with running stops and quarterback pressure.
Jerome Brown recovered five fumbles in 1990.
Brown is easily one of the NFL’s greatest defensive tackles of all time.
Jerome Brown made the pro bowl after the 1990 and 1991 seasons.
I remembered Reggie White just doing his thing; 14 sacks, an interception, a million bull rushes.
Reggie White wasn’t just the best defensive end in Eagles history; he was and rests as the best defensive end ever. “The Minister of Defense” dominated with his 300 plus pound frame and 4.6 second forty speed.
White’s skills were completely indisputable as he literally smacked around offensive lineman that were in his way. It didn’t matter if White was doubled, he could get to where he wanted to go and nobody was ever going to stop him.
Reggie White made the pro bowl after the 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992 seasons as an Eagle.
I remembered Clyde Simmons looking like Reggie White.
Simmons scored his first NFL touchdown in 1990. He wrecked havoc in the backfield, stuffing runs and sacking passers and making plays. He would continue to emerge as an elite pass rusher and overall defensive end in his own right.
Clyde Simmons made the pro bowl after the 1991 and 1992 seasons.
Besides the core of the team, the aura of Jim McMahon sporting his Super Bowl shuffling headband and sunglasses while holding the clipboard and Mike Quick suited up on the sidelines for the last time just lent the team a vibe of greatness.
There is one man from this roster still playing in the NFL. It’s hard to believe but he made the pro bowl after his 2008 season. That’s right, it’s New York Giants punter, Jeff Feagles. He wasn’t even a rookie in 1990, it was his third season.
We were so lucky to have had this team in our history. I was so lucky to have the opportunity to watch the season.
There was a great mix of new exciting talent and incredible proven veterans. At the end of the year, there was plenty of disappointment and drama, but I will never forget how season’s intrigue.