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Philadelphia Eagles: The Complete Franchise History and Coaching

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Philadelphia Eagles: The Complete Franchise History and Coaching
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
Randal Cunningham gave Philadelphia that needed spark on offense.

Few things in nature are as fierce as the cry of the eagle. When the Philadelphia Eagles originated in 1933, they sought to be the greatest team in the NFL. With Hall of Fame coach Greasy Neale, Buck Shaw, Dick Vermeil, Buddy Ryan and Andy Reid, the city of Philadelphia has high hopes of having a successful franchise. With such great success, the team has never won a Super Bowl, yet it is one of the most victorious teams in NFL history. The history of the Eagles is quite unique, and glorious.

In 1931 the NFL consisted of 10 teams, one of which being the Frankford Yellowjackets. Midway through the season, the team went bankrupt and the franchise was sold to Bert Bell and Lud Wray for only $2,500. In honor of the symbol of the National (Industrial) Recovery Act of FDR's "New Deal," Bell decided to rename the team as the Philadelphia Eagles.

Lud Wray took position as the head coach of the team, but after two seasons and a record of 9-21-1, decided to step down from coaching. Bert Bell honorably took the position as head coach, and gave the new franchise hope. The Philadelphia Eagles roster under Bert Bell mainly consisted of former Penn, Temple and Villanova players. After the major hype for their first game, the Eagles were crushed by the Giants 56-0.

In an attempt to make the league better, Bell proposed an annual college draft to the league in 1935. The draft was a revolution to all professional sports, and still exists today.

The 1940s proved to be the Eagles' time to break out into the league, when coach Earl (Greasy) Neale had the team under his wing. During this time, over 1,000 NFL personnel left the league to join the armed forces in World War II. As a result, in 1943, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers merged to form the "Pitt-Phil Steagles."

Eagles Coach Neale and Steelers coach Walt Kiesling both coached the team, leading the Steagles to a record of 5-4-1. After the season, the team dissolved back into the two original teams. In 1944, the top pick in the draft, running back Steve Van Buren, provided the spark that the Eagles needed, as they went on to win/tie their first seven games (5-0-2).

Under Coach Neale, the Philadelphia Eagles won their first NFL championship in 1948 and Greasy Neale was highly praised. During his tenure, the Eagles outscored their opponents by an average score of 26.5 to 14.7. They were Greasy's boys, as the coach called them, the kings of pro football. However, in 1949, team owner Alexis Thompson sold the team to 100 buyers, each of whom paid $3,000 for one of the hundred shares. They were called the "Happy Hundred" or the "100 Brothers."

Greasy Neale coached his final game in 1950, finishing with a record of 63-45. After Neale’s retirement, four coaches were hired over the next seven years, accounting for only 36 wins. His impact on the team proved to be crucial. The 1958 season saw the hiring of coach Buck Shaw and the famous trade for star quarterback Norm Van Brocklin.

Tragedy struck when during a 1959 game versus the Steelers, Bert Bell, who was currently commissioner, ironically died of a heart attack watching the game versus the two teams he once owned.

After a great year with much success, coach Buck Shaw earned the title of Coach of the Year. The 1960 Eagles won over the hearts of Philadelphia with a magical season. The Eagles defeated the Green Bay Packers—the only postseason game Vince Lombardi would ever lose. Van Buren also led the team to its third NFL championship.

After Shaw, from 1961 to 1975, the Eagles had five coaches over a 14-year period, racking up only 74 wins. The 1968 Eagles went on to lose their first 11 games. Philadelphia now turned its hope toward drafting O.J. Simpson, but the Eagles won their final two games, dropping them to third in the draft.

After a decade of discontent, owner Leonard Tose was determined to find a coach who could rebuild his crippled franchise. That is when, in 1976, Tose set his sights on the man who led UCLA to a Rose Bowl victory, Dick Vermeil. Throughout this rebuilding process, Vermeil had a very strict game plan that he stuck to. With Ron Jaworski at quarterback, the goal for the ’78 season was simply to be a winner. After not seeing a winning season in 12 years, Vermeil made an impression through only his first three seasons as coach, forming them into a playoff team.

The year of 1980 marked a special time in Philadelphia. The Sixers and Flyers were both in the NBA and NHL Finals respectively, the Phillies won their first ever World Series and the Eagles won their first divisional title since 1960. Vermeil led the Eagles to Super Bowl XV, their first trip to the Super Bowl. Times were good for the team, however, the Eagles lost to the Raiders 10-27.

Vermeil’s next few seasons with the Eagles were quite emotional, causing him to have a breakdown, and to take a break from coaching. After Vermeil’s retirement, Leonard Tose was forced to sell the team after amassing $25 million in gambling debt.

A man named Buddy Ryan was then hired in 1986. Buddy was a very brash man, and his players loved him for it. His mindset was to win the game on defense, and that is exactly what the Eagles did. The Eagles defense was so intense; the famous “Body Bag Game” produced nine Washington Redskins players carted off the field, including both of their quarterbacks. Under Buddy, the Eagles lost three straight games in the opening round of the playoffs, which led to his dismissal.

Rich Kotite was promoted from offensive coordinator to the team's head coach and impressed many. Led by Reggie White and Jerome Brown on defense, the Eagles flew to the top of the league with the first-ranked defense in the NFL. During this time of much success, on April 6, 1994, Hollywood producer Jeffrey Lurie bought the team for $200 million, and was now the sole owner of the franchise. "Unless your goal is to have a one-shot deal, you have to build a team [whose success] is sustainable.” stated Lurie.

After hiring Ray Rhodes from San Francisco as head coach, Rhodes led the team to a 29-34 record over four seasons, and was NFL Coach of the Year in 1995. The Eagles lost 27 of their next 40 games, and went 3-13 in 1998. That is when, in 1999, Andy Reid came into Philadelphia for a much-needed change. Jeffrey Lurie believed in Reid, and both knew that they needed a franchise quarterback to succeed.

In the 1999 NFL draft, the Eagles held the second overall pick. Philly fans everywhere, including Governor Ed Rendell, all wanted the speed and power of running back Ricky Williams from Texas. Instead, the Eagles selected a quarterback from Syracuse, Donovan McNabb.

The Eagles' 2-7 start prompted Reid to insert McNabb into the starting lineup for six of the final seven games. McNabb was the missing link in Philadelphia, and quickly led the Eagles to the top of the league. McNabb and Reid brought Philly to its first postseason appearance in five years, and were now the faces of Philadelphia. Reid won Coach of the Year in 2000 and 2002, while McNabb led the team to the NFC championship game three years in a row, but fell short all three times of the Super Bowl. They were now known to be the team to choke.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

With many doubts behind them, the Eagles found themselves once again in the NFC championship game in 2004, but shocked the world with a win, and made it to the Super Bowl for only the second time in franchise history. However, the Eagles lost to the New England Patriots by a heartbreaking field goal, 24-27.

On Easter Sunday, April 4, 2010, the Philadelphia Eagles traded franchise quarterback Donovan McNabb to the Washington Redskins. Andy Reid and McNabb played together for 10 seasons, accounting for 73 wins. Coach Andy Reid currently has 118 wins with the Eagles, the most in Franchise history, and brought the team to 18 playoff games, also the most in Eagles history. Reid has led his team to the playoffs eight of 10 years, and is currently coaching in this 11th season.

Much success and fame have been brought to the Philadelphia Eagles. With Hall of Fame coaches and players, the team has become one of the elite teams in the NFL. Coaches like Buck Shaw, Dick Vermeil and Rich Kotite are all responsible for the team’s great fortune. Present coach Andy Reid
has made the team the most successful it has ever been, and possibly ever will be.

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