20 Super Facts About the Philadelphia Eagles
By Mark Mancini
The Eagles are back. Super Bowl-bound for the first time in 13 years, the City of Brotherly Love is counting the seconds until Sunday's opening kickoff. Philly’s resident NFL club has yet to feather its nest with a Vince Lombardi Trophy, but then again, can you name another football team whose fight song popped up in the Star Wars universe? Swoop on over for more facts about this signature franchise.
1. A NEW DEAL PROGRAM INSPIRED THE TEAM’S NAME.
From 1924 to 1931, the Philadelphia area had an NFL team called the Frankford Yellow Jackets. After they folded, another club was established by league veteran Lud Wray and businessman Bert Bell. Their new franchise played its first game in 1933—the same year that saw Franklin Roosevelt create the National Recovery Administration. This New Deal agency enforced industry codes that were designed to set minimum wages, promote union membership, and encourage fair competition. The NRA’s emblem was a blue eagle carrying a gear and three bolts of lightning. Taking a cue from this symbol, Wray and Bell decided to name their team “The Philadelphia Eagles.”
2. THE NFL DRAFT WAS THEIR CO-FOUNDER’S IDEA.
In 1935, Bell—a future NFL commissioner—came up with the idea for a draft, the NFL's main talent-recruitment system, and proposed it at a league meeting. The first NFL Draft was held in 1936. Before the draft, it had been standard practice for teams to negotiate with college players directly. As a result, the most in-demand stars almost always joined the richest, most successful franchises. Bell convinced his fellow owners to implement a draft, whereby the NFL teams would take turns selecting athletes from a pool of eligible players. For fairness’ sake, it was decided that, in each draft, the worst team of the preceding NFL season would get to choose first.
3. PHILLY PLAYED IN THE FIRST TELEVISED NFL GAME.
On October 22, 1939, the Eagles lost to the Brooklyn Football Dodgers (a club which no longer exists) by a final score of 23-14. NBC sent an eight-man crew to film the contest, which was broadcast on one of the network’s New York City affiliates. Roughly 500 New Yorkers tuned in to watch the game. Altogether, the broadcast lasted for two hours and 33 minutes. There were no commercial interruptions.
4. IN 1943, THE EAGLES MERGED ROSTERS WITH THE PITTSBURGH STEELERS.
World War II created a massive player shortage, with many pro footballers leaving their teams to fight overseas. In Pennsylvania, the Steelers' and Eagles’ rosters were so heavily depleted that some feared both clubs would shut down. Instead, they merged. For the duration of the 1943 season, these two franchises consolidated their squads into one, 25-man team nicknamed the “Steagles.” Their union ended the next year, when Philadelphia recruited enough players to strike out on its own again. Meanwhile, the understaffed Steelers were forced to enter a new merger with the Chicago Cardinals in 1944.
5. PHILLY ICON STEVE VAN BUREN WAS THE FIRST NFL RUNNING BACK TO HAVE MULTIPLE THOUSAND-YARD SEASONS.
A fan favorite, Eagles running back Steve Van Buren ran for 1008 yards in 1947 and 1146 in 1949. He’s also the only Pro Football Hall of Famer who was born in Honduras.
6. JOHN F. KENNEDY AND HIS BROTHERS THOUGHT ABOUT BUYING THE FRANCHISE.
Imagine if a sitting president co-owned an NFL team? Such a thing might’ve come to pass in 1962, when the Eagles were in the market for a new owner. The First Family learned they could acquire the club for the bargain price of $6 million. It was a tempting prospect.
According to former senator Ted Kennedy, “My brother Jack called me and said, ‘Are you in for a third if we can get [the Eagles] for $6 million? I’ve talked to Bobby and he says he’ll go for it.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’ll go for a third.’” The deal never materialized, however. As ex-senator John Culver—a lifelong friend of Ted’s—has explained, the Kennedys became convinced that owning the Eagles “wouldn't work very compatibly with Jack's responsibility as president.”
7. SOME EAGLES DIEHARDS GOT TO ATTEND THE 1948 NFL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME FOR FREE ... THEY JUST HAD TO BRING SHOVELS.
During the pre-Super Bowl Era, the Eagles won three National Football League titles. They earned the first of these on December 14, 1948 by beating the Cardinals in that year’s NFL Championship Game. Played at Philly’s Shibe Park, the contest was a bleak affair. That’s because, hours before kickoff, a nasty blizzard smothered the host stadium under a foot and a half of snow. Fans were told that if they brought a shovel over and helped clear the field, they wouldn’t be charged admission. In the end, the groundskeepers, an army of shovel-wielding spectators, and players from both teams all had to work together to get Shibe Park ready for the big game.
8. THE EAGLES WERE THE ONLY TEAM TO EVER BEAT VINCE LOMBARDI’S PACKERS IN THE PLAYOFFS.
The Vince Lombardi Trophy is named after a gridiron giant. As Green Bay’s head coach, Lombardi won five world championships, including the first two Super Bowls. Under his command, the Packers were a force to be reckoned with, especially in the postseason. Indeed, they only suffered one playoff loss during Lombardi’s legendary, nine-year tenure: In the 1960 NFL Championship Game, the Eagles prevailed over the Packers at Franklin Field by a final score of 17-13.
9. THAT SANTA CLAUS WHO WAS FAMOUSLY PELTED WITH SNOWBALLS BY EAGLES FANS THOUGHT THE INCIDENT WAS FUNNY.
Philadelphians will never hear the end of the Santa Claus incident: On December 15, 1968, the last-place, 2-11 Eagles played their final game of the season against the Minnesota Vikings. Some 54,535 fans fought their way through a blizzard to watch the game at Philly’s Franklin Field. In an effort to raise everyone’s spirits, the owners had booked a Santa Claus impersonator to perform at halftime, but the actor never showed. Fortunately, the staff noticed then-19-year-old Frank Olivo who, as fate would have it, had worn a homemade Santa suit to the game.
After agreeing to fill in for the absent Kringle, Olivo made his way down to the field—where the miserable, frigid fans started booing him and hurling snowballs. It was an incident that Eagles fans—including those who weren't even born at the time—have never been able to live down. But Olivo claimed that, "I'm a Philadelphia fan, I knew what was what. I thought it was funny."
Before his death in 2015, Olivo event went on the record as saying “Philadelphia fans are the best in the world. I don’t care what anybody says, they live and die with their teams.”
10. A MIRACULOUS EAGLES WIN POPULARIZED THE QUARTERBACK KNEEL.
When the team with the lead has possession of the ball during a game’s final seconds, it’s now standard practice for their quarterback to take a knee and run out the clock. That wasn't always the case, though. For a long time, many considered this maneuver to be unsportsmanlike. However, it became widely adopted after a 1978 Eagles-Giants game nicknamed “The Miracle at the Meadowlands.”
With less than 30 seconds remaining, New York had the ball and a 17-12 lead. But instead of kneeling, Giants QB Joe Pisarick tried handing the ball off to one of his fullbacks, but in the process, he dropped it. Thinking fast, Eagles defensive back Herman Edwards was able to grab it and score a game-winning touchdown. Needless to say, New York fans were stunned. One week later, the league embraced quarterback kneel-downs and never looked back.
11. ONE OF THE TEAM’S STRANGEST GAMES INVOLVED A THICK BLANKET OF FOG.
On New Year’s Eve, 1988, the Eagles lost a postseason heartbreaker to the Bears in Chicago, in a game that has gone down in history as “The Fog Bowl.” Meteorologically, the title was well-earned. Lake Michigan sent a blinding sheet of fog over Soldier Field late in the first half, and the haze stayed put until the very last play. Visibility was so bad that most players couldn’t see beyond 10 yards in front of their faces. Up in the public address booth, Bears play-by-play announcer Jim Riebandt had to get game updates relayed to him from an usher who was standing on the field with a two-way radio.
12. SAFETY BRIAN DAWKINS RECORDED A SACK, A FUMBLE RECOVERY, AN INTERCEPTION, AND A TOUCHDOWN—ALL IN THE SAME GAME!
No other NFL player has matched this feat, which Dawkins executed in a 2002 loss to the Houston Texans.
13. SYLVESTER STALLONE MADE AN APPEARANCE AT LINCOLN FINANCIAL FIELD’S MAIDEN GAME.
What could be more Philadelphian than Rocky Balboa in an Eagles jersey? Since their inception in 1933, the Eagles have called six different venues home, and their present abode is the $512 million stadium Lincoln Financial Field—also known as “The Linc.” The team’s first regular season game there kicked off on September 8, 2003, with Stallone in attendance in a Duce Staley jersey. Sly, of course, is a huge fan of the club; prior to the 2017 NFC Championship Game, he filmed himself imploring the Eagles to “Keep punching.”
14. TWO STAR WARS FILMS CONTAIN HIDDEN EAGLES REFERENCES.
Lucasfilm sound engineer David Acord loves his Philadelphia Eagles. When he was tasked with devising a language for the reptile-like alien Teedo in 2015's Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Acord had the beast say “Celek” and “Fletcher” onscreen. This was a reference to Eagles tight end Brent Celek and defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. For Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Acord passed off an Esperanto translation of “Fly, Eagles Fly” as a mystical Jedha City chant.
15. THE STRANGE COLOR THEY WEAR ON THEIR HOME JERSEYS IS CALLED “MIDNIGHT GREEN.”
In 1996, the Eagles swapped out the more conventional Kelly green uniforms they’d been wearing since the 1930s for some new outfits in this darker shade. The hue isn’t easy to reproduce. Nike actually had so much trouble getting the shade just right that the company failed to complete Philadelphia’s 2014 home uniforms before the season began. Due to this snafu, the Eagles had to wear white or black jerseys during their first six home games that year. Nike finally got the team’s midnight green uniforms ready for a week 10 matchup against Carolina at The Linc.
16. PHILLY HAS THE ONLY LEFT-FACING LOGO IN THE NFL.
The team’s current bird-head design debuted in 1996. (Previous logos involved a soaring raptor with a football in its talons.) You may have noticed that, uniquely for an NFL insignia, this one faces to the left. The reason? Look closely, and you’ll see a capital “E” hidden in the neck feathers.
17. THERE ARE SOME EERIE PARALLELS BETWEEN THE 2004 AND THE 2018 EAGLES.
Let’s take a look back at the last Eagles team that reached the Super Bowl: The 2004 squad went 13-3 in the regular season. Then they beat the Vikings and Falcons before losing to New England in Super Bowl XXXIX. Right about now, football fans in eastern Pennsylvania must be getting a sense of déjà vu. After all, the 2017 Eagles also went 13-3 prior to defeating Atlanta and Minnesota in the post-season. Oh, and who will they face on Sunday? Tom Brady’s Patriots. Spooky!
18. IN 2017, PHILADELPHIA CITY WORKERS TRIED GREASING STREETLIGHT POLES TO PREVENT EAGLES FANS FROM CELEBRATING ON THEM.
By defeating Atlanta in the Divisional Round of the 2017 playoffs, the top-seeded Eagles earned the right to host the NFC Championship Game. Knowing that the team's fans are an excitable lot, and fearing the worst, city officials had workers grease up street lights around Philadelphia. These so-called “Crisco cops” hoped that the measure would keep Eagles diehards from scaling the poles once the game ended. Instead, green-clad sports junkies took the whole thing as a challenge. After the Birds won, several Philly fans photographed themselves climbing grease-slicked streetlights in defiance.
19. THEIR TEAM ANTHEM HAS CHANGED LYRICS OVER THE YEARS.
Every modern Eagles fan can recite the team’s battle cry, “Fly, Eagles Fly.” But did you know that when this song was originally penned by Charles Borrelli and Roger Courtland in the late 1950s, it went “Fight, Eagles Fight?” The anthem had all but disappeared by 1997, when a team pep band resurrected it. New lyrics were later added and the tempo was sped up. Billboard has since listed “Fly, Eagles Fly” as one of the NFL’s best jingles. Also, the Philly-formed band The Roots has covered it multiple times.
20. A PAIR OF CURRENT EAGLES HELPED LAST YEAR’S PATRIOTS WIN SUPER BOWL LI.
Well, this’ll be an awkward reunion. Eagles defensive lineman Chris Long and running back LeGarrette Blount both earned a Super Bowl ring last year ... as members of the New England Patriots' roster. (Blount had also won another title as a Pat in Super Bowl XLIX.) On Sunday, we’ll see them take the field against their old team. With the duo’s help, can the Eagles finally capture a Lombardi trophy? Bradley Cooper certainly hopes so…