Eagles at 90

How the Birds got their wings (a love story) 

It’s official; our Eagles have turned 90. Break out the Depends! 🧷🤣

Before we schedule a birthday celebration at the retirement community and give in to nostalgia, what is the legacy of one of football’s oldest franchises?

After all, we have some history that we’d rather not mention. I’ll mention it anyway. We took full advantage of a poorly-shoveled afternoon at Veteran’s Stadium to re-arrange Jimmy Johnson’s hair and Troy Aikman’s helmet. (Though Johnson’s hair, which he always lacquered with hairspray, qualified as a helmet too.)

We let Santa know of our disapproval during the 1968 holiday season. In 1966, we rented a plane to fly over the stadium, letting the world know that Head Coach Joe Kuharich must go. We even had a court in our stadium! Get your beer, watch the Eagles, go to jail. It’s a complete Sunday afternoon. 🏈🍺👨‍⚖️

For one misguided season in 1943, we actually tried merging with the Steelers (“the Fightin’ Steagles”). Does that sound like a good idea under any circumstances? It certainly didn’t bode well when our first franchise quarterback passed up an Eagles contract extension to take an FBI field job for a $3,500 salary!

So, what is the legacy of our beloved Philadelphia Eagles?

Before the Eagles were the Frankford Yellowjackets. A recreational team founded in 1899 in the Frankford neighborhood, the team was considered an amateur organization but steadily built a reputation as a regional powerhouse, eventually beating NFL teams handily in scrimmages. In 1924 the NFL offered them a franchise in the league, making them the first pro football team in Philly history.

They won an NFL championship two years later but their dominance on the field was no match for the Great Depression (and a series of costly stadium fires) that forced them into bankruptcy in 1931. The NFL granted the franchise rights to a couple Philly boys (and University of Pennsylvania football teammates), Bert Bell and Lud Wray. Drawing inspiration from the “blue eagle” logo of a New Deal program, the two named the new team the Eagles.

Bell didn’t want to replace the Yellowjackets with another Frankford team, or any neighborhood team for that matter. He wanted a team for all of Philadelphia, a team that would be loved and cheered by everyone. Through a decade of trials and tribulations, Bell never gave up on that dream. At a time in Philadelphia when you couldn’t sell an Eagles ticket, Bell would not surrender his vision for the Eagles.

Today, we’d book him on Shark Tank.

Over the years, the Eagles and Philadelphia became family despite all of their eccentricities (and losing – the first game played in 1933 against the New York Giants was a disastrous 56-0 shellacking. Things didn’t get much better over the next decade).

Things turned in the 1940s, with the drafting of Hall of Fame running back Steve Van Buren in 1944. Led by Van Buren and another Hall of Famer, coach Earle “Greasy” Neale, the Eagles had their first winning season in 1944 and reached the NFL title game in 1947. They returned to the championship game three years in a row (winning two of three).

The history of the Eagles is full of amazing stories that were passed down by our elders with passion and excitement. We learned about the 1940s teams that dominated the league, the 1948 squad that won the title in a blizzard, Concrete Charlie (the last of the NFL’s “60-minute men”) making a crucial stop against Lombardi’s Packers in the snow in 1960, and the UCLA coach who almost led the Eagles to glory in the 80s.

We were outraged with the rest of the city when Leonard Tose tried to sell our Eagles and move the team to Arizona in 1984. And of course, there was the losing, decades of it. Aside from the 1960 Championship season, for nearly fifteen years after their founding in 1933, and from 1950–1977, the Eagles were not very good.

So, what is the real legacy of the Philadelphia Eagles?

It’s right now with all of us, Philadelphia. We saw the Eagles outlast the Patriots in an offensive air show in 2018. And saw them almost do it again last year.

In 2023, they are the NFC’s top-seeded team with one of the finest quarterbacks in the NFL in Jalen Hurts The Philadelphia Eagles are ours (even with the snowballs and the in-stadium justice system.)

Bert Bell passed away at Franklin Field during an Eagles/Steelers Game in 1959. One year later, the Eagles would win the world championship in the same stadium where Bell had done so much to make his dream of a team for the whole city come true.

A Philadelphia legacy called the Eagles. 🏈🦅🏆💚

Fly, Eagles Fly!
On the road to victory! (Fight! Fight! Fight!)
Fight, Eagles fight!
Score a touchdown 1, 2, 3! (1! 2! 3!)
Hit ’em low!
Hit ’em high!
And watch our Eagles fly!
Fly, Eagles Fly!
On the road to victory!

About Michael Thomas Leibrandt 13 Articles
Michael Thomas Leibrandt is a Historical Writer Living in Abington Township, Pennsylvania.

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