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March Madness Eagles Style


Top 16 Eagles of All-Time Bracket

By Lance Epstein

In honor of the NCAA tournament starting on Thursday, I have decided to have a little fun with some of the greatest players to ever play with the Philadelphia Eagles.

I have researched and chosen the top 16 players in Eagles franchise history, put them in an NCAA style bracket to determine who is the greatest player to ever wear an Eagles uniform. The players were chosen by their accomplishments with the team and the impact they made in Philadelphia Eagles history.

Each player is seeded based on where I thought fans would place them before starting the ultimate Eagles tournament bracket. No coaches were included in the brackets and the bracket matchups follow NCAA tournament seeding matchups.

Sweet 16:

#1 Steve Van Buren versus #16 Ron Jaworski

The Argument: Steven Van Buren was a first round pick in the 1944 NFL draft out of Louisiana State. In Van Buren’s career, he became the first running back ever to lead the NFL in rushing for three consecutive seasons from 1947-1949. His best season might have come in 1945, where he led the league in rushing, kick-off returns and in scoring with 18 touchdowns (in just 10 games).

The 6-foot, 206-pound running back rushed for 5,860 yards over his career and 69 touchdowns. More impressively from 1944 until 1950 Buren made the Pro Bowl each of those seasons.

However, the thing that sets Buren apart from anyone else on this list is that he played in three NFL title games and won two of them with the Eagles. In 1947, the Eagles lost in the NFL Championship game to the Chicago Cardinals at Comiskey Park. The following season the Eagles hosted the NFL Championship game in Philadelphia.

The following year, Van Buren and the Eagles won the NFL title. Maybe the most mindboggling part of the Championship was not the victory but that Van Buren had to hitchhike his way to Shibe Park after he thought the game would surely be postponed. In that 1948 championship game, Van Buren scored the only touchdown of the game, which clinched the Eagles first championship.

The next season, the Eagles defeated the Rams in Los Angeles to win back-to-back titles. Buren gashed the Rams for 196 yards, which was an NFL record. Ultimately a broke leg ended Buren’s career in 1952 but he still was inducted to the Hall of Fame in 1965.

Most fans refer to Jaworski as “Jaws”. While fans gave Jaworski the original Donovan McNabb treatment, he quarterbacked the franchise to its first ever Super Bowl appearance and four consecutive playoff appearances. You might not think four consecutive playoff appearances is not much but considering the Eagles missed the playoff for over a decade, it was a big time deal.

Jaws began his Eagles’ career with in 1977, when head coach Dick Vermeil traded All-Pro tight end Charlie Young to the Rams to get him. In his ten years as an Eagle, Jaws set seven passing records, which included 2,088 completions, 175 touchdowns and 26,963 yards. Even though he only finished 69-67-1 in his Eagles career, Jaws resurrected the franchise from obscurity to a Super Bowl contender.

The Winner: Van Buren. While Jaws should not be slighted for what he has accomplished in an Eagles uniform, there is no way Van Buren does not win this matchup. Steve Van Buren inspired and carried the Eagles to two championships and is in an elite class of running backs. Many refer to him as being in the same class as Jim Brown; that is how great of an Eagle he was.

#2 Reggie White versus #15 Randall Cunningham

The Argument: Reggie White was the single most dominating player on defense that has ever worn an Eagles uniform. Teams consistently set double teams his way and still he managed to get to the quarterback.

In due course, White transformed the defensive end position into what it is today. White, a human specimen that stood 6-foot-5 and 300 pounds ran the 40-yard dash in 4.5 seconds. Some wide receivers and running backs today cannot even put up those types of numbers.

His most impressive feat came in the strike-shorten 1987 seasons where White recorded 21 sacks in only 12 games. It took Michael Strahan four more games and Brett Favre lying down to set the current sack record.

During his tenure in Philadelphia, White registered 124 sacks in only 121 games and made seven Pro Bowl appearances. However, White did not end his career in Philadelphia due to bad ownership and became the biggest free agent signing in NFL history, as he signed with the Green Bay Packers.

Eventually White retired in 2000 as the NFL’s all-time sack leader with 198 sacks. Since the death of the 13-time Pro Bowler and 2-time defensive player of the year, he has been inducted to the Eagles, Packers and Pro Football’s Hall of Fame.

Randall Cunningham played 11 seasons and 122 games with the Eagles. Before Cunningham arrived in Philadelphia and onto the NFL scene, nobody saw the quarterback position do the things that he did. He essentially revolutionized the quarterback position and gave the Michael Vick’s and Donovan McNabb’s of this world their opportunities to shine.

At the end of Cunningham’s tenure, he was the second leading passer in franchise history behind Ron Jaworski and the team’s third-leading rusher behind Wilbert Montgomery and Steve Van Buren.

As a quarterback, it was and is impressive to see him lead the Eagles in rushing four years in a row.

Also, Cunningham has some other great plays that will live in infamy in Eagles lore. One play is where he punted the ball 91 yards against the Giants. Another play against the Giants that he is remembered for is avoided being brought down by Lawrence Taylor and hitting a wide-open tight end for the touchdown.

But his best play as an Eagle might have been in 1990 against the Buffalo Bills as he eluded a Bruce Smith sack by ducking. Then he connected with wide receiver Fred Barnett for a 95-yard touchdown.

While Cunningham did not have much playoff success, not all of it could be blamed on him. Buddy Ryan did not give him the offensive line to succeed and bring a championship home to Philadelphia. The man referred to as the “Plastic man” by Eagles announcer Merrill Reese, won an NFL MVP with the Eagles, was enshrined in the Eagles Honor Roll and was selected to four Pro Bowls with the team.

The Winner: Reggie White. The reason why White is the easy pick here is because of how dominant of a player he was. He changed the way offensive coordinators game planned against the Eagles. Additionally some of his stats are mindboggling, like getting 21 sacks in only 12 games and averaging a sack a game as an Eagle.

#3 Chuck Bednarik versus #14 Al Wistert

The Arguments: The man known as “Concrete Charlie,” played in 169 games as a Philadelphia Eagle. Bednarik size, speed and strength enabled him to play both on defense as a linebacker and a center on offense.

The first overall pick in the 1949 draft went to a tally eight Pro Bowls and was eventually inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1967.

However there are two plays that most fans and sports historians best remember him for. First, Bednairk made the game saving tackled on Green Bay’s Jim Brown at the eight-yard line. He prevented Taylor from getting onto his feet, the clock ran out and the Eagles won their last NFL Championship.

Second, Bednarik shortened the career of Giants quarterback Frank Gifford. Bednarik knocked Gifford out of the league for 18 months with a concussion. Today, Bednairk’s number 60 is retired by the organization and is apart of the Eagles’ Honor Roll.

Even though Bednarik brought home a championship for Philadelphia, offensive tackle Al Wistert brought home two titles as the captain of the Eagles in ’48 and ’49.

In nine seasons with the Birds, Wistert earned eight All-Pro honors and was a five-time consensus All-Pro. Like Bednarik, Westert was a two-way player who dominated at offensive tackle and defensive tackle.

In 1952, Wistert had his number 70 retired by the franchise and was inducted into the Eagles’ Honor Roll of Fame in 2009 along with Randall Cunningham.

The Winner: Chuck Bednarik. This is a lot closer then most fans think because Wistert excelled at offensive and defensive like Bednarik. Furthermore, his leadership on both sides of the ball assisted the Eagles to winning two championships. I give the edge to Bednarik because the NFL honored him as apart of their 75th Anniversary team, he made the 1950’s all decade team and The Sporting News ranked him the 54th out of the 100 greatest football players to ever play the game.

#4 Tommy McDonald versus #13 Harold Carmichael

The Argument: Tommy McDonald was one of the most dynamic playmakers the Eagles have had in their history. The 5-foot-9, 176 pound wide receiver and halfback went over the middle and would run through walls for the Eagles.

Linebackers Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus would smash him, but McDonald would get up and laugh about it. For example in 1959, McDonald broke his jaw and had to get it wired shut.

The very next week, McDonald went out and caught four touchdowns passes. McDonald played seven seasons for the Eagles and he racked up 5,499 receiving yards on 287 receptions and 66 touchdowns.

In 1958, McDonald finished first among NFL wide receivers in touchdown receptions and in 1960 he led receivers in yards and touchdowns. At last McDonald made the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998 in his first try and became the smallest player ever to be inaugurate to the hall.

It is interesting that Southern product, Carmichael is going up against a wide receiver that is almost a whole foot shorter then he is. The 6-foot-8 Carmichael held the team record for 180 games played.

In 13 seasons with the Eagles, he set other franchises receiving records with 589 receptions, 8,978 receiving yards with 8,978, 79 touchdowns and 127 consecutive games with a catch.

Furthermore, Carmichael held the Eagles Super Bowl record of six receptions for 91 yards until Terrell Owens broke his record in 2004. The four-time Pro Bowler is enshrined in the Eagles Honor Roll and was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team in the 70s.

Additionally, Carmichael change the way teams looked at wide receiver position and set the trend for the tall possession receiver.

The Winner: Tommy McDonald. As great as Carmichael was for the Eagles, McDonald was Desean Jackson before Desean was even born. McDonald took the licking and just kept on ticking. Also, McDonald helped the Eagles bring home a championship in 1960 and is in the Hall of Fame whereas Carmichael did not and is still hoping to make the hall (he should; very deserving).

# 5 Donovan McNabb versus #12 Bill Bergey

The Argument: I can hear it now, why is Donovan McNabb at five? Well easy, he has been the best quarterback in the history of the Eagles franchise.

McNabb quarterbacked the Eagles to five NFC Championship games, a Super bowl and holds the most wins in franchise history. In addition, McNabb has guided the Eagles to four consecutive NFC East crowns from 2001-2004.

In his 11-year career with the Eagles, he has thrown for a franchise record 32,873 yards, 216-touchdown passes while only throwing 100 interceptions. Think about that for a second, McNabb had number one receivers such as James Thrash, Freddie Mitchell, Todd Pinkston, Torrance Smalls and Charles Johnson and still has been a success.

Moreover, when McNabb had Terrell Owens, he threw for a franchise record 31-touchdown passes in a season. While fans like to point out McNabb’s downfalls, he has turned a franchise into one of the most winning organizations over the past decade.

Today giving up two first round picks for any player, let alone a linebacker, would be insane. But in 1974, that is exactly what the Eagles traded to the Cincinnati Bengals to acquire All-Pro linebacker Bill Bergey.

Bergey was a tackle machine for the Eagles for seven seasons. He accumulated 1200 tackles and four Pro Bowl selections. While in Philly, Bergey set a NFL record for most interceptions by a linebacker. His most notable feat is his 223 tackles in a single season. Since Bergey retired from the Eagles in 1981, he has been inducted into the Eagles Honor Roll.

The Winner: Donovan McNabb. McNabb for more then a decade, he has put the Eagles back on the map as a franchise. While Bergey helped construct the Eagles “Gang Green” defense, McNabb has taken the Eagles to new heights. Additionally, McNabb has won more games then any other Eagles and has had to do it under the most scrutiny as well.

#6 Bob Brown versus #11 Norm Van Brocklin

The Argument: Bob “the Boomer” Brown began his ten-year career with the Philadelphia Eagles as he was drafted with the second overall pick out of Nebraska in 1964.

In just five seasons with the Eagles, he became the best offensive tackle to ever suit up for the Birds. Brown (6-4, 300 pounds) was a physical presence at tackle that would ware down his opponents.

Before, Brown was traded to the Rams in 1969, he made three Pro Bowls with the Eagles. Brown was a pioneer in the game of football as he dedicated his offseason solely to the game. His passion for the game has helped mold modern players offseason workout regiments.

Eventually Brown retired in 1973 but he was enshrined in both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Eagles Honor Roll.

The quarterback known as “The Dutchman” only suited up for the Eagles for three seasons but his crafty and savvy play led the Eagles to their last championship in 1960.

During that 1960 campaign, Van Brocklin earned league MVP honors. More importantly, his fiery leadership helped him and the Eagles beat Vince Lombardi’s Packers in a Championship game; the Eagles became the only team to ever to beat Lombardi in a championship game. In his short stint with the Eagles, Van Brocklin made the Pro bowl three times as well.

The Winner: Norm Van Brocklin. To be honest, Bob Brown is a great player but might be a little overrated in Eagles lore. Without Van Brocklin’s guidance’s and championship, Philadelphia might not be the football town it is today. Brocklin helped make Philadelphia into a football town. Also, since Van Brocklin has quarterbacked the Eagles, the franchise has gone 50 years without a title.

#7 Pete Pihos versus #10 Brian Dawkins

The Argument: The Eagles drafted Pihos in the third round of the 1945 NFL draft except Pihos was not able to play until 1947 because of his military service.

Pihos was a two-way player that played wide receiver on offense and defensive end on defense. In his Eagle career, Pihos was a five-time Eagles’ MVP, won three divisional titles, two world championships and was selected six times as an All-Pro.

The Golden Geek can best be remembered for catching the game-winning touchdown pass in the 1949 NFL Title game. In his final home game as an Eagle, Phios set a single-game franchise record with 10 receptions. That record was short lived though, as Phios pulled in 11 passes the very next game (his very last).

Other honors for Pihos are making the Hall of Fame in 1970, the 75th Eagles Anniversary team and the Eagles Honor Roll.

Maybe the most beloved Eagle in the history of the organization is the man known as “Weapon X”.

Free safety Brian Dawkins was drafted in the second round out of Clemson in the 1996 NFL Draft. During his Eagle career with the Eagles, he made the Pro Bowl eight times and became one of only ten players to join the NFL’s 20/20 club (20 interceptions and 20 sacks).

Another illustrious honor is that Dawkins became the first player in NFL history to record a sack, interception, force a fumble and receive a touchdown pass in a single game.

Moreover, Dawkins broke Carmichael’s 180 games played and holds the Eagles franchise record for interceptions at 34. Many believe that when Dawkins hangs them up, he will be a first ballot Hall of Famer due to his passion, size and range.

The Winner: Brian Dawkins. I feel bad for Pihos because he had an outstanding career for the Eagles, but Dawkins as a 10 seed has the capability to make it all the way to the finals. Go back and remember the day Dawkins signed with the Broncos, the town was in mourning and many fans were about to jump the off the Walt Witman Bridge.

#8 Wilbert Montgomery versus #9 Brian Westbrook

The Argument: Arguably the two best running backs to ever wear an Eagles uniforms are squaring off in the first round…that might be insane.

The Eagles picked Montgomery in the sixth round of the 1977 NFL Draft, out of the small school Abilene Christian.

Montgomery wore an Eagles uniform for eight seasons, where he shattered and set some of the all time Eagles rushing records. He finished with 1,465 carries and 6,538 rushing yards.

Other records that Montgomery possesses are rushing yards in a season with 1,512, 26 career 100-yard games, eight100-yard games in a single season and touchdowns in a game with four.

Like Westbrook, Montgomery led the NFL with 2,012 all-purposes yards. Although he is best remembered for the greatest run in Eagles history. Montgomery ran for a 42 yard touchdown against the hated Dallas Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship game, which propelled the Eagles to their first ever Super Bowl appearance.

Like Montgomery, Westbrook was drafted out of a small college in Villanova. The 5-10 Westbrook was taken in the third round of the 2001 NFL Draft.

Westbrook was primarily selected to be a punt and kick-off returner, but turned out to be one of the greatest backs in Eagles history. Ultimately, Westbrook finished second all-time in franchise history with 5,995 rushing yards and third all-time in receptions (426) for 3,790 yards.

In 2007, he led the NFL in total yards from scrimmage with 2,104. More astoundingly, the humble Westbrook led the Eagles in rushing for five consecutive seasons from 2003-2008. Without the plethora of injuries that Westbrook endured, he could be the greatest back to have ever worn an Eagles uniform.

The Winner: Brian Westbrook. This is remarkably close. The two players are very similar and very highly regarded in Eagles history. In the end, I chose Westbrook over Montgomery. The main reason that I chose Westbrook is because teams had to game plan for Westbrook since he was the Eagles ultimate weapon. The man was the engine to the Eagles car and his receiving skills made him one of the most underrated players during his era.

Elite Eight:

#1 Steve Van Buren versus Brian Westbrook

The Winner: Van Buren. Westbrook might be the most elusive and explosive running back to ever play for the Eagles. However, Van Buren led the league in rushing for three consecutive years, could pound you physically and is regarded ion the same breath as a Jim Brown. With the modern technology today, Van Buren’s broken leg would have been fine and he could have blown the current Eagles rushing records out of the water. At the end of the day, Van Buren scoring the only touchdown of the 1948 title game and rushing for a record 196 yards in the 1949 title game makes him the pick.

#4 Tommy McDonald versus #5 Donovan McNabb

The Winner: Donovan McNabb. Of course fans believe McNabb is overrated and a choke artist until he wins a Super Bowl. But McNabb has changed the culture of Eagles football. He and Andy Reid have raised the bar. Without McNabb over the last ten years, the Eagles might have floundered with Tim Couch or the pothead Ricky Williams. Over the last decade, fans tend to overlooked how hard it is to just get to five NFC Championship games in eight years. Tommy McDonald is one of the best and toughest wide receivers to ever play the position, but McNabb just wins games and takes more heat then anyone to ever wear a green uniform.

#3 Chuck Bednarik versus Norm Van Brocklin

The Winner: Chuck Bednarik. While Brocklin quarterbacked the Eagles to a championship in 1960, Bednarik is one of the best players to ever suit up in the history of the NFL. He was a fearless and physical grinder at center that would demolish anyone in front of him. On defense, players feared him because he could end a career at anytime. Also Bednarik has he heart of every Eagles fan with his blue-collar work ethic. Furthermore, he has one of the most recognizable pictures in NFL history as he celebrated with the ball in his hand. Meanwhile Frank Gifford laid motionless on the ground.

#2 Reggie White versus #10 Brian Dawkins

The Winner: Brian Dawkins. This might be the biggest upset in the whole tournament. Reggie White, the minister of defense, could be the most imposing player to ever chase down a quarterback in NFL history. Despite that, Brian Dawkins was the heart and soul of the Eagles franchise for 13 seasons. When Reggie White left Philadelphia it was on bitter terms. When Weapon X left, he left his heart in Philadelphia. He could not even complete an interview. Furthermore, there is not one player in Philly history that was as loved as much as Dawkins. Unless you follow the Eagles, you are not able to understand the connection between the fans and Dawkins. At last that connection makes him an icon on and off the field in Philly.

Final Four:

#1 Steve Van Buren versus #5 Donovan McNabb

The Winner: Van Buren. Here is what separates McNabb and Van Buren… two championships. If McNabb happened to win one Super Bowl during his tenure in Philadelphia, the Rocky statute might be taken down and replaced with a McNabb statue (my guess one where he played on a broken ankle against he Cardinals and threw four touchdowns). Instead Van Buren marches onto the finals due to his heroics in some of the biggest games in Eagles history and while McNabb could not complete the job.

#3 Chuck Bednarik versus #10 Brian Dawkins

The Winner: Chuck Bednarik. Here is where the Cinderella of the Eagles franchise has his run end. Reggie White is one of the NFL’s top 50 players of all-time but the hear and soul of the Eagles defense edged him out. But Dawkins just cannot beat out Bednarik. Bednarik played his whole career with the Eagles and is one of the best players to ever play in dawn a uniform. While Dawkins should be hall of famer, Bednarik was a surefire hall of famer and made it on his first ballot. Unfortunately for Dawkins, he brought home a title to Eagles while he failed to do so.

The Finals:

#1 Steve Van Buren versus #3 Chuck Bednarik

The Winner:

Chuck Bednarik

When it comes down to it, these are two of the most polarizing figures and icons in Eagles history. Some people will argue that Van Buren should take home the nod given that he carried the Eagles to their first ever titles and won them in back-to-back fashion. Nevertheless, Bednarik takes home the prize. He played on both side of the ball and is considered to be the greatest Eagle but one of the top 100 players in NFL history. What puts Bednarik over the top though, is the award named after him (Chuck Bednarik Award for the College Defensive Player of the Year) and his game-saving tackle on fullback Jim Taylor at the eight-yard line to seal the Eagles’ last championship.

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