For 83 years, the Eagles franchise has been playing professional football in Philadelphia. Sure, for some of those years, the football hasn’t seem all that professional, but the Eagles of yesteryear, and a few years before that, were actually really good.
The franchise has, we know, never won a Super Bowl, but the Eagles do have three NFL championships in their history, and a host of very good players, including a handful of bona fide Hall of Famers.
But this isn’t about that. Our Ultimate Philadelphia Eagles bracket is not an exercise in trying to find the best player in franchise history. Rather, this contest is an attempt to find the player diehard fans most identify with the team. When you think of the Eagles over the last 20 years, who is the first player that comes to mind? Is it Five? B-Dawk? B-West? T.O.?
Now, what if that player was pit against the likes of Reggie or Randall or Jaws or Concrete Charlie? Who are you picking then?
Now you can do just that. Vote in our Ultimate Philadelphia Eagles bracket, presented by Xfinity, which is separated into four regions: offense and defense in both Kelly Green and Midnight Green eras. Choose from the best on both sides of the ball over the last two decades under Jeffrey Lurie, and the six decades prior to him buying the team from reputed cheapskate Norman Braman.
Vote now! Vote below! Vote often! And to help you decide, read our write-ups on each player in the field of 32, which includes irrational justifications for putting Donovan McNabb and Chuck Bednarik where we did and leaving Hall of Famer Pete Pihos off the list entirely! Enjoy!
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MIDNIGHT GREEN OFFENSE
1. Brian Westbrook vs. 8. Terrell Owens
In his eight years in Philly, Brian Westbrook rushed for just under 6,000 yards, and only had two seasons — 2006 and 2007 — in which he ran for more than 1,000. But Wesbrook’s value went so far beyond just rushing, as he caught 426 passes for nearly 3,800 yards with the Eagles, including 90 catches in 2007, part of his league-best 2,104 yards from scrimmage that season.
B-West only went to two Pro Bowls, but you’d be hard pressed to find a more important, or beloved, member of the offense in the Andy Reid era.
Terrell Owens…is not that. And, yes, T.O. made this list over guys like Jeremy Maclin, Chad Lewis, Jon Runyan, Tra Thomas and David Akers. And, sure, T.O. only played two seasons in Philly, and in that just 22 games, but the impact Owens had on the franchise during the Super Bowl run — for better or worse — made it crucial to put him on this list. Best Eagle? Not close. But Ultimate Eagle? Maybe.
2. LeSean McCoy vs. 7. Brent Celek
Shady McCoy was drafted in the second round of the 2009 draft and played just six seasons in Philly, but he left (via trade to Buffalo) as the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, with 6,792 yards and 44 touchdowns. There was a strong case that in 2013, McCoy’s 1,607 yards rushing and 2,146 yards from scrimmage made him the best back in the game, or at least one of the most feared.
Brent Celek is in his 10th year out of Cincinnati, and while he has never caught more than 76 balls in his career — and only more than 60 twice — his play typified the way Andy Reid, and to some extent Chip Kelly, wanted the tight end position played. The Eagles have had a lot of great tight ends in their history, and Celek is surely one, narrowly edging former teammate Chad Lewis to make the final list of 32.
3. Jason Peters vs. 6. Duce Staley
Jason Peters came to Philadelphia from Buffalo in 2009 and instantly made the Eagles offensive line, and the entire offense, better. An eight-time Pro Bowl tackle, including six with the Eagles, Peters will go down as one of the best to ever play his position. With just eight offensive players to choose from the Midnight Green Era, Peters represents all offensive linemen, including Thomas, Runyan, Hank Fraley, Todd Heremans, Jermaine Mayberry and a host more. Peters seemed like the right guy to carry the load.
Duce Staley, a veteran coach with the Eagles, played seven years in Philly, and rushed for more than 1,000 yards three times. Staley was a bruising back, rushing 325 times in 1999, adding 41 receptions as well. His numbers dipped after that, but he was still a productive player with the Birds, and one of the faces of the staff over, now, three head coaches. The “Duuuuce” cheers were our answer to Dallas’s “Mooose” calls, which makes him worthy of being on this list on its own.
4. DeSean Jackson vs. 5. Donovan McNabb
Yes, we rigged this.
If picking the Ultimate Eagles players, there’s a case to be made that DeSean Jackson should be higher than Jason Peters, or maybe even higher than LeSean McCoy. D-Jack played six years in Philly, but it felt like 20. In a good way. His diminutive frame and tough-as-nails attitude, combined with blazing speed, made fans adore him. Until he left. Now we kind of hate him, which is somehow even more Philly than before.
Donovan McNabb is No. 5 on this list because there is no one in the history of Philly sports more connected to a number than “Five.” McNabb refers to himself, still, as “Five.” How could we put him at No. 1 when he loves “Five” so much? Plus, who didn’t want to see a D-Jack versus McNabb first round match-up?
McNabb is the Eagles’ all-time leading passer with 32,873 yards and 216 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl six times, but the Super Bowl just once. McNabb is the poster player for the Andy Reid era, and for Eagles football in the Aughts. He should probably win this entire competition. But he won’t, because as much as he wishes people in Philly think of him as No. 1, he’s “Five” and he always will be.
MIDNIGHT GREEN DEFENSE
1. Brian Dawkins vs. 8. Hollis Thomas
There was no question who would be the top seed in the Midnight Green defense, so much that the exercise of picking winners in this region seems unnecessary. Weapon X played for the Eagles from 1996 to 2008, but his impact on the team continued far after he left. Dawkins was the leader of the Eagles defense in the Andy Reid era, and is in a category of most beloved Philly athletes to which very few in this city’s rich sports history belong.
Dawkins was recently hired by the Eagles to work in their front office, one of the best moves the franchise has made since they let him go eight years ago.
Hollis Thomas beat out a lot of really good players to make the final 32. He played nine seasons in Philly — 126 games — and was a load at defensive tackle on some very good defenses. Thomas had 288 tackles and 92 assisted tackles for the Eagles, plus 13.5 sacks, but his value was clogging up the middle to let the edge rushers get to the quarterback. Thomas has stayed in the Philly spotlight over the years as a local radio host and a coach for the Philadelphia Soul.
2. Jeremiah Trotter vs. 7. Bobby Taylor
If Dawkins was the Eagles’ hammer, Jeremiah Trotter was the axe.
Trotter played eight years for the Eagles, in three stints. He starred for four years, but money disputes led the Eagles to jettison him after the 2001 season. Trotter went to Washington where he was never close to the same player he was in Philly, but he came back in 2004 and was, again, a productive player for some really good defensive teams. After a year in Tampa in 2007 and a year out of the game in ‘08, Trotter came back to the Eagles in 2009 for one season.
Trotter played, in total, 116 games for the Eagles, and had 564 tackles, 128 assisted, and 11 sacks. His fire and hard-nosed play on the field was his calling card, a perfect fit in the middle of a defense in Philly.
Bobby Taylor played all but one of his 10-year career in Philly, taken in the second round in 1995 to team up with Troy Vincent at corner. Taylor only made one Pro Bowl, in 2002, then ostensibly got replaced, with Vincent, by Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard for the team’s Super Bowl run. But Taylor’s long, lean frame gave receivers fits for most of a decade. He picked off 19 balls in 119 games for the Eagles, adding 314 tackles, 54 assisted, and four sacks.
3. Troy Vincent vs. 6. Sheldon Brown
Troy Vincent played for four seasons in Miami before starring in Philly for eight years. Vincent’s signing was a big deal in the early stages of the Jeffrey Lurie era, an indication that the owner was going to do what it takes — including spending money — to make the team better.
Vincent played in 118 games for the Eagles and had 28 interceptions to go with his 422 tackles, 94 assisted. A local kid, Vincent was as lock-down as a cornerback can get, and was a big part of a new era of Eagles football.
Sheldon Brown may be a surprise on this list, as the corner played eight seasons for the Eagles and was never really the star of the defense, or his position group, for that matter. While Dawkins and even Lito Sheppard got more of the attention in the defensive backfield, Sheldon Brown was a solid, dependable presence at cornerback. He finished his time with the Eagles with 349 tackles, 82 assisted, seven sacks and 19 interceptions in 128 games.
4. Trent Cole vs. 5. Fletcher Cox
Let’s be honest about Trent Cole: the fifth-round pick never should have been as good as he was. Cole wasn’t big, he wasn’t particularly fast, he wasn’t really a defensive end and he definitely wasn’t a linebacker. But, man, was he productive.
Cole played 10 years for the Eagles, the last two at linebacker after playing defensive end for most of his career. He was a two-time Pro Bowl selection and had a motor that just would not stop. He amassed 436 tackles with the Eagles, 133 assisted, and had 85.5 sacks in 155 games played.
We don’t know how great Fletcher Cox will be, but the fifth-year defensive lineman is already really, really good. Cox recently signed a monstrous contract that will keep him in town for at least the next half decade, making him the face of the Eagles revamped defense. The Eagles have lacked an identity on defense for some time — they’ve had good players, but no one to carry the load — and it’s going to be fascinating to see how (read: if) Cox handles that new role.
KELLY GREEN OFFENSE
1. Randall Cunningham vs. 8. Keith Byars
In the annals of Philadelphia sports, there are few athletes who were covered as closely as Randall Cunningham. Every move he made, every hat he wore, became front-page headlines. Cunningham was a star at a time when the NFL did not have a lot of black quarterbacks. He was a mobile QB at a time when most were pocket passers. Cunningham was, in a way, a man before his time. But that time in the NFL would have never come had it not been for players like Cunningham.
He played 11 years in Philly, though just 122 games, passing for nearly 23,000 yards and rushing for almost 4,500. Cunningham helped redefine the quarterback position, which changed the way the game was played, but he isn’t as revered in Philly as some other players because, well, he didn’t win anything. Cunningham won one playoff game as a starter in his Eagles career. With a defense as good as those Buddy Ryan teams had, many people put the blame on Cunningham, not Ryan, for the franchise’s playoff failures.
The Eagles have had a host of do-everything backs in their history, but growing up in the ‘80s, Keith Byars was the man who seemed to do it all. In seven years for the Eagles, Byars had 750 rushes and 371 receptions, scoring 30 touchdowns, but had a far bigger impact than his stats showed. Byars was a running back, a fullback, even a tight end for the Eagles; just a solid, dependable player who seemed okay not being the star.
In a way, that’s about as Ultimate as Philly can get.
2. Harold Carmichael vs. 7. Mike Quick
Harold Carmichael is the Eagles’ all-time leading receiver, with 589 receptions for 8,978 yards in 180 games from 1971 to 1983. Carmichael was a four-time Pro Bowl receiver and, in 1973, he led the NFL in receptions, yards and yards per game. A huge presence on the field at 6-8, 225 pounds, Carmichael scored 79 touchdowns in his career, with another six scores on 29 catches his seven playoff games, including Super Bowl XV.
Mike Quick was the receiver every kid in the ‘80s grew up wanting to be. Quick played 101 games for the Eagles from 1982 through 1990, but his career really blossomed from ‘83 to ‘87, where he made the Pro Bowl every season and was named All-Pro twice. Quick caught 363 balls for 6,464 yards and 61 touchdowns, though he played in just one playoff game in his entire career, the Fog Bowl in 1988. That seems impossible.
Quick has stayed part of the Eagles organization long beyond his playing days as a member of the Eagles radio broadcast on game days.
3. Ron Jaworski vs. 6. Pete Retzlaff
Ron Jaworski started his NFL career with the Rams, then came to Philadelphia in 1977 and grew roots. Jaws made just one Pro Bowl in his career, the year he helped lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl, but he did play for the Eagles for a decade, starting 137 games and throwing for just under 27,000 yards and 175 touchdowns.
More than any player in any sport in Philly’s history, Jaws has become part of the fabric of not just the city’s sports culture, but the football community itself. He is a local and national analyst on radio and television, he owns several successful businesses, including a growing number of area golf courses. He’s the owner of the city’s Arena League team. For a guy from the suburbs of Buffalo, Jaws is Philly through and through.
Pete Retzlaff is representing two Petes here. Retzlaff, a five-time Pro Bowler, caught 452 balls for 7,412 yards and 47 scores for the Eagles, from 1956 through 1966. His receptions and yards were franchise records at the time of his retirement. Retzlaff led the Eagles with 46 receptions — his five touchdown receptions were behind Tommy McDonald’s 13 — in the 1960 Championship season.
Three years after his retirement, Retzlaff came back to the Eagles to serve as general manager. He made our final 32 over the man he replaced at tight end, Pete Pihos.
Pihos surely had the better career, a six-time Pro Bowl receiver and Pro Football Hall of Famer, but he played from 1947 through 1955, not exactly a time that’s fresh in the minds of most of our voters, but certainly worthy of his own recognition. Any list where Keith Byars gets a spot and a HOFer doesn’t is inherently flawed, we grant that. But we are looking for the Ultimate Eagles player, not just the guys with a bronze bust in Canton.
4. Wilbert Montgomery vs. 5. Steve Van Buren
Until Brian Westbrook and Shady McCoy came around, Wilbert Montgomery was the Eagles’ greatest running back. He probably still is.
Montgomery played eight years for the Eagles and rushed for more than 1,400 yards twice in his career. He also caught 266 passes for 2,447 yards in his 100 regular season games as an Eagle.
In the 1980-81 NFC title game, Montgomery had 26 rushes for 194 yards and a score against Dallas, one of the great performances in league history. He struggled running the ball in the Super Bowl that year, but did lead the team in receptions with six for 91 yards.
Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren played eight years for the Eagles, leading the Birds alongside Tommy Thompson to the 1948 and 1949 NFL Championships. Van Buren led the NFL in rushing yards and touchdowns four times, and in yards from scrimmage twice. He had a career day in the 1949 title game, helping the Eagles secure a 14-0 win over the Rams in the first NFL game ever televised.
KELLY GREEN DEFENSE
1. Reggie White vs. 8. Herm Edwards
Reggie White played eight years of his 15-year career in Philadelphia and while the Minister of Defense left Philly to go to Green Bay where he helped the Packers win a Super Bowl, fans in Philly never blamed him for that decision and loved him just the same, up to, including and well beyond his untimely passing.
White had a ridiculous 198 sacks in his career, including 124 with the Eagles in 121 games. He forced 18 fumbles, recovered 11 and had 794 tackles as a member of the Eagles. White may be the best player to ever wear Eagles green, and he’s in the conversation for the best athlete to ever play in the city.
Herm Edwards played nine years in Philly, finishing his career with 33 interceptions, though it was a fumble recovery that was his most defining moment. Edwards went into coaching after his playing career and now serves as a national football analyst. He has the unfortunate luck of going up against White in this bracket, though he did make the final 32 over the likes of Bill Bergey, Irv Cross, Mike Pitts, William Thomas and Jerome Brown. So at least there’s that.
2. Andre Waters vs. 7. Wes Hopkins
If Reggie White was the man everyone loved because of how good he was, Andre Waters was the man everyone loved because of how bad he was. Waters, who was with the Eagles for 10 years from 1984 to 1993, was a baaaaad man. Waters had a crazy 910 tackles in 137 games with the Eagles from the strong safety position. He was ferocious and feared and surely a little (read: a lot) dirty. Waters probably wouldn’t survive in the NFL today given all the rules changes. But in his day, he was a menace. And people in Philly loved him for it.
Wes Hopkins was Waters’ battery mate in the secondary, playing his entire career for the Eagles from 1983 to 1993. Hopkins only made one Pro Bowl — Waters never made any, if you can believe it — and snared 30 interceptions in his 137 games. At a time in the NFL when safeties like Ronnie Lott and Steve Atwater were bone-crushing stars, Hopkins and Waters were the tandem many receivers liked facing the least.
3. Chuck Bednarik vs. 6. Seth Joyner
Chuck Bednarik was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and Pro Football Hall of Famer, who played his entire career in Philly from 1949 through 1962. Concrete Charlie played both sides of the ball, as a linebacker on defense and as a center on the offensive side of the ball. Surely, a strong case can be made that Bednarik should be ranked higher than he is, perhaps even above White, as he defined football in Philadelphia for a generation. (The only reason we put him third was because his generation was three generations ago.)
A local product, who was born in Bethlehem, went to Penn and was drafted first overall in 1949, Bednarik lived up to the billing. He was not just one of the greatest Eagles of all time, but one of the greatest athletes in the city’s history.
Seth Joyner has the unfortunate task of facing a legend, though having watched Joyner’s career, something tells me he wouldn’t mind the challenge.
Joyner played eight of his 13 years in Philly, making the Pro Bowl twice, while patrolling the linebacker position for some of Buddy Ryan’s best and most feared defenses. Joyner had 875 tackles and 37 sacks in 120 games with the Eagles. He also had 17 interceptions and 21 forced fumbles. He, himself, was a force for the Eagles.
4. Eric Allen vs. 5. Clyde Simmons
Eric Allen was a six-time Pro Bowler who played the first seven of his 14 years in the NFL with the Eagles. Allen was a starter for the Birds as a rookie, and never left the lineup, playing in 111 games, 110 starts, and becoming a flat-out lockdown corner on some great defensive units.
Allen had 34 interceptions in his Eagles career, five returned for scores, with another five fumble recoveries. The only reason Allen doesn’t have better numbers was because quarterbacks were so afraid to throw the ball his way. A “student of the game,” the great Ray Didinger called him, Allen should be an Hall of Famer. He was that good.
Clyde Simmons was pretty good too. The two-time Pro Bowl defensive lineman was the guy who would keep offensive lines honest when trying to double-team Reggie White. Simmons played eight seasons for Philly, recording 76 sacks and 720 tackles in 124 games. Simmons had two interceptions, one for a score and forced 12 fumbles, recovering 10. He was trouble for anyone to block, and the bookends on the Eagles defensive line terrorized offensive tackles for years.
Last, we admit we labored over picking Simmons, Joyner, Hopkins, Allen and Waters without including Jerome Brown. If the exercise is to find the Ultimate Eagle, stats and figures notwithstanding, then a case can be made that Brown should be on the list. Brown played for five years for the Eagles before his passing in the off-season before the 1992 campaign. He was just coming into his own as one of the league’s best defensive tackles and he is honored and remembered with his number retired by the Eagles. Rather than put him in a silly bracket to make readers decide if his career and legacy was “better” than someone else of his era, we felt it worth acknowledging him here, and leaving it to someone else to get trounced by Reggie White.