The Philadelphia Eagles are a professional American football team based in Philadelphia. The Eagles compete in the National Football League as a member club of the league’s National Football Conference East division. The team plays its home games at Lincoln Financial Field in the South Philadelphia Sports Complex.
The franchise was established in 1933 as a replacement for the bankrupt Frankford Yellow Jackets, when a group led by Bert Bell secured the rights to an National Football League franchise in Philadelphia. Since their formation, the Eagles have appeared in the playoffs 28 times, won 15 division titles, appeared in four pre-merger National Football League Championship Games, winning three of them, and appeared in three Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl LII at the end of the 2017 season.
Thirteen individuals affiliated with the Eagles have been inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, including Bell, Chuck Bednarik, Bob Brown, Brian Dawkins, Reggie White, Steve Van Buren, Tommy McDonald, Dick Vermeil, Greasy Neale, Pete Pihos, Harold Carmichael, Sonny Jurgensen, and Norm Van Brocklin.
The team has had an intense rivalry with the New York Giants. It was ranked by National Football League Network as the number one rivalry of all-time, Sports Illustrated ranks it as the fourth-best rivalry in the National Football League, and according to ESPN, it is one of the fiercest and most well-known rivalries in the American football community. They have a bitter rivalry with the Dallas Cowboys, which has become more high-profile since the 1960s, and a historic rivalry with the Washington Commanders. Their rivalry with the Pittsburgh Steelers is another bitter rivalry known as the battle of Pennsylvania, roughly dating back to 1933. The team ranks among the best in the league in attendance and has sold out every game since the 1999 season.
The Eagles are owned by Jeffrey Lurie, who bought the team from previous owner Norman Braman for $195 million on May 6, 1994. In 2017, Forbes valued the club at $2.65 billion, ranking them 10th among National Football League teams in value.
National Football League in Philadelphia
The Frankford Athletic Association was organized in May 1899 in the parlor of the Suburban Club. The cost of purchasing a share in the association was $10. However, there were also contributing memberships, ranging from $1 to $2.50, made available to the general public. The Association was a community-based non-profit organization of local residents and businesses. In keeping with its charter, which stated that “all profits shall be donated to charity”, all of the team’s excess income was donated to local charitable institutions. The original Frankford Athletic Association apparently disbanded prior to the 1909 football season. Several of the original players from the 1899 football team kept the team together, and they became known as Loyola Athletic Club. In keeping with Yellow Jackets tradition, they carried the “Frankford” name again in 1912, to become the Frankford Athletic Association.
In the early 1920s, the Frankford Athletic Association’s Yellow Jackets gained the reputation as being one of the best independent football teams in the nation. In 1922, Frankford absorbed the Philadelphia City Champion team, the Union Quakers of Philadelphia. That year, Frankford captured the unofficial championship of Philadelphia. During the 1922 and 1923 seasons, the Yellow Jackets compiled a 6–2–1 record against teams from the National Football League. This led to the Association being granted an National Football League franchise in 1924, thus becoming the Frankford Yellow Jackets.
In spite of winning the National Football League championship in 1926, midway through the 1931 season, the Yellow Jackets went bankrupt and were forced to cease operations.
Bell and Wray era
After more than a year of searching for a suitable replacement, the National Football League granted an expansion franchise to a syndicate headed by Bert Bell and Lud Wray and awarded them the assets of the failed Yellow Jackets organization. The Bell–Wray group had to pay an entry fee of $3,500 and assumed a total debt of $11,000 that was owed to three other National Football League franchises. Drawing inspiration from the Blue Eagle insignia of the National Recovery Administration, which was a centerpiece of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, The Eagles struggled over the course of their first decade, never winning more than four games. Their best finish was in their second season, 1934, when they tied for third in the East. For the most part, the Eagles’ early rosters consisted of former Penn, Temple, and Villanova players who played for a few years before going on to other things.
In 1935, Bell proposed an annual college draft to equalize talent across the league. The draft was a revolutionary concept in professional sports. Having teams select players in inverse order of their finish in the standings, a practice still followed today, strove to increase fan interest by guaranteeing that even the worst teams would have the opportunity for annual infusions of the best college talent. Between 1927 and 1934, a triopoly of three teams had won all but one title. By 1936 the club had suffered significant financial losses and was sold through a public auction. Bert Bell was the only bidder and became the sole owner of the team. Wray refused a reduction in his salary and left the team. Bell assumed the head coaching position and led the team to a record of 1–11, for last place in the league.
From 1936 to 1939, the Eagles played at Municipal Stadium in South Philadelphia. In 1940, Bell balked at a 66% rent increase plus 10% of the gate receipts proposed by the city for using the stadium and signed a lease for Shibe Park. The Eagles would also be able to play night games as Shibe Park had installed lights the year before. In the 1941 season, the Eagles played their home opener at Municipal Stadium, but then moved to Shibe Park. To accommodate football at Shibe Park during the winter, management set up stands in right field, parallel to 20th Street. Some 20 feet high, these “east stands” had 22 rows of seats. The goalposts stood along the first base line and in left field. The uncovered east stands enlarged the park’s capacity to over 39,000, but the Eagles rarely drew more than 25,000 to 30,000. The team finished the 1937 season 2–8–1 and would continue to struggle over the next three seasons.
Thompson, Wolman & the Happy Hundred era
In December 1940, Bell conciliated the sale of Art Rooney’s Steelers to Alexis Thompson, and then Rooney acquired half of Bell’s interest in the Eagles. In a series of events known as the Pennsylvania Polka, Ostensibly, Rooney had provided assistance to Bell by rewarding him with a 20% commission on the sale of the Steelers. Bell became the Steelers’ head coach and Rooney became general manager.
Greasy Neale years
After assuming ownership, Thompson promptly hired Earle “Greasy” Neale as the team’s head coach. During the first years under Neale, the team continued to struggle by finishing the 1941 season with a 2–8–1 record. The 1942 season showed no improvement as the team went 2–9.
In 1943, when manpower shortages stemming from World War II made it impossible to fill the roster, the team merged with the Steelers forming the “Phil-Pitt Eagles”, known as the Steagles. Greasy Neale coached the team along with Steelers head coach Walt Kiesling. The team finished the season with a 5–4–1 record. The merger, never intended as a permanent arrangement, was dissolved at the end of the season.
In 1944, led by head coach Greasy Neale and running back Steve Van Buren, the Eagles had their first winning season in team history. After two more second-place finishes in 1945 and 1946, the team reached the National Football League Championship game for the first time in 1947. Van Buren, Pete Pihos, and Bosh Pritchard fought valiantly, but the young team fell to the Chicago Cardinals, 28–21 at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.
National Football League champions
Undeterred, the young squad rebounded in 1948 to return to the National Football League Championship game. With home-field advantage on their side, the Eagles won their first National Football League Championship against the Chicago Cardinals, by a score of 7–0. The only score came in the fourth quarter when Steve Van Buren ran for a 5-yard touchdown. Because of the severe weather, few fans witnessed the joyous occasion.
Before the start of the 1949 season, the team was sold by Thompson to a syndicate of 100 buyers, known as the “Happy Hundred”, each of whom paid $3,000 for a share of the team. While the leader of the “Happy Hundred” was noted Philadelphia businessman James P. Clark, one unsung investor was Leonard Tose, a name that would eventually become very familiar to Eagles fans.
National Football League champions
The team returned to the National Football League Championship game for the third consecutive year. The Eagles were favored by a touchdown, and won 14–0 for their second consecutive title-game shutout. Running back Steve Van Buren rushed for 196 yards on 31 carries for the Eagles, and their defense held the Rams to just 21 yards on the ground. Chuck Bednarik was selected as the first overall pick in the 1949 National Football League Draft. An All-American lineman/linebacker from the University of Pennsylvania, Bednarik would go on to become one of the greatest and most beloved players in Eagles history.
With the new decade came another turn in team fortunes. In 1950, the Eagles opened the season against AAFC champion Cleveland Browns, who had just joined the National Football League. The Eagles were expected to make short work of the Browns, who at the time were widely considered the dominant team in a lesser league. However, the Browns lit up the Eagles’ vaunted defense for 487 total yards, including 246 passing yards, in a 35–10 rout. The Eagles never really recovered, and finished 6–6.
Greasy Neale retired after the 1950 season and was replaced by Bo McMillin. Two games into the 1951 season, McMillin was forced to retire due to terminal stomach cancer. Wayne Millner finished out the season before being replaced by Jim Trimble.
While the remnants of the great 1940s teams manag…
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