Perhaps the Philadelphia Eagles’ greatest achievement is bringing Bert Bell into the NFL. After the NFL’s Yellow Jackets, based in Frankford, north Philadelphia, collapsed in 1931, Bert Bell and Bud Wray, former teammates at the University of Pennsylvania, bought the rights to the Philadelphia team and the Eagles began playing in 1933.

Bell became a central figure in the NFL’s development, proposing the NFL Draft in 1935. In 1946, he was elected NFL Commissioner and obsessed over the schedule, demonstrating his maxim that “on any given Sunday, any team in the NFL can beat any other team”. He also came up with the idea of a league-wide television contract, with revenue shared equally among teams.

Bell died in 1959, aged 64, without seeing the extent to which TV would transform the sport. The following year, the Eagles won their third NFL Championship, beating the Packers 17-13. The Eagles had previously won in 1948 and 1949, sealing a recovery from the rough wartime period which saw the Eagles and Steelers merging in 1943 amid a player shortage, to form what fans referred to as the ‘Steagles’.

After the 1960 title win the Eagles languished through the 1960s and did not improve much after the AFL-NFL merger. They didn’t post a winning record in their first eight years in the newly created NFC East, but finally made the playoffs in 1978 (losing in the Wild Card round) and 1979 (losing in the Divisional round). In 1980 they reached the Super Bowl but coach Dick Vermeil and his QB Ron Jaworski were beaten by the Raiders, coached by Tom Flores and led by QB Jim Plunkett.

It took until 2018 for the Eagles to win a Super Bowl. Their third appearance, after a 2004 loss to the Patriots, saw them matched against New England again. This time they won 41-33, combining with the Patriots for 1,151 total yards – an NFL record. The Eagles also set the record for the most yards allowed in a Super Bowl, with 613. At the time of writing, the Eagles are in the Super Bowl for the fourth time, facing the Chiefs.

The Eagles are not a team about which many books have been written, which is unusual for such an old franchise. There is the usual collection of ‘101 things Eagles fans should know’ and ‘Tales from the Eagles Sidelines’ and the like, but quality books about the team are fairly scarce. That said, here are five that are worth your time.

1Bringing the Heat (Knopf, 1994) by Mark Bowden

Before Black Hawk Down became a bestseller and a cinema hit, Mark Bowden covered the Philadelphia Eagles for the Inquirer. During the 1992 season, he wrote weekly articles in which he followed a different Eagles player before and after each game. These columns form the framework of the book and give a fascinating insight into how an NFL game can turn on a single play or two.
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2Last Team Standing (Da Capo, 2006) by Matthew Algeo

As mentioned above, the Eagles and the Steelers merged for the 1943 season as the NFL struggled with so many players in the armed forces. The team was made up of players rejected by the military and those who were too old to serve. One ‘Steagle’ was so old that he’d never played football wearing a helmet. Matthew Algeo documents the 1943 season against the background of life in the United States during the war.
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3The 1960 Philadelphia Eagles: The Team That They Said Had Nothing but a Championship (Sports Publishing, 2001) by Phil Anastasia

In 1960 the Eagles won what would be their last NFL title for 57 years, not that anyone could have imagined that at the time. At quarterback they had two future Hall of Famers – Sonny Jurgensen, going into this third season, and Norm Van Brocklin, who was just about to retire. There were two other future Hall of Famers in the team – Chuck Bednarik, the centre/linebacker who was one of the league’s last two-way players, and flanker Tommy McDonald. Phil Anastasia tries to give that overlooked team some recognition.
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4Fearless: How an Underdog Becomes a Champion (Hachette, 2018) by Doug Pederson, with Dan Pompei

The Eagles’ first NFL title since 1960 was won by another team for which few people had great expectations. Doug Pederson was in his second year as head coach and hoping to bounce back from the 7-9 record the previous season. The team did much more than bounce back, finishing first in the NFC East with a 13-3 record and winning the Super Bowl with backup QB Nick Foles, who replaced Carson Wentz in week 14 after the starter tore his ACL. Pederson relates the story of the season, with help from veteran writer Dan Pompei.
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5On Any Given Sunday: A Life of Bert Bell (Temple, 2009) by Robert S Lyons

As mentioned in the introduction, Bert Bell is a crucial figure in the development of the NFL. Though Pete Rozelle is often given credit for creating the behemoth that the league has become, many of Rozelle’s achievements have their roots in Bell’s time as Commissioner. This is the first, and so far only, biography of Bell, written by former Associated Press sports correspondent Robert S Lyons, who died in 2013.
Buy the book: Amazon US | Amazon UK

Photo: All-Pro Reels


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