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May 31, 2023

The face of the Eagles' franchise, by season

The Eagles have famed players throughout their history. Who were the true faces of the franchise over the last seven decades?

The face of the Eagles right now is obviously Jalen Hurts, coming off that MVP runner-up season and a near-Super Bowl title. 

But we were curious at PhillyVoice. Looking back at the accomplishments (and lack thereof) from past Eagles teams, we wanted to find out who were the faces of the franchise for this organization throughout the previous decade.

So we decided to go back through the history of the Birds and anoint one player as the face of the franchise for each year since 1950. 

Essentially, this is a "Eagles most important and/or most popular player" belt. In order for someone new to take over the team, they have to exceed the prior holder of the title in popularity or in performance.

We've done this for the Phillies and Sixers already and will have the Flyers on Thursday before naming the face of Philly sports for each passing year on Friday.

Phillies | Sixers | Eagles | Flyers | Philadelphia

Let's start with one of the biggest Eagles legends...

1950-59: Chuck Bednarik, LB/C

7x Pro Bowl | 8x All-Pro | 1949, 1960 NFL Champion | 16 INT | HOF

Shamus Clancy: One of the greatest players in NFL history flat out, "The Last of the 60-Minute Men," who played with a physical tenacity, Bednarik exemplified an era of football long gone. A local product out of Bethlehem and the University of Pennsylvania, "Concrete Charlie" was the best player in Eagles history until Reggie White rolled into town.

1960: Norm Van Brocklin, QB

Pro Bowl | All-Pro | NFL MVP | 1960 NFL Champion | 24 TD, 17 INT | HOF

Shamus: After a storied Hall of Fame career, Van Brocklin came to Philly for his final NFL season at age 34 in 1960. It turned out to be his best yet, leading the Birds to their last pre-Super Bowl title. Don't overlook him just because of when he played. He had the goods at QB. For example, he passed for 8.7 yards per attempt in '60. As the MVP runner-up in 2022, Jalen Hurts passed for 8.0 yards per attempt. Van Brocklin was airing it out.

Van Brocklin also has the honored distinction of the only quarterback to beat a Vince Lombardi-coached team in the postseason. 

1961-63: Sonny Jurgensen, QB

Pro Bowl | All-Pro | NFL MVP Runner-up | 1960 NFL Champion | 63 TD, 63 INT | HOF

Shamus: Jurgensen picked up right where Van Brocklin had left as a passer in 1961, napping First-Team All-Pro honors at QB and leading the NFL in passing yards in both '61 and '62. Van Brocklin was gone. Bednarik was slowing down and retired after the 1962 campaign. Jurgensen was The Guy. 

1964-1970: Norm Snead, QB

Pro Bowl | 111 TD, 124 INT

Shamus: These are really lean years for the Birds. It's a default move to go with the QB here, even though Snead's numbers are terrible, especially by modern standards. He made the Pro Bowl in 1965, but led the NFL in interceptions in both 1968 and 1969. The Eagles were starved for true talent and star power in this period. 

1971-73: Bill Bradley, FS

3x Pro Bowl | 2x All-Pro | 24 INT

Evan Macy: Bradley had three spectacular seasons with the Eagles, and led the NFL with 11 and 9 interceptions in 1971 and 72 respectively. He was a productive ball hawk for the Birds as they continued to struggle in the early 1970s.

1974-77: Bill Bergey, LB

3x Pro Bowl | 4x All-Pro | Defensive Player of the Year Runner-up | 12 INT, 7.0 Sacks

Shamus: One of the best linebackers of the 1970s helped usher in a rebirth of Eagles football as they crept to the turn of the decade. Bergey was tough as nails and a leader. His true staying power? You'll see some old heads down at Lincoln Financial Field rocking No. 66 Mitchell & Ness jerseys. 

1978-81: Ron Jaworski, QB

Pro Bowl | NFL MVP 3rd place | 84 TD, 60 INT 

Shamus: Jaworski turned in an elite QB season in 1980 as the Eagles made their first Super Bowl berth, tossing 27 touchdowns. When it comes to the "face of the franchise" for the Eagles, if their QB is really good, it's normally a pretty easy choice to give them a nod. 

1982: Harold Carmichael, WR

540 yards, 4 TD | HOF

Evan: After 1981, Jaworski never had another winning season with the Eagles. Carmichael, meanwhile, was one of the best receivers in the NFL during Jaws' time running the Philly offense and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. This was a bit past his prime, but he deserves to be recognized for his team records in yards, receptions and receiving touchdowns.

1983-85: Mike Quick, WR

3x Pro Bowl | 2x All-Pro | 203 rec, 3,708 yards, 33 TD

Evan: Quick had three of his most productive seasons in this stretch, averaging 1,236 yards per season. The Eagles were really fortunate to go from one ace receiver in Carmichael straight to another in Quick. 

1986-87, 91: Reggie White, DE

3x Pro Bowl | 3x All-Pro | Defensive Player of the Year | 54 Sacks | HOF

Evan: White would have been the face of the franchise for his entire eight-year career had he not welcomed a dynamic quarterback as his teammate in the late 1980s. In all, White had a ridiculous 125 sacks for the Eagles and was an All-Pro player all eight times. He is arguably the best pass rusher who has ever lived. We'll give him the 1991 season as well, as Randall Cunningham was hurt that year.

1987-90, 1992-94: Randall Cunningham, QB

3x Pro Bowl | 3x All-Pro | 2x NFL MVP Runner-up | 115 TD, 73 INT, 24 rush TD

Shamus: I'm not old enough to have watched Cunningham play, but from everything I see in highlight packages and talking to older fans, he was electric. White was the Eagles' best player and maybe the best defensive player of all time, but save for the 1991 season where he missed almost the entire season, Cunningham's multifaceted game drew eyeballs to this franchise.

Cunningham was robbed of the 1990 MVP award when he threw for 3,466 yards and 30 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions while rushing for 942 yards and five TDs. 

1995-97 Ricky Watters, RB

2x Pro Bowl | 3,794 yards, 31 rush TD

Shamus: In a bad light, "For who? For what?" defined this era of Eagles football in the post-Gang Green D years and before the arrival of Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid. Soundbite aside, Ricky Watters was an incredible back and someone who'd be even better in today's game with his ability as a receiver. 

Watters led the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 1,855 for a 10-6 playoff squad in 1996 that was otherwise starting the likes of Ty Detmer and Rodney Pete at QB. 

1998 Duce Staley, RB

1,497 scrimmage yards, 6 TD

Evan: The 1998 Eagles went 3-13 and had little memorable about it. Ray Rhodes' best and most popular player that year was Staley, who returned as a Super Bowl winning RBs coach years later.

1999-2009: Donovan McNabb, QB

6x Pro Bowl | 2000 NFL MVP Runner-up | 261 TD, 100 INT, 92-49-1 record

Shamus: A perennial Pro Bowl QB who had the Eagles in the championship mix for most of his tenure sums up what the face of any given franchise is supposed to look like. 

2010-12: Michael Vick, QB

Pro Bowl | Comeback Player of the Year | 51 TD, 30 INT, 11 rush TD

Shamus: Michael Vick under Andy Reid in 2010 was a revelation. For that brief stretch, I thought I was watching football in 3010 instead of 2010. Vick was a controversial figure in Philadelphia, given his previous prison sentence for involvement in a dog fighting ring that was juxtaposed with him being somewhat of an icon for a younger generation of fans who watched him in complete wonder during his heyday with the Atlanta Falcons. 

Things never quite coalesced around Vick as the Reid era came to a halt in the form of playoff success, but I'll watch highlights of the Miracle at the New Meadowlands until the day I die. 

2013: LeSean McCoy, RB

Pro Bowl | All-Pro | 2,146 scrimmage yards, 11 TD

Shamus: Remember the Snow Bowl? 'Nuff said. 

2014-15: Chip Kelly, head coach

Shamus: I'm sure some will disagree with going with a non-player here, but don't let the burnout of the 2015 season fool you. Chip Kelly was Philadelphia sports in this period. There was wild excitement for his arrival in 2013, but he ascended to demigod status with the speed of his offense in his first season followed up by another 10-6 campaign in 2014 that led him to wrestling away personnel control from Howie Roseman.

2015 was a disaster, sure, but Kelly defined that disaster as much as he did Eagles fans' imaginations for his formerly high-powered offensive attack. 

2016-19: Carson Wentz, QB

Pro Bowl | All-Pro | MVP 3rd place | 2017 Super Bowl Champion | 97 TD, 35 INT

Shamus: Sure, things got bad at the end, but you can't forget the promise of 2016 and the way Philadelphia was on Cloud 9 during that 2017 regular season where Wentz played like the league's MVP. Everyone thought the Eagles had found the face of the franchise for the next decade-plus. That never came to be, but it doesn't take away how special Wentz was in 2017 before that career-altering knee injury and how, even if it was for a brief moment, he had the city of Philadelphia in the palm of his hand. 

2020-21, Jason Kelce, C

2x Pro Bowl | All-Pro | 2017 Super Bowl Champion 

Shamus: As the Wentz era flamed out, Kelce's standing in the organization and with the fan base was stronger than ever. Even in a bad year like 2020 and a 2021 season where Jalen Hurts had yet to finally establish himself as a legitimate franchise quarterback in the eyes of everyone, it was Kelce who defined this team. That 2021 team made the postseason because of how dominant the offensive line was, leading to one of the best rushing attacks in NFL history. Kelce was that linchpin and someone everyone in this city recognized and adored. 

2022-present: Jalen Hurts, QB

Pro Bowl | All-Pro | NFL MVP Runner-up | 38 TD, 15 INT, 23 rush TD

Shamus: Hurts is dynamic as a runner, making him one of the most exciting players in the NFL, and developed into one of the game's best passers simultaneously in 2022. He was phenomenal in the Super Bowl, making passes that were unfathomable for him at the NFL level just a year before. The adoration his teammates have for him is unprecedented for an Eagles QB. The dude oozes confidence and cool and has the game to back it up.

The Eagles are lucky to have a player and person of Hurts' caliber be the face of their franchise. 

Follow Evan on Twitter:@evan_macy

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