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April 23, 2015

Who is the greatest living Eagle?

Eagles NFL

For years, many considered Concrete Charlie -- former Eagles linebacker Chuck Bednarik -- the greatest living Eagles player. But that all changed last month when the hall of famer passed away at the age of 89, leaving a void in the hearts of those lucky enough to have seen him play.

In addition to Bednarik, the debate for the franchise's all-time greatest player would undoubtedly include names like Brookshier, Brown, Van Buren, and White. Unfortunately, some of the greatest Eagles players are no longer with us, and in the wake of Bednarik's passing, there is no consensus as to whom should replace him as the franchise's top living player.

With that in mind, we've decided to take a look at some of the greatest living Eagles, the kind of guys Jeff Lurie would want to trot out before a big playoff game -- if/when that time comes -- to help get the fans fired up.

Below is our list of the 10 most deserving candidates, as well as some honorable mentions for you to consider. After you read through the top 10, you can vote in our poll to help us decide who deserves the title of "Greatest Living Eagles Player." And if you think we left someone out please say so in the comments section and we can debate that player further.

•  •  •  THE CANDIDATES  •  •  •

Eric Allen, CB

BY THE NUMBERS (with the Eagles): 111 G (1988-1994); 5x Pro-Bowler; 1x All-Pro; 34 INT; 5 TDs (including league-high 4 in 1993); 3 INT in five playoff games with Eagles, including one TD; Member of the Eagles Hall of Fame.

HOW HE GOT HERE: The Eagles drafted Allen (Arizona State) in the second round (30th overall) of the 1988 NFL Draft. He had five interceptions in his rookie season, but really broke out in his second year, in which he intercepted eight passes and was named an All-Pro and for the first time in his career was voted to the Pro Bowl.

HOW HE LEFT PHILLY: Allen left as a free agent after the 1994 season. By that point, most of his teammates on that ferocious Buddy Ryan defense -- Reggie White, Clyde Simmonds, Seth Joyner, etc. -- had moved on as well. The Eagles had just finished two seasons without a winning record for the first time since before Allen's arrival.

WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND: Allen, a borderline Hall of Fame candidate, is tied with Brian Dawkins and Bill Bradley for the most interceptions in franchise history (34), the most memorable* of which was named one of "The Top 100 Touchdowns in NFL History" by NFL Films. 

*It was a 94-yard return against the Jets in the Meadowlands that lifted the Eagles to victory in a game where the team lost starting QB Randall Cunningham to a broken leg.

MORE ON ALLEN ...

Bill Bergey, LB

BY THE NUMBERS: 91 G (1974-1980); 4x Pro-Bowler; 2x All-Pro; 3x Eagles team MVP; 18 INT; 15 FR; started every game in six of his seven years in Philly, including 1979-80 NFC Championship season; member of Eagles Hall of Fame.

HOW HE GOT HERE: Bergey spent five seasons in Cincinnati before being traded to the Eagles for three draft picks (two first-rounders and a second) in 1974 after a disagreement with Bengals owner Paul Brown. After the trade, Bergey told The Associated Press in 1978 that he thought his new team overspent on him. 

"There's no way that I would have grabbed a Bill Bergey for two number ones and a number two draft choice -- I think that's absurd," Bergey said at the time.

HOW HE LEFT PHILLY: After missing most of the 1979 season with a knee injury, Bergey returned to action in 1980, but would never be the same again. Despite the Eagles making it to the Super Bowl in 1980, the once All-Pro linebacker was a shell of his former self. Bergey retired in 1981, after the conclusion of the 1980-81 season.

WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND: Bergey was inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame in 1988. He is one of 30 players (not counting coaches, executives, etc.) to earn that honor. However, his impact in the Philadelphia region extends beyond the football field. His son, Jake, spent 10 seasons playing lacrosse for the Philadelphia Wings. Bergey has also spent over 20 years working in radio, including Eagles pre- and postgame shows.

MORE ON BERGEY ...

Harold Carmichael, WR

BY THE NUMBERS: 180 G (1971-1983); 4x Pro-Bowler; 589 receptions for 8,978 yards (15.2 YPC); 79 TDs; Member of Eagles Hall of Fame and 1980 NFC Championship team.

HOW HE GOT HERE: The Eagles drafted Carmichael (Southern University) in the 7th round (161st overall) in the 1971 NFL Draft. The 6-foot-8 rookie alternated between tight end and receiver in his first two seasons before breaking out in 1973, when he led the NFL with 1,116 yards.

HOW HE LEFT PHILLY: Carmichael was cut by the Eagles in 1984 before eventually landing with the Dallas Cowboys, where he played in just two games and recorded only one reception. But the thing about Carmichael -- and it applies to several names on this list -- is that he never really left Philly. After his playing days were over, he worked in various roles with the Eagles, including player development, for more than 20 years until his retirement earlier this month.

WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND: Because of the time period in which he played -- before the rules being changed in favor of the offense -- Carmichael's numbers are not as inflated as some other wideouts, which likely contributed to him being left out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He is, however, a member of the Hall's 1970s' All-Decade Team. He currently ranks 24th in NFL when it comes to receiving touchdowns and is second among Eagles, behind only Tommy McDonald.

MORE ON CARMICHAEL ...

Brian Dawkins, S

BY THE NUMBERS: 183 G (1996-2008); 9x Pro-Bowler; 4x All-Pro; 34 INT; 32 forced fumbles; 21 sacks; Member of Eagles Hall of Fame; Had No. 20 retired by Eagles in 2012; Went to five NFC Championships and a Super Bowl in 13 years with Eagles.

HOW HE GOT HERE: Dawkins was drafted in the second round (61st overall) by the Eagles in 1996 out of Clemson. He started 13 games in his rookie season on a team that went 10-6 but lost to the San Francisco 49ers in the first round of the playoffs.

HOW HE LEFT PHILLY: Dawkins' 2009 exit was one of the most controversial in recent years, as the Eagles let their veteran safety and unquestioned team leader walk in free agency, allowing him to sign with the Denver Broncos. A few years later, Howie Roseman admitted letting Dawkins go was a mistake

It clearly was, as the team is still looking for "The Next Dawkins" to solidify their secondary.

WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND: Dawkins returned a few years later in 2012, when he signed a one-day contract with the Eagles so he could retire as a member of the franchise he spent the majority of his (almost-certain) Hall of Fame career. The Eagles returned the favor by adding Dawkins to their own Hall of Fame and retiring his number 20 for all time.

His legacy is undeniable. During his time patrolling the defensive backfield, the Eagles experienced one of their greatest eras of all time. Just look at how their record with Dawkins compares to their record without him:

 W-L-TWIN %
All-time541-573-26
.486
Without Dawkins
425-483-24 .468
 WITH DAWKINS116-90-2
.563


Sure, some of those wins came because his time on the Eagles lined up with other guys on this list, like McNabb and Westbrook. But as potent as the offense was on some of those Andy Reid teams, it was Jim Johnson's defense that stole the show, specifically the ways in which the late defensive coordinator could use Dawkins -- in coverage, on the blitz, as a QB spy, as a run stopper; the list goes on. He truly was "Weapon X."

MORE ON DAWKINS ...

LeSean McCoy, RB

BY THE NUMBERS: 90 G (2009-2014); 3x Pro-Bowler; 2x All-Pro; 1461 carries for 6,792 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and 44 TDs; 300 receptions for 2,282 yards and 10 TDs; Eagles all-time leader in rushing yards.

HOW HE GOT HERE: The Eagles drafted McCoy (Pitt) in the second round (63rd overall) of the 2009 NFL Draft. He was immediately inserted into the lineup (although he started just four games his rookie year) due in large part to the decline of Brian Westbrook, who was playing in his final year with the Eagles. McCoy failed to eclipse the 100-yard mark in any of his games, but he lead the team in rushing with 637 yards on 155 attempts.

HOW HE LEFT PHILLY: McCoy was traded by Chip Kelly this offseason to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for linebacker -- and former Oregon Duck -- Kiko Alonso, who is coming off ACL surgery after a promising start to his career. Many fans' initial reactions fell somewhere between the anger experienced when Dawkins walked and the confusion felt when the team cut star wideout DeSean Jackson. 

Once fans came to the realization that McCoy's contract had been eating up such a sizable portion of the salary cap -- or once the team signed DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews as his replacements -- things seemed to settle down. However, McCoy didn't do much to help himself, as he began taking shots at his former team almost immediately upon arriving in Buffalo.

WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND: It's hard to tell just what McCoy's legacy will be as an Eagle. Had he stayed in Philly through the entirety of his prime -- meaning the next couple of years -- he would be far and away the leading rusher in franchise history and his case for greatest living Eagle would be among the strongest out there. It's still a damn good resume, however, the fact that he is currently on another roster coupled with the sour grapes he found in Buffalo will likely hurt his chances. Also working against him is the fact that the Eagles failed to win a postseason game in his six seasons with the team.

MORE ON McCOY ...

Tommy McDonald, WR

BY THE NUMBERS: 88 G (1957-1963); 5x Pro-Bowler; 287 receptions for 5,499 yards (19.2 yards per catch) and 66 TDs; Inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998; Member of the Eagles Hall of Fame; Member of the 1960 NFL Championship team. 

HOW HE GOT HERE: McDonald (Oklahoma) was selected by the Eagles in the third round (31st overall) of the 1957 NFL Draft. After just nine receptions in all his rookie season, McDonald broke out the following year in 1958 when he led the NFL with nine touchdowns. That began a four-year stretch when McDonald was first or second in the league in touchdown receptions. He also consistently ranked among the top 10 in yards, receptions, yards per game, yards per reception throughout his seven seasons with the Eagles.

HOW HE LEFT PHILLY: The Eagles almost certainly got the best out of McDonald before they traded him to Dallas in 1964. In seven season in Philadelphia, McDonald made the Pro Bowl five times, something he accomplished just once (1967 with the Rams) in his final five seasons.

WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND: McDonald was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1988, making him one of just nine former Eagles* to be enshrined in Canton. 

*Only counting players who spent a majority (or large portion) of their careers in Philadelphia.

Furthermore, McDonald is second in the Eagles record books with 66 touchdown catches, despite playing in far fewer games (88) and catching fewer passes (287) than anyone else close. In fact, nearly 23 percent of his receptions went for a touchdown.

MORE ON McDONALD ...

Donovan McNabb, QB

BY THE NUMBERS: 148 G (1999-2009); 6x Pro-Bowler; 92-49-1 record; 2801-of-4746 passing (59 percent) for 32,873 yards; 216 TDs; 100 INT; 3249 rushing yards and 28 rushing TDs; Led Eagles to 5 NFC Championship games and one Super Bowl appearance; Inducted into Eagles Hall of Fame; Had No. 5 retired by Eagles in 2013.

HOW HE GOT HERE: The Eagles took McNabb (Syracuse) second overall in the 1999 NFL Draft and things didn't get off to a great start in Philly, as a legion of fans famously booed the selection, hoping the team would pick running back Ricky Williams out of Texas instead.


Unfortunately, I'm willing to bet a few of those fans are still proud of booing McNabb. 

HOW HE LEFT PHILLY: McNabb was treated nearly as well on his way out of town as he was when he arrived, being traded to the Redskins, a division rival, on Easter in 2010. In return for the veteran QB, the Eagles received two draft picks, a second-rounder that turned into safety Nate Allen and fourth-rounder that they traded away. Essentially, the Eagles traded their most prolific passer for Nate Allen. Nate-bleeping-Allen. Even the guys in the video above know the Birds got jobbed on that one.

WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND: McNabb was unable to get the Super Bowl title that has been so elusive in Philly, and that will always haunt him. However, there's no doubt that McNabb was the most successful passer in the history of the franchise. Sure, he'll be remembered for some of the bad -- puking during the Super Bowl and playing air guitar as he entered Cowboys Stadium before losing, just to name a few -- but that's not entirely fair to McNabb. 

For the first half of his career, his passing options were slim-to-none, except for one season of Terrell Owens. Still, he was able to put up monster numbers while rarely getting his team in trouble by throwing interceptions. 

MORE ON McNABB ...

Wilbert Montgomery, RB

BY THE NUMBERS: 100 G (1977-1984); 2x Pro-Bowler; 1465 carries for 6,538 yards (4.5 yards per carry) and 45 TDs; 266 receptions for 2,447 yards (9.2 yards per catch) for 12 TDs; Member of Eagles Hall of Fame.

HOW HE GOT HERE: The Eagles took Montgomery (Abilene Christian) in the sixth round (154th overall) of the 1977 NFL Draft. He got just 45 carries in his rookie year -- he did, however, lead the the NFC in kick return yards -- but he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark in three of the following four seasons, including 1,512 in 1979.

HOW HE LEFT PHILLY: After the 1984 NFL season, Montgomery found himself in a contract dispute with the Eagles and was ultimately traded for linebacker Garry Cobb. Originally, it looked like Montgomery would land in Seattle, but a failed physical forced the team to deal him to Detroit.

WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND: When he retired, Montgomery was the franchise leader in carries and rushing yards. Like so many other great players, he was plagued by injuries throughout his career, leaving many to wonder what could have been. 

Still, Montgomery had quite a career for the Eagles, even though he only appeared in 13 of 32 games during two seasons that could have ranked among his best. Coming off a year in which he recorded 1,402 yards* and 1,923 total yards in 1981 at the age of 27, Montgomery missed half of the 1982 season and most of the 1983 season.

*Not to mention a career-high 4.9 yards per carry.

MORE ON MONTGOMERY ...

Brian Westbrook, RB

BY THE NUMBERS: 107 G (2002-2009); 2x Pro-Bowler; 1x All-Pro; 1,308 carries for 5,995 yards (4.6 yards per carry) and 37 TDs; 426 receptions for 3,790 yards (8.9 yards per catch) and 29 TDs; 985 return yards (kick and punt) and 2 TDs; Eagles all-time leader in yards from scrimmage (9,785) and all-purpose yards (10,770); 6 games with 200+ yards from scrimmage.

HOW HE GOT HERE: Westbrook, who went to DeMatha High in Maryland before playing college ball at Villanova, was selected by the Eagles in the 3rd round (91st overall) of the 2002 NFL Draft. Early in his career, Westbrook played a minor role behind starter Duce Staley and backup Dorsey Levens. He really broke out in 2003, when he became the team's primary return man, replacing veteran Brian Mitchell. That season, Westbrook returned two punts for touchdowns, including the Miracle at the Meadowlands 2, and was second in the NFL in yards per punt return (15.3).


HOW HE LEFT PHILLY: After the conclusion of the 2009 season, which ended with that awful postseason loss in Dallas, Westbrook left the team as free agent and signed with the 49ers, where he spent one season before signing a one-day contract to retire as an Eagle.

WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND: Westbrook may be one of the most underrated players in franchise history. The fact that he has not been inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame is criminal. And it's not just the memorable plays, like the Miracle at the Meadowlands 2, that make him worthy. Westbrook leads the franchise in all-purpose yards, is third in rushing yards, and has more receiving yards than any other Eagles running back. He contributed in nearly every facet of the game, including special teams. Hell, his first NFL touchdown was as a passer -- that came in just his third NFL game before he recorded any rushing or receiving touchdowns.

There was also his three touchdown receptions vs. the Packers in 2004, his four-touchdown performance against the Giants in 2008, and countless broken ankles.

MORE ON WESTBROOK ...

Al Wistert, OL

BY THE NUMBERS: 95 G (1943-1951); 1x Pro-Bowler; 4x All-Pro (AP); Member of Eagles Hall of Fame; Had his No. 70 retired by the Eagles; Member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's All-1940s Team; Part of the Eagles NFL Championship teams in 1948 and '49. 

HOW HE GOT HERE: Wistert (Michigan) was selected by the Eagles, who were at the time combined with the Steelers, in the 5th round (32nd overall) of the 1943 NFL Draft. Wistert, who played on both sides of the ball, was immediately impactful for the Eagles, who failed to post a winning record in any of the 10 seasons the franchise existed before his arrival. In his first season (1943), the "Steagles" were 5-4-1, beginning a stretch of seven-straight winning seasons, which included three title game appearances and two NFL championships.

HOW HE LEFT PHILLY: Wistert retired young, relatively speaking, at the age of 31 in 1951. However, if you consider that he played both sides of the ball -- and rarely missed a snap -- Wistert's nine seasons in Philly suddenly morph into something closer to 18 seasons. Couple that with the fact that he was blocking for Steve Van Buren and one of the best rushing attacks in the game during that time, he almost certainly belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Furthermore, Wistert was named a first-team All-Pro by at least one major publication in six* of his nine seasons with the Eagles and 24** times overall, suggesting that he was the best lineman of his era, something later confirmed by his inclusion on the Hall of Fame's All-1940s Team.

*1944-49
*He was named to multiple All-Pro teams in a single season several times, including five times each by the New York Daily News and UPI (United Press International), four times by the Associated Press (AP), three times by the International News Service, Pro Football Illustrated, and the Chicago Herald-American, and once by the Sporting News.

WHAT HE LEFT BEHIND: It's hard to really quantify what Wistert meant to the Eagles. I mean, it's difficult enough to do so with current-day offensive linemen, let alone one that you likely have never seen play, which may be part of the reason he had to wait until 2012 to be enshrined in the Eagles Hall of Fame (formerly known as the Honor Roll), despite the fact that his No. 70 was the first to be retired by the organization.

Jason Lisk wrote the following on Pro-Football-Reference.com about just how tough it can be to compare Wistert to contemporaries, not to mention players from other eras.

It's difficult to compare Al Wistert to other candidates for senior selection who played after 1950 because he played a very different game as a two-way player, where versatility was far more important. From the accounts I can find, he was considered adept on both sides of the ball in both college and the pros, praised for his technique and variety in offensive blocking, and in his ability to make sure tackles and control his area defensively. Offensively, he blocked in front of Steve Van Buren for one of the best rushing attacks of the era, and defensively, he was part of teams that consistently ranked in the top 3 in both passing and rushing rate stats and recorded shutouts in the 1948 and 1949 championship games.  [pro-football-reference.com]

Those two championship teams remain the only in NFL history to shutout the opposition in consecutive title games.

MORE ON WISTERT ...


  •  •  HONORABLE MENTIONS  •  •  •

• Randall Cunningham, QB

• Ron Jaworski, QB

• Seth Joyner, LB

• Pete Retzlaff, WR

• Clyde Simmons, DE

• Troy Vincent, CB


•  •  •  TIME TO VOTE  •  •  •


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