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April 21, 2015

Is Brian Westbrook the greatest living Eagle?

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 watched him play.

In addition to Bednarik, the debate for the franchise's all-time greatest player would undoubtedly include names like Brookshire, 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 top 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.

Here's a closer look at running back Brian Westbrook, who is one of the most versatile offensive weapons in franchise history:

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 the team installed him as 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). Westbrook also saw his touches increase as part of the three-headed monster of alongside Staley and Correll Buchkalter. The following season (2004), Westbrook took over as the team's featured back, helping the Eagles to their first Super Bowl appearance in 25 years.

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.

Why did Westbrook leave after spending eight seasons with the Eagles? Because he saw the direction the team was headed, and wanted one more shot at a Super Bowl before calling it a career. Unfortunately for him, his decision came one year too early. The 49ers finished 8-8 in 2010 and failed to make the playoffs, while the Eagles went 10-6 and won the NFC East. The following year, it was the Eagles who finished 8-8, while the 49ers, under new coach Jim Harbaugh, went 13-3 and fell one game shy of reaching the Super Bowl, but Westbrook had already retired. More from Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Before I signed with the 49ers, I looked at that roster from top to bottom and they had a fantastic defense,” said Westbrook, who retired after the 2010 season. “And they had an offense that just needed a little help at the quarterback position as far as continuity … If you look at them now, the core group of guys is really still there. That offensive line is really similar. That defense is similar. I mean they had some players there.

“I saw that when I looked at that roster before I decided to come to San Francisco and we just couldn’t put it all together. I think that team had the makings of some very nice: A real team to be reckoned with.”

Of course, the 49ers became that team in 2011 when Jim Harbaugh replaced Mike Singletary. The result was a 13-3 season that marked a seven-win improvement from Westbrook’s lone season in San Francisco.  []

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 ever has. 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, before he recorded any rushing or receiving touchdowns.

SIGNATURE MOMENT: In addition to his 25-yard TD pass to Todd Pinkston, here are some of Westbrook's most memorable plays with the Eagles:

Miracle at the Meadowlands, Part 2:

Taking a knee to seal a victory:

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.


  •  •  THE OTHER CANDIDATES    •  •

• Eric Allen, CB

Bill Bergey, LB

• Harold Carmichael, WR

• Brian Dawkins, S

• LeSean McCoy, RB

• Tommy McDonald, WR

• Donovan McNabb, QB

• Wilbert Montgomery, RB

• Al Wistert, OL

  •  •  HONORABLE MENTIONS  •  •  •

• Randall Cunningham, QB
• Ron Jaworski, QB
• Seth Joyner, LB
• Pete Retzlaff, WR
• Clyde Simmons, DE
• Troy Vincent, CB