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April 23, 2015

Is Wilbert Montgomery 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 Wilbert Montgomery, who is second in franchise history in both rushing yards and rushing touchdowns:

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.

*Montgomery led the entire NFL in yards from scrimmage in 1979, tallying 494 receiving yards to bring his total to 2,006.

HOW HE LEFT PHILLY: Following 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.

Here's what the Allentown Morning Call had to say back in 1985:

Did his trade have to take place? Probably, for the simple reason that Wilbert Montgomery no longer was happy in Philadelphia. He made that clear to Coach Marion Campbell several weeks ago when, after asking to be traded, he changed his mind, said he'd be in training camp the next afternoon, then didn't show up.

Several days later he visited Campbell - with his agent - and asked for more money, something new owner Norman Braman refuses to give any of his players under contract. All hope of getting him back in an Eagles' uniform was gone.

"It's finished," Campbell said at one of his daily press conferences. "We've reached the end of the road."

The road led to Seattle, where Montgomery failed a physical examination on Aug. 15, then to Detroit, where he passed another physical on Wednesday. The trade for linebacker Garry Cobb was completed late Wednesday afternoon.  []

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. Here's more from Inquirer-columnist-turned-ESPN-insider Ashley Fox:

Had injuries not dogged him his entire career, Montgomery might have gone down as the best ever. He was that good. Vision. Speed. Smarts. Toughness. Montgomery had it all.

"He wasn't real big," said Mike Quick, one of Montgomery's teammates, "but he was as tough as anybody to play that position. He hit guys in the chest. Guys would smash him, and he'd get right up, straighten his helmet, and be ready to play."  []

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.

SIGNATURE MOMENT: This one is easy. The 1981 NFC Championship Game against the Cowboys.

It was just the second offensive play of the game for the Eagles, but it set the tone as Montgomery would go on to rush for 194 yards in the 20-7 win. The win put the Eagles in their first Super Bowl in franchise history. 


  •  •  THE OTHER CANDIDATES    •  •

• Eric Allen, CB

Bill Bergey, LB

• Harold Carmichael, WR

• Brian Dawkins, S

• LeSean McCoy, RB

• Tommy McDonald, WR

• Donovan McNabb, QB

• Brian Westbrook, RB

• Al Wistert, OL

  •  •  HONORABLE MENTIONS  •  •  •

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