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The Steagles revisted

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Over at our Steelers' blog Behind the Steel Curtain, a member of the community(maryrose) wrote about the time during WWII when the Eagles and Steelers combined their teams to become the Steagles. It's a great piece and well worth the read.


It also reminded me of the interview I did last year with Matthew Algeo, the author of Last Team Standing: How the Steelers and the Eagles--"The Steagles"--Saved Pro Football During World War II. Since the Eagles play the Steelers this week, I figured it would be a good time to repost the interview for those that may not have been visting BGN back then. An amazon reviewer set up the story well.

"The year is 1943 and the NFL is at a crossroads. With WWII raging, teams are losing players, coaches and owners to the various military branches. One of the 10 teams had suspended operations and there are questions if the league should follow that lead.

The remaining league members elect to conduct a 10-game season with a twist, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles will merge for the year.

That is where Matthew Algeo picks up the story with the world at war and the attempt to maintain athletic entertainment on the homefront. The "Steagles" had a roster of players who washed-out of the military, former stars who had little to nothing left for the gridiron and those waiting for their call-ups. "

Check out the full interview after the jump.

BGN - First tell me a bit about yourself. Where did you grow up? Are you a big football fan?

I grew up in Perkasie, about 30 miles north of Philadelphia, in Bucks County. I graduated from Pennridge High School in 1984, and from Penn in '88. I was a huge sports fan growing up: Phillies, Flyers, Sixers, Eagles (pretty much in that order). It was a good time to be a Philly sports fan: between my eighth and 18th birthdays, the Flyers won two Stanley Cups, the Phillies won a World Series, the Sixers won an NBA championship and the Eagles went to the Super Bowl. That now seems like a very long time ago.

I've always been a football fan, though I never played the game. I'm also a history buff, which is how I got interested in the Steagles.

There were other teams that either folded or faced hardships during WW2, what inspired you to write specifically about the Steagles?

Because they were so unexpectedly successful - they were the first winning team in Eagles history, and just the second in Steelers history.

Also, there were a lot of great, colorful characters on the team. The two head coaches (the Eagles' Greasy Neale and the Steelers' Walt Kiesling) couldn't stand each other. The best receiver (Tony Bova) was blind in one eye. The best running back (Jack Hinkle) had ulcers. One of the linemen (Eddie Michaels) was so deaf he had to take his helmet off in the huddle to hear the play being called. And so on.

So, the Steagles were unique among the wartime NFL teams in that they were successful - and exceptionally colorful. Besides, "Steagles" is just a great name!

In today's NFL where the players and owners are making millions... can you ever imagine a scenario like this playing out again? Would today's  thletes & coaches even be asked to serve their country as those guys did back then?

I asked one of the Steagles, Bucko Kilroy, if a merger like the  Steagles could ever happen again. Bucko went on to a long career in the NFL, eventually becoming the   general manager of the Patriots. When I asked him the question, he laughed so hard I was afraid he might choke! There's too much money involved now. Back then, players made about $250 a game. And then there are the egos: Could you imagine two NFL head coaches agreeing to become co-head coaches of the same team? Besides, the NFL is so powerful and wealthy now, it will never need to contract to survive.

As for today's athletes being asked to serve their country: It would be very interesting to see how a military draft would affect professional sports today. If the draft was revived, it would almost certainly change the way teams look. For example, the average age of the players would probably rise.

Who was your favorite character that emerged from your research on this Steagles team?

Wow, it really is hard to pick one. But my favorite might be Eagles head coach Greasy Neale. He had an interesting sports career. He played for the legendary Canton Bulldogs. He was on the Cincinnati Reds team that won the 1919 World Series against the Black Sox. As a head coach, he took tiny Washington and Jefferson College to the Rose Bowl (and held California to a scoreless tie). He also had an interesting personality. He could be extremely warm and caring: He was practically an uncle to the players' children. But he could also be extremely crude, cursing out his players in the most profane language imaginable.

Greasy Neale was also a football genius. He invented the man-to-man pass defense. He was just the second NFL coach (after George Halas) to adopt the T formation. And he led the Eagles to consecutive NFL championships - something, of course, that no other head coach in Eagles history has ever done!

Thanks again to Matthew Algeo for taking some time to talk with BGN and of course for writing about such an amazing time in the history of this team and this country. You can buy Matthew's book here.

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