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'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?
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?
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?
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.