The favorite and least favorite Eagles discussion had me thinking, our favorite players aren’t always the best players. So who would be the best players the Eagles ever had, what would be an All Time Eagles Team? Sure, it’s cliche, but it’s also fun. To help me construct this team, I turned to the other wise old man of the BGN team, James Keane.
Throughout the Eagles history, the best teams had terrific defenses, so that’s a good place to start, and also because it has four iconic players: Reggie White, Jerome Brown, Brian Dawkins and Chuck Bednarik. This is the foundation we will build around.
Dave: I guess we should start with the defensive line since we have half of it locked down with Reggie White and Jerome Brown. Who plays opposite of White? My first thoughts are: Clyde Simmons and Trent Cole. Simmons had the better individual years, leading the league in sacks in 1992, and two other top ten finishes. But he had some down years, most notably after notching 19 sacks, he had 5 without Reggie White. Cole on the other hand was more consistent, from 2006-2011 his sack total was between 8-12.5, and unlike Simmons he was the main DE. I'm inclined to go with Cole.
James: I say no to Cole. He's an admirable pick but if we're assembling an all-time Eagles defensive line, it needs to have Clyde Simmons. He was a DE/DT hybrid and a tackling machine. In 1989 he had 15.5 sacks and a career high 135 tackles. In 1992 he had 96 tackles. In that down year ('93) he still had 98 tackles. I would also favor Hugh Douglas more than Cole on the outside. Similar to Cole, but Douglas had a better career year in 2000 with 15 sacks. I think a four man front of Douglas, Simmons, Brown, and White would have been (and would be) a complete nightmare for opposing offensive lines. And to think, three of those guys actually played together.
A special mention for one more player though... there's a DT who played in the early 80's, Charlie Johnson, who has one of my favorite stat lines... In 1980 he had three (3!) interceptions. He was a nose tackle! He also went on to play in Minnesota where he returned two fumble recoveries for touchdowns. Guy was a player.
Dave: Great points about Simmons that I hadn't considered. He also solves the problem of who would play inside with Brown. There's some good candidates, most notably Johnson, but no one that really stands out.
Douglas is an interesting choice. I really like him, but he only spent six years on the Eagles, while Cole is entering his 10th year. Does a peak of only 2.5 more sacks outweigh the longer career? On the other hand, I just enjoyed Douglas more, nothing against Cole, and Douglas was a main piece of the defense that got to a Super Bowl, and also was an All Pro, unlike Cole. It's close, I'll give it Hugh Douglas for the higher achievements, plus a bonus for getting into a locker room tussle with Terrell Owens. He should be commended for that. As if Jerome Brown didn't bring enough personality, this defensive line is as entertaining as they are excellent.
James: Entertaining and DOMINANT. I really don't know if another team in the NFL could assemble such a line.
Let's switch gears to linebackers. Honestly, aside from a few players, I think this has been a relative weakness of the franchise. Obviously there is the great Chuck Bednarik. I really wish I could have seen him play. Instead, we're "stuck" with one of the greatest photographs in sports:
Next to Concrete Charlie on the inside, I have to put four-time Pro Bowler Jeremiah Trotter, the Ax Man! He played with a controlled insanity that I loved. For the third linebacker, I'm kind of stuck. We have two more players who I've never seen play: Bill Bergey (two-time All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler) and Maxie Baughn (9-time Pro Bowler, five times with the Eagles), who played on the last Eagles team win an NFL Championship. I also can't discount Seth Joyner, the linebacker I grew up watching. He was a Pro Bowler in 1991 when he had 110 tackles, 6.5 sacks, three interceptions, 4 fumble recoveries, and two touchdowns. But he had an even BETTER year in 1992, when he wasn't selected to the Pro Bowl: 121 tackles, 6.5 sacks, 4 interceptions, and 2 touch downs. Plus, he's the guy who started the whole boxing with the goal post thing before it became cool. So I'm kind of stuck.
Dave: Yes on Seth Joyner, I don't think you can go wrong taking the Buddy Ryan/Bud Carson defenses as the base and just upgrading here and there. And it's hard to top Joyner, his 1991 season saw him named Sports Illustrated's Player of the Year and was runner up to Pat Swilling for AP Defensive Player of the Year. And as you said that's arguably not even his best season. Demonstrating his versatility, he is 23rd in INTs and 34th in sacks by a LB, only a handful of players have more of both. I love Trotter, but he and Bednarik would give us two ILB in a 4-3, which is not ideal, and he was a limited player. But like you said it's been an area of weakness for the Eagles. Maxie Baughan is a good nomination, but I think there's a better player from yesteryear though:
Alex Wojciechowicz, who like Bednarik was a Hall of Fame center/linebacker. He only played four seasons with the Eagles and by then was strictly a linebacker, but instantly became the defense's leader, and the 1948 and 1949 Eagles he played on won back to back titles on shutouts. He was considered a sure tackler with great range, in 1944 while with the Lions he had 7 INTs, which was second in the league. 7 INTs is a ton for a LB today, no one's had that many since William Thomas in 1995, and even more impressive when you consider that teams averaged only 19 attempts a game back then, today they average 35. In addition to being a Hall of Famer, he is a member of the NFL's all-1940s team and 50th Anniversary All Time Team. A truly great player. He was a class clown off the field and a leader on it, adding to our unintentional running theme of dominant and entertaining. You'd get Joyner flying around making tackles, picking off passes and adding to already great pass rush, Bednarik controlling the middle and Wojciechowicz in coverage and not letting anything by him. Two HOFers and a guy with HOF caliber seasons, all of them able to do everything, and representing three different great eras of the franchise. That touches on everything you want from an All Time Team.
James: Nice, strong case for Wojciechowicz. Well done. It's a shame that Trotter doesn't make it, but perhaps appropriate that no linebacker who played for the Eagles in the last 21 years is worthy of the honor.
On to the secondary. I'll be a nice guy and reserve for you any commentary about Brian Dawkins. Instead I'll start with cornerbacks. The Eagles have had a slew of really good, if not solid ones like Tom Brookshier, Lito Sheppard, and Asante Samuel (one of my favorites is 5-foot-nuthin' a-hundred-and-nuthin' Mark McMillian). But on an All-Time team, I have to include Eric Allen and Troy Vincent. In 1993 Allen had 6 interceptions, four of which were returned for touchdowns, including this one (which is also one of Merrill Reese's classic calls... gives me chills!).
Allen played as many years in the NFL as Deion Sanders, has one more interception (54), one less career interception returned for a touchdown (8), and a gazillion more tackles (732). He should be considered for the NFL's Hall of Fame.
Another player that has a gazillion more tackles is Vincent, who I will forever remember for this play (not a great video, but another awesome call by Reese).
Vincent, now an NFL Executive VP, was a class-act off the field and a smart player on it. Should a QB get a chance to fire off an outside pass against our defensive line, Vincent and Allen would make him pay.
Dave: Allen and Vincent are my picks too. If Allen played on better teams in the second half of his career, he would get more of the recognition he deserved. I hesitate to say he should be a Hall of Famer, but I also can't definitively say he is not a Hall of Famer. Vincent was well rounded, had a long career and is a consummate professional.
Safety I think is an easy selection as well. There’s the great Brian Dawkins, who needs no explanation but here’s one anyway.
There's been some very good safeties throughout the Eagles history. including Bill Bradley who led the league in INTs in back to back seasons on some awful early 70s teams, Don Burroghs racked up 29 picks in 64 games on the early 60s Eagles, and Andre Waters was good player and a fan favorite for his big hits. But his partner in crime is the choice: Wes Hopkins. Like Dawkins, Hopkins was a free safety, but he is very well suited to strong safety, Buddy Ryan even tried to move him there after drafting Ben Smith in the first round in 1990. That didn’t work out so well, Smith moved to cornerback and struggled. Also like Dawkins, Hopkins was a versatile player, nabbing 30 picks, 12 sacks and a boatload of tackles on the Ryan/Carson defenses. And he might be the ultimate Cowboy killer: in 7 career games against them, he had 9 interceptions. In only one game against Dallas did he not pick off a pass, and that was against the 1-15 1989 team. Maybe he felt pity on them.
Dawkins and Michael Lewis were a fine duo, Hopkins and Waters were certainly more feared if not better, we’ve got the best of each.
James: Love it.
Our All-Time defense is almost complete. I think we're missing one little something. Who would you select as defensive coordinator? I would think the candidates are Bud Carson and Jim Johnson. Carson coached five players on our team; Johnson coached two. Part of me would love to see how Carson used Dawkins, but I would also love to see how Johnson designed blitzes with Joyner and Hopkins. I'm kind of torn. And perhaps a notable DC candidate is Jeff Fisher, who served under Buddy Ryan in '89 and '90. But he's just notable; I wouldn't really consider him.
Dave: Another honorable mention is Marion Campbell, who was a very good defensive lineman for the Eagles in the 60s with a very cool nickname, the Swamp Fox (after Francis Marion), and then ran the defense for Dick Vermiel. In 1980 the Eagles defense was 1st in scoring, 2nd in yards, 3rd against the run and 5th against the pass, and in 1981 were even better: 1st in scoring, 1st in yards, 1st against the pass and 4th against the run. Campbell was a bad head coach with one of the worst records in history, but he was very good at coaching defense, his teams in Atlanta punched above their weight, and he was quite successful with the Eagles.
For the All Time Team DC, Carson would be a very good pick, he had really good and even great defenses throughout his career. But he inherited an already excellent defense stacked with talent, and was only there for four years. Johnson took over an awful defense, and while he inherited a good core of Dawkins, Trotter and Douglas, it needed rebuilding. During his longer tenure the Eagles had a lot of moving parts and yet he still had top defenses at the end. Carson was great, but Jim Johnson did more with less, and for longer. That's enough for me to give him the edge.
James: I'm convinced. The Mad Scientist it is.
Our All Time Eagles Defense, you'll love them on the field and off it too: