Looking back at the Philadelphia Eagles first Super Bowl appearance.
The NFL post-season is hitting its zenith this coming Sunday as Super Bowl LVII is almost upon us. At this time of year we think it might be fun to do a series on the decade anniversaries of the big game. Which is why we started out with the 50th anniversary retrospective of Super Bowl VII recently.
But I also thought it might be fun to look into a little history more specific to each team too. So I thought it might be interesting to look back at the first time both teams made the show.
We started with the Chiefs. But now it is time to look back at the NFC representative Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles actually went into Super Bowl XV as slight favourites but didn’t get the result they wanted. First though let’s take a look back at their championship pedigree prior to that game.
The Eagles previous NFL Championship appearances
At the end of the 1980/81 season the Philadelphia Eagles made their first appearance in a Super Bowl game. But they had played for NFL championships in the past, in the pre-Super Bowl era.
Having formed in 1933 it had taken 15 seasons for the Eagles to make their first NFL championship game appearance. Then, like London buses, three came along at once. From 1947 to 1949 they posted a regular season mark of 28-7-1 which they converted into three consecutive title game appearances. Losing in 1947, then winning in 1948 & 1949.
1947 NFL Championship L 21-28 versus Chicago Cardinals
From 1933 to 1946 every NFL title game featured one of a quartet of the Bears, Giants, Packers or Redskins. Sometimes two of them against each other. So, when 1947 delivered two teams who had never been there before it was something of a surprise.
The Cardinals had beaten the Eagles 38-21 in the preseason and 45-21 during the regular season so were going in confident.
The Cardinals would win this one too 28-21 in a game in which they never trailed. Eagles star back Steve Van Buren was held to 26 yards which meant Philadelphia went aerial. Eventually setting a title game record for attempts and completions as ‘Tommy Gun’ Thompson went 27 of 44 for 297 yards.
1948 NFL Championship W 7-0 versus Chicago Cardinals
The 1947 title game had been in Chicago. This time it was in Philadelphia. The year before there had been a snowstorm leading up to the day of the game. This time the game was played in snow (or a Philly blizzard as it was known).
The Cardinals had beaten the Eagles five straight times including exhibition games and were installed as slight favourites. But it was the Eagles who came out on top.
As they played through the snow, (so heavy the teams had helped the ground crew lift the tarpaulin off the field before the game), it was scoreless going into the fourth quarter.
Chicago fumbled deep in their own territory, and the Eagles recovered. That led to Van Buren running in a 5 yard touchdown – the game winner. This time he had managed 98 yards on 25 carries. In fact the Eagles had picked up 225 yards on the ground to underpin the win.
1949 NFL Championship W 14-0 versus LA Rams
The 1949 Eagles were the best of their championship game teams over this span. They had gone 11-1 in the regular season, losing only once, away to the Chicago Bears. Their 5-2-4 ‘Eagle’ D and the power running of Van Buren and the rest of the backfield were fine tuned at this point.
This one was played in LA, but it was the Eagles who were celebrating. But what was it about these Eagles and the weather? Reports had suggested a mild day. Instead it rained overnight and through at least two thirds of the game, turning the field into a mudbath.
Again, like the snow the year before, this suited the Eagles power attack. They plunged through the mud to 274 yards on 61 carries to control the game. Even saying that, the only offensive score came in the second quarter when Thompson hit Pete pihos for a 31 yard touchdown.
That 7-0 halftime lead was doubled in the third quarter as the Eagles blocked a punt and carried it into the End Zone from the Rams 2 yard line for a 14-0 lead.
Philadelphia finished the second half without throwing a pass, whilst the Rams went to the air without much success.
1960 NFL Championship W 17-13 versus Green Bay Packers
After their consecutive championship appearances to end the 1940s the next decade was much less kind to the Eagles. From 1950-1959 they went 51-64-5 and never troubled the playoffs.
But in 1960 they were resurgent. A 10-2 season and sitting atop the East Division saw them hosting the Packers for the title. Buck Shaw’s team who had been 2-9-1 in 1958 were led on field by veterans Norm Van Brocklin and Chuck Bednarik. If you’ve ever seen the famous picture of Bednarik stood over the prone figure of Frank gifford – that was from an Eagles win over the Giants during this regular season.
Franlkin Field in Philadelphia sold out for the game. 67,235 in the stands was the second largest attendance in NFL playoff history at this point.
By early in the second quarter the Eagles looked to be struggling and Green Bay led 6-0 thanks to two Field Goals. However, now Philadelphia came to life. Van Brocklin was finding his rythm and hit tommy McDonald for 22 yards and then a 35 yard TD pass on the same drive to see the Eagles lead 7-6. They added a Field Goal of their own for a 10-6 halftime lead.
The second half
The third quarter was scoreless but at the end of it Green bay were driving. They kept the momentum going into the final frame and the drive was capped by Bart Starr hitting Max McGee from 7 yards out to take the lead 13-10.
On the ensuing kickoff Ted Dean caught the ball at his own three yard line and ran it back 58 yards for tremendous field position. In a drive where Van Brocklin only threw once they made it to the End Zone as Dean rushed in from the 5 for a 17-13 lead.
A couple of exchanges of possession left Green Bay with the ball last. With 10 seconds left Starr threw to FB Jim Taylor who escaped a tackle but was brought down by a combination of Carr and Bednarik. The latter had played both sides of the ball, and was in for every play of the game.
Decline for the Eagles
Following their third NFL title the Eagles had once again slipped into decline.
Between 1961 and 1977 they posted an 83-146-9 record. A run that saw only 2 winning seasons and no playoff appearances.
But in 1978 they reached the playoffs for the first time in eighteen years, ending the longest postseason drought in the franchise’s history. That was Coach Dick Vermeil’s third year in charge and he was slowly turning the team around. His teams had gone 4-10, then 5-9 before the 9-7 season in 1978 put them in the playoffs.
By 1980, the Egales were making their third playoff appearance in a row. From 1978-1980 they had gone 32-16 to achieve this. Each year their record had improved. And each year they went a little deeper into the playoffs.
The 9-7 1978 squad lost in the Wild Card game. The 11-5 1979 team had been beaten in the Divisional Round. And now the 12-4 1980 Eagles were making their first NFL Championship game appearance in two decades. And marking Philadelphia’s first participation in a Super Bowl.
Their Playoff run
The Eagles had tied atop the NFC East with Dallas on a 12-4 record. But had a higher seeding due to tiebreakers so got to sit at home on Wild-Card weekend.
They followed that with a 31-16 win against Minnesota. They had trailed 7-0 after one in this game, and 14-7 at halftime. But in the second half they shut the Vikings down outscoring them 24-2 after the interval on the way to victory.
An emotional Eagles win – but at what cost?
The NFC championship game brought the Cowboys to town. After being tied 7-7 at the half, the Eagles once again took over after the break. In the end Philadelphia defeated the Cowboys, 20-7.
For years Dallas had held sway over the Eagles. So for the team and fans this was an emotional and huge win. That night after the game, owner Leonard Tose threw a lavish victory party. But the job wasn’t done.
In fact there was speculation after the Super Bowl that the Eagles had put so much into beating Dallas that they were emotionally spent. A sentiment echoed by Eagles LB Bill Bergey interviewed later when he said, “the thing of it was, we had put so much mentally and physically into that Dallas game, and guess what? We couldn’t get back, not even close, to that level.”
The Game Itself: Super Bowl XV
Going into this game some of Las Vegas’ oddsmakers had the Eagles as a three-point favourite. Perhaps in part based on the teams meeting during the regular season. Then, the Eagles had won 10-7 at Veterans Staidium in Philly. Jim Plunkett had a terrible showing in that game going 10 of 36, with 2 INTs, & 0 TDs. This game would be very different.
If the Eagles needed a strong start they didn’t get it. After two runs brought up a First Down at the 35 yard line the Eagles called a pass play. Only to see the D with the most interceptions in the league do it again.
OLB Rod Martin stepped in front of the receiver, caught the ball, and ran it back 17 yards to the Eagles 30. He would have three picks in the game. The Raiders converted that into a 7-0 lead when Plunkett capped a 7 play drive with a toss to Cliff Branch in the End Zone.
After an exchange of possessions the Eagles threw long on third and 10 and appeared to have a tying TD. Instead an illegal motion penalty called the play back.
With the socre at 7-0 later in the first period Oaklnad faced third and 4 from their own 20. Plunkett, who was flushed from the pocket on the play, scrambled left and hit Kenny King who outpaced CB Herm Edwards and raced 80 yards for the score and a 14-0 lead. The Eagles argued for a ‘blatant hold’ on the play but the score stood.
Philadelphia get on the board
In the second quarter the Eagles went 61 yards in 8 plays. Much of it coming in 22 and 25 yard chunks on passing plays. They would hit on a Field Goal from Tony Franklin to make it 14-3 with 10 minutes of the half left to play.
The Raiders missed a 45 yard Field Goal attempt of their own before late in the first half the Eagles got moving again. They had a 62 yard drive. Again, chunks came thorugh the air on 29 and 16 yard passing plays. After three shots at the End Zone Franklin had his second FG attempt. But he hit it low and 6’7″ Ted Hendricks knocked the ball down.
Oakland stamp their authority
The Eagles complained bitterly about Oakland players holding in this game. So when the Raiders overcame a first and 20 having been called for holding it may have sapped the Philly player morale.
In fact coming out of the locker room after the half the Raiders went 76 yards in five plays. Capped by Plunkett hitting Cliff Branch for a 29 Yard TD. At 21-3 this one looked in the bag for the Silver and Black.
The Eagles actually moved downfield pretty well in response. But Rod Martin’s second interception took the momentum away. After driving 56 yards to the Raiders 34-yard line, on third down and 3 Jaworski gave Martin his second pick. Oakland drove 40 yards & Matt Bahr hit a 46 yard Field Goal to make it 24-3.
Early in the final frame of Super Bowl XV the Eagles finally breached the End Zone. A 12 play 88 yard drive was punctuated by 43 and 19 yard passing plays. The drive was capped by QB Ron Jaworski hitting TE Keith Krepfle for an 8 yard TD.
The Raiders again found a response. This time going 72 yards in 11 plays and capping the drive with another Bahr Field Goal for a 27-10 lead.
The Raiders D sealed the deal with a fumble recovery and Martin’s third pickoff on the subsequent Eagles drives.
Plunkett, who had been Comeback player fo the Year took the MVP award. He went 13 of 21 for 261 yards and 3 TD’s, as well as rushing 3 times for 9 yards. He also became the second Heisman winner to be named Super Bowl MVP.
What came next for the Eagles
The Eagles would go 10-6 the followong season and lose in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. Vermeil would leave after the 1982 season citing burnout.
After his departure the Eagles would go 30-47-2 over 5 seasons. They would not return to the Super Bowl until 2004 & finally won their first Lombardi Trophy in 2017.
But that first Super team, the team from Super Bowl XV would always have a place in Eagles fans hearts.
Banner Image: Head Coach Dick Vermeil 7 QB ron Jaworski took the Eagles to their first Super Bowl appearance. Image from bleedinggreennation.com