The Eagles always seem to get slighted on these national lists, right? ESPN’s Jeff Legwold took on the unenviable task of putting together the “Greatest Team Ever,” or a list of the best player at every position in NFL history. Naturally, there was going to be much debate about the picks.
Legwold knew there would be controversy and didn’t shy away from it. He started it by selecting Tom Brady as the quarterback, saying “stats matter” for choosing Brady over Joe Montana. It’s a fair point. The list is a who’s who of league greats, ranging in scope from old-timers like Don Hutson and Deacon Jones to recent Hall of Fame inductees like Tony Gonzalez and Deion Sanders.
Sure, the Eagles have seen some tough times in the franchise’s 86-year history but surely they deserved more than one player? The only name to make the list was Reggie White, arguably the greatest defensive end ever — and, honestly, that’s not arguable. White was a 13-time Pro Bowl selection who retired with 198 sacks, two behind Bruce Smith’s all-time mark. He anchored the vaunted “Gang Green” defense under Buddy Ryan from 1985-1992 and accumulated 124 of those 198 sacks while wearing Eagles green.
One thing people forget — something ESPN was quick to point out — is that White also paved the way for modern free agency when he left Philadelphia in 1993 after a bitter feud with owner Norman Braman. White forced his way out of town and signed a record-breaking $17 million deal with Green Bay.
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Did These Eagles Greats Get Snubbed?
Reggie White was the only one to make ESPN’s list, but several Eagles could have easily made the final cut. They did name a few that got close consideration, including Chuck Bednarik, Ollie Matson and Brian Dawkins. However, there are more — plenty more unhappy that they were disrespected.
1. Brian Dawkins, Safety
Yes, he did get a shout out under the heading “Start the argument with” but that’s not good enough. Dawkins, aka Weapon X, reinvented how the safety position was played through the legendary guidance of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson. The Eagles were the first team — remember, Dawkins was flying around the secondary like Wolverine and blitzing off the edge way before Ed Reed or Troy Polamalu were in the league — to throw out positions and make the most talented athlete on their defense the focal point. And that was Dawkins.
“I just know that with Jim and his imagination and his willingness to go away from some traditional thinking when it comes to the safety position he allowed me and my gifts (to come out),” Dawkins said.
He is the only player in NFL history with more than 25 interceptions (37), more than 25 sacks (26) and more than 25 forced fumbles (36). That’s a fact. In 16 NFL seasons — 13 of them in Philadelphia — Dawkins racked up 1,131 total tackles, 26 sacks and 37 interceptions for 513 yards and two touchdowns. Dawkins is overwhelmingly regarded as the most beloved Eagles player of all-time. No small feat in a tough town like Philly.
2. Chuck Bednarik, Linebacker/Center
The “Last of the 60-Minute Men” as he has often been named died in 2015 but he’ll never be forgotten. Bednarik has an argument to make the “Greatest Ever Team” for two positions: the starting center and the starting linebacker. He was an eight-time Pro Bowler, earned 10 All-Pro selections, named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team and 1950s All-Decade Team.
Most impressively, Bednarik was on the field for 58.5 minutes out of a possible 60 in the 1960 NFL Championship Game when the Eagles beat the Packers. Oh, don’t forget: Bednarik made the game-saving tackle in that game when he held Jim Taylor down until time had expired. He received his Gold Jacket in 1967.
“You gotta play with that killer instinct, man,” Bednarik famously said. “You gotta hate that guy across from you. Then after the game, tell him what a nice guy he is … shake his hand. Especially if you win. Right?”
Remember, Bednarik started his NFL career late after serving the United States in World War II. He survived more than 30 military missions before turning into possibly the greatest linebacker in the history of football. Sorry, Lawrence Taylor.
3. Al Wistert, Tackle
The legendary two-way tackle who played nine seasons for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1943-1951. Known affectionately as “Big Ox,” Wistert was named first-team, All-Pro for four consecutive years and selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1940s.
According to the venerable Hall of Fame writer Rick Gosselin, there have been 145 position players selected first-team All-Decade in the NFL’s first nine decades — and only 10 of those 145 haven’t been enshrined in Canton, including Wistert.
Hall of Fame football writer Ray Didinger called him one of the NFL’s “best trap blockers” and questioned why he wasn’t already enshrined in Canton in an article for NBC Sports Philadelphia following Wistert’s death in 2016. He was 95.
4. Jason Peters, Left Tackle
Is it too early to call “The Bodyguard” the best left tackle in NFL history? The better question to ask might be this: Is Jason Peters better than Anthony Munoz? Because that’s the guy ahead of him on the “Greatest Ever Team.”
The only thing missing from his impeccable resume was a Super Bowl ring, then he rectified that absence when the Eagles won in 2017. He wasn’t on the field in the final game, say his critics. That’s OK. Peters is happy to ask them “if they want to see the ring.” Peters has qualified for nine Pro Bowls and was named first-team All-Pro twice during his prolific career.
When the Eagles traded a fourth- and first-round pick to acquire him from Buffalo in 2009, he was already widely regarded as the best left tackle in football. He has only furthered that narrative with his stellar play on the field. Vinny Curry said “he’s automatically first-ballot Hall of Fame.” ESPN confirmed that when they made Peters the only unanimous selection on an expert’s panel tasked with choosing their future Hall of Famers.
5. Eric Allen, Cornerback
This one is where it gets down to the nitty-gritty. Allen hasn’t been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite being out of the league since 2001. He was so quiet during his playing days that people didn’t realize how good he was. The cornerback position has come to be defined by divas and loudmouths. Yet Allen was arguably the NFL’s first true shut-down corner. He was locking down receivers before Rod Woodson and Deion Sanders, two guys picked ahead of him.
In seven seasons and 110 starts for the Eagles, Allen tallied 34 career interceptions and 408 combined tackles. In 1993, he picked off four passes and returned them 201 yards for touchdowns. When Allen retired from the Raiders in 2001 season, he had 54 interceptions for 827 yards and eight touchdowns — plus six forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries. The argument can certainly be made.