It was December of 1960, December 26 to be exact. I had turned eight years old a month and a week prior. I was in the second grade, but home for vacation when the Eagles hosted the Green Bay Packers for the National Football League championship.
The game was played on a Monday, long before anyone had the idea for “Monday Night Football.” It was in the daytime at Franklin Field, a brick and mortar stadium with wooden benches for seats on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania. The Eagles quarterback was Norm Van Brocklin, who would become the very first head coach of the Minnesota Vikings a couple years later.
There were no Vikings then, no Dolphins or Seahawks or Falcons or Bucs. There were, in fact, just 13 total National Football League teams. The Dallas Cowboys, who had just completed their initial season, finished 0-11-1 in what was then a 12 game season. There were no playoffs, just a championship game between the Eastern and Western Conference champions.
Upstart Green Bay had won the West with an 8-4 record in 1960, edging the Lions and 49ers who were both 7-5. The Eagles finished 10-2 in the East, a game and a half in front of the 8-3-1 Browns of Jim Brown lore.
Philadelphia would win that championship game, 17-13. The final seconds on the clock ticked off as Hall of Fame linebacker and center Chuck Bednarek pinned Jim Taylor to the ground inside the five yard line. It would be the last time a Vince Lombardi coached team would lose a championship game.
Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States on December 26, 1960. John F. Kennedy had been elected the month prior but had not yet taken office.
Our family did not have a color TV. In fact, I didn’t know anyone who had a color TV. We had three channels to choose from and on Friday nights my dad let me stay up late to watch Gunsmoke on a little screen in our recreation room.
It was the first year I was a sports fan. I had gotten a pack of baseball cards in my Easter basket that spring and, growing up in the suburbs of Philadelphia, fell hopelessly in love with the Phillies. Once fall came it was a natural progression to the Eagles and it’s been a passion ever since.
Why am I writing this? Because that’s the last time the Eagles have won an NFL championship before last Sunday, when they beat the Patriots, 41-33, to win Super Bowl LII. To put that in perspective, the 1960 season was six years before there even was a Super Bowl.
I tried not to get too excited last week. The Eagles reached this game in 1980 and lost to the Raiders. I was at a friend’s house for a Super Bowl party that year, and that was a big mistake. It’s hard to watch a game you really care about in a party atmosphere.
I remember several folks had bet on the game, and one person in particular had placed a small bet but didn’t really care who won. . . .until that bet was made. Then, every time the Raiders had a gain of five more yards or more he’d holler and dance around the room in delight. It got to the point where I was ready to give him the 20 bucks just so he’d shut up.
The Eagles made it to the Super Bowl for a second time 24 years later, in 2004. That was their glory season with T.O., the year before he held out and did sit-ups in his driveway. It was also the year the Patriots were accused of stealing signals from their opponents. I can remember one of the Eagles remarking, “we’d come to the line and it looked like they knew exactly what we were going to do.”
So last week here we were again, facing the Patriots. One player from that 2004 Super Bowl was still in uniform, Tom Brady. If you’re an Eagle fan, you wanted that. I watched the New England-Jacksonville game wanting the Patriots to win, because if you beat Tom Brady it means a little more. It’s like beating the Yankees in the World Series.
I waited a long time for this, but do you realize there are three other teams from that 13 team league in 1960 that have never won a Super Bowl? The Cardinals, who had just moved from Chicago to St. Louis for the ’60 season and have since moved to Arizona, have never won the Super Bowl. The Lions and Browns have never even been in it.
The Browns won the NFL championship in 1964, but never a Super Bowl. If you want to get technical the team that moved from Cleveland to Baltimore and became the Ravens has won the Super Bowl, but if you’re a Cleveland fan that’s no consolation whatsoever.
The Lions have never won the Super Bowl, been in the game, or won any kind of championship since 1957 when Bobby Layne was both their quarterback and kicker. If you’re a Lions fan you get the grand prize for having a team that’s overdue.
With apologies to the Lions, Browns and Cardinals, I was thrilled to see the Eagles beat the Patriots Sunday night. I watched the game at home on a much better TV than we had in 1960, surrounded by friends and family who are Eagles fans. We were as nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chair until that final pass was batted down.
I hope it’s not another 57 years until they win again, because I might not be here for that one. But Tom Brady probably will.