My All-Time Unsung Eagles
By Dan Green
Every fan of every team, can quickly run off their favorite legends that represented their team! I would start with Bergey, White, Joyner, Carmichael, Quick, Westbrook, McNabb, and Cox, for my team. How about the nondescript players of your franchise? The unsung, the unheralded player, yet someone that was damn good, but is lost in the annals of time, and our minds? Well, I’m here to give your mind a jolt, and to share my thoughts of who is on the list of “my” greatest Eagles never talked about. Before I start, obviously this is subjective, and I could go so many directions. Also keep in mind, my viewing period starts in the mid 1970s. Please just appreciate the players chosen, and then come up with your own list. I will pick 2 per position. Share around the water cooler, or let me know your choices @dmgteach!
This clearly is a position too hard to find sleepers? I started my Eagle fandom with an over the hill Roman Gabriel, and a mediocre Mike Boryla splitting time. Then came the Jaworski years, followed by the Cunningham years, followed by a mish mosh of QBs like Jim McMahon, Rodney Peete, Bubby Brister, Bobby Hoying, Mike McMahon, Ty Detmer, finally bridging to Donovan McNabb. Boy were there some bad QBs, and teams during those years! After Donovan we had Kolb, Vick, Young, Sanchez, Foles (who), and Bradford, until we finally landed our franchise QB, Carson Wentz! Or so we thought! I left out a few obscure guys of course, but with this category, I’ll just go with my favorite being Randall Cunningham. Again, at this position, you cannot come up with a guy obscure enough, who played here long enough! That will also be my little caveat, the player had to have played here longer than a “cup of coffee”, so sorry Jeff Garcia fans, myself included.
I had to endure some very mediocre running backs in Mike Hogan and John Sullivan until the great Wilbert Montgomery came along! Once Montgomery left, we had some very lean years at that position! You thought the Eagles drafted bad now, they drafted Michael Haddix 8th overall in 1983, to get their featured back. That of course was the famous quarterback draft, that included Dan Marino at the end of the draft, well after Haddix. I was never a Jaworski fan as a player, and Dan Marino crossed my mind while watching that draft. It was a weak running back draft class, and the Eagles drafted out of need instead of the best available player. The backs taken that year after Haddix, were James Jones, and Gary Anderson, nothing to write home about. Best available, not including Jim Kelly and Dan Marino, were Darrell Green, Joey Browner, and Dave Rimington to name a few.
Getting back to the category at hand...my first running back on my unheralded list would be Keith Byars. Ironically, not for his running skills. He was Buddy Ryan's first ever number 1 pick, 10th overall, and you could actually say he was a bust-Based on why they drafted him. Obviously to be a bell cow back, and rush for well over 1,200 yards a year. What I loved about him was his amazing pass catching skills, and his ferocious blocking skills. Byars had baseball mitts for hands, and made the one handed catch look routine. Again, as a runner, he was not very good, he took choppy steps and his feet looked like they were tied together when he ran. In fact, his contemporary, Anthony Toney (who I also considered), was the better runner, and was Byars fullback at times. Byars was a huge man, compared to Toney, yet Toney was the “Fullback”. A couple years after Byars departure entered my next unsung back, Charlie Garner. Garner was second fiddle to Mr. “For Who, For What”, Ricky Watters. Watters was an amazing talent, but Garner was the guy I preferred out of the two. Garner was explosive, fast, and had solid hands out of the backfield. Truthfully, both made a terrific duo, yet the Birds were just a first round playoff team at best. Garner later had terrific numbers/years with the 49ers, and Raiders.
My formative years started with recent Hall of Fame inductee, Harold Carmichael. Then came Mike Quick, who no doubt would have been in Canton, if not for knee injuries that shortened his career. Mix in Fred Barnett, with Act one of DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and well, not much to brag about here. So much mediocrity at this position from Charlie Smith to Kenny Jackson, to Calvin Williams, to Todd Pinkston, to Reggie Brown, to Freddie Mitchell, to the modern day trash on our roster. Some things never change!
Speaking of trash, this brings me to my first unheralded receiver, Gregg “Trash” Garrity. I guess unheralded is a stretch, he was just a guy. However, he literally caught everything. He was not fast, or overly productive, but he was for a short stretch, a reliable guy that at least caught the ball when he was targeted. And being from Penn State always helps. My next guy is perhaps overlooked, but he was a pro bowl caliber WR, Irving Fryar. Maybe this is because he was a free agent, and not home-grown? Or maybe because he was on those barely mediocre teams that had Charlie Garner on them? However, Fryar, unlike Garrity, was very productive, appearing on the Eagles top 20 list with just 3 years on the roster. He averaged 74 catches and over 6 TD a year. His quarterbacks...Peete, Hoying, and the Detmer Brothers! Did I mention he averaged 74 catches a year! Imagine if he played with Randall, or Donovan!
The Eagles have had some solid to damn good tight ends over the years! The first I vaguely recall, before he was traded away, was Charlie Young. The next two that popped up in near chronological order, I’ll leave off for now, because they are my guys. Over the years we have had the great Keith Jackson, a retread, but solid Mark Bavaro, Chad Lewis, LJ Smith, Brent Celek, to our current duo of Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert.
My two guys in the unheralded category are Keith Krepfle and John Spagnola. They were teammates at the end of Krepfle’s career. Krepfle was the starter on the Eagles 1980 Super Bowl team, and caught the lone touchdown in a disappointing loss to the Raiders. I recall him having terrific hands, and being a consummate professional! Spagnola, his backup, became very solid during the mid 80s. His best year was 1985, when he caught 64 for 772, and 5 TDs. What I really appreciated about Spagnola was his work ethic. He was an undrafted free agent, out of Yale. He made his bones on special teams, before taking over for Krepfle. He turned himself into a borderline pro bowler during his best 2 year run in 1984 and 1985.
Ah, the sexy position in this article! It truly has been recent history that the Eagles really stand out at this position. We have one slam dunk Hall of Famer in Jason Peters, and arguably a second in Jason Kelce. Brandon Brooks is terrific, as is Lane Johnson. During the Andy Reid years, we had Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan, and the “What could have been” lineman, Shawn Andrews. In the Vermeil years, they had underrated, but pro bowl tackles in Jerry Sizemore and Stan Walters.
The first guy on my unsung list is 11 year center Guy Morriss. Morriss never made a pro bowl, although he should have. He was Ron Jaworski’s security blanket, the way Kelce assists our current QBs. My second unheralded Eagle lineman, and perhaps the most versatile was Todd Herremans. He played every position on the O line other than center for a decade! Along with Tra Thomas, And Jon Runyan, Herremans was a fixture on a line that protected Donovan McNabb.
What a list that could be compiled here! During my early years, the Birds had Charlie Johnson, Ken Clarke, Dennis Harrison, Claude Humphery, and Greg Brown. Then we have the legends, when all you have to do is say their first name...Reggie, Jerome and Clyde! Over the years the Eagles have also had wonderful players like William Fuller, Hugh Douglas, Corey Simon, Trent Cole, and currently, the great Fletcher Cox.
My first guy on the list is Carl Hairston. Hairston played with the Birds from 1976-1983. He was just a dominant force in an era when sacks were not recorded (not until 1982). Teaming up on the opposite side of Dennis Harrison, with Charlie Johnson in the middle, made the Eagles were very formidable! Hairston continued his great career with Cleveland, and was involved in those back to back epic AFC championships against the Denver Broncos. My next guy, and one of my all-time favorites is Andy Harmon, a 6th round selection from Kent State. Harmon had a brief overlap with Reggie and company, and really came into his own from 1992-95. He was a dominant tackle who had two years of 11 and 11.5 sacks. Shockingly, Harmon was a Pro Bowl snub during his best years! Regardless, he was an Eagle I will never forget!
The best Eagle on many bad teams prior to Dick Vermeil’s arrival was Bill Bergey. Bergey was a 5 time Pro Bowl selection, and 2 time first team All Pro! In my opinion, he should be in the Hall of Fame. Jerry Robinson, the last Eagle linebacker drafted in the 1st round (1979), was another solid player during my youth. Both Bergey and Robinson were teammates with stalwarts John Bunting, and Frank LeMaster, during the mid 1970s to early 1980s.
My favorite Eagle of all-time, and another guy worthy of Hall of Fame consideration is Seth Joyner! An 8th round pick out of Texas-El Paso, and 3 time Pro Bowl selection, Joyner was a ferocious competitor and the heart and soul of those Buddy Ryan teams. Along with Joyner, Byron Evans, perhaps the best all around middle linebacker in team history, made that 1990s defense one of the best in Eagles history.
Other names that jump out at this position are William Thomas, Jeremiah Trotter, Mike Caldwell, Jordan Hicks, Nigel Bradham, DeMeco Ryans, and Connor Barwin.
My two unsung guys are Carlos Emmons and Stewart Bradley. Emmons in particular was so valuable. Acquired from Pittsburgh, Emmons was one of the best coverage linebackers in recent Eagle history. He was a vital member of the Jim Johnson led defense, and along with Trotter, and Mike Caldwell gave the Eagles one of their best linebacker corps since the Evans, Joyner, and Thomas years. Bradley might take many by surprise. I happened to have watched a couple of his games in college (University of Nebraska). He was all over the field. When the Eagles drafted him in the 3rd round, I was thrilled. I thought it was a steal. During Bradley’s first year as a starter, he had 108 tackles. He was always around the ball. Unfortunately, a terrible knee injury, coupled with concussions, cut his Eagles career, and ultimately his NFL career short. I was so certain, prior to his injuries, that he would be our middle linebacker for many years, I purchased a jersey that I still own and wear.
Boy have we had some great safeties over the years! I can go back to Bill Bradley, and Randy Logan. Then one of my all-time favorites Wes Hopkins. Many might forget, prior to his ACL injury, Hopkins was in the same class as Ken Easily and dare I say Ronnie Lott! He came back, but was not quite the same player. Still very good, but he was terrific before that injury. His teammate for years, was the controversial, Andre “Dirty” Waters. Two of the most vicious duos of any generation. Just ask Ernest Givens! Then we had the Mike Zordich, and Greg Jackson years, which lead right into the Brian Dawkins years! The greatest Eagle defensive back of all time! Unlike the longevity of Hopkins and Waters, Dawkins never had that consistent partner. He had Damon Moore, Michael Lewis, Quintin Mikelll, et al. as running mates. Despite that instability, Dawkins was a legend! Our most recent, and great safety of course is Malcolm Jenkins. One day Canton might be sending him an invite as well.
My first safety to make my unsung list is Ray Ellis. Ellis was a strong safety and was Wes Hopkins first teammate in the secondary. Another hard hitter, Ellis was just a solid player. In 1984 and 1985 he had 7 and 4 interceptions respectively. My next candidate is Terry Hoage. I often root for the backup. Not necessarily at the expense of a starter, but just because the backup can play hungry, and be essential at times of injury. Hoage fit that mold. He often found the field during his tenure with the Eagles under Buddy Ryan. Hoage was the third guy with Waters and Hopkins. He was just a smart and steady player, who had 8 interceptions in 1988!
My first 2 corners I remembered as a kid were John Lavender, and…,to be mentioned later. When Herm Edwards, (of “Miracle at the Meadowlands” fame, and “You are what Your Record Says You Are”,) joined the Birds, he solidified a once weak secondary. Then a few years later, the Eagles made a special pick when drafting Roynell Young. Edwards and Young made a terrific tandem for many years. As the years moved on, I witnessed greatness in Eric Allen. When will he finally make the Hall of Fame! Then we were spoiled with Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Al Harris, Sheldon Brown and Lito Sheppard. Mix in Asante Samuel and we had a nice little stretch there at cornerback.
My two unsung guys are...John Outlaw, and Ben Smith. Outlaw for his name alone had to make my list. In all seriousness though, he was the first guy that really jumped out at me when I became a fan. He had a solid 6 year run as a Bird, with his best year, having 5 interceptions. Ben Smith, a 1990, 1st round draft pick, is the Stewart Bradley of cornerbacks. He was a second year corner, teaming up with Eric Allen, on the number one across the board defense of 1991. Ben’s first 26 games were terrific! He had all the hallmarks of greatness, and alongside Eric Allen, I thought we had the 2 best in the business! Then he tore his ACL. As fate should have it, he just never was the same again. After his recovery, he started just 3 games as an Eagle, and was out of the league after 1996.
No special team players will not be mentioned in this piece. Sorry Nick Mike-Mayer and Horst Muhlmann fans!
So, this is my list of the non legendary, but damn good Eagles I watched. Who made your list, and did my list rekindle some memories? Again, please let me know @dmgteach.