Yesterday: A look at Eagles openers
It’s opening weekend in the NFL, and the Eagles will begin their 2023 campaign in New England.
In this week’s Yesterday column - reminiscing about sports and pop culture in the 1960s, 70s, 80, 90s and sometimes beyond - I will take a look at the Eagles-Patriots series as well as some Eagles’ season openers over the years.
Also, I’ll flash back to former Phillie Richie Ashburn - who passed away on Sept. 9 in 1997 - as well as some former Phillies’ center fielders who may have slipped through the cracks.
Do you remember “George of the Jungle?” And did you do “The Streak?”
Record in Openers ... In the 1970s, the Eagles won just two season openers, downing Tampa Bay, 13-3 in 1977, and edging the Giants, 23-17 in 1979. During the 60s, the Birds opened with victories over Cleveland in both the 1960 and 61 seasons, and tied Pittsburgh, 21-21, in 1963. They won three of four openers from 1964-67.
During the 1980s, the Eagles split their home openers with a 5-5 mark. They lost four straight from 1984-87 - two to the Giants and a pair to the Redskins. In the 90s, Philly had an overall 4-6 mark in openers.
Forgettable Firsts ... Over the years, the Eagles have had their share of forgettable opening games, as well as memorable ones.
One forgettable one was in 1991 when expectations were high for a deep run into the playoffs with Randall Cunningham leading an explosive offense and Reggie White guiding a tenacious defense. But the bubble burst when Cunningham was hit in his knee by the Packers’ Bryce Paup. The Eagles did win the game, but Cunningham was lost for the year with a torn ACL. Jim McMahon would do an admirable job as his replacement and led the team to a 10-6 record.
Arguably the worst opener in the past 50 years was in 1998 when Seattle came to town and blanked the Birds, 38-0. Quarterback Bobby Hoying had 12 yards passing, and it would set the stage for the low and long season ahead.
That Secret Juice ... In 2000, the Eagles traveled to Dallas in Donovan McNabb’s first year at the controls.
The Birds ran for 306 yards behind Duce Staley’s 201, and Jim Johnson’s defense corralled the Cowboys, limiting them to 167 yards. To combat the on-field conditions that topped 100 degrees, the Eagles’ training staff had the players drink pickle juice, which fended off dehydration.
Kick start to a Super Run ... In 1980, the Eagles routed the Denver Broncos, 27-6, at the Vet to begin the road to their first Super Bowl.
Ron Jaworski threw for 281 yards and three touchdowns, and the defense sacked Broncos quarterback Matt Robinson four times.
Turn Back the Clock ... In 1961, the Eagles were coming off their NFL championship, and more than 60,000 fans turned out at Franklin Field to watch them beat the Browns, 27-21. Timmy Brown electrified the crowd with a 105-yard opening kickoff return. The Eagles defense held Jim Brown to 99 yards.
Time In New England ... The last time the Eagles were in New England during the regular season was in 2019 when the 4-7 Birds beat the 9-2 Patriots with Tom Brady. It was Sam Bradford - remember him? - who threw two touchdown passes in a 35-28 victory. Nagee Goode returned a blocked punt 24 yards for a score, and Malcolm Jenkins returned an interception for a score.
The first meeting in the Eagles-Patriots series - which the Eagles lead 8-7 - was in 1973 when the Eagles edged the Patriots, 24-23 on Tom Dempsey’s late 12-yard field goal. The Eagles debated going for it on fourth down, but elected to go with Dempsey for the win. The kick was during the era when goal posts were on the goal line and not at the back of the end zone, thus the short distance for the winning kick.
It was a quarterback battle between Roman Gabriel and Jim Plunkett, which wasn’t a stellar one. Gabriel threw three interceptions and two touchdowns for 249 yards, while Plunkett had two touchdowns and an interception for 168 yards. Plunkett was sacked four times.
The Eagles’ Will Wynn returned a fumble for a score.
And, yes, there was that date in February in 2018 when the Eagles won their first Super Bowl with a 41-33 victory over the Pats. Where have you gone, Nick Foles?
Share and Share Alike ... Over the years, there have been a slew of players who wore both the Eagles’ and Patriots’ uniforms.
Some of the more notable ones were linebacker Steve Zabel, who spent 1970-74 with the Eagles, and 1975-78 with the Pats; kicker Tony Franklin, 1979-83 with the Eagles, and 1984-87 with the Pats; punter Jeff Feagles, 1990-93 with the Eagles and 1988-89 with the Pats; kicker Matt Bahr, 1993 with the Eagles and 1993-95 with the Pats; center Guy Morris 1973-83 with the Eagles, and 1984-87 with the Pats; and running back Keith Byars, 1986-92 with the Eagles, and 1996-97 with the Pats.
Former Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte spent the 1966-67 season with the Birds and then landed with the Patriots in 1968.
Then there was head coach Ed Khayat, who was with the Eagles from 1958-65 and spent one year with the Pats in 1966.
Hard to Believe, Harry ... This month will mark the 26th anniversary of the passing of Ashburn in 1997. Ashburn was found dead in a New York hotel room from a heart attack. Hours before, the Phillies mauled the Mets, 13-4. Ashburn is still regarded as one of the club’s top center fielders.
Centerpiece ... Aside from Ashburn, other notable Phillies’ center fielders were Shane Victorino and Garry Maddox. You could also throw Lenny Dykstra in the mix, and how many of you know the name Cy Williams, who manned the position from 1918-30.
Some who you may have forgotten were Dale Murphy (1990-91), Doug Glanville (1998-2002) Al Oliver (1984), Kenny Lofton (2005), Andy Van Slyke (1995), Grady Sizemore (2014), Don Hahn (1975), Del Unser (1973-74 and 1978-79), and Aaron Rowand (2006-07).
If you are north of age 65, you should remember Tony Gonzalez, who patrolled center from 1960-68. He was known for his glove and steady bat. Gonzalez, a career .286 hitter, ended his career with the Angels after the 1971 season.
Was That? ... In the early 70s, “streaking” became a prominent part of pop culture. It had been linked to the backlash against feminism and campus protests of the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Ray Stevens, who made a career on quirky songs related to pop culture, recorded “The Streak” in February 1974. It was a pretty creative song.
You can still have - but not see - the occasional streaker at sporting events.
The King, the Jungle, and the Street ... On this date in 1965, Elvis Presley made his debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. A few years later, the cartoon, “George of the Jungle” debuted on a Saturday morning in 1967, and in 1972 on a Saturday, Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids debuted in 1972 ... “Hey, hey, hey..”
Another Vintage game (Toy) ... This time, it can be classified as a toy.
During your youth, you probably had an Eagles’ mini-helmet car. You really couldn’t do much with it, but it was cool to have one. Today, it can be a collector’s item.
Memory Lane ... Each week, I’ll look back at a former player, manager, coach, or media member. Do you remember Eagles’ running back Heath Sherman? He was a sixth-round pick in 1989 and spent 1989-93 with the team. In 1990, Sherman had a career-high 685 rushing yards and also caught 23 passes.