All-Time Team Mulligan: The Offense

Pihos

By GORDON GLANTZ

GORDONVILLE — His name was Wade Key.

And don’t be asking me who that is, please.

He played for the Eagles from 1970 to 1978 – with his career taking a uptick after the hiring of Dick Vermeil in 1976, as Key started 39 of 40 games and appeared in a grand total of 121 games as an offensive lineman before being waved before the 1980 season that would culminate with a 27-10 thud against the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl XV.

I must have thought enough of No. 72 to seek out his autograph during an annual excursion to training camp to Widener University, as I’m starring at it right now – as it shares a place on the same sheet of paper as Vince Papale’s John Hancock.

When the axe fell, Key was the longest-tenured Bird on the team.

He should have a rightful place in team history, with the fanfare it does – or does not – deserve.

But, through no fault of his own, that is not the case.

After the 2007 season, despite never having appeared in a Pro Bowl, Key was elected as a starting guard on the Eagles’ all-time 75th anniversary team.

Technically, he was the left guard, and maybe that threw off the more than 600,000 voters, but my vote would be for the voters to have taken IQ and sobriety tests first.

Hard to say how that happened, other than that this is what happens when people are allowed to vote before having all the facts and figures laid out before them.

On the surface, given the fact that Philly loves underdogs almost as much as soft pretzels with mustard, the votes for Key make some sense.

But, as one weaned in the Wade Key era (my semi-arthritic fingers froze just typing that), I don’t recall him ever being a beloved figure. Never once saw a No. 72 jersey at Franklin Field or the Vet – let alone The Linc.

Ever.

Drafted in a round in a round (13th) that no longer exists (it went from 17 to 12 to seven) and having played at a college, Southwest Texas State University, that doesn’t even go by the same name (it’s now just Texas State), Key was cut as a rookie in 1969.

He played for the famed Pottstown Firebirds that won the Atlantic Coast Football League title, and came back to the nest to spend time on what was then called the taxi squad (more or less since resurrected as what we now know as the practice squad) before moving into the lineup as the starting left tackle on teams from 1970-72 that won a grand total of 11 games in three seasons before moving inside to guard.

Somewhat undersized – a college tight end, he was listed at 6-5 and 245 pounds – Key played through a plethora of injuries and had a reputation of coming back, whether it helped or hindered the team, sooner than projected.

Wade Key2

Drafted in a round in a round (13th) that no longer exists (it went from 17 to 12 to seven) and having played at a college, Southwest Texas State University, that doesn’t even go by the same name (it’s now just Texas State), Key was cut as a rookie in 1969,

He played for the famed Pottstown Firebirds that won the Atlantic Coast Football League title, and came back to the nest to spend time on what was then called the taxi squad (more or less since resurrected as what we now know as the practice squad) before moving into the lineup as the starting left tackle on teams from 1970-72 that won a grand total of 11 games in three seasons before moving inside to guard.

Somewhat undersized – a college tight end, he was listed at 6-5 and 245 pounds – Key played through a plethora of injuries and had a reputation of coming back, whether it helped or hindered the team, sooner than projected.

Admirable, but … not quite worthy of all-time anything status.

From 1979 to 2007, there had been plenty of guards – including the starters in Super Bowls XV (Woody Peoples and Petey Perot) and XXXIX (Artis Hicks and Jermane Mayberry, who was an All-Pro in 2002 and was, drum roll, the left guard) – more distinguished.

And from the franchise’s inception to Key’s arrival, there had to be one more worthy, right?

The team did win titles in 1948, 1949 and 1960.

From those 1948 and 1949 teams, for example, there was Bucko Kilroy. A three-time Pro Bowler, the Port Richmond native played at since-defunct Northeast Catholic and Temple and was considered the one of the dirtiest players ever to play the game (back when you got penalized for not putting your hands to the face of an opponent).

How “Philly” can you get, right?

Despite coaching with the Eagles after retiring, Kilroy was a scout from 1965-70 for the Cowboys. To 700-level voters, this is a sin that equates to the Comey memo and Access Hollywood taps all wrapped up into one.

Blame it on memories not going back that far?

Choices such as tight end Pete Pihos (1947-55), center/linebacker Alex Wojciehowicz (1946-50), kick returner Timmy Brown (1960-67) – along with legends like linebacker Chuck Bednarik (1949-62), wide receiver Tommy McDonald (1957-63) and running back Steve Van Buren (1944-51) – suggest that homework was done.

This is all not meant to single out and pick on poor Wade Key. We are not going to blame it on voter fraud, collusion with the Russians or the Electoral College.

He is far from the only curious choice on the 75th anniversary team, leaving us with only one choice.

Let’s just take a Mulligan.

With the Eagles having just won their first title in the Super Bowl era, and with 10 additional seasons now under our belt, we can right the wrongs of the past and heading into this new era of being on top of the world with a new view of the all-time All-Eagles team. For this session, my pupils, we’ll start with the offense:

75th Team                                                                            Mulligan Team

QB – Donovan McNabb                                                 QB – Nick Foles

Say What?:  Well, we have only won one Super Bowl, right. Guess which guy literally threw up on the field and which one was cool as a cucumber, winning MVP? And Foles, in his first stint with the Eagles, has the single greatest QB season in team history on his resume. For an encore to the Super Bowl season, he ignited a fire under the team after Carson Wentz went down and led the Birds to road win in the famed “Double Doink” game in Chicago (and nearly pulled a rabbit out of his hat again the following week in New Orleans).  Barring more injuries to Wentz, this place is just temporary, but we’ll let Foles keep the seat war. He can start a big game for me over McNabb anytime. I’d put the other championship quarterbacks – Tommy Thompson (two titles, 48 and 49, with legal vision in one eye) and 1960 quarterback Norm Van Brocklin ahead of McNabb as well. You could make a case for Ron Jaworski, who also got the Birds to a Super Bowl before throwing three perfect strikes to the opposition.  The Ultimate Weapon, Randall Cunningham, would also be in the conversation, as would 1950’s big arms Bobby Thomason (three Pro Bowls) and Adrian Burk (two Pro Bowls). And no, it didn’t help that McNabb was the one visible ex-Bird who seemed more embittered than elated by the recent championship.

Nick-Foles-2

RB – Steve Van Buren                                                                     RB – Steve Van Buren

Say What?: The fans got this right the first time. I grew up with Wilbert Montgomery, an all-time personal favorite whose replica jersey I wore on Super Bowl Sunday and whose number should rightfully be retired, and there are a litany of other standout backs to have played here, but Van Buren was the best. Period.

FB – Keith Byars                                                                                FB – Keith Byars

Say What?: Like Mayberry, who was drafted in the first round as a tackle before finding a home at guard, Byars had to diversify to find his niche. Really more of a Swiss Army knife than a pure fullback, Byars still gets the slight nod over Tom Woodeshick (1963-71), who ran for more than 3,500 yards and went to one Pro Bowl — at — fullback in 1968.

WR – Harold Carmichael, Tommy McDonald      WR – Harold Carmichael, Mike Quick

Say What?: Tough call here, knocking McDonald out. The franchise has been blessed with plenty of standout receivers over the years, although some (Terrell Owens, Irving Fryar, Cris Carter, etc.) spent most of their careers elsewhere. The reality is that McDonald, though well-liked and having had made a terrific touchdown catch in the 1960 title game, was only here for part of his career. Quick was not blessed with having played on too many winning teams, but he was the best Eagles receiver these eyes have seen since 1970. Put him on the 49ers instead of Jerry Rice, and he’s Jerry Rice. Well, at least John Taylor.

TE – Pete Pihos                                                                                 TE – Pete Pihos

Say What?: Hard to knock what Pihos accomplished in his career, but he better not get too comfortable. Zach Ertz was clutch in the Super Bowl, catching the winning touchdown (and dropping no passes all that season). It shouldn’t be about one game, and it’s not. He holds the league record to receptions in a season for a tight end and was a big reason for the success of both Wentz and Foles, and I’m buying some stock in the future by saying he will go down in history as the greatest tight end in a franchise that has had its share – Pete Retzlaff (5 Pro Bowls), Charle Young (3), Chad Lewis (3) and Keith Jackson (3). And then there’s Brent Celek.

T – Tra Thomas, Jon Runyan                                                 T – Jason Peters, Lane Johnson

Say What?: At the time of the voting, it was hard to argue against Thomas (although the starting tackles in Super Bowl XV, Stan Walters and Jerry Sisemore, were top-notch as well). Runyan was a bit dubious, especially considering that his one Pro Bowl appearance was as a fourth alternate. There could have been a legit case for Bob Brown at left tackle (instead of Thomas). The outspoken Brown’s Hall of Fame career began with the Eagles after being drafted second overall in 1964 and winning Rookie of the Year before being name to Pro Bowls in 1965 and 1966. However, voters who remembered him may have also remember that he demanded a trade after five seasons here. Brown played two seasons with the Rams and played three with the Raiders on a famed line with four other Hall of Famers. Peters, though, is Brown is reverse. He came here from the Bills and cemented his Hall of Fame legacy in Eagle green. Johnson, right now, is considered the best right tackle in the game and, in some circles, the best tackle overall.

G – Wade Key, Shawn Andrews                                     G – Bucko Kilroy, Brandon Brooks

Say What?: Well, you know Key was locked out, right? Andrews could have been an all-time great but his career took a dark turn after being named All-Pro in 2006 and to a pair of Pro Bowls leading up to the voting of the 75th anniversary team. The following training camp, he vanished without a trace, only to send text messages to reporters citing personal issues later revealed to be depression. He spent most of that season, and the following season, out of the lineup (with the Eagles suffered with his brother, Stacy, on the roster). He never played here again, and only played briefly for the rival Giants. Brooks is Andrews in reverse, having overcome anxiety issues to play like a man possessed receive the accompanying postseason accolades. He gets the nod here, slightly, over Evan Mathis. As for Kilroy (pictured below), it’s hard to know where he played on those classic teams of the late 1940s. I studied grainy film of those championship games and it appeared his lined up all over the offensive line at every spot but center. Although he mysteriously had not appeared on the Eagles Wall of Fame, he lands on the all-time team here.

Bucko_Kilroy_-_1948_Bowman

C – Chuck Bednarik                                                                         C – Chuck Bendarik

Say What?: Don’t think this was as easy as it sounds, especially with Concrete Charlie already a lock on the defensive side of the ball. There were plenty of All-Pro and Pro Bowl centers before Jason Kelce, with the most notable being Jim Ringo (three Pro Bowls in the mid-1960s), but it is important to note that Bednarik was named to the 1950s NFL All-Decade Team at center and not linebacker. Case closed … for now.

 

 

 

 

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