There was once a time in Philadelphia when the words “Eagles” and “defense” were synonymous with one another. Philadelphia takes pride in being a tough, blue-collar town and embraces tough, hard-nosed players on its football team.
When you think of the word “Eagles”, instead of “defense” being the first word that comes to your mind, I’m sure it’s one of a few other choice words that may not be so nice. Or, “offense” could be the first thing you think of. More specifically, Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy, or DeSean Jackson.
That’s all well and good, but I want to get back to Philly being known as a defensive town. I bet people going to online sports management school would agree with me.
Unfortunately, the Eagles’ defense has slowly but surely lost its luster over the past few seasons so it’s natural to latch onto the only positives you can find (explosive offense). Therefore, I thought I’d give you a reminder that Philadelphia has always been a town where defense rules.
Growing up as an Eagles fan, the first players I can remember seeing as a young’un were the likes of Bill Bergey, Frank LeMaster, Jerry Robinson, Dennis Harrison, Carl Hairston, and Herman Edwards.
They were a workman-like group that ranked No. 2 in the NFL in 1980 while leading the team to its first Super Bowl.
The below video contains highlights of Eagles pro bowl linebacker Frank LeMaster and the 1980 Super Bowl defense (when’s the last time you heard the terms “pro bowl” and “Eagles linebacker” in the same sentence?).
Once I got a little older and started to understand the game of football a little better, I was fortunate to witness the Gang Green defense of the late 80’s and early 90’s.
Reggie White, Clyde Simmons, Jerome Brown, Seth Joyner, Eric Allen, Wes Hopkins, and Andre “Dirty” Waters made up a defense that is one of the best in the history of the NFL.
Despite being as good as they were, and they were downright dominant, this team never even won a playoff game. Unfathomable, isn’t it?
This clip is of Gang Green’s 7-play goal line stand against the Cardinals…do you think the current defense could do this? Okay, you can stop laughing now.
This was one of my all-time favorite games, just because it was a total destruction of Dallas! It’s a quick clip of Gang Green’s 11-sack shutout over Dallas in 1991:
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, along came the likes of Hugh Douglas, Jeremiah Trotter, Brian Dawkins, Troy Vincent, Bobby Taylor, Carlos Emmons, Hollis Thomas, and Corey Simon.
Some of them became intertwined with players like Jevon Kearse, Sheldon Brown, Lito Sheppard, and Darwin Walker.
This is probably the defense that many of you remember best as it was the last dominant unit the Eagles have had. I like to refer to them as “the Dawkins Era”:
What do all of the aforementioned guys have in common? They were all players who contributed to some pretty damn good defensive play in Philadelphia over the years. There were also several leaders and fiery personalities among them.
Those players span three different eras and it’s no coincidence that the Eagles made a Super Bowl appearance during two of them. This is why it’s so important for the Eagles to get back to playing the old Philly-style defense.
They need leaders and guys who play with a chip on their shoulder. They need players who can instill fear in opponents who dare to cross the middle. They need guys who make quarterbacks nervous every time they drop back to pass.
Right now, the Eagles lack all of that. Years ago, I used to get excited when the defense took the field. Nowadays, I just cringe when they come on and the best I can hope for is that they force a punt. Yippeee.
Under Andy Reid, this team has transformed from one with a very good defense and a manageable offense to one that has a good offense and a mediocre, run-of-the-mill (and sometimes plain lousy) defense.
The flipping of this team’s identity from a defensive team to an offensive team is obviously due to the fact Andy Reid is an offensive coach. Most of the Eagles’ good defenses were built by head coaches who were defensive-minded (Buddy Ryan and Ray Rhodes).
Andy Reid inherited many of Rhodes’ good defensive players and had Jim Johnson to run things for many years. Ever since Johnson’s death, Reid has been at a loss as to what to do about the defense.
With the inconsistency of the defensive coaching staff the past few years, it’s no wonder the defense has completely lost its way. Hopefully, the veteran players will pick things up for Juan Castillo in 2012 and form an identity that Eagles fans can get behind.
Until then, I wanted to give you a reminder that Philadelphia did, in fact, used to play the kind of defense all Eagles fans currently long for.