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Didinger: History Repeats Itself


It is funny how pro football history often repeats itself. It happened in Sunday's Eagles-Cowboys game.

When Jordan Hicks, who unfortunately played in his last game of the season after being placed on injured reserve with a pectoral injury, picked off Matt Cassel's pass and returned it 67 yards for a touchdown, it was the first time an Eagles rookie scored on an interception return since 1969. That day it was a safety named Bill Bradley who made the play. Here is the interesting part:

Hicks and Bradley both played their college football at the University of Texas. What's more, both were third-round draft picks by the Eagles. Both interceptions were against the Dallas Cowboys and both occurred in Texas. Bradley scored his touchdown in the Cotton Bowl, the Cowboys' original home.

That's a lot of coincidences. There is one big difference: Hicks' play helped the Eagles defeat the Cowboys, 33-27, while Bradley's touchdown was a late consolation prize in a 49-14 Dallas romp. But it was the first glimpse of what Bradley would bring to the Eagles for the next eight seasons.

Bradley set the franchise record for most interceptions in a season (11 in 1971), most interception return yardage in a season (248 in 1971) and most interception return yardage in a career (536). He had 34 interceptions in his career, a team record which was eventually tied by Eric Allen and Brian Dawkins but never surpassed.

Bradley was the first player ever to lead the league in interceptions in consecutive seasons. He had 11 picks in 1971 and nine in 1972, a remarkable feat considering the Eagles were a losing team in both seasons. Typically, it is players from winning teams that rank high in interceptions because they are usually playing with a lead and their opponents are forced to throw the ball and take more chances.

Bradley rarely had that advantage but it didn't seem to matter. He had great instinct and a pickpocket's hands. He was always around the football. Probably the best description of Bradley was offered by Hall of Fame quarterback Sonny Jurgensen who said: "He's like a ghost. He's there but you don't see him until it's too late."

Bradley's nickname was "Super Bill," a label he acquired as a high school football legend in the small Texas town of Palestine. He was a quarterback in high school and led his team to the state title. He was recruited by all the major schools but he chose the University of Texas because he wanted to play for the legendary coach Darrell Royal.

While at Texas, Bradley switched over to defense and found a home at free safety. In the 1969 draft, the Eagles whiffed with their first two picks -- halfback Leroy Keyes and defensive tackle Ernie Calloway -- but they struck gold with Bradley in the third round. The 5-11, 190-pound Bradley was the 69th overall selection and he became one of the most versatile players in team history as a punter and kick returner as well as a Pro Bowl safety.

The pick six in Dallas had special meaning for Bradley because it took place in the stadium where he enjoyed so many great moments as a Texas Longhorn. He started the day on the bench and grew restless as the Cowboys rolled up the score. Bradley had a lot of friends and family in the stands and they weren't accustomed to seeing "Super Bill" in the role of spectator.

In the fourth quarter, Bradley went to assistant coach Jimmy Carr and said, "C'mon, coach, put me in. What've you got to lose?" Carr waved the rookie into the game. On his first series, Bradley stepped in front of a Roger Staubach pass and picked it off. He weaved across the field and outran the entire Dallas team, including Olympic sprint champion Bob Hayes, to score a 56 yard touchdown.

"I actually slowed down and waved the ball at Hayes when I crossed the ten yard line," Bradley said. "It probably wasn't the smartest thing to do -- I mean, that was Bob Hayes -- but I couldn't resist. It was my first (NFL) game and my first touchdown."

Bradley was so beloved by his coaches and teammates that when he finished his career with the Eagles, the equipment manager Rusty Sweeney put Bradley's No. 28 away. It wasn't formally retired by the club but for more than a decade, the equipment staff refused to issue it to another player. It was a sign of respect. Bradley was inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame in 1993, and will serve as the Eagles honorary alumni captain this weekend against the Miami Dolphins.

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