The year was 1960. John F. Kennedy was in the White House. Pete Rozelle was in his first year as NFL Commissioner. A roast beef sand wich at Horn and Hardart cost 60 cents.
And the Philadelphia Eagles were world champions.
"I look at our roster and say, 'You mean this team beat Vince Lombardi's Packers? In a championship game?' It's unbelievable, really," said Chuck Bednarik, the center-linebacker who is now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
The 1960 Eagles did more than win the NFL championship; they sold the game of pro football in Philadelphia. Home attendance at Franklin Field more than doubled between 1958 and 1961. Season tickets, priced at $18 and $30, became a hot commodity.
It wasn't just the winning — it was how those Eagles won that captured the imagination. Every week was a new adventure.
Every game was decided in the final minutes, or so it seemed. They were behind six times going into the fourth quarter, yet they posted a 10-2 regular season record.
Twelve of the 22 starters were castoffs from other teams. The leading rusher, fullback Clarence Peaks, broke his leg at midseason. The oldest player, the 35-year-old Bednarik, was forced to play both ways — center and linebacker — down the stretch, yet somehow they made it to the title game and defeated the Packers, 17-13.
"No one believed in us," said Pete Retzlaff, who led the team with 46 receptions. "We won two games in a row and people said, 'They can't win three.' When we won three in a row, they said, 'They can't win four.' We won nine in a row and people still were saying, 'They aren't that good.'
"The only ones who believed were the guys on the team. Yes, we had a lot of guys who had kicked around the league, but they had ability. All they needed was a chance."
Quarterback Norm Van Brocklin pulled all the misfits and mavericks together. A superb passer and play-caller, the 34- year-old Van Brocklin was the team's unquestioned leader. He played in four NFL title games with the Los Angeles Rams but after a falling-out with coach Sid Gillman, he was traded to the Eagles in 1958. In three years, he turned a last-place team into a world champion. Video Player : ETN Archive: 1960 Title Game Reflections
Van Brocklin was a fiery man with a bullwhip for a tongue. He vowed to retire after the 1960 season so he was even more driven than usual. If he was going out, the Dutchman wanted to go out on top. He wouldn't settle for anything less than a world championship and he wouldn't allow his teammates to settle for anything less either.
"I really think the reason we won it is Van Brocklin scared the hell out of them," said Vince McNally, the general manager who built the team. "They loved him but they were afraid of him at the same time. The last thing in the world they wanted to do was let him down."
Van Brocklin was the highest paid player at $25,000 a year. Bednarik considered retiring prior to the season but changed his mind when McNally gave him a $2,000 raise to $17,000. Tom Brookshier, the All-Pro cornerback, was making $12,000. Timmy Brown, a halfback claimed off waivers from Green Bay, was earning $7,500 and living in a rented room on Pine Street.
The Eagles played for the love of the game, but they also played for each other. They had an extraordinary bond and claim that's how they won the title—by caring more than the other teams. About winning. About each other. About everything.
The Eagles opened the 1960 season with a 41-24 loss to Cleveland as the Hall of Fame backfield of Jim Brown (153 yards) and Bobby Mitchell (156 yards) ran wild at Franklin Field. Van Brocklin broke the silence in the locker room afterwards saying, "Let's get out of here before they score again."
The Eagles scraped past the Cowboys the next week, 27-25, and then started to roll. They set a franchise record by winning nine games in a row to claim their first Eastern Division title in 11 years. The key, everyone agrees, was a rematch with the Browns in Week 5. The Eagles won 31-29 on a last-second, 39-yard field goal by Bobby Walston, a tight end who doubled as a placekicker.
"The field was all torn up so it was tough to get a good spot. The wind was blowing in off the lake. Bobby had been running pass routes all day so his leg had to be tired. He was no youngster by then. (Walston was 32.) But he got the strength from somewhere. Greatest clutch kick I ever saw," said McNally, who selected Walston in the 14th round of the 1951 draft.
The Eagles came from behind twice in the fourth quarter to win the game. Van Brocklin passed for three scores, two to flanker Tommy McDonald who scored 13 touchdowns on 39 receptions that season. Johnny Lujack broadcast the game and called it, "The greatest pro game I've ever seen." Video Player : Eagles vs. Packers - 1960
The upset of the previously unbeaten Browns filled the Eagles with confidence. It also filled the seats at Franklin Field. The week before the win in Cleveland, the Eagles drew 38,065 for a game against Detroit. When they returned home from Cleveland, they found a line at the box office. A crowd of 58,324 jammed Franklin Field to see the Eagles drub Pittsburgh, 34-7. Attendance jumped more than 50 percent, just like that.
The Eagles defeated the Giants twice in two weeks, winning 17-10 at Yankee Stadium and 31-23 at Franklin Field. In the first game, Bednarik put a crushing tackle on Frank Gifford that knocked the All-Pro halfback unconscious and forced a fumble that sealed the victory.
"It was like a bus hitting a Volkswagen head-on," Bednarik said. "Frank never saw me coming."
On December 26, the Eagles met the Packers, a team with 10 future Hall of Famers including coach Vince Lombardi, for the NFL championship. It was played on Monday afternoon because back then the NFL refused to play on Christmas Day. Due to league rules, the telecast was blacked out in the Philadelphia area so thousands of fans drove to northern New Jersey and checked into motels so they could see the game.
It snowed that week in Philadelphia so rather than risk an injury practicing on an icy field, coach Buck Shaw had the team walk through some plays in the nearby National Guard Armory. Van Brocklin hosted a team party on Christmas Eve and Shaw allowed the players to spend Christmas Day with their families. The mood was very relaxed.
"I remember walking in the locker room the morning of the game and the guys were loose, just bantering back and forth," Brookshier said. "We had so much confidence by then there wasn't any doubt in our minds—we were going to win the football game."
The Eagles did win the game and did it in trademark fashion, overcoming a 13-10 deficit in the closing minutes with fullback Ted Dean scoring the final touchdown on a 5-yard sweep around the left end. For Dean, a rookie who grew up in nearby Radnor, it was the first rushing touchdown of his career.
In the end, it came down to a final stand by the man they called Concrete Charlie. Trailing 17-13, the Packers had the ball at the Eagles' 22-yard line with time for one more play. Quarterback Bart Starr dumped a pass to Jim Taylor and the great fullback rumbled toward the end zone, breaking several tackles before running into Bednarik who wrestled him to the ground at the 7-yard line.
"He was squirming, trying to get up," Bednarik said. "He was cursing, telling me to get off him. I was looking at the clock watching those last few seconds tick off. When it hit zero, I said, 'You can get up now, Jim, this (expletive) game is over.'"