Philadelphia Eagles News

Where Are They Now? DT Riley Gunnels

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Riley Gunnels was able to continue his education even after graduating from the University of Georgia in 1959.

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, the defensive tackle had the unique opportunity to learn about the game by lining up alongside perennial Pro Bowl tackle and future Hall of Famer Ernie Stautner every day during Training Camp.

"There's a guy that did everything from a defensive line standpoint the way it was coached," Gunnels said. "He stayed squared-off. He stayed low. He did everything near perfect. He's the only guy I know that really did everything that was that good. I had a lot of respect for him because I think he was probably as good an inside guy as there was in the league.

"I went through Training Camp and I learned a lot and I felt like I was in pretty good shape, but obviously I wasn't. I was put on waivers and the Eagles picked me up the next year."

Gunnels used what he learned from Stautner as well as his natural talent to not only make Coach Buck Shaw's team in Philadelphia in 1960, but to also see playing time by alternating with veteran defensive tackles Jess Richardson and Ed Khayat.

"I don't think we had a defensive line coach back then," Gunnels said. "We pretty much did our own coaching from the defensive line standpoint. And Marion Campbell was the key guy there. I think it was just a case of having a group of guys that were all looking in the same direction. We were all on the same page and we believed in ourselves."

That compatibility would equal success during Gunnels' first year with the Eagles. After losing the season-opener to Cleveland, Philadelphia won nine straight games and posted its best record, 10-2, since the NFL Championship season of 1949. They claimed another title that year by beating Green Bay in the 1960 NFL Championship Game, 17-13.

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Riley Gunnels at the 50th anniversary reunion of the 1960 NFL Championship team in 2010.

"Defensively, we had a good group. We had a lot of determination and turned some bad efforts into good efforts," said Gunnels. "We started out the season kind of bad, kind of got knocked around the first game. And then the second game we played, we felt we should have run away with it to be honest with you. That was against the Cowboys and we just barely won that game (27-25). But then after that we started playing a lot better defensively. Our offense kept playing well, so we won nine straight. We kept the score down on most of those games pretty good.

"We had the best passing offense in the league. We had a great quarterback (Norm Van Brocklin) and some good receivers (Pete Retzlaff, Tommy McDonald and Bobby Walston). Not that they overpowered people with yardage, but they scored a lot of touchdowns. And we had some real good running backs to make the passing offense work well. Ted Dean, I'll tell you what, he did a lot for that team and just never really got the praise he should have gotten.

"(During the championship game against the Packers,) I remember the enthusiasm right from the top of the team all the way through, and the feeling that we had a good shot to win the game. I remember that the leaders on the team led us the right way and pulled us through to win it. Norm Van Brocklin was a good leader."

Gunnels would spend five years with the Eagles, and found them all to be as memorable as the championship-winning rookie season.

"I had a pretty decent year; I think it was in '62. Timmy Brown was voted most valuable player on offense, and I got it on defense. That was a big deal to me because my teammates voted me there," Gunnels said.

"You know what? We just had fun playing football. Back in those days, when you were a Philadelphia Eagle, you never even thought about being traded somewhere else. That was the team you played for and that was your family. I enjoyed every day I played for the Philadelphia fans."

Gunnels and his wife, Kay, make their home in Ocean City, New Jersey, and have three adult children: Tory, John and Chris along with five grandchildren.

For the past 16 years, Gunnels and his family have owned and operated a printing company, Signal Graphics, in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey.

"We've been able to maintain pretty good business," Gunnels said. "I enjoy providing customers with a product that is helpful to them in building their business. We have real good customers who are just like family to us."

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