Eagles Franchise Five: Donovan McNabb, Reggie White among the best to ever play for Philadelphia


Beginning play in 1933, the Philadelphia Eagles are among the 10 oldest franchises in the NFL. They’ve got four championships to their name, including their Super Bowl LII victory. Suffice to say, they’re not just a historic piece of the league but one of the most productive, both in terms of title runs (1948-49, for example) and consistent title contention (the 2000s). They have 26 different representatives in the Pro Football Hall of Fame to show for it, not to mention dozens more who were — or are — considered among the best of their generation.

With that in mind, we decided to crown the Eagles’ all-timers, digging through team history to single out the Franchise Five. CBSSports.com’s Franchise Five dives into five most impactful people in each NFL’s team history. Our rules here bind us to pick just one quarterback, three non-quarterback players and one head coach.

At least four generations of Eagles football are represented in our list, with some of the best and most physical play-makers to ever suit up in the NFL among the selections. NFL Hall of Fame writer and Eagles historian Ray Didinger assisted in the picks. 

QB Donovan McNabb

Eagles career: 1999-2009

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Donovan McNabb
Getty Images

Norm Van Brocklin (1958-60) was the Eagles’ last NFL MVP, throwing a career-high 24 touchdowns to guide Philly to a 10-2 record and 1960 championship. Nick Foles was 2017’s Super Bowl MVP after one of the greatest postseason performances ever.

But longevity of success makes McNabb the best choice here. No. 5 never led the Birds to that long-elusive title, but there was no QB in franchise history who won more than him during the Super Bowl era. He racked up a 92-49-1 record in 11 seasons running the show, leading the club to five NFC Championship appearances, eight winning seasons and one Super Bowl trip. A six-time Pro Bowler, he remains the franchise’s all-time leader in passing yards (32,873) and passing TDs (216). He was also a true dual threat (3,249 career rushing yards), the first QB in NFL history to finish a season with over 30 TD passes and fewer than 10 interceptions, and a consistent postseason winner, claiming at least one victory in every postseason appearance.

Only 12 QBs in league history have thrown more TDs, and only 11 have won more playoff games; all of them are either in or will be headed to the Hall of Fame.

Coach Earle “Greasy” Neale

Eagles career: 1941-50

The only Eagles coach in the Hall of Fame, Neale triumphs over Andy Reid and Doug Pederson, two recent stewards of the organization, for completely reversing the team’s fortunes back in the 1940s. A former Major League Baseball player for the Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies (who even hit .357 in the 1919 World Series!), Neale oversaw the Eagles’ first-ever winning season in 1943, when they were joined with the Pittsburgh Steelers amid World War II player shortages. That was the first of seven straight winning seasons for the Birds, which remains a team record — a stretch that included three division titles, three straight league championship appearances and back-to-back titles, in 1948 and 1949. (Neale’s Eagles remain the only team to ever win consecutive shutout championships.)

The West Virginia native finished his Eagles career with a 63-45-5 record, having coached three league-leading offenses and four league-leading defenses — the first and perhaps only Eagles “dynasty.”

“I believe that Greasy Neale, in his time, was the greatest coach in football,” former Eagles lineman Alex Wojciechowicz told The New York Times in 1973. “He was the greatest teacher of fair play, a player’s coach. He devoted his life to teaching his men not only spots, but also an understanding and appreciation of life itself. Every player who ever has been coached by him retains an abiding feeling of thankfulness to him.”

RB Steve Van Buren 

Eagles career: 1944-51

When Steve Van Buren retired from the NFL in 1952, he was arguably the greatest player in NFL history. Not only was he the best running back in pro football at the time, but he’d shattered every one of the league’s rushing records. Totaling 5,860 yards on the ground, as well as 69 total touchdowns, Van Buren retired as the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and scoring leader.

But the numbers don’t even begin to define how dominant he was. Born in Honduras, the 6-foot LSU product redefined the RB position in Neale’s “T formation,” making seven straight All-Pro teams, breaking the record for most single-season TDs (15) in 1945 and serving as a centerpiece of the Eagles’ two championship teams in the late ’40s. A two-time 1,000-yard rusher, he also saved some of his best performances for the brightest lights, scoring the only TD in the ’48 title game, then rushing for 196 yards in a rain-drenched Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in the following year’s championship. A member of the Eagles’ 75th Anniversary Team, Van Buren became the franchise’s first Hall of Fame inductee in 1965.

“I’ve seen them all — Jim Thorpe, Red Grange, Bronko Nagurski,” Neale told the Philadelphia Daily News in 1957. “But Steve’s the greatest.”

C/LB Chuck Bednarik

Eagles career: 1949-62

“Concrete Charlie” might be the most popular Eagles player outside of Brian Dawkins, and for good reason. Famously one of the NFL’s last two-way players, Bednarik is known around the City of Brotherly Love as perhaps the truest on-field representation of Philly’s blue-collar fan base, gutting through injuries to play in all but three games over 14 seasons and cracking old-school highlight reels for his jarring physicality.

Picked No. 1 overall in the 1949 draft, he served as a member of two of the Eagles’ three championship teams prior to the Super Bowl era, garnering placement on the NFL’s 50th, 75th and 100th Anniversary Teams. An eight-time Pro Bowler and 10-time All-Pro, he’s still regarded as one of the most fearsome tacklers to ever play the game, famously knocking out countless opponents and preserving the team’s 1960 championship with a red-zone stop. Bednarik entered the Hall of Fame in 1967, his first year of eligibility, and will forever be a staple of franchise lore.

DE Reggie White

Eagles career: 1985-92

One of the greatest sack artists to ever play the game, White didn’t start his career with the Eagles, spending two seasons with the now-defunct USFL after coming out of Tennessee. But there’s no doubt his Hall of Fame legacy got its start in Philadelphia.

Dubbed “The Minister of Defense” both for his off-field work as an ordained minister and on-field role in Buddy Ryan’s esteemed “Gang Green” defense of the late 1980s and early 1990s, White was simply a force to be reckoned with off the edge, twice leading the NFL in sacks and once garnering Defensive Player of the Year honors for his production. Ranked behind only Bruce Smith in the NFL’s all-time list of career sack leaders, he only once had fewer than 13 sacks in his eight years in Philly, three times logging at least 18 — including during his astounding 1987 campaign, in which he logged a team-record 21 sacks in a season shortened to 12 games.

White’s departure to the Green Bay Packers in 1993 paved the way for his first Super Bowl title elsewhere, but his No. 92 will never be worn by another Eagle again.

Honorable mention

  • QB Norm Van Brocklin
  • QB Randall Cunningham
  • HC Andy Reid
  • WR Harold Carmichael
  • WR Tommy McDonald
  • TE Pete Pihos
  • DT Jerome Brown
  • S Brian Dawkins





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