This little ditty has big staying power Fans can't get Eagles fight song out of their heads

Posted: January 02, 2003

It's something between a jingle and a ditty, a one-verse composition so musically and lyrically undistinguished that even a well-lubricated chorus of 70,000 football fanatics can't do it much harm.

But for all its aesthetic shortcomings, "The Philadelphia Eagles Victory Song," punctuated by the recently added postscript of "E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!," has begun to filter into the region's consciousness.

"Fly Eagles fly, on the road to victory.

"Fight Eagles fight, score a touchdown 1,2,3.

"Hit 'em low, hit 'em high, and watch our Eagles fly.

"E-A-G-L-E-S - Eagles!"

In South Jersey elementary school assemblies, on sports talk-radio stations, in neighborhood bars, and, of course, on game days at Veterans Stadium, the decades-old song is being belted out with 700-level intensity by fans unconcerned by its incongruous central image of an eagle flying on a road.

And in the days before the NFC East champions begin their quest for the franchise's second Super Bowl berth, you can expect to hear the reborn song again and again, a musical mantra to Eagles madness.

Yet for a tune that soon could be on millions of frothy lips, "The Philadelphia Eagles Victory Song" has a murky history. No one seems sure when or why it was composed, or when its raucous last line was added.

"It just sort of happened," said Jim Gallagher, who was the team's public relations director from 1949 until the mid-1990s. "I don't remember exactly how the song came about, but I know it was no big deal. I guess it was because a lot of teams had fight songs back then."

The song was virtually forgotten for a long time. Then, like the Eagles themselves, it came back to life after Andy Reid arrived in town in 1999.

Now, with Super Bowl dreams alive again, it has acquired a campy currency.

"I was outside the stadium very late the other night keeping an eye on the long lines of fans camping out while they waited for playoff tickets," said Ron Howard, the Eagles' director of marketing and communications. "All of a sudden you'd hear these spontaneous versions of the fight song. It was amazing."

*

The song was written by Charles J. Borrelli and Roger Courtland, a couple of long-deceased Philadelphia ad men.

Borrelli, who died at 86 in 1984, almost certainly contributed the music. The son of a South Philadelphia theater owner, he would have been delighted with the current popularity of his composition.

Borrelli began as a $60-a-week song plugger for the sheet-music companies then clustered around Eighth and Market Streets. When radio debuted in the 1920s, he became the studio pianist for WCAU-AM, accompanying such stars as Al Jolson, George M. Cohan and Fanny Brice.

Writing the Eagles song would have been a snap for Borrelli, who often was asked to compose jingles for local products.

But there is no indication that Borrelli was a football fan. So the idea and the lyrics probably were Courtland's.

A Wyndmoor resident with a flair for placing gossipy items in the newspapers, Courtland was, in addition to his ad-agency responsibilities, an official of the local musicians' union.

Courtland led a band of union musicians that played at each Eagles game. "They used to sit down in the grandstands near Weightman Hall at Franklin Field," Gallagher said.

Several early NFL teams had bands and official fight songs, perhaps the most famous of which was Washington's "Hail to the Redskins." It's possible that Courtland was inspired by that song, Gallagher said.

In any event, the Eagles' tune is at least 50 years old, he said.

"I recall it as far back as the late '40s, when we played at Shibe Park," Gallagher said. "I know that in the [game] programs from the 1950s, before we moved to Franklin Field, they used to print the song and the music inside."

The height of the song's earlier popularity came during the 1960 season, when the Eagles of Norm Van Brocklin and Tommy McDonald won the NFL title, and Courtland's grandstand band belted out the song.

After Washington, D.C., builder Jerry Wolman bought the team in 1963, he established an Eagles marching band along the lines of the Redskins' unit.

The 220-member Philadelphia Eagles Sound of Brass began playing the fight song after every Eagles score.

"I rearranged it a little for all the different instruments, and it became our signature identification piece," said Boyertown's Arlen Saylor, the band's director until new owner Leonard Tose scrapped it in 1969.

Once the team moved to Veterans Stadium in 1971, the fortunes of both the song and the Eagles declined in an era when a fight song, smacking of a rah-rah, raccoon-coat era, seemed terribly out of place.

"It just sort of faded away," Gallagher said. "Our teams were pretty bad back then, and I guess people felt like there wasn't any good reason to be playing a fight song."

The song's rebirth began in 1998 when Len Komoroski, senior vice president for business operations, joined the Eagles and asked longtime team ticket manager Leo Carlin whether the team had a fight song.

Carlin told him there was indeed an Eagles fight song, and Howard dug out the lyrics and sheet music. Bob Mansure, who heads the current small pep band, recorded a jazzed-up version to be transmitted over the stadium's sound system.

The Eagles had hoped to use the fight song in 1998, but a 3-13 season killed those plans. By the end of Reid's initial season, 1999, however, the Birds had improved enough to warrant a tryout for the song after scores.

"It caught on immediately," Howard said.

Soon fans were singing along, and at some point - no one is sure when - they began to follow every rendition with the now-ubiquitous chant, "E-A-G-L-E-S, Eagles!"

"It's just become one of those things that the fans have really turned on to," Howard said.

Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

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