Ashley Fox | Fans offer support for Westbrook

Posted: August 13, 2007

As expected, my e-mail inbox was jammed yesterday morning. There were missives from my usual serial e-mailers, the all-too-common suggestion that I should get back in the kitchen, some know-it-all correcting my grammar, and a ton of folks wondering this:

Why wasn't Brian Westbrook on our list of the 75 greatest Eagles of all time?

When I got the assignment two months ago to spearhead our special section, which came out yesterday, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Eagles and ranking the top 75 Eagles of all time, I knew exactly how fans would react. It was as predictable as the sun rising in the East.

There would be those who would agree and many, many more of those who would not.

It was a gargantuan task, to say the least.

In an effort to be as complete, and fair, as possible, I put together a panel of former players from across all eras to create criteria on which to judge the candidates. Bill Mackrides, the backup quarterback on the 1948 and '49 championship teams, was gracious enough to participate, as were Bill Bergey, Ron Jaworski, Mike Quick, Jim Gallagher and Gov. Rendell. Troy Vincent offered his suggestions via telephone.

We started our three-hour session by talking about how tough it was to judge players from such vastly different eras. The game has changed so much since the early days. The rules are different. The training is different. The money is different. The expectations are different.

Even so, there was a consensus on who should be in the top three, if not on the order: Steve Van Buren, Reggie White and Chuck Bednarik.

All of the panelists submitted a top 10, in order. I assigned a point system, giving 10 points for a No. 1 vote, nine for a No. 2, eight for a No. 3, and so on. Nearly 30 players got at least one point, which is how the first part of the list was constructed.

As the moderator of the panel, I reserved the right to break ties and account for panel bias.

As we went, two unexpected items came up. Should Terrell Owens be included in the list of 75, and should Westbrook?

Both answers were unanimous. No and no.

The reasons for Owens' omission are fairly obvious. While he did have a stellar season in 2004, injecting the team with an undeniable swagger and producing one of the most dramatic Super Bowl performances in recent memory, his subsequent actions were abhorrent. He systematically dismantled the team, acting like a spoiled brat as he caused controversy after controversy. The bad negated the good, so Owens was out.

Westbrook was tricky. Nearly everyone agreed that if we were debating the issue in 2010 and Westbrook had continued on his current performance arc, his inclusion would be a no-brainer. He might, all agreed, end his career in Philadelphia among the greatest running backs, if not the greatest players, the team has ever had.

But Westbrook is not there. Not yet.

Without question, the 5-foot-10, 203-pound Villanova product, whom the Eagles drafted in the third round in 2002, has put up strong numbers. He ranks sixth in the NFL with 4,664 total yards from scrimmage since becoming a full-time starter in 2004. He is the only active NFL player with 16 or more touchdowns in both the rushing and receiving categories. Westbrook's 40 career touchdowns (20 rushing, 18 receiving, two punt returns) rank 10th on the Eagles' all-time list, and fourth among running backs.

And Westbrook is the franchise leader among running backs in yards per carry (4.7) and ranks second in yards per touch (5.9, with a minimum of 750 touches), yards per catch (9.5) and receiving touchdowns (18).

But Westbrook is just getting started. Only once (last season) has he topped 1,000 yards rushing. Only once (the 2004 season) has he been invited to the Pro Bowl.

For our list, Westbrook needs more time. He's like a good perennial in April - ready to blossom, but not there yet.

Unlike the other panelists, Jaworski refused to vote for any current Eagles, including Brian Dawkins (who ended up at No. 5), Donovan McNabb (9), Jeremiah Trotter (29), William Thomas (33), Jon Runyan (42), and David Akers (52). His approach was simple: No one still playing deserved a spot.

Westbrook probably will - when he's finished. But not yet, which is why running backs Steve Van Buren (1), Wilbert Montgomery (6), Tim Brown (32), Tom Woodeshick (47), Duce Staley (61), Swede Hanson (66, although also a linebacker), Ricky Watters (72), and Keith Byars (75) made the list and Westbrook didn't.

I asked the panelists whether Westbrook should make it. Their answers were short and simple.

"Not yet," Jaworski said.

"I'd let him play a couple more years," Bergey said.

"Not yet," Quick said.

"For Brian Westbrook, the book is still out," Rendell said.

I even asked McNabb, and his answer was the same.

"I think if it continues on the way it's been going, definitely Westbrook would be on there," McNabb said.

If. The great qualifier.

So, loyal e-mailers, that is the reason No. 36 was not among the 75.

As for the kitchen, my husband grilled some mean steaks last night.


Contact staff writer Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.

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