Stan Hochman: Wondering what if: How Eagles' fate could have been different since 1960 championship season

Eagles coach Buddy Ryan laughs with Todd Bell, Jerome Brown and Reggie White. Brown died in a car accident and White ended up signing as a free agent with the Packers.
Eagles coach Buddy Ryan laughs with Todd Bell, Jerome Brown and Reggie White. Brown died in a car accident and White ended up signing as a free agent with the Packers.
Posted: September 09, 2010

THE EAGLES have not won a championship in 50 years. Fifty! Five-ohhhh. Half a century. Four owners, 11 coaches, a covey of quarterbacks, three ball yards, two Super Bowl appearances and a mascot that looks like a partridge in a pear tree.

Yogi Berra once said, "When you come to a fork in the road . . . take it!" Is that what the Eagles have done for the last 50 years, come to a fork in the road, picked it up and jabbed it into an eye? Or simply zigged right when they should have zagged left.

You want to play "what if" with this franchise, be prepared to analyze and scrutinize that tantalizing trifecta of owner, coach, quarterback. Regrets, we've had a few.

WHAT IF the Eagles had hired Norm Van Brocklin to coach the team after that 1960 championship season? He wanted the job, he said he had a promise from commissioner Bert Bell that he would get the job, which is why he reluctantly accepted that trade from Los Angeles in the first place.

He had nothing in writing. And Bell had died, in the stands at Franklin Field. So, when coach Buck Shaw retired, as he said he would, the Eagles' brass made the Dutchman an offer (player-coach) he couldn't accept. See ya later, alligator.

That 1960 team had a magical season, coming from behind five times, coming from behind one more time against Vince Lombardi's Packers in the championship game. Would Van Brocklin have been the same inspirational force as a coach? Let the record show he finished 66-100-7 coaching 6 years in Minnesota and 7 years in Atlanta.

WHAT IF Tom Brookshier hadn't busted his leg in that '61 season? The Eagles started 7-1 under Nick Skorich. Then Brookie went down and the Eagles got clobbered by the Giants and Browns. Finished 10-4, got hammered by Detroit in something called the Playoff Bowl, Sonny Jurgensen's season ending with a shoulder injury.

If they'd won back-to-back titles and made a fistful of money, would the owners (the remnants of the 100 brothers) have sold the team to Jerry Wolman in December of '63?

WHAT IF Wolman's skyscraper blueprints hadn't turned to ashes, along with his bank balance? He was worth $36 million at age 36, when he bought the team for $5,505,000. And then the foundation of the John Hancock Building in Chicago began to shimmy and down went Wolman.

He had done some impetuous things, paying his equipment manager, a childhood friend, more than half his players. He hired Joe Kuharich as his coach and rewarded him for a losing season with a 15-year contract.

And what if Wolman hadn't first called George Halas for his opinion of George Allen, and what if Halas hadn't selfishly knocked Allen's potential as a head coach, would Wolman have hired Kuharich, who couldn't win at Notre Dame?

And WHAT IF the Eagles hadn't started 0-11 in 1968, and then somehow beaten

Detroit and New Orleans, squandering their chance to choose O.J. Simpson with the first pick in the draft? Wound up with Leroy Keyes instead. You think life might not have been different for the Eagles and for O.J.?

They lost the final game that year to the Vikings. That's the one where the fans pelted the guy playing Santa Claus with snowballs. And the next time some smart-aleck out-of-town columnist brings up the snowballs, remind him that 54,530 showed up that day to watch a 2-11 team finish a dreadful season.

And WHAT IF Wolman had been able to offer the Flyers as collateral, would he have gotten that bail-out loan he desperately sought? Would he have nudged Kuharich into a front-office position, hired a capable coach, somehow undone the damage of trading Jurgensen to the Redskins for Norm Snead?

"Trading quarterbacks is rare but not unusual," Kuharich said, but the mystery behind that swap remains a cold case.

Wolman sold the team to Leonard Tose for a record $16,155,000. One of the first things Tose did was fire Kuharich. And then he had to trade Hall of Fame tackle Bob Brown because Brown adored Kuharich.

Tose slogged through three coaches before he spotted Dick Vermeil on television, coaching UCLA past Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Sweet-talked him into taking the Eagles' job even though the draft-pick cupboard was bare.

WHAT IF Tose had been watching "The Rockford Files"? And WHAT IF Vermeil hadn't had a work ethic forged in his father's Owl Garage in Calistoga, Calif., and a knack for getting guys to overachieve?

WHAT IF Vermeil hadn't relied on Mike Michel as his placekicker in the '78 playoffs? And WHAT IF Tony Franklin hadn't ad-libbed an onside kick in that '79 playoff game with 3 minutes left?

WHAT IF the Eagles hadn't lumped up in that Super Bowl against an Oakland team they'd handled in the regular season? Would the parade euphoria have lasted through the '82 players' strike that scorched Vermeil's passion for the game?

Tose had Johnnie Walker for a blackjack coach, which helps explain how he squandered $40 million at the casino tables. He thought about moving the team to Phoenix and the city responded with a sweetheart deal on luxury boxes.

It was too little too late, so Tose sold the club to Norman Braman, a very rich Florida auto dealer. I nicknamed him Bottom Line Braman and it fit him like a pair of Gucci loafers.

He let Hall of Famer Reggie White walk. He pinched pennies until Lincoln squawked.

WHAT IF Jerome Brown hadn't driven so swiftly on that rain-slick Florida road?

WHAT IF the fog hadn't engulfed Soldier Field in that playoff game?

WHAT IF Buddy Ryan hadn't called Braman "the guy in France?" And WHAT IF Braman didn't fire Ryan after Buddy yanked Randall Cunningham against the Redskins, down 13-6? Would Buddy have built an offense to match his menacing defense?

WHAT IF Braman had hired Jeff Fisher that day instead of the overmatched Rich Kotite? Weary of the criticism and the commute from Miami for home games, Braman sold to Jeff Lurie for $185 million.

WHAT IF Lurie had granted Vermeil complete control of football operations when he interviewed for the coaching job? Lurie hired Ray Rhodes instead.

WHAT IF Cunningham had studied his playbook when he went home to be with his wife for the birth of his first child, and thus had been prepared when Rodney Peete went down during the playoffs?

WHAT IF Andy Reid had listened to the loudmouths on draft day and taken Ricky Williams instead of Donovan McNabb? He'd be sitting with them, that's what.

WHAT IF Reid had surrounded McNabb with talented receivers early on?

WHAT IF Terrell Owens hadn't been a narcissistic pain, a clubhouse cancer, a human hand grenade?

WHAT IF Reid, with his dazzling 118-75-1 record, was not regarded by the haters as a Triple A guy, aloof, arrogant, antagonistic? Would he be loved? Would he care?

WHAT IF McNabb had majored in communications at Syracuse? Oh, he did? Well, WHAT IF he hadn't been the catalyst for so much controversy that sometimes overshadowed his skills?

WHAT IF McNabb had been able to run the hurry-up offense those last frantic minutes of the Super Bowl without soiling his shoes? Would he still be here, beloved, instead of in Washington?

Would Lurie have to keep reminding those loyal fans about five NFC Championship Games in 11 years, while leaving out the part about winning only one of them?

WHAT IF Kevin Kolb is the real deal and the offensive line gets healthy and the young receivers blossom and the defense is better than anyone thinks it is, and the 50-year famine ends and the parade lasts 2 days?

Send e-mail to stanrhoch@comcast.net

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