The Birth of the Birds (1933-39)

Success takes time and patience.  The greatest leaders need to learn and develop.  The greatest cooks need to craft their skills in the kitchen.  The greatest builders can’t just throw up a house without learning how.  It is okay to fail.  Greatness does not always happen overnight.  Our beloved Philadelphia Eagles are no exception.  It took them over a decade to even be considered mediocre.  It was not the easiest or smoothest beginning for the Eagles. 

Goodbye Yellow Jackets, Hello Eagles

The Frankford Athletic Association was founded in 1899 as an independent football team.  It wasn’t until 1924 that they joined the National Football League and became the Frankford Yellow Jackets.  They were a successful franchise, winning the NFL Championship in 1926 and compiling a record of 70-45-15 throughout their history.  In 1931, their stadium was damaged in a fire and they were forced to use two other stadiums in Philadelphia.  Attendance was down as well as their finances.  They ceased operations after the 1931 and after failing to find a buyer they handed the franchise back over to the NFL.

Frankford Yellow Jackets – 1926 NFL Champions (Photo from Wikimedia Commons)

College teammates and businessmen Bert Bell and Lud Wray were interested in buying an NFL franchise.  To their luck, the NFL was looking for a buyer for the now-defunct Frankford Yellow Jackets.  On July 8, 1933, the National Football League granted the Bell-Wray group the NFL rights to the Philadelphia area.  One month before this President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s created the National Recovery Administration.  Inspired by the blue eagle in the center of the NRA’s logo, Bell and Wry decide to name their franchise the Philadelphia Eagles.

Philadelphia Eagles first logo inspired by NRA logo.

Not the Best Start

The Eagles didn’t start too hot in 1933.  The first two games of their existence they didn’t score a single point and through their first three games, they were outscored 116-9.  On November 5, 1933, they won the first game in franchise history, defeating the Cincinnati Reds 6-0.  No, I didn’t get my sports mixed up.  The Cincinnati Reds were an NFL franchise from 1933-34.  The first team the Eagles defeated that still exists came two weeks later when they outscored the Pittsburgh Pirates (Steelers) 25-6. After a rough start, the Eagles finished the season winning half of their last six games. 

Football wasn’t a passing game in its infancy.  Games were won on the ground.  The Eagles attempted only 149 passes all year while rushing the ball 354 times.  The franchises first leading rusher was Halfback Swede Hanson who rushed for a whopping 475 yards and three touchdowns.  Hanson was also the leading receiver with 10 receptions for 186 yards and a touchdown.  Roger Kirkman was the team’s primary quarterback in 1933.  He posted the following eye-popping stats: 22 completions, 73 attempts, 354 yards, 2 TD, 13 Int, 17.0 rating.  Good luck getting out of the Linc alive with those numbers today.

Much of the Same

The rest of the 1930s wasn’t much different than their inaugural year.  From 1933-39 the Eagles failed to win more than three games in five of the seven years.  The most wins in a season came in 1938 when they posted a record of 5-6.  Things were looking up at the end of the decade.  In 1939 the Eagles had the fourth pick in the NFL Draft and selected college football legend, Davey O’Brien, out of TCU.  In O’Brien’s rookie season he led the NFL in passing yards with 1,324 while earning a spot in the Pro Bowl.  Eagles writer and historian Ray Didinger wrote a great article about Davey O’Brien’s short-lived NFL career.

Davey O’Brien, 1939 (Image from Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

We can’t expect the world at the start of something new.  Sometimes it takes time to find your footing and move forward rather than backward.  The Eagles didn’t have many promising moments during the 1930s but that was about to change in the 1940s.  They will get a taste of success and turn the rest of the NFL into their prey. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on the forgettable beginning of the Eagles franchise.  Please comment below.

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