There are moments where you’ll always remember where you were when they happened. The plays that took our collective breath away. Moments that make the seemingly endless pain and torture of being an Eagles fan a joy.
To take the great plays of a franchise with almost 90 seasons of play and whittle it to a top 10 list of the best plays in Eagles history is a difficult task and almost an act of sacrilege. We will attempt to do so, knowing, like the top 10 greatest Philadelphia Eagles of all time, is neither a complete nor comprehensive list.
We’ve compiled this list and arranged it based on a few factors: the difficulty of the play, the impact of the play, and the legacy of the play. This will likely spark some debate, as we hope, and we appreciate your feedback.
#10 – “One for the Ro-ohhh-ohhh-d”
There will be many divisional moments in this list, so let’s start with a feel-good against a team we hate. Dallas holds a special place in our hearts because it’s not the fans from Texas we loathe, it’s all the contrarians in our communities and families who back the blue and silver. It’s a special form of betrayal.
We’ll go back to October 2006, as Dallas came to town with Public Enemy #1: Terrell Owens. Following the ugly and public break-up a season prior, it hurt to see Owens sign with a rival, more so with the number of blue 81 jerseys that appeared on SEPTA during the fall.
The Eagles hosted Dallas in an early-season matchup at the Linc with even more vitriol than the game brings. It was a spirited contest, as the Eagles led 31-24 on a Donovan McNabb TD to Reggie Brown. However, Dallas moved down as the clock ticked towards zeroes in the fourth quarter. Drew Bledsoe had a second-and-goal from the six and tried to thread it to Jason Witten. However, Lito Sheppard stepped in front of the pass and ran it 102 yards for the pick-six.
It wasn’t just winning a big divisional game or how Sheppard cruised away from the chasing Cowboys. It was a measure of revenge against longtime rival Bill Parcells (then the Dallas coach) and how perfectly it led to that old Cat Stevens ballad. It truly was, “one for the road!”
#9 – Westbrook – Miracle in the Meadowlands #2
Ok, this might get me in trouble. Let me explain: there are more than a few Miracles that’ve happened off the 16W Exit of the Jersey Turnpike for the Eagles. When social distancing allows, maybe we’ll convene to go over all the plays and come up with a classification system that resembles the “mysteries” in Catholicism.
In lieu of the original Miracle (which could never be duplicated if the NFL played 2000 seasons but is more fortuitous for Herm Edwards than “great”), I selected a “minor miracle” as it took all 11 men with green helmets to execute.
Trailing 10-7 in Week 6 against the Giants, the 2003 Eagles needed a boost. The offense struggled all day and the team needed a boost to avoid falling to 2-4. The defense forced a punt inside two minutes to go, suggesting a chance to drive down for at least a tie. McNabb would never get that chance.
Westbrook took the ball off a hop on the 16 yard line, ducked a couple Giants and raced down the sidelines for the game-winning score. He gets two good blocks, nothing coming close to a penalty, and does the rest with his feet and elusiveness. The return validated the faith the front office had in drafting an all-purpose virtuoso from FCS Villanova and launched the career of one of the most beloved Eagles of his generation.
#8 – “Fourth and a Ding-a-Ling”
Barry Switzer won the 1985 national championship as head coach at the University of Oklahoma and carried the Sooners to dominance in the 1980s. When he came to the NFL to replace Jimmy Johnson in Dallas, that luster may’ve stayed in Norman.
Despite winning a Super Bowl in the 1995 season, there was a moment in Philadelphia that suggested Switzer was over his head. Facing fourth and inches in a tie game the Eagles needed to make the playoffs, Switzer went with a simple smash run with Emmitt Smith. The Eagles got the stop but the refs ruled the play dead for the two-minute warning.
Out of the commercial break, Switzer dialed up the same play, to the same result. The Eagles’ defense held, handing the ball to Rodney Peete and the offense, who got the GW FG to win 20-17. The Eagles would win a wild-card shootout over Detroit before falling in the divisional round to Dallas.
The play lives on for the defensive stand and the great Deion Sanders quote following the game: “It wasn’t fourth and inches. It was fourth and a ding-a-ling.”
#7 – Randall Shuffles Around in Buffalo
Randall Cunningham may have been the best pure athlete in Eagles history. He combined artful grace with skill in a way that created unforgettable moments. First, we were thinking about putting the 14-second scramble by Donovan Mcnabb, but this one was actually longer and more impressive.
One of those moments came in 1990 at Rich Stadium. Trailing 24-9 late in the first half, the Eagles were backed up. The Bills sent a pass rush, Randall eluded Bruce Smith and others while in the end zone before uncorking a bomb to Fred Barnett. Barnett ran it in for a 95-yard touchdown.
The Eagles lost to the Bills but the play stands as a moment of spectacular genius. First of all, it’s not easy to juke away from the NFL’s all-time sacker. To throw while hurried and put the ball over 60 yards in the air on a rope to a receiver downfield takes nearly superhuman talent. Barnett deserves bonus points for catching the ball in the shadows of an early December afternoon.
The play made the NFL’s Top 100 all-time list so it certainly has withstood the test of time. However, because it came in a losing effort in the season that saw Buddy Ryan dismissed after a wild-card loss at home to Washington, it’s ranked in the middle.
#6 – Wilbert Runs Through Dallas
For the 1970s, Eagles fans dealt with not only years of mediocrity but watching the rival Dallas Cowboys become “America’s Team”. The Boys won two Super Bowls, five NFC title games, and became the darlings of pro sports. Blech.
When the decade changed, so did the power dynamic. Roger Staubach retired and Danny White went under center for Dallas. The Eagles compiled a strong lineup on both sides of the ball, led by Ron Jaworski, Bill Bergey, and Hall of Famer Harold Carmichael. Like every good team, the Eagles had a powerful lead back in Wilbert Montgomery.
A 12-4 season gave Philadelphia their first division crown in 20 years and a bye to the divisional round. After dispatching Minnesota, the chance to exorcise some demons happened when Dallas came to the Vet for the conference title game.
While the teams split two games in the regular season, the Eagles needed a strong start. It came in the form of a 42-yard touchdown run by Montgomery to open the scoring. On a cold afternoon, that set the tempo. Montgomery finished with 194 yards on 26 carries in the 20-7 win.
The Eagles couldn’t finish the job and win Super Bowl XV against Oakland. However, the site of Montgomery slicing through the Dallas defense lives on in memories and highlight reels.
#5 – Concrete Charlie Crushes Frank Gifford
The hit Chuck Bednarik delivered that shortened Frank Gifford’s career did more than seal a 17-10 win at Yankee Stadium in 1960. It created a changing of the guard and symbolizes the struggle between the two towns and franchises.
Bednarik was a team captain, a war hero, and sold concrete during the offseason. Gifford was a star from USC and did hair cream ads. The Giants were two-time defending champs of the East division, having lost consecutive title games to Baltimore. The Eagles hadn’t made the playoffs for over a decade.
Gifford caught a George Shaw pass in the flat and turned towards the Eagles secondary. Bednarik sped towards Gifford, hitting him with a bodyslam and clothesline. After the collision, the ball popped out and the Eagles recovered the fumble. Gifford was flat on the gridiron and Bednarik raised a victorious fist, uttering the famous phrase “This f’n game is over!”
Since teams exclusively played intradivisional schedules in those days, the two teams faced off one week later at Franklin Field. Gifford was out that week and didn’t return until the 1962 season from the concussion. Once he realized how injured his rival was, Bednarik reportedly sent Gifford a fruit basket.
#4 – 4th and 26
We’ll switch from a short defensive stop to a long conversion. The Eagles’ first playoff game at Lincoln Financial Field seemed a lost cause. Trailing Green Bay 17-14 in fourth from the 26, the offense stared down fourth and 26 – A bit too far for McNabb to scramble.
The Packers rush collapsed on McNabb, who shook off defenders like gnats. With a step, McNabb fired a seam pass. On the other end was Freddie Mitchell who caught it and was immediately popped by the secondary. While we all waited to see if that was enough yardage, many were concerned the wiry receiver was severely injured after the shot to the head.
The official marked the ball and pointed forward. Mitchell got up and celebrated. The sellout crowd lost their minds. I finally caught my breath in the TV room in my dorm. After two home losses opened the Linc, we had a moment in time for the new stadium. And it was glorious.
The offense drove into the red zone and David Akers tied the game with seconds left in regulation. After Dawkins’ long return of a Brett Favre INT, Akers finished the game and sent the Eagles to a third straight NFC title game. Of course, they lost, again. Nonetheless, FredEx became a legend.
#3 – BG Strip-Sacks TB12
Super Bowl LII may have been the best game in franchise history. Not just because it was a win, it was really well-played football by both games. Heck, my dad hates “basketball on grass” and even he was impressed.
In the back-and-forth battle between the Eagles and Patriots in Minneapolis, Zach Ertz put Philly ahead 38-33 with a seam route score and a video review that took seemingly weeks. Tom Brady got the ball back with just over two minutes to go. The defense needed to do the one thing they struggled to do in the second half: get a stop.
Brady spent the evening torching the Eagles for a record 505 yards and three TDs, all in the second half. On a second-and-two from the 33, the defense got the stop everyone in the Delaware Valley wanted. Brandon Graham registered the only sack of the game but managed to force the ball from Brady’s hand. Derek Barnett recovered the loose ball and gave Philadelphia a chance to run out the clock.
While unable to gain the first down that would end the game, the Eagles did kick a field goal to go up 41-33, leaving the Patriots a long field with 1:05 to score. They did not and the Eagles won their first Super Bowl in over 50 years.
#2 – DJax’s Miracle at MetLife
A walk-off touchdown. A burst of speed to silence the home fans. “Coughlinface”. This play has everything.
New York dominated Week 15 at home against Philly. In a game that would decide division champs, Philadelphia stormed back from 21 down to tie it late in the fourth. The Giants punted with seconds to go. Tom Coughlin gave punter Matt Dodge one critical directive: Don’t let DeSean Jackson return the ball.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Following an initial muff, Desean Jackson blew past the initial wave, veered towards the sidelines, picked up a couple of blocks, then ran across the face of the end zone to run out the clock before formally crossing and ending the game. His teammates swarmed him as stunned silence swept over MetLife Stadium.
The Eagles won the division and lost the wild card round to Green Bay. Nonetheless, it was a brilliant play and incredible effort.
#1 – Philly Special (AKA: Philly Philly)
C’mon, duh. It’s got a statue.
Leading Super Bowl LII 15-12 with halftime approaching, the Eagles had a fourth-and-goal at the one. Going for it against the Patriots was a smart risk. In a season of good breaks on gutsy calls, Doug Pederson may as well have hit on 17 in blackjack.
Nick Foles called a gadget play against the greatest defensive mind in NFL history. A man who for over three decades never allowed more than 29 points in postseason play, victory or defeat. Somehow, it worked.
Foles sold the audible brilliantly. Clement took the direct snap and flipped the ball to third-string tight end, Trey Burton. Burton lofted a throw into the end zone, where Foles stood alone and caught the pass easily. In a moment of chaos, he was calm.
For all the boners and blown plays in franchise history, the arguably biggest play worked like a charm. The decision to go for 6 instead of 3 was huge as the Eagles won the game 41-33.