Selecting the 10 most popular Philadelphia Eagles players was difficult, given the love fans have for their team and the sheer number of extremely popular players.
What a list we compiled. The list is a rousing walk through historic times in Eagles history made possible by historic players.
There were so many players on our preliminary list of the most popular Philadelphia Eagles players, we have a list of “honorable mentions” at the end of this article. We felt we had to include the honorable mentions, who were beloved in their own right and who delivered indelible memories of their own to a loyal fan base.
TOP 10 MOST POPULAR PHILADELPHIA EAGLES EVER
10. Vince Papale (1976-78)
When Papale made the Eagles roster in 1976, he was a 30-year-old teacher and coach at Interboro High School in Prospect Park, Pa., Delaware County.
The 10-year Eagles season-ticketholder, and part-time bartender, went to an open tryout offered by coach Dick Vermeil that summer.
And he made the team. And immediately inspired thousands of Eagles fans, who rejoiced at his underdog and improbable story.
- Papale played three years (1976-78) with the Eagles.
- He appeared in 41 games and had one reception for 15 yards.
- He was an outstanding special teams player.
A Disney movie was made about his life — Invincible with Mark Wahlberg starring as Papale.
From Papale’s website: “Not often can a person see a film made about their own life’s journey,” Papale said. “What’s even rarer is having that movie described as inspirational, motivational, and giving hope. There’s a feeling of intense pride and humility that, at times, is overwhelming.
“Invincible is not just my story but it can be anyone’s story as well. It’s about having a dream and overcoming the odds, adversity, and obstacles that go with making that dream come true.
“It’s about anybody who was told they were an underdog or couldn’t do something, yet had the tenacity to pay the price to make their dream come true. It’s about the fulfillment of one’s life potential and the seizing of an incredible opportunity.”
It’s nearly impossible for someone like Papale — a regular guy — to go from an Interboro High classroom to Veterans Stadium. He did it, and he will be remembered and admired forever for taking us along for the ride.
9. Chuck Bednarik (1949-62)
“Concrete Charlie” was an All-Pro two-way player — center and linebacker — who played on two NFL championship teams.
Bednarik, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was a huge fan favorite whose legend grew over the years.
Bednarik’s popularity was cemented by one play — a huge hit that flattened the Giants’ Frank Gifford. The hit today would be called a “clothes-line tackle” and there likely would be a penalty. The play was perfectly legal in 1960.
Gifford was knocked out, prone on the field, before being carried off on a stretcher. Giants teammates Sam Huff and Pat Summerall later said they feared Gifford was dead.
Bednarik was a hard-as-nails tough guy, driving himself and his team to two NFL championships. His toughness and intensity endeared him to a blue-collar fan base who related to him as one of their own.
8. Donovan McNabb (1999-09)
The greatest Eagles quarterback in team history wasn’t always the most popular player but his stats and accomplishments outweigh his quirky personality that confused fans at times.
- McNabb led the Eagles to the 2004 Super Bowl and five NFC title games.
- The Eagles didn’t win the Super Bowl during his time, leaving fans disappointed and bitter.
- His stats are astounding — the result of 11 seasons and a strong arm.
- He is the franchise leader in nearly everything a quarterback does — passing attempts (4,746), completions (2,801), yards (32,873) and touchdowns (216).
- His 3,469 career yards rushing ranks sixth on the NFL’s all-time list.
He also famously played hurt, once with a broken fibula in a 38-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals. He was out for the rest of that 2002 season because of his injury. Fans respected McNabb for his toughness.
His No. 5 was retired by the Eagles in 2013. Owner Jeff Lurie released this statement before the retirement ceremony: “Donovan McNabb was a franchise-changing quarterback for the Eagles and helped raise the bar of success for this franchise during his 11-year tenure with the team.
“The number ‘5’ has become synonymous with one of the greatest eras of Eagles football, and by ensuring that no one else will ever wear Donovan’s number, we honor one of the greatest playmakers to ever wear an Eagles uniform.”
It was quite a career, one that could lead to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But it was a career that still left fans unfulfilled. That elusive Super Bowl title was still years away.
7. Jerome Brown (1987-91)
Brown’s selection on this list isn’t because of his premature death in an auto accident at age 27.
No way. Jerome was huge and hugely popular, bursting at the seams with personality. He was fast friends with Reggie White. Jerome was the heart and soul of those Eagles teams.
In a mere five years, Brown had become a fan favorite, a fun-loving guy who was a terror on the field.
“Reggie White and Jerome Brown are football’s version of the ‘Odd Couple,’ ” NFL Films president Steve Sabol told NFL Network. “In White, you have the preaching defensive end; in Brown, you have the outspoken defensive tackle.
“In White, you have the guiding influence of a veteran; in Brown, you have the exuberance of youth. Yet when they lined up on the field side-by-side, the perfect chemistry between the two players was unmistakable, the result of which was a defense that was incredible.”
- Brown was a Pro Bowl player twice in his five seasons.
- He was first-team All-Pro in 1990 and 1991.
- The 1991 team led the NFL in total defense.
- Brown had 29.5 sacks and was even stronger against the run.
He made an unforgettable impression and left an even bigger impact.
6. Randall Cunningham (1985-95)
Cunningham was called “The Ultimate Weapon” on the cover of Sports Illustrated on Sept. 11, 1989. That’s exactly what he was.
Randall was ultimate and new in his approach to the game.
- He could fling the football as well as anyone and when he took off to run, it was breathtaking.
- He passed for 22,877 yards and 150 touchdowns with the Eagles.
- He rushed for a franchise-high 4,482 yards and 32 touchdowns and he was a three-time Pro Bowler.
Cunningham was the architect of two of the Eagles’ greatest plays.
In December 1990, Cunningham escaped the Bills’ Bruce Smith in the end zone and connected on a 95-yard touchdown pass to Fred Barnett.
Barnett caught the ball at the Bills’ 45, eluded tacklers and scored. It was the second-longest TD pass in Eagles history.
The other amazing play was when he avoided a Carl Banks tackle on Monday night in October 1988. “It was one of the greatest plays I’ve ever been involved in,” said Banks, a Giants linebacker.
Banks charged at a rolling out Cunningham, hit him, and Randall nearly went down but balanced himself with his left hand. Randall regrouped and fired a 5-yard TD strike to Jimmie Giles.
The play was pure and classic Randall. “I don’t want to just complete passes,” Randall said. “I want to put excitement into the game.”
Randall changed the way football was played in Philadelphia. Fans were captivated by his skill and they knew that every game brought the promise of seeing something they had never seen before.
5. Brian Westbrook (2002-09)
Westbrook, a Villanova graduate, was a great runner, pass-catcher and blocker during the Andy Reid era. Westbrook wasn’t big by NFL standards (5-foot-10, 203 pounds) but his heart exceeded his physical stature.
His grittiness helped turn him into one of Philly’s most popular athletes and one of the most popular Philadelphia Eagles players in franchise history.
The third-round pick gained 5,995 yards in eight years and scored 37 touchdowns in Philly. He caught 426 passes for 3,790 yards and 29 touchdowns.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said this about Westbrook on the Eagles’ website: “He does everything well. He’s just an outstanding player. He’s got great quickness, he’s a hard guy to tackle out in space, he’s very good on screen passes and out of the backfield.
“He’s obviously got good hands. He’s a good inside runner, he has good vision, good balance and good speed … He does it in a lot of different ways. That’s what makes him hard to defend — he’s pretty good at everything.”
That describes Westbrook perfectly. He gave you everything.
4. Nick Foles (2012-14, 2017-18)
Well, if you think No. 4 is too high … he *was* the starting quarterback as the underdog Eagles shocked the world and upset the Patriots, 41-33, in Super Bowl 52.
Foles’ career in Philly lasted 40 games.
In that brief time, a legend was born and Nick Foles earned his number 4 spot as one of the most popular Philadelphia Eagles players all time.
Foles played five years in Philly. After a three-year stint with the Eagles, he played a year each for the Rams and Chiefs, then returned to Philly in fateful 2017 and 2018.
He was the textbook example of a journeyman quarterback until 2017 happened.
Eagles fans know the story — Foles took over after Carson Wentz was injured. Foles led the Eagles to the Super Bowl, where they defeated the Patriots, 41-33.
After Foles was named Super Bowl MVP, he said:
“I’m not perfect — I’m not Superman. I might be in the NFL, and we might have just won the Super Bowl, but hey, we still have daily struggles. I have daily struggles. But that’s where my faith comes in. That’s where my family comes in.”
Today at the Linc, there is a statue of Foles and coach Doug Pederson. They are discussing the most famous play in Eagles’ history — the Philly Special, when Foles caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Trey Burton.
Nick Foles and the Eagles shocked the world that day and gave Eagles fans the greatest victory they could ever imagine.
3. Jason Kelce (2011-)
On the morning of Feb. 8, 2018, Kelce was a treasured Eagles player. He was recognized for his skill, smarts and hustle. He clearly was a leader of not just the offensive line but the entire team.
He connected with fans through his play and philanthropic contributions to the community. Fans saw Kelce and they saw a guy they wanted to have a beer with in the local tavern.
Kelce *got* Philly. The fans knew it and adored him for it. Jason Kelce was an easy choice as one of the most popular Philadelphia Eagles players.
By the afternoon of Feb. 8, 2018, Kelce was a legend.
Besides his Hall of Fame-caliber play, Kelce gave the speech of a lifetime at the Eagles’ Super Bowl parade.
Part of the speech was Kelce, dressed in gaudy Mummers garb, shouting out a list of alleged shortcomings by his Super Bowl-winning teammates.
Here is a sample of Kelce roaring to the crowd:
“Jason Peters was told he was too old, didn’t have it anymore. Before he got hurt, he was the best freaking tackle in the NFL.
“Big V (Halapoulivaati Vaitai) was told he didn’t have it. Stefen Wisniewski ain’t good enough. Jason Kelce is too small. Lane Johnson can’t lay off the juice. Brandon Brooks has anxiety.
“Carson Wentz didn’t go to a Division I school. Nick Foles don’t got it.”
Beyond this moment of immortality, Kelce has had a Hall of Fame career on the field. He has made five Pro Bowls, including last season. He has been first-team All-Pro four times.
He is not only one of the most beloved Eagles, he is one of the most beloved athletes in Philly history.
2. Reggie White (1985-92)
The “Minister of Defense” arrived from the USFL in 1985. His talent was immense. He was a large man, 6-foot-5, 291 pounds, with quickness and speed.
White instantly became one of the most popular Philadelphia Eagles players in franchise history with his visits to the opponents’ backfield and how he totally disrupted the offensive line. White was a sack machine and he was so big and so strong, that he manhandled offensive linemen with ease.
I happened to be at Reggie’s first home game at the Vet in 1985. He was coming off a USFL spring season.
The cheers when he was introduced were loud and long. As he dominated the game, his legend grew. He had 10 tackles and 2.5 snaps. The only Eagles touchdown came on a Herman Edwards interception off a tipped pass by White.
“Reg-gie. Reg-gie,” the crowd chanted. They cheered him all game. The crowd was just as relentless as White was to the Giants’ offensive line.
White played eight years in Philly. He had 124 sacks and 794 tackles. With the Eagles, he was a first-team All-Pro every year from 1986 to 1991. He made the Pro Bowl every year from 1986 to 1992.
He is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Eagles Hall of Fame. White died in 2004 at age 43 from a cardiac arrhythmia.
1. Brian Dawkins (1996-08)
Dawk was one of the greatest players and remains the most popular Philadelphia Eagles player. The love shown him by Eagles fans was nearly an obsession — Chase Utley-like.
Dawkins often was the best player on the field. From his safety position he was an outstanding pass defender and he had a knack for coming up from the secondary and making big hits.
He also was the undisputed leader of his team.
In a town known for being tough on its athletes, Dawkins was universally admired.
“He played with no boundaries,” former high school and Clemson teammate Patrick Sapp said about Dawkins. “He was somebody that put it all out there. Every game, every practice and in the community.”
- Dawkins brought it on the field as few have. He intercepted 34 passes, tied for the most in team history. He forced a team-best 32 fumbles.
- Dawkins was a first-team All-Pro choice five times and he made nine Pro Bowls. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018.
- And his greatest impact might have been his connection with the fans. There are very few Philly athletes who are as revered as Dawk.
We selected another dozen players who easily could have been in the Top 10 — and some fans will disagree with our choices.
In no particular order:
- Jeremiah Trotter
- Troy Vincent
- Wilbert Montgomery
- Tommy McDonald
- Seth Joyner
- Terrell Owens
- Andre Waters
- LeSean McCoy
- Eric Allen
- Brent Celek
- Wes Hopkins
- Ron Jaworski
- Zach Ertz
- Jason Peters