A heavy rainstorm and power outage kept me off the Bored last night, so it was like old times with a flashlight, a good book and a transistor radio under the covers.
Funny how the brain works…a little news item came over the transistor radio about Redskins fan Dale Earnhardt Jr. not happy about driving Eagles car at Pocono 400…
“I’m really sad about that,” the NASCAR driver said. “Being a lifetime Redskins fan, it was very hard to wrap my brain around it, but what I am happy about is helping [the Eagles] promote All-Pro Teachers.”
That got me to thinking about the glory days of the Redskins when George Allen was in charge. That was the early 1970’s. So I pulled out my old Eagles media guide and flipped through the history section to see what the Birds were up to back then in trying to compete with the Redskins.
A few entries immediately struck me as odd—in 1973, the Eagles under coach Mike McCormack and owner Leonard Tose began trading away nearly all their early-round draft choices to acquire battle-tested veterans.
It got to the point where in 1975, the Eagles traded away their first 6 choices…in 1976, they traded away their first 3 choices…in 1977, they traded away their first 4 choices.
What the heck was going on?
The idea was to “Win Now”, and Leonard Tose felt he was running out of time.
They tried to copy the plan George Allen used in rebuilding the Redskins. Allen traded away virtually all of his draft picks to acquire veteran players so he could fast-track the team to success. Preaching “The Future is Now,” Allen had the Redskins in the Super Bowl in just two seasons.
That approach seems insane today, but 45 years ago it made some sense—there was limited collective bargaining so veteran players were much less expensive. There were fewer teams and smaller rosters, too, so the chances of a high draft pick winning a job or adding immediate impact were a lot slimmer.
McCormack was the line coach in Washington during those Redskins championship years so he saw Allen succeed with that high-risk strategy. He tried to do the same thing in Philadelphia. He traded two first-round picks and a third for Rams QB Roman Gabriel. He traded two first-round picks and a second for LB Bill Bergey. He traded a first-round pick for QB Mike Boryla, second-round picks for Norm Bulaich, Stan Walters, Jerry Patton and James McAlister. On and on it went.
Unfortunately for McCormack, most of the deals went bust and the Eagles drafts were stripped bare. They didn’t have a single pick until the third round in 1974, the seventh round in 1975, the fourth round in 1976, the fifth round in 1977 and the third round in 1978.
Eagles historian Ray Didinger chronicles the resulting disaster:
“In the first year under McCormack (1973), the Eagles more than doubled their win total (five) and point total (310) from the previous season. The highlight of the year was a 30-16 win over Dallas at Veterans Stadium, the Eagles first victory over the Cowboys in 11 tries dating back to 1967. When the game ended, the jubilant fans poured from the stands to mob McCormack and the players.
“The Eagles had high hopes going into the 1974 season with quarterback Roman Gabriel coming off a big year and the addition of linebacker Bill Bergey. They opened the season with four wins in their first five games and they were beating Dallas until rookie Marion Reeves fumbled a punt allowing the Cowboys to rally for a 31-24 win. The heartbreaking loss sent the team into a tailspin. The Eagles lost six games in a row and McCormack benched Gabriel for rookie Mike Boryla.
“The team hit bottom in 1975, finishing 4-10 with a 42-3 drubbing by the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football. The day after the final game, Tose fired McCormack and his coaching staff. That began the coaching search that ended with the hiring of Dick Vermeil from UCLA.”
Today you’d have to wonder if even the great George Allen could pull off the wholesale-draft-trade for proven veterans thing. The financial issues alone of paying star veterans (rather than having a steady series of rookie contracts under team control) would probably kill him.
To me it underscores the importance of hitting on a reasonably high percentage of your early draft picks, now more than ever. The once revolutionary “Win Now” draft philosophy has become obsolete. They should instead call it “Competitive Now, Win Sooner or Later”. The gods of parity and collective bargaining have spoken.