Reluctant Legend

When the Eagles honor his fabled 1960 team this month, don’t expect to see Ted Dean.

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The Eagles’ 1960 championship team, with Ted Dean in the front row, third from the left.

Ted Dean’s initials—T.D.—are the same letters so celebrated in football. And it was Dean’s 5-yard touchdown run that allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to win the 1960 NFL Championship game.

Now, 50 years later, the current Eagles organization will pay tribute to that team and its surviving members at halftime on Sept. 12 at Lincoln Financial Field. The game will pit today’s Eagles against the Green Bay Packers, the storied organization the old Birds beat 17-13 on Dec. 26, 1960, before 67,325 fans on the University of Pennsylvania’s Franklin Field.

At press time, Dean wasn’t slated to attend the reunion, which should come as no surprise to anyone who knows him. Publicity was never of interest to the 1956 Radnor High School grad, All-American and All-State honoree.

A rookie in 1960 who’s now in his early 70s and living in Arizona, Dean grew up in Bryn Mawr and taught at Gladwyne Elementary School. Decades ago, when living in Malvern after his playing career, he granted a rare interview. But even then, he preferred to talk about his piano playing, not his performance on the field. “I got anxious with football,” he told this writer back then. “I don’t want to get serious with any other sports—but maybe some hobbies.”

When contacted at their Arizona home, wife Diane said Dean was golfing. From Las Vegas, son Tarik said he’d pass the message on. But Dean didn’t return calls—the Eagles’ calls included—or respond to a personal letter. By all accounts, he has shunned the Philadelphia media.

If it wasn’t for Dean, Philadelphia may not have won that pre-Super Bowl championship. An Eagles running back and kick returner from 1960 to ’64, he set up his own winning score with a 58-yard kickoff return. Seven plays later, the team’s youngest player made it into the end zone with 5:21 left to erase a 13-10 deficit and become the rookie few have forgotten.

“That game was the most beautiful game I ever played,” he said years ago.

But Dean also made it clear that he’d moved on.

Insiders suspect that part of the reason for his silence is the racial divide. Dean arrived back in Philadelphia from Wichita State University before the Civil Rights Movement had fully materialized. He was one of three black players on the Eagles, along with Clarence Peaks and Timmy Brown. At the time, the entire NFL had fewer than 50 players of color.

Bob Gordon, local author of The 1960 Philadelphia Eagles: The Team That They Said Had Nothing But a Championship, says the black players never felt like a part of that team. There were no league-wide minority mandates. In 1960, Washington hadn’t even integrated yet.

Much of Dean’s passion, too, died in a motorcycle accident in 1965, after his fourth game with the Minnesota Vikings. His former Eagles teammate, quarterback and championship game MVP Norm Van Brocklin, brought him there after he was made head coach of the then-expansion team. Sitting behind Vikings quarterback Sandy Stephens, Dean injured his right leg and hip. He never fully recovered. His last-ditch return was as a place kicker two years later with the Pittsburgh Steelers. “My fate could well have been that I would’ve died,” Dean said. “That’s why I rarely look behind me. I have to keep looking forward.”

Five years earlier, Dean was in sync. In the title game, he was starting his fifth game as a replacement for Peaks, who’d broken a leg mid-season in 1960. Dean’s running touchdown was his only one the entire season.

Dean’s high-knee leg action impressed “old-timers,” says Gordon. He became the heir apparent to Peaks, supplanting Timmy Brown, a former Packer with a true sprinter’s speed who’d arrived with Lombardi’s curse: He was too small—and he was a fumbler. “Ted was the guy,” Gordon remembers. “He was bigger—more like a fullback, like Peaks—and he could also catch the ball.”

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