Reluctant Legend

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

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For the 1960 Eagles, every week was an adventure. That season, they trailed at the half seven times and were behind six times entering the fourth quarter. They won six games by a touchdown or less, but also a club-record nine straight. Twelve of the 22 starters were NFL castoffs.

“All the newspapers called us the mysterious Eagles,” recalled Dean. “It was the year everything fell into place.”

Especially on that winning drive after Green Bay (then in its pre-dynasty years) had retaken the lead early in the fourth quarter following a fake punt. Initially, Dean saved the day when he brought down Max McGee with a shoestring tackle after a 35-yard run on the fake. Soon thereafter, Bart Starr hit McGee in the end zone for a 7-yard touchdown, and when Paul Hornung converted the point after, the Packers were ahead 13-10.

Dean returned Hornung’s ensuing kickoff 58 yards to the Packers’ 39. From there, Dean and fullback Billy Barnes each gained 6 yards for a first down. After Van Brocklin was sacked, he threw a 13-yard pass to Barnes who, on third-and-one, answered with a first-down scamper.

Then, it was Dean’s turn. A 4-yard gain moved the ball from the 9-yard line to the 5. On second down, Dean swept left around the end behind Gerry Huth for the score. “Van Brocklin crossed them up by running,” Gordon says. “Even in talking with linemen years later, they said Van Brocklin told them they were going to shove it up their nose, and the lineman applauded. It worked—but had they done it the whole game, it wouldn’t have worked.”

Dean made up for an earlier mistake that led to the Packers’ first points: On his first touch, he’d gained 10 yards but fumbled. At 6:20 into the game, Hornung then kicked a field goal, and for the ninth time in 13 games, an Eagles opponent had scored first.

At the start of the second quarter, Green Bay punched down to the Eagles’ 14-yard line before settling for another field goal and a 6-0 lead.

When Van Brocklin began to mount the comeback, he turned to fellow eventual NFL Hall of Fame inductee Tommy McDonald, the Eagles’ tiny receiver, who has lived in King of Prussia since his glory days. First, he caught a 22-yarder; then the two combined for a 35-yard scoring strike. Bobby Walston’s extra point put Philadelphia ahead 7-6.

“When I saw it coming, I told myself, ‘Don’t you even think about dropping it,’” McDonald says of the go-ahead catch. “I’ve celebrated that catch not one day, but every day for the past 50 years.”

Now 76, McDonald hauled in 495 passes—84 of them for touchdowns—for 8,410 yards in his 12-year NFL career. He’ll be among the Eagles’ celebrated guests on Sept. 12. His contributions to the championship team were far bigger than his 5-foot-9, 162-pound frame.

“Everybody was important—all 39 of us,” he says. “You know, I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and I’m getting choked up even now. But, beyond my marriage (to Patty, his Bala Cynwyd sweetheart), which is my No. 1, beating Green Bay is my No. 2. I’m so anxious to see all the guys again.”

After the Packers floundered and punted on their next possession, from their own 26, Van Brocklin fired to Pete Retzlaff for 41 yards, then made a 22-yard toss to Dean, moving the ball to the Packers’ 8 before a Walston field goal extended the Eagles’ lead to 10-6. It stood at the half, when Hornung missed a 13-yard field goal on the half’s last play.

In the end, when Green Bay twice tried to answer the Eagles’ go-ahead score, Tom Brookshier, who also lived on the Main Line until his recent death, jarred the ball loose after a reception by McGee. Chuck Bednarik recovered the fumble on the Eagles’ 48.

Battling the clock on a last-hope drive with 12 seconds left, Starr flipped a pass to Jim Taylor, who was met by Bobby Jackson, then Bednarik, who sat on the Packers’ frustrated superstar. That mini-drama killed the clock, as the game ended at the Eagles’ 9-yard line.

Looking back, Dean is what Super Bowl-winning coach Dick Vermeil calls “a difference maker”—much like he had in Mike Jones. On the final play of Super Bowl XXXIV between Vermeil’s St. Louis Rams and the Tennessee Titans in 2000, Jones tackled Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson at the 1-yard line to preserve a 23-16 Rams victory.

“The 1960 team really established the depth of the importance of professional football in Philadelphia,” says Unionville’s Vermeil, who led the Eagles to a 1980 Super Bowl appearance. “That team had such dynamic leadership—deep leadership—and so many guys who were so great for the whole community.”

Only Dean remained aloof. Even so, if the Eagles didn’t have Dean and his TD, McDonald and the rest wouldn’t still be celebrating. “Ted Dean could be on my team any second, any minute, any hour,” McDonald says. “Not only could he run the ball, but he could hold on to it, too.”

Dean—the quiet hero—was here, then gone. And that Eagles bunch became known as the team that had “nothing but a championship.” All of it would serve as inspiration for Bob Gordon’s aforementioned 2001 book about the 1960 team.

“That’s what he did—that final drive,” Gordon says. “History has recorded it. For that one brief shining moment, Dean [was special].”

But he was really nothing more than average. “Sometimes it’s average players who shine when they have a chance,” says Gordon. “You’ll find that on championship teams. One of the glories of that Eagles team was that they got something out of every one of those guys.”