Every single season, I watch the last two NFL teams battle it out for the ultimate prize: a Super Bowl championship. And every single season as I watch the winning team celebrate, I feel a tinge of regret and sadness. But mostly I feel jealousy.
It’s been 50 years, 1 month, and 12 days since the Eagles last won a championship. That was in 1960, when the Eagles defeated the Packers 17-13 behind solid performances from NFL MVP Norm Van Brocklin and two-way star Chuck Bednarik.
Since then, the Eagles have played 50 seasons. They’ve appeared in the postseason 19 times, all in the last 33 seasons. They’ve captured eight division titles. Six times they’ve advanced to the conference championship game. Twice they’ve appeared in the Super Bowl.
Yet they’ve won zero championships. Not one.
In a series of articles, I will take a look at five monumental moments (in chronological order) in Eagles history which could have seriously altered the Eagles’ chance of capturing a championship.
1. What if the Eagles lost their final two games in 1968 and drafted running back OJ Simpson?
In 1968, the Philadelphia Eagles lost their first 11 games and seemed an absolute lock to pick first in the 1969 NFL draft.
After a championship season in 1960, the Eagles turned in a brutal decade, winning 31 of their 84 games from 1962 to 1967. The fans were extremely tired of head coach Joe Kuharich, and desperately wanted a change. An 0-14 season and a number one pick in the draft would give the Eagles not only a new coach, but a player of their choice to build their team around.
Then the Eagles actually found a way to mess up their season even more in 1968. They shut out the Detroit Lions 12-0 on Thanksgiving, and rolled over the New Orleans Saints 29-17 the next week.
They lost the next week, but by winning two of their three games to end the season, the Eagles actually cost themselves the number one pick in the NFL draft. Instead they earned the third pick.
By missing out on the first pick in the draft, the Eagles lost out on an opportunity to draft OJ Simpson, the Heisman Trophy winning running back out of USC.
Instead the Eagles selected Leroy Keyes. By first glance, the pick appeared to be a solid move. Keyes had been the runner-up to Simpson for the Heisman Trophy and was a pretty good running back himself.
Then he received 121 carries in 1969 and averaged fewer than three yards per carry, and it was pretty clear that the Eagles had made a mistake.
Keyes was such a bad running back that the Eagles converted him to strong safety in 1971. He actually made some plays, intercepting six passes that season, but he was out of football in 1973 at the ripe old age of 26.
If Keyes played now, he would rank right below Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell as the biggest draft busts in NFL history.
Meanwhile, over in Buffalo, OJ Simpson was cementing his legacy as one of the greatest running backs in NFL history.
He rushed 332 times for 2003 yards and 12 touchdowns. That’s an average of 6.0 yards per carry. He had more rushing yards in the final two games of the season than Keyes did in his entire career.
Simpson had an equally incredible season in 1975, rushing 329 times for 1817 yards and 16 touchdowns. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry and also caught 28 passes for 426 yards and seven touchdowns.
Simpson’s peak was five seasons, from 1972 to 1976.
During that span, he was a total game changer as a running back. He could have sparked the Eagles to a division title or two and a potential deep postseason run.
During those five seasons, the Eagles won 2, 5, 7, 4, and 4 games. Would the Eagles have won a Super Bowl with OJ Simpson on their roster?
Likely not. But it’s definitely a possibility.