John F. Kennedy had defeated Richard Nixon in the presidential election just seven weeks earlier. The date was Dec. 26, 1960, when the Eagles beat the Vince Lombardi Packers, 17-13, in the NFL Championship at Franklin Field for their first — and last — championship.
Five proud former Eagles champions share their memories of that historic day and team with The Post as they get ready to root the 2017 Eagles on to their first Super Bowl title Feb. 4 against the Patriots.
No longer young men in the prime of their lives, they don’t want to have to wait another 58 years for the Eagles to fly that high again.
“I don’t think they’re going to be listed as a favorite, but those things don’t mean a hell of a lot,” Pete Retzlaff told The Post. “They never did to us either. They never thought we were going anywhere in 1960. And it turned out we did.”
To a man, they believe they did primarily because of quarterback Norm Van Brocklin. Or Dutch.
“You always had a chance with Dutch. Always,” Eddie Khayat told The Post.”He was a great, great leader. To tell you how good he was, our backup was Sonny Jurgensen. Everybody looked up to him. He was tough. I always figured that the No. 1 attribute that a quarterback has to have is toughness. He has to be the toughest guy on the team because he never gets to hit anybody unless he throws an interception and has to go make the tackle. He demanded the best of everybody. If he had to get on somebody, he’d get on them.”
Van Brocklin was 34 and in the last season of a Hall-of-Fame career. He threw 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.
“We had the best damn quarterback in the league,” Billy Ray Barnes told The Post. “He would tell you exactly what was on his mind. He didn’t pull any punches. A lot of times he may be a little nasty. If you made a mistake on the field, you knew about it. But if he made a mistake, you could tell him too. It wasn’t a one-way street.”
Retzlaff, the tight end, had 46 receptions for 828 yards a five TDs that season.
“He was not only a quarterback and a player, but he was like a coach on the field,” Retzlaff said. “There was more to Van Brocklin than just his ability to take the ball and hand it off and throw a pass.”
Indeed, it was Van Brocklin who organized the 10 a.m. Monday get-togethers at Donohue’s bar on 63rd and Chestnut in Philadelphia.
“They’d open the bar for us, and a bunch of us would go in there and we’d sip a few beers and talk football,” Billy Ray Barnes told The Post. “We were a very close-knit team, and Dutch is the one who brought us together.”
Van Brocklin did not suffer fools easily.
“He would hit somebody if they blew an assignment in practice,” Maxie Baughan told The Post. “Offensive linemen, he’d throw the ball at them, hit them.”
The Eagles had won nine in a row but were home underdogs to the Packers.
“I remember all the sports reporters and everyone saying we didn’t have a chance to beat them, and of course that made us more determined,” J.D. Smith told The Post.
It was a smart team.
“A lot of it was the mental capacity of the ballclub, the entire team,” Retzlaff said. “When you look back at it, you’ll see that a lot of the guys that played on that championship team ended up being coaches in the NFL.”
Coach Buck Shaw made sure it was a fresh team.
“After six preseason games, we never wore pads or helmets except on Sunday,” Khayat said. “Practice was never more than an hour [and] 20 minutes. If we got up close to the hour-20 mark, Marion Campbell would start calling out: ‘Save it for the Pro Bowl, Buck.’ And Coach Shaw would get the offense in the huddle and call, ‘88 now to gate,’ and then when they snapped the offense would sprint to the buses to see who could get there first.”
The Eagles took the lead against the Packers on a Ted Dean TD run with 5:21 left.
“As a defense our attitude was just get the ball back for Dutch and we’ll win this game,” Baughan said.
Bart Starr began marching his Packers from their 35 with 1:05 left, all the way to the Eagles 22, where he threw a swing pass on the final play to Jim Taylor. Middle linebacker Chuck Bednarik, who was also the center, stopped Taylor at the 10. And sat on him until the horn blew.
Khayat remembers the ending this way:
Taylor: “Let me up, you so and so.”
Bednarik: “I’ll let you up you so and so when the gun goes off.”
And when the gun went off, it was finally always sunny in Philadelphia.
“The players always felt that the fans feel that they know the game as well as the players,” Retzlaff said.
It marked the beginning of a torrid love affair between the football team and the city.
“It was sort of like a wake-up call for the citizens of Philadelphia,” Retzlaff said. “The 1960 championship had a lot to do with that movement. You didn’t have the people cheering the Philadelphia Eagles on like they did during that season and from then on. I think it was a turning point for the fans of Philadelphia to get involved in pro football.”
It was not, however, a turning point in player riches.
“And we got for our efforts,” Khayat said, “$5,116.48.”
But they also got undying admiration and respect from a city starving for a Super Bowl championship.
“There’s not that many of us left from that ’60 team,” Khayat said, “but we all felt so fortunate to have been a part of that. It was a heckuva ride.”
Now they ride the Doug Pederson-Nick Foles Eagles.
“I don’t see any weak spots,” Smith said. “I think we got a real good chance to win this game. They’re gonna have to get to Brady.”
Barnes recognizes that Brady is an obstacle.
“I definitely think they have a shot,” Barnes said. “The guy is unbelievable. He’s gonna come back next year and do the same thing. I don’t know when he’s ever gonna retire. But I’d kind of like to see him get beat a week from Sunday anyway. And there’s a very good possibility.”
Retzlaff, 86, will be watching Super Bowl LII from his home outside Philadelphia. Khayat, 82, from Nashville; Barnes, 82, from North Carolina; Smith, 81, from Austin.
“I’m not the greatest pro football fan,” Smith said. “And this year has really turned me against it. If you can’t stand for the national anthem in my book, there’s something wrong.”
Baughan, 79, will be watching from his Baltimore home.
“I want those guys to win so bad,” he said. “I want ’em to win for their coach and their owner and the fans. Now it’s time for the Eagles to win another championship.”
And if they do?
“They’ll be dancing in the street, then they’ll have a big parade and everything else,” Khayat said. “You know what it looked like in Chicago finally won it right? That’s what you’ll be looking at.”
Baughan is so proud of his championship ring.
“I hope they get one,” he says. “I love that ring.”