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Reluctant Legend

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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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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.”
 

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