The Post-Journal

McCusker Has Good Reason To Remember Eagles' Last Title Game

When the Philadelphia Eagles take to the field at Super Bowl XV Sunday in New Orleans against the Oakland Raiders, they'll have two Western New Yorkers on their team, Ron Jaworski of Lackawanna and Bill Bergey of South Dayton.

The last time the Eagles were in a championship game, which was 20 years ago, Western New York also had a player on the Eagles, Jim McCusker of Jamestown.

McCusker was the starting offensive tackle for the Eagles in 1960 when Philadelphia bested the Green Bay Packers 17-13 in the National Football League Championship Game at Philadelphia's Franklin Field. That was the first year of the American Football League so there was no Super Bowl then. But since the NFL was the premier professional league, its title game was called the World Championship like the Super Bowl is now. McCusker remembers parts of the title game against the Packers.

"It was so long ago," McCusker said. "We were a Cinderella team with a bunch of no-names. I remember we lost our first game of the season to the Cleveland Browns at Franklin Field then we won nine straight to make it to the championship."

McCusker, the owner of "The Pub" in Jamestown, played with some greats on the Eagles' championship team. The quarterback was the great Norm Van Brocklin, now a coach with the Atlanta Falcons. Jim said, "Van Brocklin was a tremendous quarterback. He also had that great leadership quality. He could get your attention in a hurry." Other greats included former Buffalo Bills assistant Ed Khayat, Tom Brookshier, Tommy MacDonald, Ted Dean, Timmy Brown and Chuck Bednarik.

The Jamestown native started his playing days with Jamestown High School from 1951-54. He was recruited to play by all the big name colleges but settled on the University of Pittsburgh where he played under John Michelosen from 1954-58.

After his college days, McCusker was drafted in the second round by the old Chicago Cardinals. He was traded in 1959 to Philadelphia for an all-pro punter whose name McCusker doesn't remember.

McCusker reflected back on the trade. "I was happy to be traded," he recalls. "It was my third year in pro football and I was pleased to go to Philadelphia."

After the great 9-1 start, the Eagles settled for a 10-2 record to win their division and a trip to the NFL Championship against Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers.

The Eagles topped the Packers 17-13 as Philadelphia crossed up Green Bay. McCusker said, "We were a passing team and the Packers expected us to do that. We didn't, though, and ran the ball very well on them. We mixed up our offense and scored two touchdowns on the ground. Our coaches picked up several things that Green Bay did and we took advantage of them," McCusker concluded.

The former Eagles' tackle had to play across from Green Bay's Bill Quinlen and Henry Jordan. "They weren't any tougher than the other players in the league," Jim said. "All the players in the NFL were tough and still are. No one is easier to handle than another."

McCusker described one tactic the defensive linemen used to use. "Before the game, the officials would check the hand pads to make sure they were legal. After passing the inspection, the linemen would go back into the locker room and tape cans around their hands. It really didn't matter too much," McCusker said, "as the head slap was never called."

The title game had its tense moments McCusker remembers. "When the game ended, the Packers were on a drive. Jim Taylor ran the ball on the last play to our 9-yard line as the gun sounded. My heart was really pounding the last minute or so."

Jim said about playing in a championship game, "You have a lot of emotion before and after the game, but during the game you don't really feel the pressure." He added, "The main concern was to win. The money was meaningless. I wanted the ring to show I was on a NFL Championship team."

For winning the NFL Championship, McCusker received about $3500. "That wasn't too bad in those days." It's not like the nearly $25,000 the winners get now.

Getting back to Van Brocklin, Jim remembers the nickname Norm pinned on him while at Philadelphia. McCusker said, "I jumped off-sides several times during the year when we were near the goal-line about to score. Van Brocklin then began to call me 'ears' because I didn't hear the count."

McCusker said the Philadelphia fans were a very emotional bunch, especially when the Eagles used to play at Franklin Field. He said, "The fans were very close to the field. It made it very hard to hear. One end of the stadium was open but the rest had two decks and it made the sound stay inside the stadium."

The rivalries that got the fans going in Philadelphia were against the New York Giants and Detroit Lions. McCusker noted, "The fans seemed to be really ready for the Giants and Lions."

McCusker was hurt only once seriously. He tore cartilage in his knee. He reflected back on the injury. "Back then we had those big old plastic cleats. I made a pivot on the natural turf, trying to take away the sidelines on an interception, and the knee just gave way. That was the only serious injury I had. I did get bumps and bruises like everyone else."

Jim likes the Astro-Turf and said it is a great help these days with the longer season and playing in snow.

McCusker retired after seven seasons in the NFL. He retired after playing with the New York Jets under Weeb Ewbank. He played with Matt Snell and Billy Mathis. He said of Snell, "He was a rookie when I was there and always seemed to be hurt. The reason was because he hit so hard."

After a season with the Jets, Jim decided to hang up the spikes and helmet. He said, "I thought it was time to move on so I retired."

Asked if he ever had thoughts of coaching, McCusker said, "No. It's a demanding profession and a thankless job. I don't think it would be for me."

On the upcoming Super Bowl, Jim said he's taking the Eagles. "I'm still an Eagles fan and probably always will be. I see it being a good close game."

McCusker said, "Another reason I like the Eagles is Bill Bergey. I really admire him for coming back after such a terrible knee operation."

He went on to say, comparing today's players to players of his day, "There is no big difference. The game is just more specialized today, plus you have 10 more players(on a team)."

Back in the 1960 season McCusker's teammate, Chuck Bednarik, was one of the last players to play both ways (offense and defense). Jim also said that Don Shula was his favorite coach to play under.

The former all-pro tackle still gets together with his former teammates once a year for a golf outing for the Special Olympics. He said he'll be getting a list of ex-players and their addresses so they can keep in touch. He said, "The guys are always moving around, so it's hard to keep track of where they are."

You can bet that on Sunday, McCusker will be having flashbacks of when he was playing in the Eagles last championship game. He'll be cheering for the Eagles, just as he was 20 years ago.

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