by Jim Riggs
Nothing But A Championship
While scanning the shelves in a bookstore last month, a title jumped out at me – The 1960 Philadelphia Eagles.
That team is special around here because one of the members of that NFL Championship squad is Jamestown native Jim McCusker. I immediately grabbed The 1960 Philadelphia Eagles: The Team That (They Said) Had Nothing But A Championship by Robert Gordon (Sports Publishing, $17.95) and began searching for photos and quotes from McCusker – and there were plenty.
After obtaining the book, I read it quickly because Gordon tells the story of that Eagles NFL championship season in a free-flowing style that makes it difficult to put down. Then I contacted McCusker, who also praised the author’s work, about his recollections of that memorable season of his career.
When the 1953 Jamestown High School graduate finished his college football career at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was a three-time All-American at offensive tackle, he was selected by the Chicago Cardinals in the NFL draft. But during the 1959 preseason, McCusker had a disagreement with Head Coach Pop Ivy.
“So that’s how I got traded to Philadelphia, which was the greatest thing for me,” McCusker said. “I thank (Philadelphia head coach) Buck Shaw and (offensive line coach) Nick Skorich for trading for me. Pop Ivy could have sent me anywhere.”
And why was he happy to be with the Eagles?
“I loved the idea of (Norm) Van Brocklin,” he said about the veteran quarterback who was traded to Philadelphia in 1958.
After a 2-9-1 record in 1958, the Eagles were 7-5 in 1959 and hopes were high for the 1960 season. However, things didn’t start well with a 41-24 opening day home loss to Cleveland. Philadelphia’s first three possessions ended on Van Brocklin interceptions which is why he took responsibility for the defeat.
McCusker recalled, “After the game Van Brocklin got us together in the locker room and he said, ‘I want to apologize to you guys. I’ve been in this league nine years and I’ve never played such a lousy game.’”
Then McCusker noted, “We took off from there and we won our next nine games.”
The ninth straight win was in St. Louis (formerly the Chicago Cardinals), where the Eagles clinched the Eastern Conference title against McCusker’s former coach, Ivy.
The following week, with the division title already clinched, Philadelphia lost at Pittsburgh, 27-21.But the Steeler’s quarterback Bobby Layne said the Eagles didn’t loose, they just ran out of time.
And that was a rarity because Philadelphia was the 1960 version of the Cardiac Kids.
“Every game we were behind,” McCusker said.
He’s right because the opposition scored first in eight games of the 12-game season.
McCusker, owner of The Pub, also noted the team was always looking out for its fans.
“Every game we went into we were always the underdog so consequently we always tried to score enough points for our Philadelphia fans so they won their bets,” he said. “We always did it. If we needed another touchdown to cover the spot, we’d do it on purpose just for our loyal fans.
After the loss at Pittsburgh, Philadelphia finished with a win at Washington for a 10-2 record. But more importantly, the Western Conference champion was determined on the previous day. Baltimore, San Francisco, Detroit and Green Bay were all in the running for the title, but the Packers captured it with a win over Los Angeles.
Did it matter who the Eagles were going to play in the championship game?
“It really didn’t as I recall,” McCusker said. “We didn’t care. We were just glad we were in there. We’d have played whoever because we had gained quite a bit of confidence in ourselves by then and we were basically the no-names.”
And that is what a lot of the public read and heard about the 1960 Eagles.
“The media really helped us out because as far as the media was concerned, we didn’t belong on the same field with Green Bay,” McCusker said.
But they were going to be on the same field, Philadelphia’s Franklin Field, on Monday, Dec. 26, in the NFL championship game. And in the week to prepare for the game there was quite a bit of snow, so the Eagles were limited to a couple indoor sessions at the Palestra where the University of Pennsylvania plays basketball. Also, Shaw never had practices on Saturdays and since Christmas was on the Sunday, Philadelphia held its last workout two days before the title game. However, that was fine with Shaw.
“He wanted us a fresh as a daisy,” McCusker said. “He figured we were all prepared mentally and everything like that.”
Meanwhile, Coach Vince Lombardi had his Packers practicing daily on Green Bay’s “frozen tundra.”
At halftime of the championship game Green Bay led in almost every statistic, but not on the scoreboard. The Eagles were in front, 10-6.
The Packers again led the statistics in the third quarter, but still trailed 10-6. They finally took a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter, but on the kickoff after the Green Bay touchdown, Philadelphia’s Ted Dean had a 58-yard return and eventually scored on a 5-yard run.
Trailing 17-13, the Packers put together one final drive and McCusker recalled, “We were worried, don’t think we weren’t, especially on the sidelines.”
With 12 seconds left, Bart Starr completed a pass to Jim Taylor, who was tackled at the Eagles’ 9-yard line by Chuck Bednarik. But Green Bay was out of timeouts and after the tackle, Bednarik sat on Taylor, who struggled to get up. Taylor didn’t make it in time and the Eagles were the NFL Champions.
The author relates that Bednarik told Taylor, “You can get up now. The blankety-blank game is over.”
Van Brocklin was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and received a Corvette, but McCusker noted, “They thought we couldn’t run on them but that’s how we actually beat them. We ran the ball all around the place.”
And a lot of the running was thanks to McCusker and the rest of the offensive line.
However, 1960 was the last hurrah for the Eagles. Before the season Shaw and Van Brocklin had announced their retirements. One of the reasons Van Brocklin came to Philadelphia was so he could be the head coach when Shaw retired. But according to McCusker, the front office wanted Van Brocklin to retain the current existing coaches while he wanted his own. Van Brocklin ended up coaching the expansion Minnesota Vikings and Philadelphia’s offensive line coach, Nick Skorich, became the head coach.
“He was an excellent line coach, but he was not a chief. He was not a good head coach,” McCusker said. “It was really disrupting. Then the pressure started to mount on him because we got injuries and stuff like that and we went completely downhill in a matter of two years.”
The slide started slow because in 1961 the Eagles were 10-4 with Sonny Jurgenson at quarterback, but they lost the Eastern Conference title by a half game to New York, which was 10-3-1. In 1962, Philadelphia fell to 3-10-1.
“In a matter of two years we had maybe 15 people left from the championship team,” said McCusker, who was one of the players gone after 1962.
The Giants picked up McCusker in 1963 and traded him to Cleveland where he played one season before ending his career with the New York Jets in 1964.
And it’s a career highlighted with the 1960 season when he was a member of The Team That Had Nothing But A Championship.