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Robert S. Lyons

The Eagles Encyclopedia
Ray Didinger and Robert S. Lyons

A Q&A with co-author Robert S. Lyons about his favorite team, his favorite players, and his favorite memories, all captured in The Eagles Encyclopedia

Q: When did you see your first Eagles game, and how did you become a lifelong fan?
A: Saturday night, October 1, 1955. Washington overcomes a 17-point deficit to beat the Eagles, 31-30, on a last minute field goal by Ralph Gugliemi at Connie Mack Stadium. Eagles were playing their first game without hometown favorite Frank (Bucko) Kilroy, the All-Pro tackle who had suffered a career-ending knee injury the previous week in the season opener against the New York Giants when he made his 101st consecutive NFL start.

Q: Do you ever miss a game?
A: Since I began covering the Eagles for the Associated Press in 1971, I have missed only five games—two when the AP pulled me out at the last minute to cover a LPGA golf tournament and college basketball game; one when I was sick; one when I had to be at La Salle for an important event (my "real" job), and one when I was out of town on vacation.

Q: Did you ever have dreams to play pro football, or, coach the Eagles? Or do you prefer just to watch and root for the team?
A: There's not much of a market in the NFL for a slow, uncoordinated, bespectacled 5-7, 150 pounder who came of age in the 1950s when pro football was an even more brutal sport than it is today. I prefer to observe the game.

Q: What player do you most admire? Who in your opinion is the most underrated athlete on the team? Who on the current roster do you expect we'll be celebrating in the years to come?
A: Two players: Tommy McDonald, who made the most of his size and fooled the experts to enjoy an extraordinary Hall of Fame football career, and Donovan McNabb, who, if he stays healthy, will go down as one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the Eagles. Both are classy individuals who were/are inspirations to their teammates by continually playing "hurt," leading by example, and serving as outstanding role models.

Q: Which Eagle player/coach from the past that is no longer alive would you have liked to have interviewed or seen play?
A: Bert Bell. Besides being one of the most colorful characters in the history of professional sports, he founded the Eagles franchise and then personally transformed professional football from a traveling sideshow into arguably the most popular sport in North America.

Q: Is there a personal highlight in the 30-plus years you spent covering the Eagles?
A: December 17, 1978, witnessing the incredible emotions in the locker room at the Vet after the Eagles defeated the New York Giants 20-3 to clinch the team's first winning season and post-season playoff berth under coach Dick Vermeil, who went from player to player, hugging, congratulating, and thanking each one with tears of happiness streaming down his face.

Q: The Eagles Encyclopedia contains some pretty wild stories such as the one about Adrian Burk's seven touchdown day, or Donovan McNabb passing for four TDs with a broken ankle. How did you research/discover these amazing anecdotes, and which is your favorite?
A: Both of my favorite games that featured outstanding performances came when Ron Jaworski was QB. He was the QB when the Eagles defeated the Dallas Cowboys, 20-7 in the 1980 NFC championship game at the Vet to go to their first Super Bowl. Wilbert Montgomery gained 194 yards that day and electrified the crowd by racing 42 yards for a TD on the game's first play from scrimmage.

In 1985, the Eagles won the first overtime game in the team's history, 23-17, over the Atlanta Falcons despite squandering a 17- point lead in the fourth quarter. Jaworski won it by throwing a never-to-be broken club-record 99-yard TD pass to Mike Quick. It also tied for the longest TD in NFL history.

Q: The sidelines chapter in the book is great fun—the names and nicknames, the top 5 touchdown celebrations by T.O.—but you also talk about the tragedies, such as the losing seasons 1983-1985, and Blenda Gay's shocking murder. What are your favorite moments from watching the Eagles antics on the field and off?
A: Favorite all-time moment as a fan came sitting in Franklin Field watching the Eagles defeat the Green Bay Packers, 17-13, for the 1960 NFL Championship. Professional football came of age that day in Philadelphia.

Q: Where did you find all of the great player photographs and images of the fans? How long did it take you to compile the book?
A: My writing and research took about seven months.

Q: You couldn't know all of the history and trivia about the Eagles when you sat down to write the Encyclopedia. What did you learn writing the book?
A: I learned that professional football has a fascinating history in Philadelphia. Teams like the relatively unknown Frankford Yellow Jackets and the Steagles. Colorful individuals like Alexis (Lex) Thompson, the Eagles' owner from 1941 to 1949, who would have been a daily fixture today with the newspaper columnists and TV tabloid shows. Thompson, a free-spirited playboy, was also a superb athlete. In addition to excelling in hockey and lacrosse, he was a member of the 1936 U.S. Olympic field hockey team and narrowly missed competing on the 1948 Olympics as a member of the U.S. bobsled team. Thompson not only owned the first Philadelphia Eagles team to win a NFL championship, he gave the city its first professional football superstar, Steve Van Buren.

Q: OK, I have to ask: Do you think the Eagles will WIN the Super Bowl this year?
A: Too early to tell!


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