Coming out of September last year, Philadelphia was 1-3 when Ray
Rhodes benched his starting quarterback, Randall Cunningham, and
challenged his players' manhood. "Make a street fight out of
it," Rhodes told them. "I want to see bloody knuckles." The
Eagles won their next four games.
It was a season of ups and downs in Philly, and much of what
Rhodes accomplished in his first year as a head coach came from
a platform of high emotion. He took a collection of castoffs and
retreads into the second round of the playoffs and earned coach
of the year honors along the way.
Driven and tortured, Rhodes lived in a state of constant agony.
Waking up in the middle of the night and unable to go back to
sleep, he often ended up driving to the office at 4 a.m. The
sight of owner Jeffrey Lurie or one of his cronies in Rhodes's
staff meetings drove the coach wild. The front office became
divided between Ray's guys and the owner's guys.
When the Eagles, fighting for a wild-card spot, played Dallas at
Veterans Stadium last December, Rhodes's Saturday-night talk
reached an emotional frenzy. "Normally it's about two minutes,"
one player recalls. "This time it was 20. He said the Cowboys
didn't respect us. He challenged Barry Switzer, Jerry Jones,
anybody. Oh, it was intense, all right, and it was all from the
Philadelphia won 20-17, stopping Emmitt Smith twice on
fourth-and-one late in the fourth quarter and then sacking Troy
Aikman from a three-man rush on Dallas's final possession.
It all ended in the second round of the playoffs--again against
the hated Cowboys. After starter Rodney Peete left the game with
a concussion, Cunningham, who had only a scant knowledge of the
game plan, took over, and the offense went south. Final score:
30-11. Emotion had taken the Eagles as far as was humanly
possible, but when you move into the late rounds, talent ends up
making the difference.
"Motivation usually lasts one calendar year from when the coach
takes over," says Buffalo wideout and special-teamer Steve
Tasker. "After that, you've heard it all. It's gone round.
There's nothing new to tell you."
So where does Philly go from here? Well, maybe the answer is to
keep bringing in new players. For two years the Eagles have been
one of the most active teams in the free-agency square dance.
Only 11 of the 80 players Rhodes will bring to camp in 1996 were
on the roster before he arrived in '95.
Of course, the most crucial decision for a club when it gets
serious in the free-agency game comes at the superstar level:
Which guy do you choose to bend your salary cap for and award
top dollar? A mistake there can be critical--see wide receiver
Andre Rison of Cleveland (now Baltimore). Last year Philadelphia
hit the bull's-eye when it signed 49ers tailback Ricky Watters.
He lifted the Eagles' running game from ninth in the league to
fourth and was a big reason they made it into the postseason.
This year Philly opened up the vault with a five-year, $16.5
million contract for Miami cornerback Troy Vincent, who is only
26 and immensely talented, very close to Pro Bowl quality. With
Bobby Taylor, who came on with a rush at the end of his rookie
year last season, the Eagles could have the best pair of corners
in the league.
Ex-Saint Richard Cooper replaces Antone Davis at right tackle.
Another ex-Niner, Steve Wallace, takes over on the left side.
Former Dolphin Irving Fryar, at 33, moves into Fred Barnett's
wideout spot. Ty Detmer comes from Green Bay for quarterback
depth (just as Peete did last year from Dallas, and Rodney
ended up becoming the starter).
Out of the draft, second-round choice Jason Dunn out of Eastern
Kentucky could be the pass-catching tight end Philly has lacked
since Keith Jackson departed. Will all this be enough to
challenge the talent factory in Dallas? Maybe, if emotion still
plays a part.
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK COVER [REGIONAL] Taking Charge The Eagles' offense is in the hands of Rodney Peete
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Watters paid off as a big-ticket free agent; can cornerback Vincent do the same? [Ricky Watters]
BY THE NUMBERS
1995 Yards per Game (NFL rank in parentheses)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 132.6 (4) 167.9 (29) 300.4 (25)
DEFENSE 113.9 (19) 176.0 (2) 289.9 (4)
Making 'Em Count
Who led the NFL in yards per carry in 1995? Not Barry Sanders.
Not Emmitt Smith. It was the Eagles' Charlie Garner, who just
barely had the 100 carries needed to qualify. Garner gained 15
or more yards on eight of his 108 carries (7.4%), tying
Oakland's Napoleon Kaufman for the highest such rate among the
41 backs with at least 100 carries.
1995 NFL Leaders in Average Yards per Rush
Att. Yds. Avg. TDs 15+ yds. Pct.
Eagles 108 588 5.44 6 8 7.4
Bears 107 570 5.33 3 7 6.5
Lions 314 1,500 4.78 11 20 6.4
Broncos 237 1,117 4.71 7 12 5.1
Cowboys 377 1,773 4.70 25 20 5.3
PLAYER TO WATCH
With their No. 1 pick, the Eagles took Jermane Mayberry, a 6'4",
325-pound guard, even though he is legally blind in his left
eye, had played only tackle at Texas A&M-Kingsville and,
according to one scouting report, "coasts at times." But in the
NFC East--where the defensive tackles include Leon Lett
(Dallas), Sean Gilbert (Washington) and Eric Swann
(Arizona)--size up the middle is a necessity. "This is a guy who
can definitely block out the sun," coach Ray Rhodes says.
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP
Head coach: Ray Rhodes
QB Rodney Peete 375 att. 215 comp. 57.3%
2,326 yds. 8 TDs 14 int. 67.3 rtg.
RB Ricky Watters 337 att. 1,273 yds. 11 TDs
FB Kevin Turner 2 att. 9 yds. 0 TDs
TE Jason Dunn (R)[*] 18 rec. 205 yds. 2 TDs
WR Irving Fryar[*] 62 rec. 910 yds. 8 TDs
WR Chris T. Jones 5 rec. 61 yds. 0 TDs
WR Mark Seay[*] 45 rec. 537 yds. 3 TDs
LT Steve Wallace[*] 6'5" 302 lbs.
LG Jermane Mayberry (R)[*] 6'4" 325 lbs.
C Raleigh McKenzie 6'2" 283 lbs.
RG Lester Holmes 6'3" 305 lbs.
RT Richard Cooper[*] 6'5" 290 lbs.
PK Gary Anderson 32/33 XPs 22/30 FGs
LE William Fuller 13 sacks 1 fum. rec.
LT Andy Harmon 11 sacks 1 fum. rec.
RT Rhett Hall 1 sack 0 fum. rec.
RE Mike Mamula 5 1/2 sacks 1 fum. rec.
OLB William Thomas 2 sacks 7 int.
MLB James Willis 0 sacks 0 int.
OLB Marc Woodard 1 1/2 sacks 0 int.
CB Troy Vincent[*] 5 int. 0 sacks
SS Mike Zordich 1 int. 1 sack
FS Brian Dawkins (R)[*] 6 int. 2 sacks
CB Bobby Taylor 2 int. 0 sacks
P Tom Hutton 85 punts 43.3 avg.
PR Troy Vincent[*] 0 ret. N.A.
KR Charlie Garner 29 ret. 20.3 avg.
[*] New acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)