You never know what you’ll find until you start looking. That’s a good motto for this blog and also this week’s story.
I thought the topic—who will be Philly’s next Hall of Famers, beginning with a look at former and current Eagles—would lead to Randall Cunningham, Eric Allen, Brian Dawkins, and Bill Bergey. I didn’t think I’d end up learning about—and talking to—one of the Eagles’ all-time greats whom not only has the Hall of Fame forgotten, but so have the Eagles.
Before a little research, I didn’t know Al Wistert (I’m betting a few Hall voters don’t either) but his accomplishments should have earned him a place in the NFL Hall of Fame and recognition on the Eagles Honor Roll. He’s in neither.
It’s simple: Al Wistert is the most decorated Eagle—by far—not in the NFL Hall of Fame. The eight-time All-Pro—and five-time consensus pick—played nine seasons and captained the NFL title-winning 1948 and 1949 champions, the only NFL team ever to win consecutive titles by shutout.
His coach and four teammates of those two-time titleists are in the Hall (Greasy Neale, Steve Van Buren, Pete Pihos, Chuck Bednarik, and Alex Wojciechowicz), but not the two-way tackle. Wistert was a college All-American at Michigan, is in the college football Hall of Fame, and was named to the NFL’s 1940s All-Decade team.
“I don’t know why I’m not” in the Hall of Fame, Wistert told me. One possibility: his first few seasons were during the World War II years, which voters may have held against him. However, he wasn’t taken into the service because he broke his left wrist while playing at Michigan and required several operations on it—“it still isn’t right,” he says. As a result of the injury, he always wore a cast on the wrist when he played.
Wistert, who played from 1943-51, suffered the Hall of Fame triple whammy: he was a lineman; his peak years occurred when the Pro Bowl was suspended for the war so despite his eight-time All-Pro status he made just one Pro Bowl appearance; and he played in a forgotten NFL era.
Of the 33 players on the NFL’s 1940s All-Decade team, just 15 are in the Hall of Fame—and just four of the 14 tackles, guards, and centers. By contrast, 28 of the 34 from 1950s All-Decade team are in the Hall, including four of the six tackles, guards, and centers.
Wistert was the first Eagle to have his jersey number retired (70), which occurred the year after he stopped playing. “It was a very good feeling and still is to this day,” he said. Of the seven players with retired numbers, he and Reggie White are the only ones not in the Eagles Honor Roll.
As the 87-year-old noted three years ago in a story on the Eagles’ own website, “The two things that would really make my career complete are to be inducted into both the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia Eagles Honor Roll,” Wistert said. “It would be an honor for me because I would be with so many former teammates.”
The Eagles can do their part to honor Wistert properly. Induct him into the Honor Roll. He’ll be returning to Philly November 13th to be inducted into the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame.
The Eagles host the Giants on NBC’s Sunday night game Nov. 9th. The organization should make it a night for the ages, one in which the team celebrates an Eagles legend and the captain of one of its three championship teams. — John Roach