DeSean Jackson recently coined the term "Young Guns" to describe how the first unit of the Eagles' offense perceives its mission to replace and surpass the old gun-slingin' records of the McNabb era. There's no argument about "young"---the Eagles now have the most youthful offense in the NFL, and a first-year starting QB at the helm, 26-year-old Kevin Kolb.
Adding to the image is fan commenter Lana from Valdosta, Georgia, who's trademarked a tee-shirt which reads YOUNG GUNZ OFFENSE on the front and BOY DOG DEFENSE on the back. "Man, everybody wants one," said Lana in a recent PE.com post. Yeah, well I only wish Lana would eventually fill us in on how to actually order one...
But it got me to realize we Eagles fans are about to witness one of the rare transitions in team history where a Young Gun QB has to step up and replace or repair a legend. The Eagles have had 80 quarterbacks in their 76-year-old history, but by my count there have been only 5 comparable "Young Gun" transitions like the challenge that now faces Kevin Kolb.
Ranked in order of "greatness" (right, like I'm a QB coach!):
SONNY JURGENSEN (1961 ).... The parallels to Kolb's situation are uncanny. Drafted in the 4th round out of Duke in 1957 by the Eagles, Jurgensen languished as the backup to Bobby Thomason and Norm Van Brocklin for 4 years...then, after the Eagles won the 1960 NFL Championship and Van Brocklin retired, Jurgensen at age 26 took over...and the Young Gun came out blazing. Sonny put up a record season for passing with 3723 yards and 32 TD's, and led the Birds to a 10-4 record.
RON JAWORSKI (1977) .... Another eerie comparison to Kolb's situation....A 2nd-round pick by the L.A. Rams out of Youngstown State, The Polish Rifle was an overlooked 3rd-stringer in 1974 behind John Hadl and James Harris. Jaws saw action in 1975 after Hadl and Harris were hurt, but then went back to the bench in '76 after losing the job to Pat Haden. In 1977, Jaworski was traded to the Eagles for All-Pro TE Charlie Young. Now a 26-year-old backup had to become a Young Gun as the Eagles jettisoned what was left of the Roman Gabriel era in Philly...Jaws had a rough learning curve that first season with the Eagles, but wound up passing for 2183 yards, 18 TD's and 21 INT's...numbers good enough given the team's dire circumstances that Dick Vermeil committed to building an eventual playoff and Super Bowl franchise around Jaws, a run that lasted for Jaworski in Philadelphia for 9 more seasons.
DONOVAN MCNABB (1999) .... The current exile was once a Young Gun, perhaps "The" Young Gun in franchise history based on his lifetime numbers with the club... At age 22, the rookie from Syracuse was asked to put on his holster and repair the offense on a bad Eagles team that had seen Rodney Peete, Bobby Hoying and Ty Detmer all struggle in 1998 (the Birds were 3-13 that season). McNabb started most of the second half of the 1999 season and rallied a sagging offense with his legs and his arm, earning a 5-11 improved record and time for Andy Reid to build an O-Line and a Defense around him. In 2000, the Young Gun from Syracuse via Chicago made his mark: McNabb passed for 3365 yards and rushed for 629 yards ---an incredible combination, and the Eagles made the playoffs with an 11-5 record. McNabb would remain QB#1 for nine more years, eventually totaling 148 starts, 32,870 yards passing, 216 passing TD's, and 3250 yards rushing.... Someday he will be appreciated as one of the greatest Young Guns in history.
RANDALL CUNNINGHAM (1986) .... This 23-year-old Young Gun turned out to be one of the most talented and versatile QB's of all time...and to me the most exciting Eagles' QB to watch in action. Like Kolb, Cunningham (from UNLV) was drafted in the 2nd round by the Eagles...and also like Kolb, Cunningham was asked to replace a legend (the fading Jaworski). There the similarity may end, as Kolb is expected to fill a more conservative WCO role, while Cunningham simply solo'ed as a world-class athlete who happened to be playing quarterback. Randall repeatedly thrilled audiences and confounded his opponents with not only a rifle arm but also outstanding running and leaping ability, and an uncanny knack for improvising big plays when none seemed possible. In 1986, this Young Gun spent the first half of the season as a 3rd-down-and-long specialist before starting 5 of the final 6 games in place of the injured Jaworski...and, with his combined passing and rushing in those games, left no doubt the Jaws era was over in Philly. In 1987, Cunningham not only passed for 2786 yards and 23 TD's in only 12 games (the "Players' Strike" season) and rushed for 505 yards and 3 more TD's, he threw 118 consecutive completions without an interception. Cunningham ended up starting 122 games for the Eagles, amassing 22,877 yards passing, 150 passing TD's, and an amazing rushing total of 4482 yards. Now there was a Young Gun who made his mark on Eagles Nation forever...
JACK CONCANNON (1966) .... You may have forgotten about this early member of the Eagles' Young Gunz club, perhaps because his time here was short. Drafted by the Eagles in 1964 out of Boston College in the 1st round, Jack Concannon was the best all-around athlete of his class, and a regional celebrity in New England where his exploits on the field were widely known. Jack could throw, and man, could Jack run! Concannon was drafted as a backup QB to Norm Snead and King Hill, and ended up playing in only 18 games for the Eagles between 1964 and 1966, with a grand total of 637 yards passing, 4 TD passes, and 433 yards rushing... But here's the Young Gun angle on Jack: nearly all of those offensive totals came in a stretch of 4 games in 1966, when Jack was called to fill in for the injured Snead and the slumping Hill. The Eagles were at 5-5 when Jack took over....they ended up at 9-5 in what would have been a saving playoff run under today's system. It was one of the most incredible Young Gun performances ever witnessed, and Concannon did it with a sensational combination of athletic runs and pinpoint throws. Against Pittsburgh in December, Jack rushed for 129 yards...and set the tone for the prototype running quarterback of the modern era. Concannon was traded to the Bears in 1967 for Mike Ditka, a trade which was widely criticized and hated by many Philly fans at the time. But Jack had made his mark in Philadelphia as the ultimate Young Gun to the rescue...
YOUNG GUNZ all... and a legacy for Kevin Kolb to measure. And between all the Young Guns and Boy Dogs that will allegedly be set loose by the Eagles this year, I can't wait for the season to begin. Now where can I get that tee-shirt...?
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