Eagles great running back and receiver Billy Ray Barnes still lives in his home state of North Carolina...at 5-11, 192, and a legend at Wake Forest, Barnes was the 19th pick overall in the 1957 draft as the Eagles 2nd-round pick . Barnes gives us a look back at the way it was when the Eagles were NFL champions...and how different money issues and offseason activity for players was back then...
I've been working on a mind-blowing piece called "The Eagles All-Time Field-of-Dreams Training Camp"...well, at least it's turning my brain into jello with ridiculous amounts of research and cross-referencing...and I came across an article in the Salisbury (North Carolina) Post by Mike London about former Eagles halfback Billy Ray Barnes, who's still very much alive and well at age 75 in his hometown of Rowan, N.C.
One of the reasons I'm taking a break from the "Field of Dreams" to post this blurb on Billy Ray Barnes is --- he was one of my Eagles faves when I was a very young and starstruck kid collecting football cards growing up in the Philly area...and one of the guys I most remember lighting up our black-and-white Philco screen on Eagles gamedays. He was also the Eagles feature back for a number of very productive years (his total career in the NFL spanned 1957 to 1966)...and he was the guy I pretended to be when we picked our Eagle names for street football.
I loved this article on Barnes by Mike London when I stumbled upon it. Taking the form of an interview, it's actualy about 11 years old already...but still pertinent...although I admit I had to check around to make sure Billy Ray was still alive! He most assuredly is...
Here are some highlights from the interview:
'"The money is all relative,” said Barnes. “We were doing better than the average working man. I drove a Cadillac and had a little cash in my pocket and, hell, a loaf of bread was 15 cents. I felt fortunate. Besides you didn’t play for the money, you played to win a championship.” '
“Norm (Van Brocklin) was the greatest quarterback I ever saw,” said Barnes. “Jurgensen had the best arm, but Van Brocklin was a real field general. He didn’t accept mistakes. If you dropped a pass or blew an assignment, you didn’t want to go back to the huddle, because he would let you know about it.” "Van Brocklin was the team’s driving force, more so than head coach Buck Shaw, who silently prowled the sidelines in his horned-rim glasses with an overcoat pulled tight around his throat. '“Buck coached like a banker,” said Barnes. “We didn’t see him from Friday to Sunday. He knew you had a job to do and expected you to do it. If you couldn’t do it, he got someone else.” '
“Norm (Van Brocklin) was the greatest quarterback I ever saw,” said Barnes. “Jurgensen had the best arm, but Van Brocklin was a real field general. He didn’t accept mistakes. If you dropped a pass or blew an assignment, you didn’t want to go back to the huddle, because he would let you know about it.”
"Van Brocklin was the team’s driving force, more so than head coach Buck Shaw, who silently prowled the sidelines in his horned-rim glasses with an overcoat pulled tight around his throat. '“Buck coached like a banker,” said Barnes. “We didn’t see him from Friday to Sunday. He knew you had a job to do and expected you to do it. If you couldn’t do it, he got someone else.” '
Barnes had been drafted on the second round by Philadelphia after a stellar career at Wake Forest, which included making All-America and becoming the ACC’s first 1,000-yard rusher. He was an immediate hit. Working-class fans loved the hard-living, hard-playing style of the kid from a North Carolina textile town. Barnes rushed for nearly 2,000 yards in first three seasons (1957-59), caught a ton of passes, scored 15 TDs, even made the Pro Bowl a couple of times.
The Eagles took wing along with Barnes. They won just six games his first two years, but then, in 1959, after the arrival of the ornery Van Brocklin, who sat a gifted but youthful quarterback named Sonny Jurgensen on the bench, they improved to 7-5. In 1960, they went 10-2. They lost their opener, then squeaked past an expansion Dallas team 27-25 in Week 2. From there, they rolled.
The NFL was just emerging from the giant shadow cast by Major League Baseball, still the dominant sport in the land.. Things were different then...Team meetings lasted 5 minutes and players lit up smokes at halftime...Most linemen weighed 220 pounds. Barnes was considered a big back at 192. No one lifted weights and there was no “off-season” in which to work out. In the spring and summer, players sold cars or insurance or tended bar to support their families. Then they’d report to training camp for a couple of weeks, run a few miles and play the season. Most players made no more than $10,000 a year from the sport, although a glamor player on a glamor team — like New York Giants star Frank Gifford — might pull in a few hundred extra bucks by doing commercials for razor blades. There were no endorsement opportunities for the Eagles, whose only reasonably glamorous players were the last of the two-way standouts, Chuck Bednarik, starting to fade at 35, and an old warhorse of a quarterback named Norm Van Brocklin, who was in his final season.
The ‘60 Packers had a stout defense led by linebacker Ray Nitschke and an offense paced by the Hall of Fame trio of quarterback Bart Starr, halfback Paul Hornung and fullback Jim Taylor. The real problem was Taylor, a 215-pound Louisana locomotive with a flat-top. Taylor possessed an iron jaw, tree trunks for legs and a startling burst of speed.
“They had all those great players,” said Barnes. “They were supposed to win. On the other hand, we may not have been the greatest football players in the world, but we believed every time we took the field that no one could beat us. That team had a special little bond.”
Barnes, who was 25 in 1960, remembers Dec. 26 as being rather mild, but that’s because he won. The losers have chillier memories. Taylor recalled years ago that the game was played on an icy field that would burn the rubber right off his cleats when he tried to cut.
“It was a great day,” Barnes said. ‘For the team and Philadelphia.”
Each of the Eagles received a check for $5,126 — pocket change for today’s pro athletes, but a windfall at the time.