Many football websites discuss deserving players left out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Al Wistert’s name often pops up in these conversations. Al “Ox” Wistert certainly deserves strong consideration in Canton and many believe he should have been inducted decades ago. He was named All-NFL for 8 seasons on both offense and defense. Wistert owns a spot in the Philadelphia Eagles Ring of Fame. He was named a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2020 class but wasn’t selected for induction. He is, however, a member of the Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame.
AL WISTERT WAS BORN TO PLAY
One might say Al was born to play for the Philadelphia Eagles. He was born on December 28, 1920, the exact same day as future Eagles teammate and Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren. Tragedy also coincidentally paired him with another future Hall of Fame teammate on the Philadelphia Eagles. Al’s father, a Chicago policeman, was shot and killed when Al was 6 years old. Pete Pihos’ father was also murdered while Pete was growing up.
AL WISTERT’S MICHIGAN COLLEGE FOOTBALL CAREER
Al played his college ball at Michigan, but football wasn’t his reason for attending. In fact, he didn’t play organized football until his sophomore year in college. He excelled at his new sport and credited the Michigan track coach for improving his speed and making him a better football player. You can read more about Al’s Michigan days in the football history book The Game before the Money.
Al and his brothers all played tackle for Michigan, and each made All-American. All wore number 11. The university retired the “Wistert Brothers” number in tribute, one of only a handful of numbers retired by the Wolverines. Still, Al had to work his pay his own tuition, and worked several jobs to pay for school.
AL WISTERT’S NFL CAREER
A broken wrist exempted Al from military service during World War II. The injury ironically allowed him to start his pro football career rather than go to war. The Eagles drafted him in the 5th round of the 1943 NFL Draft.
Al stated in the book, The Game before the Money: “Harry Thayer, the manager of the Eagles, signed me to play for the Eagles. What he didn’t tell me was that the Eagles and Steelers were combined that year. I didn’t know anything about that until I got to Philadelphia.”
Al began his career with the combined Eagles and Steelers team, which is often known as the “Steagles.” While many of the Steagles were unable to serve Uncle Sam on the battlefield, they did contribute to the war effort in factories during the day.
AL WISTERT’S PHILADELPHIA EAGLES GLORY DAYS
The Eagles resumed their own operations without Pittsburgh’s help in 1944. Wistert played tackle and anchored Philadelphia’s offensive and defensive lines. Bucko Kilroy played beside him all of Al’s career. The Eagles arguably experienced the greatest success in franchise history in the years following World War II, as the team appeared in three straight NFL Championships.
Philadelphia played in the 1947 NFL Championship Game against the Chicago Cardinals. The teams battled in frigid conditions at Chicago’s Comiskey Park. Charley Trippi scored two touchdowns for the Cardinals as they downed the Eagles 28-21.
The Eagles got revenge in the 1948 NFL Championship Game, however, as they topped the Cardinals 7-0 in heavy snow. Steve Van Buren scored the game’s only touchdown, a five-yard plunge. Blocks by Wistert and Kilroy cleared Van Buren’s path. The game marked the first televised NFL Championship Game.
The Eagles won their third straight conference crown in the 1949 NFL Championship Game, blanking the Rams 14-0. The Eagles remain the only team in NFL history to record back-to-back shutouts in championship games. Al started on both the offensive and defensive line for the Eagles in all three championship games.
LEAVING THE GAME
Al retired in 1951, at age 31. “Pro football’s a great game as long as you’re able to give more than you receive,” he told the Associated Press. Al felt he was getting more than he was giving as of late. He moved on to a career in the insurance industry.
Al Wistert’s All-NFL play anchored an Eagle defense that still holds what may be an unbeatable record: two straight championship game shutouts. His blocking cleared the path for Steve Van Buren’s Hall of Fame runs. Teammates also often spoke of his outstanding special teams play.
Michigan isn’t the only team to retire Al’s jersey. His number 70 hangs as one of the Philadelphia Eagles retired jersey numbers. Teammates Van Buren and Chuck Bendarik also have their numbers retired by the Eagles.
Al Wistert may not be the most famous man to step on a football field, but he’s truly an all-time great.
AL WISTERT NFL CAREER STATS AND BIO
- 2-time NFL champion with Philadelphia Eagles
- 8-time All-NFL
- Michigan football jersey number retired
- Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame
- Played in the first Pro Bowl
NOTE: You can read Al’s story in The Game before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL, now available from the University of Nebraska Press. You can order a copy from Amazon.com here.
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