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How the Philadelphia Eagles Were Named

How did the Philadelphia Eagles get their name? Bert Bell founded the Eagles in 1933, after he bought the Frankford Yellow Jackets out of bankruptcy. He later served as NFL commissioner. His son, Upton Bell, told the story of how the Eagles got their name on The Game Before the Money Podcast. Upton also worked in the NFL, for the Colts and Patriots.

Frankford Yellow Jackets

Frankford is a section of Philadelphia. The Yellow Jackets started playing in the National Football League in 1924. The Frankford Yellow Jackets won the 1926 NFL championship. Hard economic times were on the horizon, however. The Great Depression hit. Two fires damaged their stadium. The team suspended operations in 1931. Bert Bell purchased the Yellow Jackets out of bankruptcy and founded the Philadelphia Eagles in 1933.

Who is Bert Bell? Many recognize Henry Ford as the father of the automotive industry. President John F. Kennedy is often called a visionary leader in getting man to the moon. Bert Bell could be called both the father and the visionary leader of pro football and the National Football League.

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Who named the Philadelphia Eagles?

Bert Bell founded the Eagles with money from his wife, Frances Upton. She recognized the potential of pro football, and lent Bell the money to buy the Yellow Jackets out of bankruptcy. Bert Bell’s wealthy father saw pro football as risky business, however, and refused to loan Bell money for a team.

Bert Bell’s son, Upton, spoke about the rugged business of early pro football in an episode of The Game Before the Money Podcast. “Twenty-five teams or more went out of business between the founding and the league in Canton, Ohio, with Jim Thorpe in that automobile room and the time my father got in 8 or 10 years later.”

Bell decided to name the team for the entire city of Philadelphia. He literally looked towards the sky and saw the nickname Eagles. Upton Bell told the story on the football history podcast: “He was walking down the street and looked up at a billboard that had the National Recovery Act eagle up there….[He] decided on the spot: ‘That’s the name of my team.'”

In short, Bert Bell named the Philadelphia Eagles after the symbol for the National Recovery Administration and the National Industrial Recovery Act, part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. More information about the Act, as well as a picture of the symbol, can be found at the Library of Congress website.

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Photo: QB Davey O’Brien sweeps outside in a 1939 NFL game at Philadelphia. Only 1,880 fans attend the game (via Pro Football Reference.)

Bert Bell Left the Eagles and Later Co-Owned the Steelers

Bell’s Guidance Helped Save the NFL during World War II

Bert Bell left the Eagles around the same time quarterback Davey O’Brien retired. In a complex arrangement, Alexis Thompson (pictured below in 1941 with actress Lana Turner) took control of the Philadelphia Eagles and Bert Bell took part ownership in the Pittsburgh Steelers with Art Rooney. Meanwhile, World War II encroached on the United States, and the National Football League considered shutting down. Bert Bell convinced the other owners to sustain the league.

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Upton Bell told the story on our sports history podcast, “During the Second World War, there was a vote to close the league. He said to them, ‘If you close the league, it will never open again.’ And he had to fight for two or three days. He said, ‘Remember, the All America Conference is coming and if they get a foothold and we’re closed and players are coming back from the war, they’re going to go where the money is.'”

Although it was difficult, the NFL survived the lean years of World War II. The league elected Bert Bell as commissioner in 1946.

Looking for a great NFL history book? Check out The Game Before the Money: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL available at — Amazon.com – Barnes and Noble – University of Nebraska Press

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