When the Philadelphia Eagles hired Earle “Greasy” Neale as their coach in 1941, the first thing he did was study the coaches’ game film of the Chicago Bears 73-0 title win over the Washington Redskins. After studying the film endlessly, Neale became the first coach to imitate, and some say, improve the Bears’ T-formation.
Although it took Neale awhile to pull together the needed talent to build a winning team, once he had the right ingredients, they stayed among the league’s best for nearly a decade.
In three years Greasy had the Eagles in second place and, three years later, he had them winning their first divisional crown. His offense was led by the passing of quarterback Tommy Thompson, the pass catching of future Hall of Fame end Pete Pihos, and the running of another Hall of Famer, Steve Van Buren.
Defensively, Neale developed the Eagle Defense, which was a mainstay around the league for years to come. The defensive set eventually spawned another National Football League favorite, the 4-3 defense, which is still featured by teams today.
From 1944 through 1949, Neale’s Eagles finished second three times and in first place three times. The Eagles won the NFL Championship in 1948 and again in 1949, and were the only team to win back-to-back titles by shutting out their opponents. They beat the Chicago Cardinals 7-0 and the Los Angeles Rams 14-0.
Long before he became a head coach in the NFL, Neale starred as an end on Jim Thorpe’s pre-World War I Canton Bulldogs. A successful college coach, he also led his Washington and Jefferson College squad to the 1922 Rose Bowl. And football wasn’t the only sport in which he excelled. He was an outfielder who batted .357 for the Cincinnati Reds in the infamous “Black Sox” World Series' of 1919.