The Pro Football Hall of Fame houses the world’s largest collection of three-dimensional artifacts related to the history of the sport. Each year the museum adds pieces to the collection from recent milestones. Such memorabilia as Drew Brees’ Super Bowl XLIV jersey and Chris Johnson’s shoes from when he hit the 2,000-yard mark this season are samples of recent acquisitions to the Hall’s vast collection.
Far less common are donations of significant pieces from decades past. However, every so often the Hall of Fame’s curatorial staff receives a donation such as what arrived on Wednesday morning.
The ring honoring the 1948 and 1949 Philadelphia Eagles championship teams that belonged to late Eagles' quarterback Tommy Thompson was donated to the Hall of Fame by his brother's family. Philadelphia captured back-to-back titles with shutout wins over the Chicago Cardinals in 1948 and the Los Angeles Rams in 1949.
Thompson played 10 seasons in the NFL that included his rookie year with the 1940 Pittsburgh Steelers before leading the Eagles from 1941 to 1950. In all, he passed for more than 10,000 yards and threw 91 touchdowns. His finest season came during the Eagles ’48 championship season when he threw a career-high 25 TDs and led the NFL in passing.
Adverse weather conditions that included heavy snowfall at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park impeded Thompson’s ability to continue his prolific throwing during the championship game played on December 19, 1948.
The day almost started on a great note. On the Eagles’ first offensive possession, Thompson hooked up with end Jack Ferrante on a 65-yard pass play. Not immediately apparent was a game official’s white flag that lay camouflaged on the snow-covered field. Ferrante was called for offsides and the play was nullified. From that point forward, Thompson managed to complete just 2 of 7 passes and was picked off twice. But, it was his running that helped fuel the Eagles victory. He ran 11 times for 50 yards on the day and had a crucial run for a first down in the fourth quarter that set up the game’s only score, a 5-yard run by Hall of Fame halfback Steve Van Buren.
“Thompson was the key. He called almost every play on his own, and called ‘em right,” commented Eagles coach Earle (Greasy) Neale after the game. “He ran hard and handled the team without flaw.”
The following season, Thompson again led the Eagles to the title game and, like the year before, faced less than ideal weather conditions. A torrential rainstorm dumped three inches of rain in Los Angeles on the day before the game. So, the Eagles relied on their running attack as Van Buren racked up 196 yards rushing on the Coliseum’s muddy turf.
But, it was Thompson’s passing on one particular drive in the second quarter that proved to be all the Eagles needed. He guided Philadelphia on a 63-yard scoring drive that included key completions to Ferrante, capped by a pinpoint pass that hit Hall of Fame end Pete Pihos at the 15-yard-line. Pihos then found open room to the end zone for a 31-yard touchdown play to put Philly on the scoreboard first. The Eagles added another score on the return of a blocked punt to seal its second consecutive NFL title with a 14-0 shutout over the Rams in Los Angeles.
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