World War II-era 'Steagles' to be honored Saturday

Updated: August 14, 2003, 7:16 PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- NFL trivia question: Which team holds the record for most fumbles in a game?

The Steagles, that's who.

Surviving members of the 1943 Steagles, the product of a wartime merger officially named the Phil-Pit Eagles-Steelers, will be honored Saturday night at a 60th anniversary bash before the Pittsburgh Steelers' exhibition game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Former Steagles Allie Sherman, Ernie Steele, Ray Graves, Al Wistert, Frank "Bucko" Kilroy and Vic Sears are expected to attend a celebration that will also honor World War II veterans.

Because the league had lost hundreds of players, coaches and club officials to the war effort, the NFL was left with inexperienced youngsters, those the military wouldn't take, and over-the-hill veterans. But the league pressed on, albeit with restrictions.

The league was ordered to reduce travel by 37 percent, so schedules were revised and rosters cut from 33 to 28. When the Cleveland Rams were forced to bow out, the NFL needed to cut another team to get down to eight, so commissioner Elmer Layden urged the Steelers and Eagles to merge for the season.

Steelers co-owners Art Rooney Sr. and Bert Bell came to an agreement with Eagles owner Alexis Thompson. The teams would divide home games, split the coaching duties between the Steelers' Walt Kiesling and the Eagles' Earl "Greasy" Neale, and blend their names.

At that point in their histories, the Eagles never had a winning season and the Steelers had only one, the previous year. Yet the Steagles were respectable.

Even the game in which they set the record for fumbles -- 10, a mark they now share with three other teams -- was a win, 28-14 over the New York Giants. The Steagles finished 5-4-1, a game behind the Giants and Washington Redskins, who tied for the Eastern Division lead.

"They were pretty good," said Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, Art Sr.'s son. "The fans really liked it. Their attendance picked up. People were looking for things to do, so it worked out pretty well. They weren't total flops or anything like that. It was a well-done situation."

The 129,347 fans represented the largest aggregate attendance for the Steelers franchise to that point. The team played four games at Shibe Park in Philadelphia and two at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.

The fans watched players such as quarterback Roy Zimmerman, who passed for 846 yards and nine touchdowns but threw 17 interceptions. Sherman, who later coached the Giants in the early 1960s, was his backup.

The team led the league in rushing behind Jack Hinkle, a rookie running back from Syracuse. He gained 571 yards and finished one yard behind league-leader Bill Paschal of the Giants. Hinkle's total, historians later learned, did not include a 37-yard run that statisticians had missed earlier in the season.

The Steagles' leading receiver was Tony Bova, who caught 17 passes despite being blind in one eye and partially blind in the other. Hall of Fame receiver Bill Hewitt, who had come out of a four-year retirement, caught only two passes for 22 yards and retired for good after the season.

The Steagles disbanded after one year. The Steelers and Cardinals merged for a winless 1944 campaign, while the Eagles went on to finish 7-1-2, behind the running of first-round draft pick and future Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren.

Four years later, the Eagles won their first NFL championship. After they repeated in 1949 -- the only time in franchise history they've won back-to-back titles -- Hinkle said: "The old Steagles -- that's where it all started."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index

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