Tra Thomas was the Best to Wear No. 72 for Eagles
The jersey countdown to kickoff hits No. 72 on this holiday weekend, and while putting together the top three to wear each uniform number leading up to this particular one has been a learning process about some of the players in Eagles history who came before my time or when I was too young to remember them, there are times the research of a player’s past unearths some pretty cool stuff.
Such was the case with Wade Key, because the top-ranked player to wear No. 72 for the Eagles was an easy selection. And you can probably guess it.
Key, however, made the rankings, too. He wasn’t number one but digging a bit deeper into his past took me down a rabbit hole involving the Pottstown Firebirds, who were considered a “farm club” for the Eagles.
The Firebirds were provided equipment from the Eagles with wings emblazoned on them and NFL Films made a documentary about them spotlighting quarterback Jim “The King” Corcoran, who was considered a “poor man’s Joe Namath” for his flamboyance; preferring to be a star in the minor leagues over a backup in the NFL, though The King played one game for the NFL’s Boston Patriots.
In their two years of existence in 1969 and 1970, the Firebirds won two titles while playing at Pottstown High School.
Not many of their players went on to the NFL.
Here’s our top three to wear No. 72:
Current number 72:
Prince Tega Wanogho. The tackle from Auburn, by way of Nigeria, was drafted in the sixth round. He could be in the early mix to replace departed free agent Halapoulivaati Vaitai as the team’s top reserve swing tackle.
Top 3 to wear number 72:
3. Wade Key. He arrived with the Eagles in 1970, one year after playing for the Firebirds, and spent 10 years with Philly starting 115 games. His first three years he was the team’s left tackle then moved inside to left guard. Key was named to the Eagles’ 75th anniversary team in 2007.
2. David Alexander. A fifth-round pick in the 1987 NFL Draft out of Tulsa, Alexander played on some very good Eagles teams under Buddy Ryan. He started 12 games in his second season at left guard before moving to center in 1989, a position where he made 96 straight starts through the 1994 season before moving onto the New York Jets for only one year.
1. Tra Thomas. The 11th pick overall in the 1998 NFL Draft out of Florida State, Thomas was the Eagles’ left tackle during what was arguably the longest sustained success of the franchise, and that was the decade of the 2000s. He started 165 games and is considered one of the best tackles in Eagles history, and the organization has produced some terrific players at that position.
From 2000 until Thomas left in free agency for Jacksonville following the 2008 season, the Eagles went 92-52-1 in those eight seasons with five NFC East title and a Super Bowl appearance.
He was called for holding just 16 times in his 12-year NFL career, 11 of which were spent with the Eagles.
Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Certainly a case could be made for another player or two to be put here, such as defensive tackle Floyd Peters, who played with the Eagles from 1964-69 and made two Pro Bowls in that span, but Vaitai was the starting left tackle in the Eagles’ Super Bowl run in 2017 after taking over for injured Jason Peters.
Known as Big V, Vaitai was the ultimate reserve offensive tackle after arriving in the fifth round of the same draft that delivered Carson Wentz in 2016. He played in 55 games, with 20 starts including a career-high 10 in the Super Bowl season.
Hodges West, Leon Cook, Stephen Levanites, Ted Doyle, Bob Friedman, Marshall Shires, T.J. Campion, Roger Harding, Walt Stickel, Dick Steere, George Mrkonic, Jess Richardson, Frank Fuller, Floyd Peters, Jim Fritzsche, Dave Pacella, Kevin Allen, Jeff Wenzel, Joe Panos, and Cedric Thornton.