Wilbert Montgomery Scampers to an Easy Win at No. 31
LeSean McCoy may have broken many of his franchise rushing records but to those who remember him, Wilbert Montgomery remains the best running back in Eagles history.
Both sides of that debate are probably wrong, however, because the old-timers will tell you Steve Van Buren trumps everyone and a Pro Football Hall of Fame legacy stamps that sentiment.
That said, as a two-time All-Pro and a franchise Hall of Famer, Montgomery is a no-doubt-about-it selection as top No. 31 in team history, an easy respite as our jersey countdown to kickoff continues a month away from the Sept. 13 opener at Washington.
A sixth-round pick out of Abilene Christian in 1977, Montgomery is perhaps best known for his 194-yard performance against the Dallas Cowboys in the 1980 NFC Championship Game, setting the tone early with a 42-yard TD run en route to a 20-7 victory that sent the Eagles to Super Bowl XV, the first in franchise history.
Montgomery set every meaningful rushing record the Eagles had before finishing his career as a part-timer in Detroit for one season in 1985. His 6,538 rushing yards were eventually surpassed by McCoy in 2014 as was Montgomery’s single-season standard of 1,512 yards in 1979 in 2013 by Shady.
Montgomery’s 194 yards against the Cowboys still stands as the franchise’s postseason record and his 2,012 all-purpose yards led the NFL in 1979.
Montgomery began a second NFL life as a coach in the late 1990s reuniting with Dick Vermeil in St. Louis where the two finally got over the hump in Super Bowl XXXIV. Montgomery also won SB XLVII as the RB coach with the Baltimore Ravens. He coached RBs for 17 years with four different teams, ending with the Cleveland Browns in 2014-1015.
Current number 31:
Nickell Robey-Coleman. Jalen Mills has been wearing the number but a new position means a new number for Mills, who wanted the clean slate and shifted to No. 21. Robey-Coleman, the veteran slot corner, picked up for pennies of the dollar in the offseason because the Eagles made him feel wanted, takes over the number.
Almost universally regarded as a top-10 nickel CB, Robey-Coleman is arguably the best player the Eagles have had at the position in the Doug Pederson-Jim Schwartz era and will be a starter along with outside CB Darius Slay. The other spot opposite Slay is up for grabs with Avonte Maddox trying to fend off Sidney Jones.
Top 3 to wear number 31:
3. Al Harris. Harris went on to far greater heights in Green Bay where he was a two-time Pro Bowl selection as one of the better coverage cornerbacks in the league but his career actually started in Philadelphia back in 1998 after failing to make Tampa Bay as a sixth-round pick the year prior.
Harris spent five seasons in Philadelphia, mainly as an extra defensive back. Of his 80 games played with the Eagles, only 21 were starts but Harris flashed some coverage ability that really manifested itself with the Packers where he spent seven of his 14 NFL seasons.
2. Jalen Mills. Originally a seventh-round pick by the Eagles in the 2016 NFL Draft, Mills quickly developed into Schwartz’s most trusted cornerback. There are certain physical limitations due to a lack of speed on the outside, the main reason Mills was re-signed with the intent on moving inside to safety.
Schwartz quickly became enamored with Mills’ toughness and mindset. By his sophomore season, Mills developed into the best outside CB on the only Super Bowl winner in franchise history, tying for the team lead with 22 passes defended, ranking second with 86 total tackles adding three interceptions, also second-best on the team.
Over the past two seasons, Mills had been the full-time starter at left cornerback after jockeying back-and-forth with Ronald Darby in 2017. Slay will take over that spot and Mills is moving back to the box safety role Malcolm Jenkins has had opposite Rodney McLeod.
1 Wilbert Montgomery. See Above.
Ebert Van Buren. Van Buren spent three seasons with the Eagles and started 30 of 36 games from 1951 through 1953 as a former first-round pick out of LSU. He’s better known for being the brother of Steve Van Buren, the Eagles’ legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer, who was the key cog on both the 1948 and 1949 championship teams.
Others: Joe Carter, Tom Graham, Irv Kupcinet, William Brian, Bob Masters, Emmett Mortell, Jerry Ginney, Phil Ragazzo, Jim Castiglia, Ted Williams, Art Macioszczyk, Dan Sandifer, Ron Goodwin, Tom Bailey, Troy West, Tyrone Jones, Brian O’Neal, Derrick Witherspoon, Daryon Brutley, Dexter Wynn, Ellis Hobbs, Curtis Marsh, Shaun Prater, and Byron Maxwell.
John McMullen contributes Eagles coverage for SI.com's EagleMaven and is the NFL Insider for JAKIB Media. You can listen to John every Monday and Friday on SIRIUSXM’s Tony Bruno Show with Harry Mayes, and every Tuesday and Thursday with Eytan Shander on SportMap Radio. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFMcMullen
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