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On This Date in Sports June 19, 1943: Steagles

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

With each team losing several players to military service during World War II, the Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers are forced to merge into one team to compete during the 1943 season. The team would be unofficially called the “Steagles” by the press and post a 5-4-1 record during the season. The Cleveland Rams, already facing a similar problem, announced they would suspend operations and not field a team for the season.

The Philadelphia Eagles and Pittsburgh Steelers came into the NFL together in 1933, as the league began a new era with set schedules, divisions, and a championship game. Neither team would be a factor in their first decade in the league, though Eagles Owner Bert Bell and Steelers Owner Art Rooney were among the most respected in the league.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, dragging the United States into World War II, the NFL, like other sports leagues at the time, was forced to deal with the loss of players to military service, along with travel restrictions and rationing that became a factor of everyday life during the war years. After the 1942 season, schedules were reduced from 11 to 10 games as more players went off to war. The loss of players also made it challenging to fill rosters, and teams faced a crisis on whether or not they could field a team. With the Rams already deciding to take a hiatus, the owners of the two teams from Philadelphia decided to combine resources and merge for a season.

The Phil-Pitt team, called “Steagles” by the fans, had many challenges, as the players did not get along. Neither did the coaches, as Eagles coach Greasy Neale wanted to run the T-Formation created by George Halas of the Chicago Bears, while the Steelers stogy coach Walt Kiesling felt it was unmanly to pass the ball and run fake plays. Pittsburgh fans were further angered as four of six home games were in Philadelphia, while the team wore the Eagles' green uniforms and not the black and gold of the Steelers.

Despite their differences, the Steagles were a competitive team, posting a record of 5-4-1 as they battled the New York Giants and Washington Redskins for the Eastern Division Championship. However, they finished one game behind both teams as they lost their final game of the season to the Green Bay Packers 38-28. Though the Steagles played well against the two teams that would faceoff for the Division title, splitting two games against the Giants while winning one game against the Redskins, the first game ended in a tie.

After their one season together, the Eagles decided to go it alone in 1944, posting a 7-1-2 record and missing out on their first playoff appearance. The Steelers still needed help fielding a team and merged with the Chicago Cardinals. The merged teams would go under the name Card-Pitt, playing in the Western Division. The name fits as the entire league walked over them as they lost all ten games.

After the war, the Steelers and Eagles rivalry continued with the teams playing for the Division Title in 1947, after finishing the season tied for first place with an 8-4 record. The Eagles would win the game at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field 21-0. The Eagles would lose the NFL Championship Game to the Chicago Cardinals 28-21. The Eagles bounced back and won the NFL Championship in 1948 against the Cardinals 7-0 in a blizzard at Shibe Park, repeating with a 14-0 win over the Los Angeles Rams in 1949. The Steelers, meanwhile, did not play in a postseason game again until 1972.