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How did the Philadelphia Eagles get their name? Origin and meaning

Join us for a look into the history behind the name of the Philadelphia Eagles as they gear up for the continuation of their 2023 NFL season.

Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Founded by the man credited with saving the NFL during World War II, the team we know today by that name did not always call the Philadelphia Eagles. So, what then is the story of the men in green, who now prepare to face the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LVII?

From Frankford Yellow Jackets to Philadelphia Eagles

You may or may not know that Frankford is a section of Philadelphia. In 1924, the Yellow Jackets - a team based in Frankford - began to play in the National Football League, and it wasn’t long before they turned heads. Indeed, just two years later, in 1926, the Frankford Yellow Jackets won the NFL championship. Sadly, the good times were not to last, and with that, the harsh economic realities of the time began to hit home. To make matters worse, during ‘The Great Depression,’ two fires damaged the stadium, which finally led to the team having to suspend its operations in 1931. Enter Bert Bell. The businessman purchased the Yellow Jackets out of bankruptcy in 1933 and, with that, founded the Philadelphia Eagles.

Interestingly, Bell actually got the money to buy the team from his wife, Frances Upton, who rechecked potential in professional football. Conversely, his father did not, viewing the football business as too risky, which makes sense when considering how harsh those times were. According to Bell’s son, Upton, “Twenty-five teams or more went out of business between the founding and the league in Canton, Ohio, with Jim Thorpe in that automobile room and the time my father got in 8 or 10 years later.” Bell is seen today as the visionary leader of professional football and, in turn, the NFL itself - he served as commissioner at one time. In much the way that Henry Ford is credited as being the father of the automotive industry in the United States, so too is Bell’s relation to the game of football we love and adore today.

Why the name Eagles?

As the story goes, Bell decided to name the team for the entire city of Philadelphia. Again, his son explained how that fateful day went when his father looked up, and the idea came to him. “He was walking down the street and looked up at a billboard that had the National Recovery Act eagle up there...[He] decided on the spot with the name of my team.’”

The National Recovery Administration, like the National Industrial Recovery Act, was part of Franklin Roosevelt’s new deal. Bell’s choice was another reminder of his dedication to maintaining economic opportunities for a populace in the middle of a depression. It would soon be in the middle of a war. The Eagle was the correct symbol to convey that message to fans and the broader public.

World War II’s Effect & Life after the Eagles

It was 1940, when Bell decided to leave the Eagles, but what he did next was quite some through a unique arrangement; Alexis Thompson took over the Philadelphia Eagles, and Bell took part ownership of the Pittsburgh Steelers alongside Art Rooney. Shortly after that, the United States would find itself drawn into World War II, which, of course, threatened the very existence of the NFL to the extent that the league even considered closing its doors. That was not something that Bell was willing to accept.

Bell’s son gave a window into what his father’s position was. “During the Second World War, a vote was to close the league. He said to them, ‘If you close the league, it will never open again.’ And he had to fight for two or three days. He said, ‘Remember, the All-America Conference is coming, and if they get a foothold and we’re closed, and players are coming back from the war, they’re going to go where the money is.’” It was a difficult proposition to maintain, but the league survived the war’s terrible effect, and Bell himself was selected commissioner in 1946. Fittingly, Bell would pass away from a heart attack on October 11th, 1959, while watching his “two teams,” the Eagles and Steelers play each other at Philadelphia’s Franklin Field—a proper football man.