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Episode 104: "The Steagles: When Rivals Became Teammates"
Airdate: TBD - FSN

During WWII, the NFL faced a crisis that is hard to believe today: they had a shortage of players. By 1943, the league had lost so many players to the war effort that it was forced to fold one team, the Cleveland Rams, and to merge two others, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles. And so the "Steagles", as they were affectionately called, were born not out of choice, but out of necessity.

When the two teams merged, one of the first questions was who would be in charge. Since both teams' coaches refused to accept a demotion, coaching duties were to be shared. The "co-coaches," as they were called, were the Eagles' Earle "Greasy" Neale and the Steelers' Walt Kiesling. Both Neale and Kiesling had oversized egos, but that’s about where the similarities ended. In appearance, disposition, and coaching style, Neale and Kiesling were complete opposites. The two hated each other so much that in order to ease tensions, they divided their duties. Neale would coach the offense and Kiesling the defense. And thus the first offensive and defensive coordinators were born decades before they would be come standard in today's NFL.

The Steagles, officially known as the Eagles at the time, were made up of a unique roster that included military draft rejects, aging stars lured out of retirement, and even active servicemen who managed to get leave for the games. The center was deaf in one ear, the wide receiver was blind in one eye, and the starting running back had ulcers. This team didn’t need an injury report every week, their roster was an injury report. There was also tension among this motley crew of players, who had never played together before. And yet, this squad of outcasts and misfits banded together and managed to go post a winning record (5-4-1), the first in the history of the Eagles and only the second for the Steelers.

But these men accomplished more than just a winning record. These men, often derisively called 4-Fs for their draft classification, helped keep the NFL alive. They may not have been heroes in the sense of the soldiers at war, but in their own small way, these men were heroic. They gave the nation something to cheer about in its darkest hours and exemplified the American spirit that eventually won the war.

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