PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The Eagles have been lucky over the years to have had more than their fair share of great defensive ends. One of the best was Carl “Big Daddy” Hairston, who was a key member of the team that went to Super Bowl XV following the 1980 season.
Hairston has since spent more than 15 years as a coach. He is currently the defensive line coach for Sacramento, of the upstart UFL. He was in the Delaware Valley recently working at an elite football camp.
Hairston did not arrive in Philadelphia with a lot of fanfare. He was a seventh-round pick in the 1976 draft (coming to Philadelphia along with a young coach named Dick Vermeil).
Hairston says it didn’t take long to see that Vermeil was the man to turn a woeful franchise around.
“One thing Coach Vermeil brought was, he brought the work ethic — he brought the toughest part of football back,” Hairston recalls. “He taught playing as a team, and I think that’s what the Eagles were missing through the years — some guys were doing their own thing. But Coach Vermeil came in, he weeded some players out, and he got the players that he wanted to help him win.”
However, Hairston says, early on it looked like he might be one of those players getting weeded out.
“When I was a rookie coming in, Coach Vermeil told me the first day, ‘You’ll never make this football team.’ I came from a small school (Maryland-Eastern-Shore). I almost packed my bags and left that day, but I told myself, ‘You’re not a quitter.’ So I kind of took what he said and put it on my shoulders and worked hard every day.”
And slowly but surely, Hairston’s hard work started to pay off:
“I knew I was going to be a good player when he came up to me the last cut and said, ‘I’m going to take a chance on you and keep you.’ My words for Coach Vermeil were, ‘I’m not gonna let you down.’ ”
And Hairston didn’t. He went on to become a key member of what would become an excellent Eagles’ defense. In 1978, they made the playoffs for the first time in nearly two decades, and then in 1979, Hairston says, they reached the moment when they crossed over and really became a special team:
“We were playing the Pittsburgh Steelers, they had all those great players. We beat them (17-14) in Philadelphia, and all of a sudden we believed that we could win because we beat the great Pittsburgh Steelers. And all of a sudden from that point on, we just started growing, growing, and growing — just got better and better. Everybody got on the same page.”
And that Eagles teams of the late ’70s and early ’80s captured the heart of the city.
“It was fun to walk around town and have people recognize who you are and recognize that we were a hard-working, blue-collar football team,” Hairston says.
Hear Matt Leon’s full interview with Carl “Big Daddy” Hairston in this CBS Philly SportsPod…
Of course the peak for that group came in 1980, when the Eagles, at long last, went to the Super Bowl, beating the hated Dallas Cowboys, 20-7, in the NFC Championship game to do it.
Hairston still smiles when he talks about that win at Veterans Stadium:
“When we beat the Cowboys in that championship game… When I watch that game periodically I say to myself, ‘Man, we beat the great Dallas Cowboys. And we outplayed them. In every category.’ If you play as one, you can beat anybody.”
The Eagles would fall short in Super Bowl XV, but that team would forever hold a spot in Philadelphia lore. Hairston would stay with the Eagles through the 1983 season before moving on to Cleveland for six seasons.
He would wrap up his career in 1990 with a season in Phoenix and finally win a Super Bowl ring as a coach on staff for Dick Vermeil in St. Louis, following the 1999 season.
Reported by Matt Leon, KYW Newsradio 1060