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The Steagles--How the NFL Responded to World War II

(Image: Priceonomics)

During World War II, almost all able-bodied young men entered military service, either as volunteers or draftees.

So who played professional football?

That became a serious problem for two teams in particular: the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Philadelphia Eagles. These teams lost so many players that they had to merge into one team known as the Steagles.

Problem solved, right? Wrong. Most of the men who served on the Steagles and other World War II-era teams got their jobs because they were physically unfit to serve in the military. These professional football players were often half-deaf, half-blind, or had ulcers or hernias. Zachary Crockett describes their challenges at Priceonomics:

Bill Hewitt, who was excused from military service for a “perforated eardrum” and served as the Steagles’ defensive end during the 1943 season, was so guilt-ridden that he quit the team mid-season, and went to go work in a milk factory.

Other Steagles players faced more pressing medical problems: Tony Bova, the receiver, “was completely blind in one eye and partially blind in the other. Two of his teammate, Ed Michaels and Ray Graves, were entirely deaf in one ear. John Butler, who, as tailback, was required to run dozens of offensive lines per game, had arthritis in his knees. In a wide variety of respects, the Steagles team was riddled with ailments.

-via VA Viper


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