Eagles land on Walk of Fame
SARANAC LAKE — A plaque celebrating the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles was unveiled July 13 as the latest installation of the village’s downtown “Walk of Fame.”
Located on the Grant Building on 43 Broadway, the plaque marks a three-year period when the franchise had a “permanent training camp” in the village.
A crowd on the sidewalk and in the street in front of the building saw a bit of Eagles history that has been passed down through generations of Saranac Lakers. A football signed by the team and coaches in 1947 had been given to Caroline Stott, who cooked for the team when they lived in the village. The football, now owned by Tina and John Clark, is a incredibly rare gem for the team.
“We lost a lot of our archives about 30 years ago,” Eagles officer Jon Ferrari said. “So the fact that this even exists is wonderful.”
The Eagles’ training camp was always a big deal for local ball players who capitalized on the opportunity of having a big-league team in town.
“Several local youngsters and a good many from other towns in this area are regular visitors morning and afternoon when the Eagles take the field for their workouts and a notebook or two has been noticed with a busy boy writing furiously as head coach Greasy Neale explains a play or big John Kellison works on a linesman,” the Aug. 13, 1948, issue of the Adirondack Daily Enterprise said.
The Eagles players and coaches were more than happy to advise the eager footballers, taking time off the field to give memorable instruction. Head coach Greasy Neale’s attention to the young athletes was described as being the same he gave his own players. The team even took a day off from their training to play an exhibition for veterans in Tupper Lake.
“The Philadelphia Eagles of the National Professional Football League came to Sunmount yesterday afternoon to put on an exhibition for the hospitalized war veterans,” the Aug. 21, 1947, edition of the Tupper Lake Free Press said. “More than 300 fans turned out to watch the Eagles … and scores of patients watched from their rooms.”
While in Saranac Lake, the team stayed at 51 (now 110) Lake St., a building dubbed the “Eagles Nest,” which belonged to the team’s owner, internationally known bobsledder Alexis Thompson. The Grant Building was previously known as the Thompson Building, as it previously belonged to the team owner as well.
Georgia Murphy, who gave the “Eagles Nest” house to her daughter Brenda Stringer, said the house still carries evidence of the team, with bunk beds and blackboards sitting in the attic and basement. They even use the team’s old benches at their kitchen table.
In 1948, coming off their last training camp in Saranac Lake, the Eagles made NFL history as the team won the first televised NFL Championship against the Chicago Cardinals.
“Maybe it was the Saranac Lake air,” Mayor Clyde Rabideau said.
Though many point out that the team has never won a Super Bowl championship, the team did take home three championship trophies before the NFC/AFC merger birthed the “Big Game.”
The 1948 Championship was played in a fierce Philadelphia blizzard. Eagles NFL Hall of Fame running back Steve Van Buren initially stayed home under the assumption the game was canceled.
“He could not get his car out of the driveway so he had to take a bus into the city, take a transfer to a train to city hall, transfer to the subway and then walk six blocks to the stadium,” according to “NFL Flashback: 1948 NFL Championship, Eagles Vs Cardinals” by Kevin McGuire on bleacherreport.com.
Making it on time, Van Buren scored the only touchdown of the game, bringing the final score to 7-0.
The Eagles’ lasting impact on Saranac Lake is not only seen in the hearts and minds of its residents but also in other franchises that then made the village their training grounds. The New York Rangers hockey team shared the “Nest” with the Eagles in 1946-48, and after the Eagles flew the coop, the New York Giants NFL team moved into their place.
The Giants are expected to receive a distinction of their own on the Walk of Fame in the future, once a location is settled upon.
In August, coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Hollywood renaissance classic “Bonnie and Clyde,” a plaque commemorating Faye Dunaway will be unveiled. Dunaway played Bonnie Parker in the film and worked at the Dew Drop Inn in the village.