Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Reverend Rankings — My 5 Favorite Players: Eagles Special Teams

With basketball and hockey on hiatus for the summer and football still a month away from real games that count, there's nothing happening except the dog days of summer. So I'll be publishing my own personal lists of my five favorite players of the four major Philadelphia sports franchises.

View the first installment on the Phillies here, the second installment on the Sixers here, the third installment on the Flyers here, the fourth installment on the Eagles defense here and the fifth installment on the Eagles offense here.

Today we tackle the third phase of football, special teams. There are guys who I would have liked to add to the list — guys like Brian Westbrook and Jeremiah Trotter — but this is guys strictly known as special teamers, guys who played most of their careers covering punts and kicks, actually doing the punting or kicking, or being part of the return teams. So without further ado, here's the list.

1. Vai Sikahema

Vai Sikahema spent just two seasons of his career in Philadelphia, his final two in fact, and didn't exactly put up huge numbers. But Vai was a very solid return man with sure hands and great vision. And the reason he's tops on my list is plain and simple … his touchdown return against in the Giants in Giants Stadium, where he then let loose on the goal posts for one of the most awesome touchdown celebrations of all time.

Clearly Vai loved his time here because the former punt and kick returner has made Philadelphia his post-football home, working at NBC 10 covering sports. Oh, and he also likes to knock people the fuck out.

2. Ike Reese

Ike was simply a special teams machine, serving as the Eagles special teams captain most of his years with the Eagles. Drafted in the fifth round of the 1998 draft out of Michigan State, Ike was a four-year starter at linebacker for the Spartans. In Philadelphia, he'd never become a starter on defense, but he quickly established himself as the leader on the special teams, becoming one of the best special team coverage tacklers in the league. He was so good, in fact, that he was named to the Pro Bowl in 2004, the year the Eagles went to the Super Bowl.

His playmaking ability became so apparent that Ike not only led the special teams, but he became an integral part of the Birds' nickel package on defense, thanks to his speed and coverage abilities. And the thing about Ike that was so special and unique was that the media would go to him, a special teamer, for quotes. His passion was unquestioned, and his confidence brought a strong presence to that locker room.

After two forgettable seasons in Atlanta to wrap up his career, Ike has returned to Philadelphia, working for 610 WIP as a sports talk radio host. While his work on radio is rather unimpressive, Ike is still a beloved character here in the city, and you can see him just about anywhere. Personally, I've seen the guy at the Wachovia Center during Sixers games more times than I can count, and he always takes the time to embrace fans.

3. Brian MItchell

I'm not quite sure how I should feel about having a guy who will forever be remembered as a Washington Redskin on the list, but Brian Mitchell's three seasons with the Eagles were enough to make me really appreciate this former Eagle killer.

Used to a return game that was stale, Mitchell came here and helped transform the Eagles special teams. In first season, he returned a punt and kickoff for touchdowns, setting the tone for what was to come. In all, he finished with four touchdown returns in three seasons, more than any other Eagle I can remember. And he led the way on coverage teams as well, showing no fear.

And for a brief moment in the final game at the Vet, Brian Mitchell had us all believing the Eagles were going to the Super Bowl, taking the opening kickoff 70 yards to set up Duce Staley's 20-yard touchdown run.

Never flashy, Mitchell was a north-south return man who would run by you or over you. He is the all-time leader in punt return yards with 4,999, second in punt return touchdowns with 9 (behind Eric Metcalf's 10), first in kickoff yards with 14,014, nearly 3,500 more than the next closest guy, and he's second all time in most combined yards gained ever, sitting at 23,330 yards, trailing only Jerry Rice's 23,546. I know special teamers don't often make the Hall of Fame, but Brian Mitchell should.

4. David Akers

David Akers is the most accomplished kicker in Eagles history. He's the franchise leader in field goals made, blowing everyone else out of the water with his 230 makes. He's among the all-time NFL leaders in field goal percentage, currently sitting at 81 percent, and he's made three Pro Bowls and been named First Team All-Pro once.

In recent years, Akers has had some troublesome stretches, but he's been damn good for a long time, and for a long while, he had one of the most reliable legs from 50-plus yards. That David Akers isn't around anymore, but he's still a very good kicker that rarely misses the big kick.

Plus, the guy isn't afraid to get dirty. How many times has Akers made a touchdown-saving tackle? And who can forget his dive when he was already well past the first down marker on that awesome fake field goal flip? David Akers isn't your typical kicker.

5. Vaughn Hebron

Vaughn Hebron had a short career in the NFL, playing just five seasons. His first two were as an Eagle, where he played for a not so great team, seeing most of his time as a kick returner, and also getting some spot duty in the backfield. To be honest, Hebron's numbers aren't very impressive, at least not with the Eagles. But I remember really liking the guy because he seemed to give a damn, and frankly, his name was pretty sweet.

Of course, Vaughn left Philadelphia in 1996, spending his final three seasons in Denver as their kick returner, winning a Super Bowl in 1998 and putting up good numbers each of his three seasons out west.

Now Vaughn, much like Vai, is back in town working for the Eagles pre- and post-game shows, proving that if you were a return man for the Eagles and your first name begins with a V, you will spend your retired days talking sports in Philadelphia.

Special shoutout to Koy Detmer, who is rumored to be the greatest holder in franchise history.

David Akers misses you Koy.

BallHype: hype it up!


  1. Classic post...here are my thoughts.

    #1. Vai Sikahema is a legend by any measure. If you ask any football fan who's an 80's baby they immediately know who he is. And he was RAW AS HELL on Tecmo Bowl.

    #3. Brian Mitchell is one of the top 5 greatest returners in NFL History, great choice.

    #5. I remember watching Vaughan Hebron at VTech thinking he was gonna tear up the league, at least he got him a ring.


  2. I don't see how Brian Mitchell doesn't make the Hall with all those yards. He was a clear difference maker in the league.

  3. WHAT??? No love for Tim Hauck??? He was a freakin beast, but instead you got a list full of pansies (except for ike). Special Teams is meant to run full force downfield and knock someone out of their cleats.

  4. I gotta tell ya, big, big oversight on my part for forgetting Hauck. I think the reason is most of his most deadly hits came while playing safety, either in place of injured Dawk or in spot duty. Huge oversight though. Hauck would definitely supplant Vaughn.

  5. I want a written retraction along with a bunch of tim hauck clips. Then you will be stoned for 2.5 hours and then maybe you will be forgiven

  6. i want to win the lottery, so take that for what it's worth

  7. Oh, and you see Vai drop Jose Canseco like a fucking rock? I dare you to call him a pussy to his face.

  8. No love for Considine, G-Lew, or Vai's cousin Reno?

    But seriously, what about Papale?

  9. I'm 25, never saw Papale play. But I though Invincible was overrated.

  10. Reno Mahe was the worst player to get playing time for the birds, EVER!!!

  11. Reno was real good at making fair catches … also, I'm pretty sure Mark Simoneau and/or Matt McCoy were the worst.