Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)
Former Eagle shares fond memories
John Spagnola looks back on NFL career, Super Bowl experience
More than 42 years later, John Spagnola still vividly remembers the victory that sent the Philadelphia Eagles to their first Super Bowl.
Playing for his “hometown” team, the second-year tight end was a member of the Eagles squad that defeated Dallas 20-7 on Jan. 11, 1981, in the NFC Championship Game amid a wind chill of minus 3 at Veterans Stadium.
“The high point (of my career) was being on the field post-NFC championship win over Dallas,” Spagnola said. “It was just a physical beating of an opponent that the Philly fans really liked. We beat them up defensively, turned the ball over and ran the ball down their throats.”
Spagnola spoke about playing in Philadelphia’s first Super Bowl appearance in 1981, Sunday’s big game featuring the Eagles and the Kansas City Chiefs and several other topics on Tuesday during and after a lecture at the McFarland Student Union on the campus of Kutztown University.
Spagnola, a native of Bethlehem, graduated from Bethlehem Catholic and Yale before going on to play in the NFL for 10 seasons. He spent his first eight seasons with Philadelphia, his favorite team as a kid growing up in the Lehigh Valley, before playing a season each in Seattle and Green Bay.
“It was a hoot to be able to be in Philly,” Spagnola said. “(To) have family and friends come to games and share in that experience with me, it was a lot of fun.”
In his second year in the league in 1980, Spagnola played in all 16 games, recording 18 receptions for 193 yards and three touchdowns. Philadelphia went 12-4 before beating Minnesota and Dallas in the playoffs enroute to the franchise’s first Super Bowl ap
The Eagles were defeated by the Oakland Raiders 2710 in Super Bowl XV, which was held at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. Spagnola said he still thinks on a weekly basis about several key plays that determined the outcome of the game, and will never forget the spectacle of the event.
“There’s so much pomp and pageantry, and you just have to separate all that out somehow,” Spagnola said. “(Running out of the tunnel), there was smoke in the air and it was like a night club.”
With all the excitement surrounding the game, Spagnola remembers that the crowd inside the building was not very energetic.
“It’s not like you have this feeling of hometown advantage, or the roar of the crowd against you,” Spagnola said. “It never got loud to the point where you felt like we were in hostile territory or in friendly territory.”
Spagnola led the NFC in receptions by a tight end in 1984 and 1985, and was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate in both seasons. In his eight seasons with Philadelphia, Spagnola had 256 catches for 2,833 yards and 14 touchdowns.
“I was able to get stronger and faster even though I was a young adult,” Spagnola said about the key to his lengthy career. “It was nothing more than developing, both mentally and physically.”
Before his playing days were over, Spagnola began to work in finance, starting at the First Boston Corporation in 1984. Spagnola also served as a player representative of the National Football League Players Association while he was a member of the Eagles and was later an executive vice president of the NFLPA.
“I wanted to leave football before football left me,” Spagnola said about transitioning from pro football to the business world. “A lot of guys hang on too long.”
Spagnola is now the managing director of PFM Asset Management in Philadelphia, an investment advisor that is a subsidiary of U.S. Bank. PFM Asset Management partners with both public sector and non-profit institutions to build flexible investment solutions, according to its LinkedIn page.
“Our business of asset management is not unlike sports, you win and you lose,” Spagnola said. “It’s very black-and-white, there’s not a lot of nuance to evaluating performance.”
While Spagnola now studies the economy and stock market instead of a playbook, he said his time in the NFL has benefitted him in his business career.
“I played and became very good friends with people who I had not much in common with, at least (with) our backgrounds,” Spagnola said. “That allows me to connect with people with different backgrounds to this day. Everybody is unique, and I think it’s really incumbent on you if you want to build a relationship, (you need) to understand that person.”
Spagnola still follows the NFL closely, and said he enjoys watching today’s offensive systems and formations.
“The offensive innovations have just been fascinating for me to watch,” Spagnola said. “That’s everevolving; you just think that at some point you would have seen it all.”
Spagnola also appreciates watching today’s tight ends, a position that has evolved greatly over the past four decades. Spagnola had 65 catches in 1984 and 64 in 1985, the seasons he led the conference in receptions by a tight end. In 2022, six NFL tight ends had at least 60 receptions.
“I would love to play today,” Spagnola said about today’s tight ends. “They’re part of the passing game, and they’re getting mismatches (in coverage).”
The 2022 leader in receptions among tight ends was Travis Kelce of Kansas City, which will take on Philadelphia Sunday at 6:30 p.m. in Glendale, Ariz. This year’s edition of the Super Bowl is the first to feature a pair of brothers playing against each other, as Travis Kelce will face older brother Jason Kelce, the starting center for the Eagles.
While not the Super Bowl, one of Spagnola’s favorite football memories was playing against his brother, Larry Spagnola, in “The Game,” the YaleHarvard rivalry matchup in 1976. John Spagnola was the tight end for the Bulldogs, while his brother was the center for the Crimson.
“We were the Kelce brothers before they were even born,” John Spagnola said with a chuckle. “We (Yale) prevailed, which I never let him forget.”
Spagnola is a big fan of this year’s Eagles team, especially their offensive and defensive lines. Philadelphia is looking to capture its second Super Bowl title in franchise history after winning Super Bowl LII over New England on Feb. 4, 2018.
“I think they can dominate the game and dictate time of possession, running the ball, and scoring,” Spagnola said about the offensive line. “The defensive line for the Eagles is strong with the rotation they have and the pass pressure they bring. Most of the time, games are won in the trenches, and I think the Eagles have the advantage on both sides of the football.”
While he is excited for the Philadelphia players, some of whom he said he knows personally, Spagnola said he is also thrilled for the city.
“It’s so exciting to see the fan base that’s so unique be rewarded again for their loyalty,” Spagnola said. “I’m excited for the city.”