Bert Bell learned many lessons from the wins and losses he experienced as a football player at Franklin Field.  He used these lessons on a daily basis for many years even after his last game as a Quaker.


Bell served as the quarterback for the Penn football team from 1915-19.  In 1916, he helped Penn to a 7-6-1 record and its first and only appearance at the Rose Bowl.  Under first-year head coach Bob Folwell, the Quakers lost to Oregon, 14-0 on January 1, 1917.  A four-year letterman for the Red and Blue, Bell captained the team in 1919 to a 6-2-1 record, which included an 89-0 win over Delaware on October 11.


After graduation, Bell could not get the game of football out of his blood.  He served as an assistant coach at Penn, then at Temple and then again at Penn, under legendary coach John Heisman.  Bell wasn’t satisfied with collegiate football though.  After being cut off from his wealthy aristocrat father, Bell married a Ziegfeld Follies star, borrowed $2,500 from her and, along with two others, bought the Frankford Yellowjackets of the National Football League.  Bell renamed the team, the Philadelphia Eagles, and moved them to Center City, where they played at Memorial field and Franklin Field.  After several losing seasons, and poor attendance at the contests, Bell came up with the idea of a draft for top-ranked players coming out of college.


“Bert’s bitter experience down in the league cellar was what led to the NFL draft, in which the worst teams got to those the best players out of college.  What Bert realized down there at the bottom was that unless the poorer teams survived, the league itself wouldn’t and the only way for the poorer teams to make it was the give them a change to equalize the talent.” – An excerpt from Upton Bell’s article titled “Any Given Sunday,” published in Philadelphia Magazine, September 2000.


Bell’s inordinate sense of the game, stemming from participating as a player, spectator, coach and owner, propelled him into the commissioner’s position of the NFL in 1946.  At that time, the NFL was in a bitter battle with the All-American Conference with gusto, merging the two warring conferences, inventing sudden-death overtime and televising night games, and with those innovations, became the first person inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1963.


During his tenure as NFL Commissioner from 1946-59, Bell raised his players’ salaries, increased game attendance by 100 percent, established far-sighted television policies and enforced strict anti-gambling codes.  He had a profound impact upon professional football, transforming the NFL from a fledgling league into the premier organization it is today.


Bert Bell, at 65 years of age, died in the place that first gave him so much pleasure, Franklin Field.  He was there watching a game between his two former teams, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 11, 1959.  The famed legend of professional football was missed dearly by everyone involved at one point or another with the sport, and is remembered ever since by what he gave to the game every day of his life – his heart.

“The modern football icon is Vince Lombardi, the great Packers coach for whom winning wasn’t everything, it was the only thing.  But Bert’s lessons were different, and to my mind, more fundamental, and more truly American.  He was a tough man, a fighter, a competitor to his toes.  But he knew that losing was as much a part of his life as winning; in the early days, his beloved Eagles regularly finished at the bottom.  He had an innate feel for the underdog, and an understanding that for the enterprise to flourish, the weak had to be protected, and the field had to be level.  Everyone had to have a shot.” –Upton Bell