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A great Eagle passes: Frank Ziegler (1923-2011)

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Godspeed to the soul of the great Frank Ziegler, who has just passed away at the age of 87…

Frank Ziegler was before my time.  But I’m pretty sure I went to high school with his kid. It’s been a long while since high school, so I can’t confirm it, but the Ziegler kid I remember looked just like the picture of Frank…and was extremely athletic.

Frank Ziegler, who played halfback for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1949 to 1953, passed away on March 6.  According to his page at pro-football-reference.com, Ziegler finished second in the NFL in rushing in 1950. He was a member of the 1949 Eagles team that finished 11-1 and won the NFL Championship.

Bob Howard-Ziegler provides us with this descriptive eulogy:

“Son to Theodore and Elizabeth Ziegler, Frank was born on October 1, 1923 in College Park, Georgia. One of  eight children, Frank from an early age pulled his own weight, and with his bicycle contributed to the family income with an Atlanta Journal paper route. He grew up learning to cooperate and share with others. He was destined to achieve great things.”

“Incredibly, at the age of 16, Frank followed his brothers’ steps by enrolling at Georgia Tech. He wanted to play football. Eventually all  seven boys of the Ziegler family earned their degree at Tech— a record still held at the college. His college and football career was placed on hold a year later, however, in 1941…. “

“As soon as he turned 17, Frank enlisted in the United States Navy, where he served nearly 4 years in the ‘Lighter Than Air Brigade.’ To remain in shape and increase his football speed, he would spend hours running in the sand along the California Sea. He grew strong and matured. He developed his competitive nature and his longing for excellence.”

“In 1946 Frank was back at Tech and quickly earned the respect and admiration of Coach Bobby Dodd. His speed, skill and versatility surprised coach Dodd, who termed Frank as ‘the best fullback Georgia Tech has had since Father Lumpkin.’ The number-35 fullback became one of the feared Doddmen and earned both ‘All Southern’ and ‘All American’ titles. Grant Field was his home. The fans labeled him such names as ‘The Zoomer’ and ‘Ziggy the Cat.’ Coaches and players at Alabama, Auburn, and Georgia coined different and less reverent names for number 35. Frank’s drive, skill and speed soon caught the attention of the NFL…”

“It was no surprise when in 1949 Frank signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles. Frank said his goodbyes and left for Eagles training camp in Wisconsin. Here his smaller 5’11”, 175 lb. frame seemed no match for the much heavier ‘play-for-pay’ football men. But on that first Sunday afternoon start against the Redskins, he was Halfback, #41, and players soon learned that superior size and weight could not always deliver against the courage and ferocity of the Zoomer. In his first year with the Eagles, Frank wound up a key part of the Eagles running offense behind Steve Van Buren. At the end of the 1950 season, he was second in total yards gained rushing in the NFL. Sports headlines around the country commonly carried stories of Frank’s tremendous performances. Frank was a part of the Eagles’ National Championship win in 1949. When asked about the future, Frank’s response was that ‘I want to play on the pro circuit for a few seasons to gain gridiron knowledge… and then coach.’ But Frank never realized his dream of becoming a football coach.”

“During his pro football career, Frank worked with his brother Bill during the offseason. Bill started Ziegler Tools in 1948 from the trunk of his car and later with the help of Frank’s sales abilities opened a store on Luckie Street near the Georgia Tech campus. It seemed everyone had heard of Frank and wanted to do business with him. His ambition to become a coach was shelved. Joining with Bill full-time, he quickly secured and developed Ziegler’s ‘Big-3′ accounts— Delta, General Motors and Lockheed. For 47 years, Frank served as the Vice President of Ziegler Tools, where he influenced and touched the lives of many. He was a dedicated man of honor and integrity who preached and lived the credo that the customer always comes first. He was usually in the office by 6 a.m. and spent many afternoons with customers on the golf course. Frank eventually became a scratch golfer and learned that golf could be both a great sales tool and way to build life-long relationships with customers. He eventually retired from Ziegler Tools and spent many years between his home in Duluth (The Stickland House) and his second home in Clarksville, Ga.  Frank continued to play golf, work in his yard and spend time with his family and dogs for many years. In 2006, Frank moved to Lanier Village Estates, an assisted-living facility in Gainesville, GA, along with his devoted wife Alice.”

“Frank is survived by his wife Alice, daughters Cindy Tupps of Conyers, Frankie McCafferty of Lawrenceville, Sandra Ziegler of Burlington, VT, Robin Burch of Kennesaw, his sons Bill Howard of Daytona Beach, FL, Bob Howard of Pensacola, FL, his brother Bill Ziegler of Marietta and his sister Betty Dunn. Frank has 11-grandchildren and 8-great grandchildren. He is loved and will be missed.”

Thanks for that beautiful tribute, Bob. 

The great sportswriter Ray Didinger, formerly of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin and the Daily News, gives us some more insight into Ziegler’s role with the Eagles:

Ziegler was a rookie on that ’49 team which was the best team in franchise history. The Eagles went 11-1 in the regular season and defeated the Los Angeles Rams, 14-0, in the championship game.

The Eagles selected the 5-11, 175-pound Ziegler in the third round of the 1949 draft. They did not need another back – they already had the league’s top rusher, Steve Van Buren, as well as veterans Bosh Pritchard, Joe Muha and Clyde Scott – but coach Greasy Neale felt Ziegler was too good to pass up.

Ziegler saw limited duty as a rookie, carrying the ball 84 times for 283 yards and one touchdown. He also played defense, intercepting one pass and returning it 16 yards. He had three carries in the championship game against the Rams.

The following year, Ziegler was given the unenviable task of replacing Van Buren when the great halfback was sidelined by an injury. Ziegler finished second among the league’s rushers that year – he had 733 yards on 172 carries – and he added 13 receptions for 216 yards, a 16.6 yard average. He led the league in touches (190), but he also fumbled 10 times.

Ziegler led all Eagles rushers again in 1951 with 418 yards on 113 carries. He played two more years with the team, retiring after the 1953 season with 1,926 rushing yards, 47 pass receptions and 15 touchdowns.

Rushing & Receiving

 

 

  Rushing Receiving
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Att Yds TD Lng Y/A Y/G A/G Rec Yds Y/R TD Lng R/G Y/G YScm RRTD Fmb AV
1949 26 PHI 10 4 84 283 1 41 3.4 28.3 8.4 3 33 11.0 0 24 0.3 3.3 316 1 4
1950 27 PHI RH 41 12 0 172 733 1 52 4.3 61.1 14.3 13 216 16.6 2 48 1.1 18.0 949 3 10 6
1951 28 PHI RH 41 12 0 113 418 2 34 3.7 34.8 9.4 8 59 7.4 0 19 0.7 4.9 477 2 6 6
1952 29 PHI 41 11 0 67 172 2 12 2.6 15.6 6.1 8 120 15.0 2 37 0.7 10.9 292 4 1 1
1953 30 PHI RH 41 12 0 83 320 5 52 3.9 26.7 6.9 15 211 14.1 0 43 1.3 17.6 531 5 2 9
Career 57 4 519 1926 11 52 3.7 33.8 9.1 47 639 13.6 4 48 0.8 11.2 2565 15 23 22

Kick & Punt Returns


Punt Returns Kick Returns
Year Age Tm Pos No. G GS Ret Yds TD Lng Y/R Rt Yds TD Lng Y/Rt APYd
1949 26 PHI 10 4 2 20 0 10 10.0 1 21 0 21 21.0 357
1950 27 PHI RH 41 12 0 3 20 0 12 6.7 10 204 0 28 20.4 1173
1952 29 PHI 41 11 0 4 82 0 27 20.5 374
Career 57 4 5 40 0 12 8.0 15 307 0 28 20.5 2912

You may think that “back-in-the-day” guys like Frank Ziegler don’t matter anymore. But you would be wrong. The guys in the late ’40′s and the ’50′s defined the direction of the NFL for the ’60′s…the ’60′s guys paved the way for the big TV money and exposure of the ’70′s and ’80′s… which leads us to where we are now in 2011. The game has not fundamentally changed that much since Frank Ziegler ran hard for the Eagles… but the televised media and money have grown bigger. Guys like Frank Ziegler made all this possible. As an Eagles fan, and an NFL football fan, I am grateful for his contribution to the sport. Even more, I’m grateful for the character and dedication he brought to the Eagles as an organization, and to his country and family. By all accounts, Ziegler was the ultimate All-American Boy…who became an elite NFL athlete… yet remained true to the small-town ideals of family and community.

 

Thomas Jackson

About Thomas Jackson

Jax Sports Media has been reporting on NFL teams in the mid-Atlantic region since 2006. Thomas Jackson is its senior writer. Tom started covering the Philadelphia Eagles for the MVN Network in 2007. In 2009 he joined the Bloguin Network. He now also covers the Baltimore Ravens.

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