Son of an Eagle

December 17, 2013 2:22 pm0 commentsViews: 495
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SonOfEagle-1When Joe Ferrante was born, every player on the Philadelphia Eagles signed an honorary football and sent it off to the hospital to lie with him in his bassinet. Life is different for the son of an Eagle.

Joe’s father, Jack Ferrante, was a member of that 1944 Eagles team. In fact, he was the starting left end, a remarkable all-around athlete who had never attended college but so dominated the local sandlot leagues that Bert Bell, then the owner of the Eagles, invited him in for a tryout. It was the start of a seven year NFL career in which Jack started every game but one and helped the Eagles win the NFL Championship two years in a row (’48 and ’49) under legendary coach Greasy Neale. He played alongside such Eagles legends as Steve Van Buren and Chuck Bednarik, and shared the field with great contemporaries including Otto Graham, Lou Groza, Sammy Baugh and Whizzer White. He was named to the NFL’s All-Decade team for the 1940’s.

Jack had dropped out of high school in 10th grade to go to work at the local A&P supermarket. At age 17 he began to play sandlot ball, in and around his West Philadelphia neighborhood. “He could play every sport,” said Joe. “He was offered contracts by the Yankees in baseball and the Celtics in basketball.”

But football was his first love. At 6’1” and 220 pounds, with power and breakaway speed, Jack Ferrante was born to play the game. By the time he retired in 1950, he had amassed 169 career receptions and 31 touchdowns—at a time when the running attack was still much preferred over the forward pass by most teams.

“When he retired,” said Joe (photo left), “the Eagles gave him a brand new mint-green Cadillac Convertible.” Shortly after, Jack began to referee at Catholic League high school games. In 1953 he became head coach of the just-launched Monsignor Bonner High School football team. Just six years later, he guided the team to its first City Championship.

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Jack Ferrante with Bert Bell.

During his illustrious career and even afterward, Jack’s son Joe enjoyed the perks that came with having a star Eagles player for a Dad. “In second grade, after school,” he said, “I used to bring all my friends out to Shibe Park to watch practice. We used to run around in the stands.” And, up until Jack’s death in 2006 at age 90, the Ferrante family enjoyed four free season tickets to every Eagles home game.

There were some downsides, Joe admits. While playing quarterback for Springfield High School in Delaware County, Joe once had his teeth knocked out in a game against Haverford High. The Springfield coach pulled Joe from the game. But Jack, who had been watching from the stands, sent a doctor to the locker room with orders to “stitch him up.” The doctor did, sewing up Joe’s gums right then and there without anesthetic—after which the coach sent Joe back into the game. Joe chuckles now at the memory of his father’s tough love. “He was a real Mike Ditka type,” he said.

A fine athlete in his own right, Joe excelled on the football field not only for Springfield but later for the College of Wooster in Ohio, where he set a school record with a 91-yard kickoff return. “Whenever the newspapers would mention me, they would always add ‘son of Jack Ferrante.”

Joe moved to Levittown in 1970 to take a job at Rohm and Haas.  In the latter years of Jack’s life, Joe and his sister Jacquie had their hands full. Jack suffered not only from damaged hips but neurologically as well, with many of the symptoms that have become all too common among former NFL players—mood swings, irascibility, forgetfulness. “For all but the final year of his career,” said Joe, “he wore only a leather helmet with no facemask.”

Joe looks back with love and gratitude at all that came with being the Son of an Eagle. He still wears, on special occasions, his father’s NFL Championship ring (photo below), with an inset diamond, emblazoned with a soaring Eagle. “There are only 22 of these in the world,” he said. “Only the starters got them.”SonOfEagle-2

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