A HIGH-FLYING TRADITION
Pete Retzlaff is the gold standard for Philadelphia Eagles tight ends. The only Philly tight end with his number retired, Pistol Pete played all 11 seasons in Philly, and he currently sits second on the franchise’s all-time receiving list, and of course No. 1 among tight ends.
Also known as The Baron, Retzlaff made five Pro Bowls amassed 7,412 receiving yards and 47 scores over his career. Oddly enough, his best campaign came in his penultimate season, when he tallied 1,190 yards and 10 touchdowns, earning him NFL MVP honors, then known as the Bert Bell Award, for 1965.
He was also part of Philly’s 1960 NFL Championship squad, and he is not only an Eagles legend, but he is also one of the greatest tight ends in the history of the league.
“Pete Retzlaff was the first great tight end in Eagles history at a time when the position was still developing as a role in an offense. He was a great player and helped pave a path for the rest of us, not just as Philadelphia tight ends, but NFL tight ends as a group. Knowing how long this franchise has been around, to be the Eagles’ record holder is pretty special and to this day, Pete has all the tight end records in Eagles history. He is somebody that I hope to be able to put my name next to before my career is over.”
Similar to Jackson, Keith Byars was a highly touted prospect throughout his road to Philly, and he was selected in the first round of the 1986 draft. But unlike Jackson, Byars wasn’t just a tight end.
He also played fullback and was an incredible dual-threat skill player. He played in Philly for seven years, tallying 3,532 receiving yards, 2,672 rushing yards and 30 combined touchdowns. He earned one Pro Bowl honor in 1993, but the versatility he displayed over his career made him a legend in Philly and across the NFL.
“He was a great pass catcher out of the backfield or from the line of scrimmage,” Zach says of Byars. “He kind of did it all for the franchise, being a fullback and a tight end for several years. The fact that he was able to play multiple positions all that time speaks to his versatility and that’s an invaluable attribute to have in an offensive player.”
Keith Jackson was a legend for Philly in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but before that, he was a stud in high school in the state of Arkansas, and then for the University of Oklahoma. He earned All-America honors at both levels, and eventually a No. 13 overall draft selection by the Eagles.
He played four years in Philly and was All Pro for his first three seasons. Jackson finished with his career with more than 5,000 receiving yards and 49 touchdowns, and 2,756 yards and 20 scores came during his incredible stint catching passes from Randall Cunningham in an Eagles uniform.
“Keith Jackson is really the standard bearer for tight ends in the Philadelphia Eagles organization,” Zach says. “When the Eagles took him 13th overall in the 1988 draft, it was highest pick the team has ever used on a tight end. He went on to have an All-Pro career and was one of the most consistently excellent players in the history of the franchise. He was one of the first two great Philadelphia Eagles tight ends, still ranks highly on team’s all-time list for receiving statistics and set the stage for what the organization expects from the tight end position.”
Chad Lewis’s was an incredible story. He went from a walk-on at Brigham Young to going undrafted in 1997, but after being picked up by Philadelphia, he caught four touchdowns while filling a goal-line role, but his first stint was short and lackluster. After a quick trip to St. Louis, Lewis returned to Philly and his career took off.
He quickly became one of McNabb’s most trusted security blankets, and he earned three trips to the Pro Bowl from 2000-2002. He caught a dozen of his career 23 touchdowns in that span. Then in the 2005, he etched his name into Philly lore by hauling in two touchdowns, including the game-clinching score, to send the Eagles to the Super Bowl.
“He was a big part of the franchise’s success in the early 2000s and went to three Pro Bowls for the Eagles,” Zach sais of Lewis. “Being a Pro Bowl tight end in Philly is a huge accomplishment. He was kind of the all-around package for the team at that time, not only a very good receiving tight end but just a great tight end overall.”
Drafted in the fifth round in 2007 out of Cincinnati, Brent Celek has since solidified himself as one of the greatest tight ends in Eagles history.
He finished the 2014 campaign at No. 11 on the all-time Eagles receiving list and second among tight ends, tallying 4,315 yards and 244 receptions over 127 games. He has also pulled down 27 touchdowns and has averaged a solid 34 yards per game—missing just one game in his eight-year career.
“It’s been great learning from Brent,” Zach says. “Watching the way that he approaches blocking has been huge for me. Receiving has always come very natural to me, but I’m putting a lot of hard work into the blocking side of my game, and to see a guy like that who’s so good at blocking each and every day, I think that is going pay dividends for me for a long time.”
From the moment he entered the league, he has been one of Philly’s most consistent receiving options, and he plays a big blocking role in the squad’s always important ground game. His career has led him to catch passes from Donovan McNabb, Michael Vick and Nick Foles, and now entering his ninth year, he acts as one of Zach’s biggest mentors both on and off the field.
“He’s the ultimate team player. He’ll do everything to win. He was a very successful receiving tight end earlier in his career and now he’s turned into probably the best blocking tight end in the game. He’s a true pro that would do anything that the team needs to win.”