The Confusing History Of The Philadelphia Eagles' First Quarterback

The 2022-2024 football season was a banner year for Philadelphia sports and as a testament to this, the Eagles made it to the Superbowl for the second time (fourth time overall) since their 2018 win (via Philadelphia Eagles). There's no denying the all-around athleticism of the entire 2022-2023 team lineup. However, according to NBC Sports, quarterback Jalen Hurts was awarded a great deal of hard-earned praise for his efforts as a team player both on and off the field.

So, this one is for the quarterbacks who carry the weight of entire cities on their heavily-padded shoulders. Philadelphia has been bleeding green with great quarterbacks for decades, almost a century to be exact (per Britannica). There was Nick Foles, who made history as the first backup quarterback to snag a Superbowl ring since passing touchdowns champion Tom Brady (per NBC Sports). There was fan favorite Donovan McNabb, who won CBS Radio's NFL Player of the Year title in 2000, according to The Bleacher Report. If you dig back far enough in the crates you'll even find Hall-of-Famer Sonny Jurgensen on the Eagles roster (via CBS Sports). If you dig even further back, to the very first quarterback in Eagles history, what you will find in place of a name, is a mystery.

The American Eagles became a team in 1933

According to the NFL website, the National Football League was founded in 1920, but back then it only boasted 14 teams in total. Pro Football HOF reports that the Philadelphia Eagles joined the league in 1933 after its predecessor, the Frankford Yellow Jackets franchise, wound up in the hands of Philly-based businessmen Bert Bell and Lud Wray. At the time, the franchise was purchased for just $2,500 and it would be years before anyone realized the team's true potential, or even the true potential of the sport, for that matter.

The Eagles' inaugural season record was 3-5-1 (via Stats Crew). Under the guidance of Coach Ludlow Ray, who was, incidentally, the very first coach of the Boston Braves the year before (per American Football), the Eagles finished fourth in their division. A total of 34 players' names were on the roster, according to the Pro Football Reference.

Early American football was an ever-changing sport at that time (via Operations NFL). It took a backseat to other athletic spectacles like baseball in its early years. The rules of the game were different back then and positions weren't exactly set in stone. Due to this inconsistency, the title of "first Eagles quarterback" is a tough one to tackle.

Red Kirkman was a starting quarterback for the Eagles in 1933

There are several fan-based websites, such as American Football database, that list a man by the name of Roger Randolph Kirkman as the starting quarterback for the Eagles' inaugural year. Weighing in at 6'1 and 195 pounds, the West Virginia native was lovingly referred to by friends and fans as "Red".

Kirkman definitely played a major role on the team. According to Pro Football Archives, he was such a team player that he took to the field to play at least eight different positions between 1933 and 1935. Given the nature of the game at that time, this was neither unusual nor unlikely (via Operations NFL). One of the positions Kirkman played was, indeed, that of quarterback. But just because Red Kirkman was a starting quarterback for the Eagles in their first year does not automatically mean he was the first quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles. In fact, the official 1933 Eagles roster tells a tale of another man entirely (per Pro Football Reference).

Porter Lainhart is listed as the official quarterback for the Eagles in 1933

When you view the 1933 Eagles roster (via Pro Football Reference), you find that Red Kirkman is in the lineup, playing several positions for a couple of years. However, the abbreviation for quarterback (QB) that year is next to a different name — Porter Lainhart. According to the American Football Database, Porter Lainhart was indeed, also the quarterback for the Eagles in 1933.

This World War II Veteran hailing from Washington State College doesn't have nearly as many stats or accolades to show as the above-listed contender Red Kirkman. He doesn't have a years-long track record of playing for the Eagles, or any other team, for that matter. His NFL statistical average is a meager 20 yards, according to the NFL website. In fact, he has no regular or post-season appearances to note. That said, the 6'1 180-pound mystery player Porter Lainhart is still in the running as the possible first-ever Eagles quarterback.

But here's the catch...

Porter Lainhart only played 1 game

According to the NFL archives and several fan-based websites, Porter Lainhart only played one game. After that, the trail goes cold and there is nothing on the internet about him or why he only played one game. Did he get injured? Did he have to return to the military for some reason? Did he get into an argument with someone on the team? One can only speculate since there is little information between his short-lived football career, his long-standing marriage and military service, and his 1991 death (per Find a Grave).

Furthermore, there is conflicting evidence regarding which position he played during that single professional football game where he represented the Eagles. He is listed as quarterback on the roster (via Pro Football Reference), but according to the NFL , he was a blocking back. The story unravels in a very surreal manner, like the football version of the movie "Field of Dreams." 

It all boils down to which game and position Porter Lainhart played

At the end of the day, the questionable identity of the first Eagles quarterback relies on several vital pieces of missing information. Firstly, it's imperative to know if that one game Porter Lainhart played (per Pro Football Archives) was the first game in Eagles' history. Secondly, it's just as important to know if he actually played the game as quarterback or if he was only listed as such on the paperwork (via Pro Football Reference). If it was the first game and he played it as the quarterback, then technically, Porter Lainhart was the first Eagles quarterback.

If it wasn't the first game or if he played as the blocking back, then perhaps Red Kirkman, who played several positions, was the first Eagles quarterback. Given the interchangeable nature of the positions and the game itself (via Operations NFL), the contenders are in no way limited to only these two key players. In truth, the first Eagles quarterback could have been any of the 34 players listed on the team's roster during that inaugural year.

Oftentimes, we revel in the wonder of becoming a sports legend, an athletic pioneer. In the case of yesteryear's illustrious football players, it's clear that sometimes the true price of being a trailblazer is trailing off into the dust long forgotten, despite paving the way for some of the greatest players of all time.