Analysis. History. Perspective.

Sports Then and Now

Wilbert Montgomery

Posted on January 01, 2010 by Dean Hybl
Wilbert Montgomery

Wilbert Montgomery

As we prepare for the NFL Playoffs, we remember as the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month a running back that enjoyed a tremendous playoff run to lead his team to their first-ever Super Bowl appearance.

Though only 5-foot-10, Wilbert Montgomery was a workhorse running back during his career playing primarily for the Philadelphia Eagles.

A sixth round choice in the 1977 NFL Draft out of Abilene Christian University, Montgomery saw action primarily as a kick returner during his rookie year, but he gained 103 yards as the Eagles defeated the New York Jets 27-0 in the final game of the regular season.

That performance proved to be the prelude to a great streak for both Montgomery and the Eagles.

In 1978 Montgomery moved into the starting lineup and earned his first Pro Bowl trip by rushing for 1,220 yards with an average of 4.7 yards per attempt. The Eagles posted a 9-7 record and reached the playoffs for the first time in 18 years.

The following season, the Eagles finished with an 11-5 record and Montgomery was one of the best running backs in the league. He rushed for a career-high 1,512 yards to rank fourth in the NFL. He also caught 41 passes for 494 yards and led the NFL with 2,006 yards from scrimmage.

Injuries hampered Montgomery during the 1980 regular season as he played in only 12 games and rushed for 778 yards while catching 50 passes. Even with Montgomery missing significant action, the Eagles finished with a 12-4 record to win the NFC East Division and the top seed in the NFC Playoffs.

By the time the playoffs came along, Montgomery was healthy and ready to help the Eagles advance through the playoffs. He rushed for 74 yards and two touchdowns in an opening round victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

In the NFC Championship Game, he rushed for a record 194 yards as the Eagles defeated the Dallas Cowboys 20-7 to advance to their first Super Bowl. Montgomery opened the scoring with a 42-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and also had a 55-yard run in the game.

The Eagles lost the Super Bowl to the Oakland Raiders, but Montgomery had 44 yards rushing and 91 yards receiving in the game.

Montgomery registered the third 1,000-yard season of his career in 1981 as he gained 1,402 yards rushing. He also caught 49 passes for 521 yards. The Eagles finished with a 10-6 record to make the playoffs for the fourth straight season. However, they lost to the New York Giants in their only playoff game.

In the strike-shortened 1982 season, Montgomery rushed for 515 yards, but the Eagles finished with a 3-6 record to miss the playoffs.

After injuries limited him to only five games in 1983, Montgomery rebounded in 1984 to rush for 789 yards and catch a career-high 60 passes for 501 yards.

Montgomery finished his career with the Detroit Lions in 1985.

For his career, Montgomery gained 6,789 yards rushing, which ranked 14th in NFL history at the time of his retirement. He also caught 273 passes for 2,502 yards and scored 58 career touchdowns.

Interestingly, Wilbert was one of four brothers to play college or professional football. The most notable of the brothers was Cleo, who played six years in the NFL and earned a Super Bowl ring with the Los Angeles Raiders in 1984.

Since his retirement, Montgomery has developed into a successful NFL assistant coach. He was the running back coach for the St. Louis Rams during their championship run in the late 1990s. He is currently the running back coach for the Baltimore Ravens.

Each month you can help decide which former sports great is recognized as the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month by nominating your favorite athletes from the past. If you would like one of your favorites of the past to be honored as the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month, please send me you nomination by e-mail.

A Look at Montgomery’s Touchdown Run Against the Cowboys in the NFC Championship Game:

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