ED MAHAN: 50 YEARS AS THE EAGLES’ EYE
THE FIRST TEAM PHOTOGRAPHER SHARES A LIFETIME OF MEMORIES BEHIND THE LENS
BY GRAHAM FOLEY
2019 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES GAMEDAY MAGAZINE 21
An afternoon of stories from Ed Mahan will
leave an Eagles fan in awe and a football
historian fumbling for extra notepaper.
After 50 years as the Eagles’ team
photographer – the first in franchise
history – those stories add up ...
and up ... and up.
And if you’re lucky enough to sit down
with Mahan one day, you won’t hear
him brag or name-drop as he recounts
experiences that will leave Eagles fans
green with envy. Instead, you’ll hear
about how lucky he feels to have worked
the best job in the world.
“You’ve got to pinch yourself once in a
while,” Mahan says. “The time blends
together and it goes so quickly. But I’ve just
been so blessed to do what I love and have
fun doing it.”
He’ll tell you how it all started while
painting the house of former Eagles
general manager Jimmy Murray. Mahan
was looking for work after he returned
from Bronze Star service in Vietnam,
where he picked up photography as
a hobby. Murray and Art Mahan, Ed’s
father, became close friends working
together at Villanova. Murray was the
sports information director and Art Mahan
worked as the Wildcats’ baseball coach.
Murray heard of Mahan’s new passion,
saw his work from overseas, and told him
they needed someone for the Eagles’ last
game of the regular season – December
20, 1970 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Mahan’s first game for the Eagles was the
last game at Franklin Field.
The Eagles were impressed by his work.
In the spring, Mahan picked up his next
opportunity when he followed his dad to
Houston and photographed Villanova’s
battle against John Wooden-led UCLA in
the 1971 NCAA National Championship in
men’s basketball. It was a pretty good start
to his career.
“Talk about being fortunate,” Mahan says.
“I was covering these high-level events just
as I started in the business.”
At that time, the Eagles had no dedicated
team photographer. It was not a common
practice in the NFL. A Rolodex – remember
those? – sat in the Eagles’ office from
which freelance photographers were
called upon on a game-by-game basis.
The Eagles ditched the rotation and hired
Mahan at the outset of the 1971 season.
Mahan was the first full-time photographer
in Eagles’ history and one of the first in the
league. He worked every home game and
coordinated all team photos. But Mahan
will tell you he didn’t truly know he was a
photographer until Pope John Paul II came
to Philadelphia in 1979.
Mahan tagged along with Murray to the
Benjamin Franklin Parkway to see the
pope and take pictures. When the pope
took a detour and walked right by Murray,
he stopped and blessed his son (named
John Paul after the pope). Through the
shock and excitement, Mahan stayed
calm and snapped a remarkable photo
that was featured the following week on
Monday Night Football.
He’ll also tell you about the time he made
history by grabbing the only still images of
Herman Edwards’ fumble return to beat
the New York Giants in 1978, dubbed the
“Miracle of the Meadowlands.” Every
other photographer had packed up and
gone to the dark room to develop their
shots. Not only did the victory formation
become a staple in offensive playbooks,
but the “Ed Mahan Rule,” to never leave a
game early, was born.
“The credits were rolling on the screen on
the broadcast,” Mahan says. “Everyone
thought that the game was over.”
While holding the copy he keeps in
his living room, Mahan glows when
recounting his first big assignment:
Eagle One. Mahan traveled to several
star players’ hometowns to photograph
them in their element during the
offseason and compiled them into a
preseason team yearbook.
He rode his first horse with guard Wade
Key. He avoided buffalo stampedes with
linebacker Steve Zabel. He threw a football
on the streets of New Orleans to wide
receivers Harold Carmichael and Harold
Jackson, along with record-setting kicker
Tom Dempsey. He received a police escort
through deep Mississippi to Ed Khayat’s
residence after a nerve-wracking pullover
in the woods.
The work produced from these memorable
trips became the blueprint for future team
publications across the league, like the one
you’re reading right now.
“Owners are coming up to their PR
directors like, ‘The Eagles are doing this.
Why aren’t we doing this? What have we
been doing in the offseason?’” Mahan
says. “It really shook up the league.”
He’ll tell you about all the relationships
he made along the way, while maintaining
respect and what he calls “professional
distance” from players and coaches. When
Dick Vermeil was hired as the Eagles’
head coach in 1976, he and Mahan built a
friendship that lasts to this day.
Before games when Vermeil’s stomach
churned from nerves, he would go right
to Mahan and ask him about his camera
lens and which shots he was taking. It was
the same set of questions every time but
Vermeil said he needed to ask them to get
his mind off football and relax.
Vermeil also recognized the importance
of Mahan’s work. On team photo days,
an eye-roll for many coaches, Vermeil
emphasized to his players that they would
want this photo for the rest of their lives
and should treat it with respect.
At one road game, Mahan stood close to
the Eagles’ sideline, aiming to get portraits
for the yearbook, when security officials
abruptly instructed him to leave the team
area. Vermeil noticed and jogged over to
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