Eagles Super Bowl linebacker Frank LeMaster has died at 71

Eagles Super Bowl linebacker Frank LeMaster has died at 71 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

Last spring at the NovaCare Complex, Dick Vermeil and Frank LeMaster were sitting in a golf cart watching the Eagles go through an OTA practice.

“This guy right here?” Vermeil marveled, nodding toward LeMaster. “Played nine seasons. You know how many games he missed? He didn’t miss any. Didn’t miss a game his entire career. If he was hurt? If he was banged up? Never complained. Just went out there and played.”

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LeMaster, a starting linebacker on the Eagles’ 1980 Super Bowl team and a Pro Bowler in 1981, died Thursday, according to the Eagles.

He was 71.

LeMaster grew up near Lexington and played college football at Kentucky before the Eagles drafted him in the 4th round in 1974.

"I was just hoping, first of all, to get drafted," LeMaster said in an interview with the Eagles’ website in 2015. "They asked me what I thought about going to the Eagles. I said, 'The only thing I know about the Eagles is I like their helmet.'

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"I didn't know much about the Eagles at that time other than that they needed a lot of good players because they hadn't had many winning seasons."

After spending his rookie year as a backup, he moved into the starting lineup in 1975 and didn’t leave until he retired after the 1982 season.

From 1974 through 1982, He played 129 of a possible 129 games and 136 in a row including the playoffs. From 1975 through 1982, he started 115 of a possible 115 games.

He was one of only four NFL linebackers to play in every game from 1974 through 1982 and one of only two to start every game from 1975 through 1982. The other was Robert Brazile of the Oilers.

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In Eagles history, LeMaster has the fourth-most starts among linebackers, behind William Thomas (119), Chuck Bednarik (123) and long-time teammate John Bunting (116).

In 1975, LeMaster had four interceptions, 4th-most among NFL linebackers, and in 1978 he had three, 7th-most. His 10 total interceptions are 7th-most in Eagles history by a linebacker.

In a game in 1975 against Washington at RFK Stadium, he had two interceptions, including one off Joe Theismann that he returned for an 89-yard touchdown. That remains the 8th-longest INT return in Eagles history and the longest ever by a linebacker.

"That was a day where everything went right," LeMaster told the Eagles’ website. "I had a lot of tackles. I think I had a fumble recovery and I had two interceptions that day.

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“That particular interception, they were deep in our territory and threw a slant-in. I caught it and took it to the outside. Bill Bergey and I then basically went down the sideline and he was able to throw a key block which put me into the end zone."

He’s one of only three linebackers in Eagles history to score three TDs – Seth Joyner scored five and Thomas scored three.

LeMaster was a key starter on the 1980 defense, which ranked No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed.

He had an interception off Tommy Kramer in the Eagles’ conference semifinal win over the Vikings at the Vet that started the 1980 run to the Super Bowl.

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LeMaster finally made his first Pro Bowl in 1981 after his eighth season, when he had two more INTs and his third career touchdown.

“It’s always been one of my goals,” LeMaster told Bud Shaw of the Philadelphia Daily News on Dec. 16, 1981. “But after eight years, you begin to wonder if it’s ever going to come true. Maybe the more you work for it, the more it’ll mean to you.

“To know my peers have noticed my performance really means a lot to me. Usually, you make it in your third, fourth, fifth year. But my first three years here were sort of like in limbo. We were losing. Nobody paid us much mind.

“I don’t ever want to hear that word ‘under-rated’ again. I’m just glad to finally get rid of it.”

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LeMaster dislocated his left shoulder on Aug. 14, 1983, during a preseason game against the Chargers at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego and missed the entire season.

The Eagles traded him to the 49ers in March of 1984, and the 49ers released him on Aug. 26, 1984.

LeMaster returned to the Philadelphia area and never left. After he retired from football, LeMaster worked for over a decade for FieldTurf, which manufactures and installs athletic fields.

LeMaster spoke that day at Eagles OTAs last spring about how much he loved the Philadelphia area and how he and his wife Marylou settled on a farm in Birchrunville, Chester County, after he retired from football because it reminded him so much of Kentucky.