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Carmichael isn't the only Eagle who has been up all season. Despite the one-point loss to the Vikings, Philadelphia has an 8-6 record and remains in strong contention for a wild-card spot in the NFC playoffs. For a team that has not had a winning season since 1966, that lost twice as many games as it won from 1970 to 1977, and has not had a first-or second-round draft choice in five years, that is no small accomplishment.
The architect of the Eagles' move toward respectability is Dick Vermeil, the 42-year-old workaholic who gave up the head coaching job at UCLA to take over as coach of the Eagles in 1976. Vermeil signed a five-year contract for a reported $850,000, and Philadelphia owner Leonard Tose has given him free rein. Vermeil sleeps in his Veterans Stadium office three nights each week during the season, and often watches film until almost 4 a.m. In quick order, he has turned an assortment of free agents, waiver-wire recruits and other no-names into a team that somehow hangs tough each week. Of the Eagles' six losses this season, only one has been by more than seven points.
Though he has not yet exercised a No. 1 or a No. 2 draft pick ( Philadelphia will have picks in each of the first three rounds next year), Vermeil has had some success in the draft. In the sixth round in 1977 he called out the name of Wilbert Montgomery, an obscure running back from Abilene Christian, and now Montgomery has developed into one of the steadiest performers in the league. On Sunday, Montgomery carried 24 times for 115 yards against the Vikings, giving him 1,015 yards for the season and enabling him to become the first 1,000-yard Eagle since Steve Van Buren gained 1,146 in 1949.
On paper, the Eagles don't seem to have the talent to be very competitive. "We're not a great football team," Vermeil admits, "but we play like hell. We don't have to coach our guys to work hard. They do it with intensity because we set that standard in our first year, added to it a lot in our second, and now it's built-in. I've always believed in my profession, in teaching and coaching, and that if you surround yourself with the right kind of people, you can make somebody better if he's in the right frame of mind. Some players don't know how good they can be because, in a lot of cases, not enough has been demanded of them. They really haven't been tested. We demand a lot, and if a guy isn't willing to meet the demand, he doesn't stay here. And if I waive somebody, I'm not waiving a controversial No. 1 draft pick. In a way, it's an advantage."
Bill Bergey, the Eagles' All-Pro inside linebacker, says, "Dick's the type of guy who is going to work as hard as he can possibly work to become the best, and there's not going to be anything short of that. He's got the guys believing in him and his system, and it's going to be his way—it's as simple as that."
"All I think about now," says Carmichael, "is winning the next game. If we keep winning the next game we're going to be in the playoffs whether anyone thinks we should be there or not."
For Carmichael and the Eagles of 1978, that may not prove to be such a tall order.