As they swept away discarded hot-dog wrappers and hot-chocolate-smeared Dixie cups and dismantled the portable bleachers that had swelled the old stadium's capacity by 7,000 that Monday afternoon, the Franklin Field workmen couldn't have known they were tidying up after the first shot in a green revolution.

If you weren't tuned in closely to Philadelphia sports in the days that followed, you could have missed the early signs of the coming transformation: the caffeine-fueled football chatter at Center City coffee shops, the unusual lines outside the Philadelphia Eagles' tiny offices at 15th and Locust Streets.

It all began on Monday, Dec. 26, 1960, when the Eagles - 2-9-1 in 1958, when they averaged 28,000 a game - defeated Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, 17-13, capturing both the NFL championship and, as soon became clear, the hearts and minds of this city's sports fans.

Philadelphia's 27-year-old football franchise had won titles before, its most recent 11 years earlier. But, as soon became clear, something was different about this one. Suddenly, baseball, which had dominated sporting attention here for nearly a century, had a serious competitor.

"When I went back to work after that game, I remember going into the little coffee shops around our office," said Jim Gallagher, the former Eagles public-relations director who joined the team in 1948. "The only sports talk you used to hear was about the A's [who had left for Kansas City in 1954] and the Phillies. Now, all of a sudden, they were talking about us."

In the 50 years since, that buzz has grown into a cacophony.

Sunday, as they again meet Green Bay, this time in their Lincoln Financial Field opener to the 2010 season, the Eagles are arguably kings of the Philly hill and, by most any measure, one of the NFL's most successful teams.

Purchased for $250,000 in 1949, the Eagles, all these decades later, according to Forbes magazine are the league's seventh most valuable franchise, with an estimated worth of $1.1 billion.

Their rabid fans, simultaneously feared, loathed, and admired for their passion, fill the South Philadelphia stadium week after week. Thousands more wallow on season-ticket waiting lists. And, even as the Phillies shoot for a third straight World Series appearance, local chat rooms, sports sections, radio talk shows, and barrooms are inflamed with Eagles fever.

Such green-hued fervor, many suggest, was born at the 1960 title game when Norm Van Brocklin, playing in his final NFL game, and Chuck Bednarik led Buck Shaw's Eagles past a Packers team that was on the cusp of its dynastic run.

"That '60 game," said Leo Carlin, the team's longtime ticket manager whose Eagles career began that same day, "catapulted the whole situation."

According to Carlin, the Eagles had sold between 18,000 and 20,000 season tickets in 1960. A year later, buoyed by that title, the total jumped to 32,845. Total attendance increased from 286,301 to 412,318.

From 1958 through 1960, their first three seasons at Franklin Field, the Eagles drew fewer than 40,000 fans for 13 of 18 games, topped 50,000 just three times, and once played before 18,315 paying customers.

By contrast, in their final nine seasons there, despite a combined record of 40-80-6, they never again attracted fewer than 54,049 and regularly sold out. The passions ignited in many that day have never abated.

"The championship was what did it," said Bill Campbell, then the Eagles' radio broadcaster. "That's when things really started to take off."

NFL's turning point

It was, in large part, a case of good timing.

The Eagles happened to win a title when the Phillies were baseball's worst team and at the very moment the NFL itself was morphing into the behemoth of American sports.

While the Colts' overtime win over the Giants in the 1958 NFL championship usually gets the credit, it might be more accurate to cite that 1960 game - or certainly the events surrounding it - as the NFL's real turning point.

The chain of events began a year earlier at Franklin Field when commissioner Bert Bell suffered a fatal heart attack. Three months later, in January 1960, NFL owners, after 23 contentious ballots, selected Pete Rozelle as his replacement.

As he watched the Eagles and Packers that day, Rozelle, more PR and media savvy than his predecessor, had already decided to relocate league headquarters from Bala Cynwyd to New York.

Ten months after that game, as the Eagles were preparing to begin their title defense, Congress passed the Sports Broadcasting Act. It granted the NFL an antitrust exemption, authorized that its broadcasting rights be shared equally by all its teams, and permitted single-network TV contracts.

Emboldened by the stability it ensured, Rozelle negotiated new TV deals. He got $4.5 million annually from CBS in 1961 for regular-season rights. That same year, NBC, which six years earlier had paid $100,000 to televise the NFL, won the championship-game rights for $615,000. More contracts, and much more money, would follow.

The league's new focus on television intensified. Ratings and interest grew quickly. By 1965, a national survey found that, for a first time, pro football, not baseball, was America's favorite sport.

Nowhere was that more evident than in Philadelphia. Eager to forget about the last-place Phillies, who would lose a record 23 consecutive games that summer, the locals leaped onto the post-1960 Eagles bandwagon.

With few exceptions, and despite periods of unpopular ownership, incompetent coaches, and unremarkable talent, they've never disembarked.

Swashbuckling flair

Curiously, even though that 1960 Eagles-Packers title game was sold out, TV coverage was blacked out in Philadelphia. Fans without tickets traveled to bars and motels in Trenton or Baltimore to watch the NBC telecast, broadcast by Ray Scott and Lindsey Nelson.

After a 7-5 season in 1959, the 1960 Eagles had debuted inauspiciously, getting hammered at home by the Cleveland Browns in their opener, then barely beating the fledgling Dallas Cowboys in the future rivals' first meeting.

But a wide-open passing game that featured veteran Van Brocklin, flanker Tommy McDonald, and tight end Pete Retzlaff caught fire. The Eagles wouldn't lose again until December, winning the East with a 10-2 record and earning a date against Lombardi's 8-4 West champion Packers.

Those Eagles played with a swashbuckling flair, on and off the field. Philadelphians embraced the players, many of whom lived and drank in neighborhoods near the stadium. The season's final home game, a 31-23 victory over the Giants, attracted the team's first 60,000-plus crowd since 1950.

Since Christmas 1960 fell on a Sunday, the title game would be on Monday. Ticket demand was so strong that the team hired Carlin, who had worked for the city's theaters, as a part-time ticket-seller.

"It wasn't much of an operation," Carlin recalled. "I think we had three ticket windows at 15th and Locust. And on game days we'd sell them in Weightman Hall [adjacent to Franklin Field]."

The Eagles, who were owned by a local consortium known as "the 100 Brothers," asked the University of Pennsylvania to set up the old wooden grandstands that, when Quakers football was luring crowds of 70,000, stood behind the stadium's west end zone.

"Somebody must have burned them," recalled Gallagher, "because they never were found."

Eventually, enough portable bleachers were located to add considerable capacity to the 60,671-seat facility. That day, 67,325 squeezed inside.

Interest was so intense that Marian Meehan, the daughter-in-law of Philadelphia's longtime Republican boss, Austin Meehan, attended with her husband even though she was due to deliver a baby that day.

"I wouldn't have missed it," she said, from her home in Ventnor. "It was a wonderful game, a wonderful day."

In for a fight

It dawned brisk and sunny, as fans lugging steel thermoses and newspapers streamed out of trolley cars and the Frankford El exits at 34th and Market.

Scalpers were getting as much as $25 for the $8 and $10 tickets. Programs sold for 50 cents, hot dogs were a quarter, and the day's only entertainment would be provided by the Cardinal Dougherty marching band.

The stadium had no lights, so the game began at noon, with Philadelphia rookie Timmy Brown fielding a Don Chandler kickoff. It was evident immediately that the Eagles, who would earn a reputation as a team that had nothing but a title, were in for a fight.

The Packers outgained them, 401 yards to 296, and had 22 first downs to the Eagles' 13. If Paul Hornung hadn't missed a 13-yard field goal before halftime, the outcome might have been different.

The Eagles turned the ball over twice in their own territory on their first two possessions. But their defense stiffened, and Green Bay led, 3-0, after one quarter.

"The Packers had Hornung, Ray Nitschke, Bart Starr, all those stars," Eagles running back Billy Ray Barnes recalled in 2004. "But we believed every time we took the field that no one could beat us."

Van Brocklin, who would fail in his quest to succeed Shaw in 1961 but was hired to coach the expansion Minnesota Vikings, struggled early.

"I remember running into Steve Van Buren in the press box and he said that if Sonny [Jurgensen, the backup QB] had been playing, the Eagles would have been ahead by three touchdowns," Gallagher said.

Hornung's second field goal, a second-quarter 23-yarder, stretched Green Bay's edge to 6-0. That's when Van Brocklin hit his two most important passes - connecting with McDonald on consecutive plays, the first a 22-yard gain, the second a 35-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles momentum.

Eagles end Bobby Walston added a 15-yard field goal, and when Hornung missed that chip shot, Philadelphia had a 10-6 halftime edge.

It stayed that way until the fourth quarter, when Starr's 7-yard pass to Max McGee moved Green Bay back ahead.

Then, in one of the most underrated moments in Eagles history, Ted Dean, a rookie from Radnor who was filling in for the injured Clarence Peaks and also kicking off, returned the ensuing kickoff 58 yards to the Packers' 39.

With 5:21 to play, Van Brocklin handed off to Dean, who scored from 5 yards out. The Eagles led, 17-13.

Lombardi huddled with Starr, and the Packers began methodically eating up turf and clock. With time running out and the ball on the Eagles' 22, Green Bay needed a touchdown.

Starr hit Jim Taylor, who rushed for 105 yards, in the middle of the field and the bowling-ball back rumbled to the 8. That's where Bednarik, who had played his college ball for Penn on the same field and who logged 58 minutes in the title game, dropped atop him and, making sure time expired, stayed there until the whistle sounded.

"Everyone was excited and happy," Gallagher said of the postgame reaction. "But no one went crazy. There was a bunch of fans who leaped onto the field and tore down the wooden goalposts, but that was about it."

'It was crazy'

Things were more lively in the Eagles' small locker room, where players learned the winner's share would be $5,126 apiece.

A team party was held that night at the Warwick Hotel in Center City. Gallagher and scouting director Bucko Kilroy excused themselves early. They would be representing Philadelphia at the following morning's NFL draft.

Conveniently for them, that draft took place in Philadelphia. In the Warwick.

"We wanted Herb Adderley [who became a Hall of Famer with the Packers] with our No. 1 pick," Gallagher recalled. "But because we won, Green Bay picked one spot ahead of us. They took him. "

The Eagles drafted Syracuse fullback Art Baker, who signed with the AFL.

Carlin, who was kept on as a part-time employee until going full-time in 1964, immediately noticed the change in how the city perceived the Eagles.

"People started coming to 15th and Locust in big numbers," he said. "I'd have to find them tickets, write out all the information, confirm the location, then excuse myself to all the people in line and run to the bank with their cash or check. It was crazy."

The 1961 Eagles, with Jurgensen starting and Nick Skorich as the coach, didn't disappoint the big crowds. They went 10-4, losing to Detroit in the Playoff Bowl, an anticlimactic game between second-place teams. They then went into a long decline, which didn't end until Dick Vermeil arrived in the mid-1970s.

By then, the big Sunday crowds, the daily headlines, the crazed devotion of their fans had become commonplace.

"I often think about how different things might have been if we had lost to the Packers that day," said Carlin. "Fortunately, we'll never know."

Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick

at 215-854-5068 or ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.