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Scranton Eagles documentary kicks off to crowd of former players

Former Scranton Eagles players take turns signing commemorative posters during a private screening of "Scranton Eagles — The Forgotten Dynasty" at the Art Haus in downtown Scranton.
Jackson Breslin
Former Scranton Eagles players take turns signing commemorative posters during a private screening of "Scranton Eagles — The Forgotten Dynasty" at the Art Haus in downtown Scranton.

The Scranton Eagles were the Empire Football League’s (EFL) most dominant team for over a decade.

From 1982 to 1994 the Eagles won nine EFL championships, missing the championship game just once in that span. Now, the team is the subject of a new documentary: “Scranton Eagles — The Forgotten Dynasty." The film premiered with a private screening Saturday at the Scranton Art Haus in the city's downtown. The screening was reserved for former players and coaches.

The film tells the story of head coach Butch Keller’s semi-pro football powerhouse and the origins of the team. It also tackles topics like Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a neurodegenerative brain disease caused by repeated head injuries, and the toll that football can take on players.

The team was formed in the early 1970s as the Lackawanna County Eagles, but eventually disbanded due to players’ requests to be paid. In 1982, the team returned as the Scranton Eagles, still maintaining its volunteer-based roster.

Longtime Scranton Eagles quarterback John Kennedy spoke after the screening about why players were willing to play for free. He said that for many on the team, playing for the Eagles was a last-ditch attempt to make an NFL roster.

“It’s a longshot — it’s the longest of longshots,” Kennedy said. “It’s a dream, and you have to follow your dream for as long as you can."

Ben Payavis is the Chief Content Officer at WVIA and played with the Scranton Eagles for seven years during the midst of their title-winning seasons. He and Kennedy co-produced the film, with production starting before the COVID-19 pandemic. Payavis recalled the difficulty of working during the pandemic and struggle to schedule interviews with former players.

“We would shoot interviews when we could, and then COVID happened, and that sort of derailed it a little bit,” he said.

Another challenge was finding archival footage of the team’s games.

“There was so much good material that I got in these interviews. However, having the visuals to cover is a challenge, because some of the stuff is like, ‘how am I going to tell this story?’,” Payavis said.

However, making the documentary gave Payavis and other members of the team a chance to stop and realize their accomplishments.

“You never really had an opportunity to really reflect on some of the things that went on. The other crazy part is, I'd be watching these game tapes, so I'm watching myself… I get an adrenaline rush, watching myself, like, what the hell's gonna happen next?” Payavis said with a laugh.

The players at the screening shared similar feelings, laughing at tales of legendary bus rides, cheering as they watched themselves score touchdowns, and silently remembering their teammates who have passed away.

After a team photo and an invitation to a local bar, the theater slowly emptied.

Kennedy and Payavis gave their thoughts on what they hope people will take away from the film when it is released to the public.

“I want people to take away that there was a successful football team that had a bunch of great players… Scranton was pretty nationally known in the mid ‘80s,” Payavis said. Kennedy added that he thinks the “discovery of something that happened right here” was important for younger viewers who may not have grown up when the Eagles were a powerhouse.

One of the last to leave the theater was coach Keller. After many handshakes and trips down memory lane, Keller stood in the now-quiet theater and reflected on his decades-long career with the Eagles.

For Keller, there will never be anything quite like the Scranton Eagles ever again.

“It’ll be hard to duplicate,” Keller said. “It’ll be hard to duplicate.”

“Scranton Eagles – The Forgotten Dynasty” will be available to the public later this year. Stay tuned for more information soon from WVIA.