Ultimately, what both owners learned was how to manage the salary cap. Guided by Jonathan Kraft, the eldest of Robert's four sons and a Harvard MBA, the Patriots put together a model based on gauging the value of each position and the value of each player relative to others in the league. Similarly, Lurie turned to boyhood friend Joe Banner, now the Eagles' president, to develop a successful formula for staying under the cap.
Both franchises rely heavily on the coach's personnel acumen and prefer to re-sign players--often with time remaining on their contracts, before they reach peak market value--rather than bring in high-priced free agents. Though the Eagles deviated from that philosophy following their third consecutive NFC Championship Game loss in January 2004, bringing in wideout Terrell Owens and defensive end Jevon Kearse, Lurie says the club is still "in great shape" capwise. Ditto the Patriots, who a source says are likely to announce several contract extensions in the weeks following the Super Bowl.
The similarities between the two organizations extend to their sparkling new stadiums. The Krafts, after an aborted relocation arrangement with Hartford, used Jonathan's creative financing plan to build Gillette Stadium for $325 million (it opened in 2002) without using public funds or resorting to personal seat licenses. Among other things, he locked in historically low interest rates and worked out a deal with Salomon Smith Barney to roll over 28-day loans repeatedly for 25 years. One year later the Eagles moved into Lincoln Financial Field, which cost Lurie $340 million and taxpayers $180 million.
"We're both high-revenue clubs because we've taken such big risks," Lurie says of sinking a great amount of personal capital into the teams in an effort to generate long-term success. "I think the key for Robert and me was that we looked at the franchises we were buying and said, 'Why couldn't these teams be like the 49ers of the '80s and '90s?'"
Rest assured, there are probably plenty of ticked-off season-ticket holders in San Francisco wondering why the 49ers can't be more like the Patriots and the Eagles. -- Michael Silver