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Two years ago the Philadelphia Eagles were among the shining jewels of the NFL. They were coming off a Super Bowl season. They had a bright, young coach and enthusiastic crowds to fill a modern, roomy stadium; they were blessed with a generous owner and a warmhearted general manager who had closely wired them to a city known for its toughness. They had everything. "The best place to work in the world," said the coach, Dick Vermeil.
Now the glitter has gone out of the jewel. The Eagles' ownership is teetering on the brink of financial collapse. The courts have involved themselves in the selling of the team, the only thing that can get it out of the hole. Vermeil is gone, a victim of burnout. So is Jim Murray, the friendly general manager. Six months ago he was fired; the reasons given range from "personal differences" to "streamlining." Three other high- and midlevel executives were also sent packing. Locks were changed on office doors. A time clock was installed in the Eagles' offices in Veterans Stadium. A secretary reported to work and found someone else sitting at her desk. The nice-guy image of the club was replaced by something much chillier. And nowadays, Leonard Tose, 68, the owner, smiles sadly and says, "It's all my fault, all of it."
The first public indication that the Eagles had big money troubles came last Jan. 3, when the sports director of Philadelphia's KYW-TV, Howard Eskin, reported on the air that Tose, whose millions are derived from a family trucking business, had lost so much money in Atlantic City casinos that he might be forced to sell the club. Eskin said Tose had blown approximately $1 million on one night alone, Nov. 16, 1982.
"Right church, wrong pew," says a source familiar with Tose's gambling habits. "That night he happened to be home. But he's lost a lot more than $1 million—a lot more."
Tose threatened a lawsuit against KYW. He denied all charges. He also never filed a suit.
"Is the team for sale?" an interviewer from the Philadelphia Daily News asked him the night of Eskin's broadcast.
"No," Tose said, "the team's not for sale. I'm not selling it."
"Or a piece of it?"
"Are you in financial trouble?"