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PRO FOOTBALL : Eagle Owner Was No Brahmin

October 16, 1990|BOB OATES

PHILADELPHIA — The last football game of the weekend was played Monday night in Norman Braman's hometown.

Son of a Philadelphia barber, Braman, 58, has risen in the last 46 years from water boy to owner of the Philadelphia Eagles.

"My father emigrated from Poland and my mother from Romania," he said before the game. "There was no affluence in my family. Owning the Eagles is the ultimate fulfillment of every fantasy I ever had growing up in Philadelphia."

Tall, lean and athletic, Braman is a former junior varsity basketball player at Temple who made his first fortune in pharmaceuticals. At 36, he retired to Florida, where he made a bigger fortune in automobiles.

"One day five years ago, I picked up the Miami Herald and read that the Eagles were moving to Phoenix," he said. "I told myself, 'Wait a minute! This club belongs to the people of Philadelphia.' "

When they couldn't afford it, Braman bought it for $70 million and became sole proprietor of what is now a $100-million enterprise.

He is the NFL's only native-son owner--except for the heirs to two or three second-generation clubs--and the only owner who started at the bottom.

"My aunt lived in (suburban) West Chester, where the Eagles still train," he said. "As a kid, I spent my summers at her place on High Street, a house that's still there.

"Every morning I would slip out the back door and run across a couple of fields--that's all they were then--to the college where the Eagles had their training camp.

"It was the greatest boyhood a kid could have, and it's incredible that I'm still living the same old fantasy."

The Eagles were born during the Depression, when the symbol of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration, the Blue Eagle, was prominently displayed here and elsewhere across the country.

Bert Bell, the club's first general manager, later an owner and eventually NFL commissioner, named the team for the Roosevelt symbol.

"That was in 1933," said Braman, noting that of the 28 existing NFL clubs, only five others go back that far: the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New York Giants, Pittsburgh Steelers and Phoenix (originally Chicago) Cardinals.

"Cities like Chicago and Philadelphia make the NFL what it is," the Eagle executive said. "They give the league its soul.

"It is especially fulfilling to own a club in one of the great old Eastern or Midwestern cities because that's where the league's roots are.

"We love Los Angeles and the Southern cities, but the NFL's pioneers had a unique camaraderie that has been lost. Pro football is big business today."

Buddy Ryan is off to an unexpectedly rocky start in his fifth season as coach of the Eagles. But it would take more than that to shake such an outspoken optimist.

"They're not going to quit," he said of his players before Monday night's kickoff. "They're not going to alibi. That isn't the kind of people we are.

"I know we're a good team despite the slow start. The players know we're a good team. The reason they're (good) is because of Buddy Ryan. I brought them in here, that caliber of player.

"I dug the post holes. I tapped them in, I drove the nails on the boards. I mean, nobody else.

"We've got the receivers, everybody we need."

It has been nearly six seasons since Ryan was in Chicago, coaching defense for Mike Ditka's Super Bowl champion.

"I came to Philadelphia to build a team on a five-year program, and I've built the team," he said. "We're not looking for excuses to lose. We're going to win."

The NFL's only two undefeated teams, the San Francisco 49ers and Giants, aren't playing for the playoffs anymore. They're playing for the home-field advantage in the playoffs. They particularly want that edge in the NFC's championship game.

In January weather, the Giants aren't easy to beat at the Meadowlands, as the 49ers know.

The 49ers would have a similar advantage at Candlestick Park.

The 49ers learned in Atlanta Sunday that they can't even run in good weather without halfback Roger Craig, who was sidelined because of a knee injury that ended his streak of 114 consecutive regular-season appearances since 1983.

The Falcons held 49er ballcarriers to 50 net yards.

Craig's replacement, top-drafted rookie Dexter Carter, had a nine-for-nine day--nine carries for nine yards. The Carter draft might be the 49ers' first mistake of the post-Bill Walsh era.

A model athlete, Craig remains the club's hardest-working player. Even though he didn't play at Atlanta, he was the difference, 49er wide receiver Jerry Rice said after gaining 225 yards on 13 catches.

"This really goes back to the off-season workouts I had with Roger Craig," said Rice, whose five touchdowns tied an NFL record. "I felt good and strong today, and we took advantage of it."

Falcon receiver Andre Rison and Rice emerged from Sunday's game 1-2 in NFC passes caught--Rison with 38, Rice with 35.

"Andre keeps making big plays," Atlanta Coach Jerry Glanville said. "He may be good enough to make people think I'm a good coach."

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