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Feature Attraction : Hollywood Producer Jeffrey Lurie Is Center of Attention in Philadelphia as Owner of Eagles

October 22, 1994|BILL PLASCHKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

PHILADELPHIA — Who is that man in the luxury box next door? And why is he screaming, leaping and high-fiving?

Irritated Candlestick Park patrons wondered. Then they acted, setting down their finger sandwiches and papering the side window of their box with giveaway posters so they wouldn't have to see him.

Jeffrey Lurie, Hollywood producer and new owner of the Philadelphia Eagles, just smiled. And pulled his baseball cap lower over his forehead.

*

Who is that man on the field? Doesn't he know that nobody wearing a suit walks around the edges of the stands at Veterans Stadium before a football game?

What part of the term beer shower doesn't he understand?

Curious Philadelphia Eagle fans wondered. Then they acted, crowding the railings to get a glimpse of . . . well, what do you know?

Jeffrey Lurie spent the next 30 minutes on the toes of his wingtips, stretching halfway into the seats while calloused hands stretched halfway back. He basked in the fans' warmth, listened to their dreams.

"You know," whispered close friend Jack Rapke of Creative Artists Agency, "this has to be better than 1,000 movie premieres."

Lurie just smiled. All his life, he had known.

*

It's too late. Officials can complain that his behavior is in violation of the same NFL rules that prohibit touchdown celebrations or droopy socks, but it doesn't matter.

It's too late. Jeffrey Lurie is in.

He holds the deed to a real, live professional football team. Those guys with their big cigars stinking up the league's back rooms are reeling from the fresh air.

"You know something?" Lurie recently told friend Jim Jacobs. "I look at the team on the field, and I still can't believe I own it."

Neither can those who thought the invasion of lawyers and corporations upon the professional sports world was complete.

But the bottom-line guys missed a neighborhood. Lurie, 43, frustrated with making sweet movies nobody watched, moved in.

The Eagles cost him $185 million last May in a surprise deal for a team that few knew was for sale. The price was the most ever paid for a professional sports franchise.

Yet he has behaved less like a businessman than an NFL junkie who, after watching games every Sunday for years, was magically given the power to step inside his TV screen and join the fun.

This was a guy who has had season tickets somewhere since birth. A guy who annually locked himself above his Beverly Hills garage to watch ESPN for the entire NFL draft. A guy unashamed to play video football, or admit it.

This was a guy who once drove to Santa Barbara nearly every Sunday to a cheap roadside hotel. He would check into a room and spend the next three hours sitting on the edge of a bed watching his hometown New England Patriots, whose games were rarely shown in Los Angeles.

The hotel manager felt so sorry for Lurie, he charged him only $20 for the room as long as he didn't mess it up.

Those were the days Lurie wore a huge button with the Patriots' team picture on it. A button with blinking lights.

Today, he oversees a team that has won four of its first six games and is considered a legitimate NFC contender.

In doing so, he has also served what many feel is a more important role.

He has assured everyone that a pro franchise can still be owned by Joe Fan.

"Every day has been an adventure," Lurie said.

THE FIRST DAYS

At an outdoor reception in his honor in downtown Philadelphia, he impulsively pulls out six new NFL footballs and throws them into the crowd.

Philadelphians, accustomed to the absentee and sometimes-arrogant reign of former Eagle owner Norman Braman, cheer wildly.

They wait for him to ask for the balls back. He does not.

THE NEXT DAYS

At his first appearance at Veterans Stadium, he is cheered louder than any of the Phillies. Then he wins a home-run hitting contest without ever hitting a home run.

"But I hit ropes," Lurie said. "And you can win those things with ropes."

At his first mini-camp, he notices disappointing second-round draft pick Bruce Walker wearing Reggie White's No. 92 jersey. He nearly becomes sick, and immediately orders that the jersey not be worn until somebody has proved himself worthy.

White is so touched, he phones Lurie the next day to thank him.

"I just saw this guy wearing Reggie's jersey and I said, 'Whoaaaa,' " Lurie says, shrugging.

Took the words right out of about 60,000 fans' mouths.

THE MIDSUMMER DAYS

Lurie finds the money to sign every veteran and rookie before the end of July. It is the first time in recent memory that every player shows up for training camp on time.

"I can't tell you how good that made the team feel, to have no distractions from unsigned rookies or holdouts," says center David Alexander. "The advantage that gave us was huge."

Unlike most owners, Lurie doesn't even have trouble signing his No. 1 draft pick, tackle Bernard Williams from Georgia.

Perhaps it is because during negotiations, Lurie sends his lawyers to Memphis, Tenn., after Williams has been roughed up by police in a case of mistaken identity.

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