Leonard Tose short film brings back unbelievable era

Leonard Tose bought the Philadelphia Eagles in 1969 for $16 million. AP Photo

PHILADELPHIA -- If I hadn’t caught a glimpse of the whole thing firsthand, the Leonard Tose era in Philadelphia Eagles history would seem unbelievable.

But the stories are true. And “Tose,” an ESPN 30 for 30 short by producer Mike Tollin, who grew up in Havertown, Pa., before becoming a Hollywood producer, captures them all.

The film (available here) is worth seeing just for the shots inside the Eagles’ locker room and offices at the now-demolished Veterans Stadium. The Vet is filled with larger-than-life characters like Dick Vermeil, Ron Jaworski and Jim Murray.

But none is larger, or more of a character, than Leonard Tose. Tose bought the franchise in 1969 for $16 million. He lobbied Vermeil to come to Philadelphia from UCLA.

“He told me, 'We’ll make a John Wayne out of you,’ " Vermeil remembers.

Jaworski remembers playing the Vet as a visitor and seeing golf balls hailing from the 700 level. He credits the “salesmanship of Leonard Tose” for convincing him to come play in such a place.

Jaworski never left. And, just to complete the circle, he now owns golf courses in the Philadelphia areas, along with doing his media work for ESPN.

With Tose as the owner, Murray as the GM, Vermeil as the coach and Jaworski as the quarterback, the Eagles went to the Super Bowl after the 1980 season. Vermeil remembers Tose announcing “We’re going to have a party!” after the NFC championship victory over Dallas.

The Eagles lost that Super Bowl to the Oakland Raiders. Pretty soon, the whole thing fell apart. Vermeil resigned, citing burnout. Over in New Jersey, Atlantic City became the home of casino gambling, and Tose was an all-too-frequent visitor.

Tose talks about losing “over a million” dollars in one night of gambling. He was, he said, “a compulsive gambler and that didn’t mix with the Scotch.”

By 1985, beset by gambling losses, Tose sold the Eagles to Norman Braman, a Philadelphia-born, Miami-based businessman. Tose said he came out of the deal with “$50 to $80 million,” and that the money “went to the casinos.”

Braman owned the team for nine years before selling it to Jeffrey Lurie, the current owner.

The Tose era ended badly, but it was memorable. Tollin recounts trying to make a feature film about Tose, whom he dubs “the anti-Trump” of sports owners. Worse than the death threat he received from Tose, who died in 2003 at 88, was the lack of interest from Hollywood.

One thing this short proves is that there is one unbelievable story to be told.