Sunday, January 28, 2018

How Vince Fumo Saved The Eagles From Moving To Phoenix

From Target: The Senator;
A Story About Power And Abuse of Power

By Ralph Cipriano
for BigTrial.net

Motorcycle cops in South Miami were stopping traffic at every intersection, to let a long black limousine go by without having to brake for any red lights.

Inside the limo, Leonard Tose, the flamboyant big spender who owned the Philadelphia Eagles, was on the way to his super box at the Orange Bowl.

On the afternoon of November 11, 1984, the Eagles were playing the Miami Dolphins. And riding in the back of the limo along with Tose and his daughter, Susan Fletcher, were their VIP guests: Pennsylvania Senator Vincent J. Fumo and his fifteen-year-old son, Vincent E. Fumo II.

The Eagles owner had invited the senator to the game because he wanted to get something off his chest. Up in the super box, Tose told Fumo about his recent negotiations with the City of Philadelphia. The Eagles owner wanted to build luxury skyboxes atop aging Veterans Stadium, to bring in new revenues. But Philadelphia officials had blown him off, and Tose wasn't happy about it.


Down on the field, Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski threw a thirty-eight-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to bring the Eagles within one point of the Dolphins. But Eagles placekicker Paul McFadden missed the extra point and the Eagles lost a heartbreaker, 24-23.

Up in the owner’s super box, however, the Eagles were faring much better. Fumo told Tose he would approach Philadelphia Mayor W. Wilson Goode about building those skyboxes atop the Vet, an ugly multipurpose stadium that looked like a concrete doughnut with an artificial green center.

Tose was not only angry, but deeply in debt. In the media, there had been plenty of speculation that the Eagles owner was so desperate he might be shopping for a better stadium deal elsewhere. But just the week before, Tose had denied rumors that he was moving the team to Phoenix.

“The Eagles aren’t going anywhere,” Tose told reporters on November 3, 1984. “In the first place, I’m not going to sell the club. In the second place, even if I ever did, the only way they’d get them out of Philadelphia is over my dead body.”

Nobody could prove it at the time, but Tose was lying.



                                        *                          *                        *

Fumo had stumbled into the Eagles situation by accident. He was in Miami on vacation in November, 1984, after just being reelected to a second full term in the Senate. On the Saturday before the Eagles-Dolphins game, Fumo was taking his son and some friends out to dinner when he bumped into Fletcher.

Fletcher, the Eagles general manager, was a lawyer who had previously worked at the same Philadelphia law firm as Fumo. Fumo had just recently gotten divorced. So Fletcher invited the new bachelor and his son to be her guests the next day at the Orange Bowl.

Fumo declined, saying he had reservations on Sunday to fly back to Philadelphia. But Tose called Sunday morning with an offer that Fumo couldn’t refuse. Forget those plane reservations, Tose said. Come watch the game from my super box, and you can fly home on the team plane with me.

Vincent E. Fumo II vividly remembered being a star-struck kid watching these “enormous guys playing poker” on the team plane. “That was awesome,” he recalled more than thirty years later.

When the senator got back from Florida after watching the game against the Dolphins, he didn’t have to call the mayor. Goode called Fumo in a panic over the possible departure of the Eagles.

I gotta see you right away, Goode said. The mayor had already tried to call Tose several times, but Tose wasn’t returning his calls.*

[Footnote: “I wasn’t on Leonard Tose’s invite list,” the seventy-seven-year-old former mayor explained in a 2015 interview. Goode said he reached out to Fumo because he knew the senator was dating Tose’s daughter.]

When Fumo met Goode at the Bellevue Hotel later that afternoon, he told the mayor that the situation with the Eagles was salvageable. Look, Fumo said, Tose is willing to talk to you but he’s pissed.

Goode, Philadelphia’s first black mayor, was in a tough spot because Philadelphia’s football fans were a crazy lot. If the team left town, people would be jumping off the Benjamin Franklin Bridge. But Fumo wasn’t one of the crazies.

“It still didn’t make much difference to me,” Fumo said. “I didn’t care if they [the Eagles] were in Philadelphia or not. They never paid my bills.”

Fumo, Goode, and Fumo aide Jim Kenney attended an emergency meeting held at Tose’s Villanova estate, which featured a swimming pool, seven bedrooms, and a helicopter pad.

“We all sat in Leonard’s den,” Fumo recalled. Goode told Leonard he didn’t understand why he was upset. We were always willing to work things out with you, Fumo heard the mayor say.

As far as Fumo was concerned, the look on Tose’s face showed that the Eagles owner wasn’t buying it.

“I thought Leonard was going to choke on his cigarette,” Fumo said.

At the meeting in Tose’s living room, the mayor told Tose he had investors lined up that would match any offer he had received from Phoenix. The mayor made it plain that he didn’t want the Eagles to leave town.

                                 *                          *                        *

On December 2, 1984, the Eagles were playing the Dallas Cowboys at the Vet. Tose invited Fumo as his guest again to watch the game from the owner’s skybox. It was Fumo’s idea to bring along Mayor Goode.

The game got off to a bad start for the home team. Jaworski had a streak of 116 straight starts until the previous week, when he broke his leg playing against St. Louis. Jaworski’s replacement, backup quarterback Joe Pisarcik, promptly threw an interception to Dallas Cowboys defensive back Dennis Thurman, who returned it thirty-eight yards for a touchdown.

The Eagles were on their way to another loss in a season when they would finish dead last in the NFC East, at 6-9-1. The only thing worse than a last-place football team, however, was no football team at all. And to make matters worse, the specter of a longtime NFL franchise deserting its hometown had just played out months earlier just 100 miles south of Philadelphia.

In the early morning hours of March 28, 1984, Bob Irsay, owner of the Baltimore Colts, had hired a convoy of fifteen Mayflower vans to move his team in the middle of a snowstorm to Indianapolis. There was no prior warning, no public announcement. Baltimore fans woke up to discover that their beloved Colts were gone forever.


In Philadelphia, Eagle fans were worried about a convoy of moving vans showing up at the Vet.

At the negotiating table where the mayor was trying to keep the Eagles in the city, the principals didn’t have much in common. Goode was a polite and sober Baptist who would subsequently become a minister. Tose was a chain-smoking compulsive gambler, heavy drinker, and womanizer who partied like every day was his last.

At Fumo’s suggestion, Susan Fletcher brought up the skyboxes.

Oh yes, the skyboxes, Mayor Goode said. He asked where they were going to go.

Tose pointed out where he wanted the skyboxes built, right on top of the Vet. If that’s what you want, Fumo heard the mayor tell Tose, we can make it happen.

Down on the Astroturf, the Cowboys’ Ron Springs hauled in a fifty-seven-yard touchdown bomb from quarterback Danny White. Then, the Cowboys tackled Pisarcik in the end zone for a safety.

The Cowboys were up 16-3, on their way to a 26-10 rout.

                                *                          *                        *

After the game, Fumo noticed something strange. Even though the Eagles were a losing team possibly on their way out of town, Eagles fans cheered Fumo wherever he went.

“Yeah, Senator, save the Eagles,” the fans in kelly green yelled.

 “I was shocked at the enthusiasm and intensity of the people,” Fumo recalled.

Then, a reporter in Phoenix broke a big story. Tose had a handshake deal in place to move the Eagles to Phoenix. He’d been lying about it all along.

Tose was getting $50 seat licenses in Phoenix, something unheard of at the time, plus parking concessions. It was a sweetheart deal that couldn’t be matched. The City of Philadelphia officially went into a panic.

Once again, Fumo stepped in as a mediator. Once again, Goode couldn’t get Tose on the phone, but Fumo could. When he did, Tose told Fumo he didn’t want to deal with Goode any more. He didn’t think the mayor could deliver.

But the deal to move the Eagles to Phoenix wasn’t final yet. So the Eagles’ owner told Fumo exactly what he would need to keep the team in Philadelphia. Armed with Tose’s wish list, Fumo began negotiating with Goode on behalf of the Eagles’ owner, and every frenzied football fan in town.

With a crisis on his hands, Fumo called Goode every hour to find out what progress had been made. Then Fumo would call Tose, to give him an update. When Fumo couldn’t get Goode on the phone, he’d bullshit Tose.

“He’s working on it,” Fumo would say about Goode. “He just has to put together a few people.”

“I was doing Henry Kissinger-style shuttle diplomacy,” Fumo recalled. It wasn’t easy. Tose and his daughter seemed indifferent to Mayor Goode’s pleas to stay.

“They didn’t care,” Fumo said. “They were leaving.”

On the other side of the table, Goode was so desperate to avoid becoming the mayor who lost the Eagles to Phoenix that he was ready to agree to just about anything, Fumo said.

 “What, are you nuts?” Fumo said he wound up telling the mayor. “He was ready to give away the kitchen sink.”

After one long negotiating session at the city’s Municipal Services Building was over, Fletcher asked Fumo to give her a ride back to her car at the Vet. But a media horde was waiting outside.

“I can’t do that,” Fumo said.

He was thinking of his role as a mediator in the negotiations to keep the Eagles in Philadelphia. And how it would all go up in smoke if the next day’s papers ran photos of Fumo the bachelor chauffeuring Fletcher around town in his white Cadillac El Dorado convertible.

Fletcher didn’t take it well.

“She got all pissed off at me,” Fumo recalled. “That was the end of our dating.”*

[Footnote: Fletcher, now a radio talk show host, did not respond to email requests for comment.]

                                  *                          *                        *

At 7:00 p.m. on a Saturday, after a week of marathon negotiations, Goode called Fumo to tell him there would be a press conference that night, just in time for the Sunday papers. Goode wanted Fumo at his side for a big announcement.

When Fumo saw Goode, he was elated.

“Wilson, he was like jiving, pretending he had a boom box next to his ear,” Fumo recalled. Fumo said he had never seen the usually dignified mayor act that way.*

[Footnote: “Of course I don’t remember that,” Goode said with a smile, when asked about the incident. “I will never admit that I did it.”]

The press conference on December 15, 1984, was attended by more than one hundred reporters and photographers.

“I am very pleased tonight because the Eagles are going to stay in Philadelphia where they belong,” Goode announced. The mayor said he was relieved he was that the crisis was over.

Then, the mayor outlined the terms of the deal that kept the Eagles in Philadelphia.

The city agreed to $10 million in stadium improvements that included building fifty skyboxes at the top of Veterans Stadium. The city also agreed to defer the Eagles’ stadium rent — more than $800,000 a year — for up to ten years.  In exchange, the team agreed to extend its lease with the city by ten years, until 2011.

A grateful mayor told reporters he couldn’t have done it without Fumo.

“What Vince did in the beginning, he was able to talk to Tose at a time when I think Tose was pretty much convinced that he wanted to leave town,” Goode told Chris Hepp of the Inquirer.

 “I think Vince kind of broke the ice in the beginning and got Tose and I talking,” Goode told Hepp. “So in the very beginning, I think that he [Fumo] played a major role in kind of breaking the logjam in communications.”

Tose, however, did not publicly mention Fumo at the press conference, or thank the senator for his efforts. When they parted, Fumo said, Fletcher wasn’t too friendly either.

                          *                          *                        *

Years later, when Tose needed a favor, he asked Fumo to meet him for lunch at the Old Original Bookbinder’s.

By that time, the free-spending, still-partying Tose had been forced to sell the Eagles. He had burned through five marriages and been evicted from his Villanova mansion. He was staying in town at a place paid for by former Eagles coach Dick Vermeil, former Eagles general manager Jim Murray, and other old friends of Tose’s.

Tose may have been down and out, but he hadn’t lost his confidence. “You know, Vince,” Tose told Fumo at lunch, “I was always there for you.”

That ticked off Fumo.

 “Leonard, I like you, you’re a nice guy, you’re a lot of fun, but you never did dick for me,” Fumo replied. “You didn’t even mention me” at the press conference that announced the Eagles were staying in Philadelphia.

“I didn’t?” Tose said, looking shocked.

He quickly regrouped.

 “Did I ever get you a Super Bowl ring?” Tose asked.

“Nope,” Fumo said.

“What’s your ring size,” Tose demanded.

Weeks later, Fumo received a ring commemorating the Eagles only Super Bowl appearance, where they lost to the Raiders in 1980, 27-10.

 The gold, green, and silver ring bore the team emblem, a flying Eagle clutching a football-shaped diamond in its talons. On one side of the ring it said “Fumo” and “friend.”

Tose died broke at age eighty-eight in 2003. Fumo felt sorry for him.

Leonard’s problem was that he “wanted to spend it all before he died,” Fumo said.

He just lived too long.

Target: The Senator now available at amazon.com.

3 comments:

  1. Tose suffered from dementia for years. If he sued the AC Casinos for stealing from a cripple instead of getting him drunk and stupid, he wouldn't have lost his wife at Resorts and moved the team to Vegas where the Raiders got a sweetheart deal and screwed their fan base.
    If Vince thought it through, he should have advised him to hook up with Wynn when he went to Vegas instead of losing the team in AC. He bet games like a degenerate until "they" cut him off. I bet Vince didn't want to talk too much about Blavat collecting money Tose owed.
    Millionaires who want to live like Billionaires don't last too long.

    He wanted to be Trump before Trump wanted to be Trump.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Last week one of the articles in The Marshall Project featured an article by Alysia Santo :

    This week, the New York Post reported that New York City’s police union is reducing the number of “get out of jail free” courtesy cards dispensed to members because too many people were selling them on eBay. These small plastic cards, often handed out to family and friends, supposedly help people avoid traffic tickets when slipped to an officer under a driver’s license. New York City police will now only get 20 cards per year, rather than 30. But do they actually work? Yes, according to some, including this eBay customer who bought a New Jersey State Police card and wrote a review about his experience: “He closed his ticket book and walked away. Already paid off!” —

    I found this an interesting read, the same thing happened during the Traffic Court trial when the Judges were all on trial for their lives, young prosecutors who came to watch the trial were in the hallway during a break talking about when they get pulled over for a traffic violation they show their credentials, sounded like it paid off for them as well.

    As one lead prosecutors on the case told the jury how much money never made it the City and State, she should have known about the prosecutors who were defrauding the system, they too should have been threatened with going to jail for the rest of their lives.Everyone ,in fact, with a card should go to jail.

    Traffic Court generated roughly 18 million a year to the City and State, the numbers which have been reported in the Inquirer, are way down in the last five years. So who defrauded the City and States coffers? Possibly a retiring Supreme Court Justice and his golfing buddies in the federal building.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you Senator Fumo for keeping the Eagles in Philadelphia, from all the prosecutors and members of the public who wished you ill and celebrated your demise, who partied with family and friends for the Philadelphia Eagles, who lifted our City to new heights and made us all proud.

    ReplyDelete

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