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Wednesday, April 16, 2003
Tose bought Eagles in 1969 for $16.15 million
PHILADELPHIA -- Leonard Tose, a former Philadelphia Eagles owner and jet-setter who gambled away his fortune, died Tuesday at 88.
Tose died in his sleep in the hospice wing of St. Agnes Medical Center in Philadelphia, former Eagles general manager Jim Murray said.
Tose, who made his fortune in the trucking business, once estimated he lost as much as $50 million gambling. He spent his last years alone in a downtown hotel room.
He bought the Eagles in 1969 for $16.15 million, then a record for a professional sports franchise.
In 1976, Tose lured Dick Vermeil from UCLA to coach the hapless Eagles, a team with only one winning season from 1962 to 1975. Vermeil's 1980 team went to the Super Bowl, but lost to the Oakland Raiders.
Tose flew to Eagles home games in a helicopter, was married aboard the liner Queen Elizabeth 2 and fed reporters filet mignon and shrimp cocktail.
Former Philadelphia Inquirer sports editor Frank Dolson once wrote: "Some people collect stamps for a hobby. Others buy antiques. Tose's hobby is spending money.''
Many of his spending sprees were for good causes.
Tose was the driving force behind the Ronald McDonald House program, which provides families a place to live while their children are in the hospital. He also bankrolled the Eagles Fly for Leukemia program.
"He was excessive in many things, but I think the big thing he was excessive in was his generosity,'' Murray said.
Tose was popular with both players and employees, as evidenced by those who came to visit him in the final hours, including Murray, former Eagles linebacker Bill Bergey and former wide receiver Harold Carmichael. Vermeil called.
"I think the National Football League has lost one of its most unique characters in a position of ownership that ever existed,'' said Vermeil, now coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. "He was not ordinary. He lived life to the fullest. He tested it and, for the most part, got the most out of it.''
Bergey said Tose knew little about football but was committed to spending the money it took to win.
"He never claimed to be God's gift to the football world, but he was the best supporting person you could imagine,'' Bergey said. "All the players loved him,''
Gambling debts forced Tose to sell the team to Norman Braman in 1985. On his 81st birthday, in 1996, Tose was evicted from his seven-bedroom Main Line mansion after losing it in a U.S. marshal's sale.
In 1999, he told a congressional hearing on compulsive gambling that his losses totaled $40 million to $50 million.
"I made every mistake you can make,'' he told The Philadelphia Inquirer in April 2002. "I sit here and think of all the mistakes I made. You'd need a big book to put them all in.''
Tose unsuccessfully sued Atlantic City's Sands Hotel & Casino, claiming he was encouraged to drink while gambling and lost $10 million while drunk.
He was married five times and had one daughter, who served as a vice president of the Eagles when her father owned the team.
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