New allure for Lurie
Eagles owner takes next step
The owners of the Super Bowl participants spoke Monday, wished each other well, and now will let their teams fight it out for the championship Feb. 6 in Jacksonville, Fla.
What's old hat for Robert Kraft is brand new for Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, a Chestnut Hill native who as a youth lived and breathed Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and Patriots. Lurie said he dropped the Patriots off the list for obvious reasons. Yet he couldn't have planned it better -- his Philadelphia Eagles against the New England Patriots, a franchise Lurie once tried to purchase.
If the Eagles, which he bought in 1994, were his consolation prize, what a prize they've been. In the last four seasons, the Eagles have had the same regular-season record (48-16) as the Patriots. Of course, the Patriots have won two of the last three Super Bowls and the Eagles have lost three of the last four NFC Championship games.
"We're so excited here," Lurie said yesterday in a phone interview. "Our first goal is to win the Super Bowl, that's our primary goal, but we had to get here first. Now that we're here, we're going to give it our best shot against a great team and a great organization."
Kraft and Lurie are considered powerful owners in the NFL. Lurie works tirelessly on the finance, broadcast, diversity hiring, Super Bowl, NFL Charities, and capital ventures committees. He sits with Kraft on the finance, broadcast, and capital ventures committees and he said, "When it comes to NFL issues, we're probably as close as any two owners on how we think." Other than the instant replay issue in 1999, Lurie can't recall if they ever disagreed.
Both invested more than $300 million of their own money to build new stadiums, a price some experts thought was too high.
"There are uncanny similarities," said Lurie, who graduated from Clark University, has a master's degree in psychology from Boston University, and a PhD in social policy from Brandeis. "Both Bob and myself bought struggling franchises in major media markets with stadium problems. There was potential in both cases for both franchises to become marquee sports organizations, but when we started, we were far from it."
Here are more similarities: They have built their organizations with a top coach, a top quarterback, a top scouting department, and superb salary cap management.
"We're similar in that we hire high-character people, players, coaches, and in our organizations, and we let the football people make the football decisions," Lurie said.
Yet the tone of the teams is very different. Lurie acknowledges his team is loaded with free spirits and he encourages expression from his players. The Patriots are very conservative and the players' mind-sets mirrors coach Bill Belichick's.
Lurie, 53, likes his team being compared to the Red Sox, a team that went 86 years without winning a world championship, whose players are expressive and fun, yet, "It's all done within the team concept of team being first. I had the opportunity to sit at Yankee Stadium and cheer on the Red Sox during the playoffs, and they had a very lovable team that people can really relate to. They had fun, but they won."
Eagles coach Andy Reid has been broad-minded. He brought in Terrell Owens and allowed him to be "T.O."
Lurie said of Owens, "He's the ultimate example of hard work, the ultimate warrior. A very exciting player to watch." Lurie and Reid have embraced a more liberal policy than the Patriots. They allow assistant coaches to talk to the media. When there's a medical issue, the trainer or the doctor can also speak to the media.
When Reid thought trainer Rick Burkholder was getting too specific about Owens's injury at a press conference Wednesday, he cut him off.
"T.O. has really lent something to the team in that he has taken the pressure on his own shoulders and has given the team a dominant presence," Lurie said.
But Lurie says the team leader is quarterback Donovan McNabb, with whom he's endured three previous NFC Championship game losses.
"And with each [loss, president] Joe Banner, Andy Reid, and Donovan were reenergized and recommitted to rev it up a notch to the point we never let the NFC Championship losses get us down. We just tried to find ways to get to the next level. We worked hard at that."
If there is a looseness -- they're not the "Idiots" of Yawkey Way -- it starts with McNabb.
"Donovan is the kind of guy who'd go up and hug the janitor," said Lurie. "He'd treat the lowest man on the ladder the same way he'd treat anyone else. We want the personalities within the team concept. I think the beauty of the quarterbacks in this game is that they are so classy and very team-oriented. I don't know Tom Brady as well as I do Donovan, but from what I see of him on TV, he's such a classy young man, a real winner. I think he and Donovan may have different personalities, but their priorities are in the right place."
Lurie gave the keys to the financial structure of the team to Banner, a Newton native and childhood friend. Banner has earned his stripes, and is one of the best salary cap men in the league. Banner signed McNabb in 2002 to a 12-year, $115 million deal that included more than $20 million in guaranteed signing bonus money, and in 2004 added a high-priced receiver (Owens) and pass rusher (Jevon Kearse).
The Eagles have nine Pro Bowl players, the best record in the NFC (13-3), and demolished Minnesota and Atlanta in the playoffs. Lurie knows the defending Super Bowl champions, the team he once rooted for, will be his team's toughest test. He said he loves the passion of the fans in New England and understands it because he is still one of them.
When the Red Sox defeated the Yankees in the American League Championship Series last season, all those feelings came back.
Lurie knows some of his extended family in the Boston area have not converted to Eagles fans.
Except for one -- his mother.
"She could care less about the Patriots," Lurie said. "She's an Eagles fan."