Will the Real Joe Banner Please Stand Up?

When he first came to town to run the Eagles, Joe Banner was known as a smart guy and a generous, sensitive soul. Then Eagles Nation got ahold of him — and made him the most hated man in Philadelphia

But even as the team did well, Banner got heat. He understood the JOE THE CLOTHES SALESMAN signs at the Vet making fun of him early on — as somebody from Boston, as somebody with no football background, he had to prove himself. Winning, though, didn’t ingratiate Banner to fans: He was still the cold money manager who got rid of favorite football sons before we were ready to part with them. And word had it that he was a bear to deal with in negotiations, that some players in the locker room hated Banner.

“Hate? That’s a little much,” says Ike Reese, a WIP jock who played linebacker for the Eagles for seven years. “I think most players, during the time I played, thought, ‘He’s going to be tough to deal with. Prepare yourself to be ready to move on.’” Banner admits that several years ago, linebacker Jeremiah Trotter told him how his negotiating stance, wherein he’d list a player’s deficiencies in excruciating detail, was being received by those donning helmets and pads; Banner toned it down.

Peter Schaffer reps current Eagles Mike Patterson and Jamaal Jackson, and ex-Eagle Tra Thomas, whom Banner didn’t re-sign last year, when Thomas was 34. “I’ve had discussions with Joe,” Schaffer says, “that as medical science and doctors get better, the age cutoff should change.”

Ah yes, one of the prime anti-Banner arguments: Hit 30, the team is done with you. Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor and Trotter and Thomas and Corey Simon and Staley and Brian Dawkins — what they all shared were fans bellyaching that Banner was cheap and cold for not signing them for a year or two more. What these players also share is a sharp downturn in performance, post-Eagles. Even Dawkins, who made the Pro Bowl last season playing for Denver, was targeted by Reid’s offense when the Broncos came to town, because Dawkins now has trouble covering receivers. Banner can’t win. He and Reid have made generally smart football decisions on cutting players loose, but Banner still gets hammered as unfeeling by the same fans who claim he doesn’t want to dance at the Super Bowl as much as they do.

One other thing: Schaffer says he finds Banner not just smart as a whip, but “enjoyable and witty” at the negotiating table.

Enjoyable and witty isn’t the public Joe. But just as fans don’t get him, he doesn’t get us, the fans. That became crystal clear with the opening of the Eagles’ new stadium.

The Linc was something Banner worked on day and night for three years. He had to convince City Council, and Mayor Rendell, and Governor Ridge, that we couldn’t build a new stadium just for baseball and refurbish the Vet for football. We needed a football-only stadium. Jeff Lurie himself would contribute more than $300 million, and “nobody in the world was putting up that kind of money privately to build a stadium,” Banner says. “And it took — this can be taken the wrong way — but it took courage on our part to believe we could generate enough business.”