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

Banner had to get banks to agree on the risk. He had to figure out how to pay all that debt service. And he had to jet up from the Super Bowl in Miami in 1999 to break a stalemate in Harrisburg, by devising a plan — “It was my idea!” — to assure that stadium tax revenue would cover the state’s cost. So there it was, finally, a glorious new stadium in the fall of ’03, the first time in their 70-year history that the Eagles had their very own place to play. What a wonderful gift to the fans! On the way to the grand prize, homing right in on that Super —

A small interruption. Brought to you by Angelo Cataldi. Something that would be called Hoagiegate.

Cataldi got wind that the Eagles would be restricting the size of packages fans could bring into the Linc, ostensibly for reasons of security in the wake of 9/11, and he seized the opportunity on-air:

“Jeff Lurie and Joe Banner are telling me I can’t bring my hoagie to the game?” he shouted repeatedly. “I have to eat my hoagie at 12:45?” He said it over and over and over and over — that Lurie and Banner were taking hoagies out of our mouths.

Banner went public with a rebuttal: “It is patently irresponsible in this day and age to question the motives behind a policy driven by and recommended by security experts.” That was a colossal mistake, coming off as defiant instead of sensitive. The Daily News created a front page with a hoagie coming out of Jeff Lurie’s ears. Then-editor Zack Stalberg remembers Banner calling him to make his case again and again for an hour and a half: It’s not about money. It’s security. Many other stadiums have these rules.

Cataldi also said, on-air, “If the Eagles are given the opportunity to choose the security, I totally expect them to wear swastikas on their arms.” Both Jeff Lurie and Joe Banner are Jewish. The Eagles complained to WIP management, and Cataldi was suspended for two days.

Still, the Eagles caved in to a foaming fan base by allowing larger, clear-plastic-wrapped packages — our hoagies! — through one entrance at the Linc.

But here’s the rub, where Banner’s hyper-logical world collides with the strange theater of sports fandom. We’ll never know whether the team banning fans from bringing food into the Linc was about security (as Banner still says), or to enrich the food concessionaires (given that he also says, “Every penny we made from concessions was new money that could help us justify the investment”). But that’s beside the point. Hoagiegate wasn’t about greed, but ignorance.