Book Excerpt: “Jerry Wolman: The World’s Richest Man”

Nearly 50 years ago, Jerry Wolman owned the Philadelphia Eagles, founded the Flyers and developed the Spectrum. Now, a new book tells his account of what happened between him and his then-right-hand man, Ed Snider, and what led him to lose it all. An exclusive excerpt, as told to Joseph and Richard Bockol

Earl Foreman, Jerry Wolman’s closest confidant and astute attorney, introduced his wife Phyllis and her immediate relatives to Wolman back in the mid-1950s. At family gatherings, Wolman met Phyllis’s stout father, Sol Snider, along with her brother, Ed, a bright recent graduate of the University of Maryland. Wolman took an instant liking to Sol, who was also involved in the real estate business and more than a dozen years wiser. Wolman invested in Sol’s Public National Bank, and the two became close friends.

One day in early 1962, Ed, now 29, called Wolman to ask for a favor. Eddie, six years Jerry’s junior, was struggling in the record business. He was short payroll for his record company, Edge Limited, and needed a small loan of $4,000. Jerry lent him the money. Ed and his then-partner, Gerald Lilienfield, repaid him the following week. This initial interest-free loan started a precedent of calls from Ed in search of short-term funds. Wolman was flush, and sorry for a young go-getter, and out of loyalty to Sol Snider and Earl Foreman, he raised no fuss.

Eventually, Ed called Wolman to explain that he would be unable to repay him approximately $30,000 and ask if he’d consider taking stock in the record company instead. Wolman received the all-but-worthless stock and forgave the young man’s loans. By the end of 1962, Snider’s Edge Limited business went belly-up.

Shortly thereafter, in the summer of 1963, a distraught Sol Snider telephoned his friend.

“Jerry, I’m worried about Eddie,” said Sol, his voice trembling. “He’s very depressed. … If there’s anything you can do to help him, I would consider it a tremendous favor.”

Wolman understood what Sol was asking of him. Sol arranged for Jerry to pick Eddie up at 16th and K Street in Washington, just down the block from Sol’s bank office. When Wolman saw the young Snider standing on the street corner, he was shocked. Ed looked like an unshaven, disheveled vagabond.

Snider plopped into the car, sullen and downtrodden. Jerry confided in strictest secrecy that he was negotiating to bid on the Philadelphia Eagles football franchise. Before Wolman could even complete his sentence, an instantaneous change came over Ed. He sat up straight, eagerly wanting to know the specifics of the prospects and plans. Wolman observed Snider’s impressive transformation and promised he’d make room for him somewhere if the purchase came to fruition.

Sol Snider called Jerry that night to thank him profusely and to say he’d never forget the favor.

BY THE MID-’60s, Ed Snider had come a long way from the D.C. street corner where Jerry Wolman had picked him and his spirits up. He was now treasurer and vice president of Wolman’s Eagles, with a high salary, entertainment expenses, and personal use of the company limo and chauffeur. Earl Foreman and Snider were Wolman’s right and left arms, assisting him in all his decisions. When Wolman attended league meetings for owners at resorts in Miami, Palm Springs and Hawaii, he always invited Foreman and Snider and their families, though other owners in the league were rarely accompanied by their front-office staff and associates or their family members. Nothing meant more to Snider than when Wolman gave him a gift of $83,000 for his down payment on a grand new home, after having made arrangements for his mortgage. In a letter to his benefactor on September 4, 1964, Snider wrote:

For the first time in my life, I have the desire to write a letter, the nature of which I have never had occasion to write before.

Jerry, I got the biggest thrill in my life today … going over to the home and realizing that this magnificent place would be where Myrna, the kids, and I would be living.

All of this added to the exciting, challenging, and wonderful opportunity that you have given to me with the Eagles.

I only hope that my close association with you will give me the insight to acquire the many wonderful characteristics that you so naturally come by — generosity, consideration, humor, instinct, vast intelligence, unequalled common sense, humility, understanding — I could go on forever. … Jerry, the finest thing that could happen to any man is to have you as a close friend — and the fact that this is the case with me overwhelms me daily. … There is nothing that is within my ability to do that I would not do for you, should you ask.

Eddie

By 1963, at the age of 36, Jerry Wolman was worth $36 million. The next year, he announced his boldest plan yet: He’d build the world’s tallest building in Chicago, the John Hancock Center. Yet the Eagles remained his passion.

IN 1966, WOLMAN sought to add to his sports empire. He placed his PR director, Hal Freeman, in charge of putting together a package to be presented to the NHL Board of Governors, which was looking to create six expansion franchises.

Wolman knew that the NFL disapproved of owners holding majority interests in any other professional team. He decided to bring a handful of loyal people on board to act as his front men, including Freeman, Bill Putnam and Snider.

On February 8, 1966, Wolman and Putnam made their presentation before the NHL Board of Governors in New York. When the committee emphasized that the 76ers were required to play more away games that year due to the infrequent availability of Convention Hall, Wolman knew he had to do something. “If you give us a conditional franchise,” he promised, “I’ll guarantee that we’ll build an arena within one year’s time that will seat no less than 15,000 people!

“That’s impossible,” uttered Bruce Norris, from Detroit. “

No it’s not,” said Arthur Wirtz, owner of the Chicago Blackhawks. “He’s building a 100-story building in Chicago. If anyone can build a substantial arena in that time, it’s him.”

The next day, Philadelphia was awarded a professional hockey franchise. Wolman purchased the team for $2 million, but in accordance with NFL league policy, he maintained a minority interest of only 22.5 percent in the hockey club. As usual, he gave the remainder of the ownership percentages of the hockey team, as well as the new arena, at no cost to his friends and business associates, mainly Bill Putnam, Jerome Schiff and Ed Snider. In addition, Wolman paid more than $8 million to build the sports arena that was soon to be named the “Spectrum.”

By mid-1966, Wolman found himself smack-dab in the center of a first-rate major league sports city, one that he was attempting to shape. He owned the Eagles; he was leasing Connie Mack Stadium to the Phillies; he had just founded and purchased the Flyers; and he was about to develop the arena that would be home to the 76ers as well as his new ice hockey team.

By late 1966, the Wolman empire was in trouble. There had been a problem with the foundation of the Chicago building, which turned one of the tallest buildings in the world into a big money pit. The banks started calling loans. But Wolman found a way out: A group of Kuwaiti businessmen would back him, provided they acquired the Flyers.

OVER THE PAST several months, Wolman had clawed and struggled to stave off bankruptcy. He knew a creditors-forced bankruptcy could come at any moment in the absence of overseas financing. If it did, Wolman had been advised, those who’d been included in his deals would lose all their interests. He was unwilling to take his friends down with him.

Wolman met with the team’s core interest holders, including Putnam and Snider. In order to obtain clear title to his hockey team’s assets, Wolman offered Putnam $1 million, to be paid out of the proceeds of his anticipated foreign deal. Similarly, he prearranged for a $1 million package for Ed Snider in exchange for Ed’s return of previously obtained shares from Wolman’s deals, except with regard to the Eagles (in which Snider held a minor interest). Jerry assured Ed, “This will straighten everything out; it will save me, and we’ll have the Eagles forever.” All of the men agreed to the outlined plans.

Every other partner signed the papers transferring their shares. But when Wolman presented the documentation to Ed Snider, seated in the conference room of the Eagles’ offices, Snider tilted his head away, tightened his lips, and refused to make eye contact with his boss.

“I’m not signing it,” Snider remarked quietly.

“What do you mean?” Wolman asked, almost losing his balance in astonishment.

Snider shook his head. Wolman would play Snider’s crushing next words over and over in his mind for decades: “I want to keep the hockey club,” Snider decreed, then looked up at his mentor.

“But Eddie, you already agreed,” Wolman said in disbelief.

Snider got up to leave.

“Eddie, do you know what you’re doing? It’s not just the hockey club. I could lose everything. I’d be ruined!” pleaded Jerry, gesturing for his partner not to exit the room.

“I’m not the only one who feels this way,” Snider said coldly.

“Eddie,” Jerry said in a last-ditch effort, “if this is about money, we can work something out. …

“I’m not signing it,” Snider growled. Then he adjusted his glasses and left the room.

Wolman watched as Snider exited the Eagles’ offices. Outside, the Eagles vice president got into the back of Wolman’s private limousine and was driven off.

Wolman raced to the phone and called Earl Foreman. However, Wolman was just as surprised by his attorney’s response. “Jerry,” Foreman said after a pause, “he’s my brother-in-law.”

From that moment on, a wedge of disloyalty irreparably divided the three young Washingtonians who together had ventured to Philadelphia to conquer the city’s sports world — Foreman, the attorney; Snider, the administrator; and Wolman, the builder, the innovator, and the money. They were never again to be a team.

After Wolman’s rescue by the Kuwaiti businessmen fell through, bankruptcy loomed. Wolman’s thoughts and feelings centered on the perceived betrayal that had caused his failed financing.

THE DAY AFTER Wolman learned that bankruptcy was his only remaining option, his emotions boiled over. Ed Snider haughtily walked past his boss in the Eagles office hallway without saying a word. Wolman turned around furiously, projecting the angst and anguish of his lost fortune, and watched the young man in shined shoes and dark-rimmed glasses saunter out, heading home for the day. The deal and the remnants of Wolman’s balance sheet were in the coffin. He literally had nothing more to lose.

Snider took the Eagles’ limo home. Wolman slowly ambled outside, as if in a trance, and hailed a cab. He watched the taxi’s meter all the way to Snider’s house in the suburbs. He entered and marched uninterrupted up the steps to Snider’s bathroom, where the new Flyers majority owner was preparing for the big season-opening hockey premiere. Standing in his jockey shorts, with shaving cream on his face, Snider appeared startled by the agitated, fiery expression of the Eagles boss in his mirror.

“What are you doing here?” Snider asked, and turned around cautiously.

“Eddie,” Wolman fumed, “I came to tell you to your face. I want you to know you’re fired.”

“You can’t fire me,” Snider retorted. “I’ve got a contract.”

“You’re no longer with the Eagles,” the owner shot back. “Don’t come to work tomorrow!” Disgusted, Wolman then left the house his former employee had only obtained with his help.

As expected, Wolman received a phone call from Earl Foreman within the hour, admonishing him and alleging that he didn’t have the authority to dismiss his vice president.

“The last time I checked,” Wolman shouted, “I still own 52 percent of the team, and I can fire whoever I want!”

Snider and Foreman drove to New York the next day to meet with Commissioner Pete Rozelle. The brothers-in-law presented a formal complaint in an attempt to reverse Snider’s dismissal. The commissioner was sympathetic but unwilling to intervene, saying the dispute over the firing was a team matter.

Moments after the duo left Rozelle’s office, the commissioner telephoned his friend, Wolman. Rozelle wanted him to know he had fully supported his decision, but warned the owner to be careful with regard to the two men.

By the fall of 1968, Wolman had been forced to sell his shares of the Spectrum back to Snider, and was frantically trying to protect his ownership of the Eagles in bankruptcy court. If he was forced to sell, he didn’t want Snider and Foreman swiping his prized asset. He had to find a buyer. Enter Leonard Tose, the franchise’s next owner.

THE JUDGE HAD MADE it abundantly clear he believed there was considerable equity in the Philadelphia Eagles to enhance the sums available for the unsecured creditors.

In order to sell the team, Wolman needed to have 100 percent ownership and control of the team’s corporate stock. He met uncomfortably with Foreman, face-to-face. On October 26th, 1968, with no viable alternative, Wolman agreed to pay Foreman and Ed Snider $2.6 million from said sale for their interests in the football franchise. Under the terms, that money could be divided among the two men however they chose. All other ownership parties and factions agreed to amenable payment for their respective shares — which had been given to them by Wolman.

A hearing on preliminary bids to purchase the club was scheduled toward the end of the year. At that hearing, the judge asked, “Is anyone present interested in bidding on the team?”

Wolman heard a familiar voice in the back of the courtroom. Earl Foreman stood up to announce that he would seriously consider making a bid. Foreman clarified his position, however, by alleging that Jerry Wolman’s interest in the Philadelphia Eagles had little or no value, since the asset had deteriorated considerably under his “mismanagement.”

Wolman was shocked by his former best friend’s words. “That’s ridiculous,” he stood up to shout. The judge then posed his question directly to Wolman: “How much do you feel the team is worth?”

“Your Honor,” Wolman boasted, “I believe the Eagles are worth $16 million!” The courtroom emitted a united gasp. No professional team had ever been valued so high.

The judge gave Wolman 90 days to find a buyer at that price. Wolman left with a mission: Hell would freeze over before he allowed the team to be bought by his adversaries at a bargain-basement price based on bald aspersions against him.

Wolman knew that debonair Leonard H. Tose, a slim Norristown trucking operator in his early 50s, had been part of a group that unsuccessfully bid on the Eagles when Wolman bought the team in 1963. Never having met the affluent industrialist, Wolman set up an immediate confidential meeting.

Tose arrived at the Eagles’ offices impeccably dressed in a sharkskin suit, with a curvaceous woman on his left arm and two bottles of Johnnie Walker Red under his right. After asking Tose’s lovely companion to wait outside Wolman’s office, the two men sat to discuss the future of the football team. Tose plopped the bottles of liquor down on the desk as Wolman scoured for two glasses. Tose filled each with dense mahogany scotch. By the time Wolman had taken two toasty sips, Tose had conspicuously emptied his first glass and poured himself another.

Over the course of their discussion, Wolman sensed how keenly his guest coveted the football team. Their conversation continued into Tose’s opening of the second bottle. Jerry had persuaded Tose that $16 million for the organization was the best buy he’d ever make. “

The sport is gaining immense popularity, the league is expanding throughout the country, and television contracts will continue to boom,” Wolman told his engrossed potential buyer. “Why, within 20 years, the team will be worth $800 million!” That drew a facial glimmer from Tose. He was convinced.


From Jerry Wolman: The World’s Richest Man, as told to Joseph Bockol and Richard Bockol. Copyright © 2010 3rd and Long Productions, LLC.

Editor’s note: Ed Snider’s side of the dissolution of his partnership with Jerry Wolman is told in Full Spectrum, a book written by Jay Greenberg that Snider commissioned in 1997. In it, Snider details many disagreements with Wolman’s account. Among them: Snider denies that his record company failed and says he sold it because he “wasn’t enjoying it anymore”; he flatly denies ever agreeing to sell his share of the Flyers to Wolman; he denies that the $2 million Flyers franchise fee paid in 1966 was put up by Wolman; he denies being “fired” by Wolman from the Eagles; and he denies that Wolman provided the down payment on his house, but acknowledges that Wolman once tried to pay off his mortgage — a gift, Snider says, he refused.

Around the Web

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.