Will the Real Joe Banner Please Stand Up?
Joe Banner is deep into talking about what it’s like, to run a pro football team in Philadelphia, when there’s a knock on his office door.
“Yeah,” he calls out.
The door opens.
“Oh my God!” Banner says. “Are you kiddin’ me?”
At the door is a young blonde with her newborn baby. “I didn’t want to interrupt,” she says. It’s Tina, team owner Jeff Lurie’s assistant, who’s been out on maternity leave.
“It’s one of the rules of the office,” Joe says as she hands over her daughter. “You have to bring your baby in, and I have to get to hold it.”
Sitting behind his desk, Joe cradles the newborn — her name is Olivia — up high on his shoulder, and starts cooing to her: “Pretty good grip. You have a very good grip. A good grip. You do. How you doin’?”
Before Olivia’s arrival, Banner had been talking about how, a few years ago, his son Jon woke up one Monday morning refusing to get out of bed: “Dad, you don’t know how horrible it is for me to go to school the day after we lose a game.” Jon was hearing stuff like The Eagles suck. Your dad doesn’t know what he’s doing. He was in third grade at Penn Charter.
Not knowing what he’s doing — that would be one of the kinder critiques of Joe Banner in Philadelphia. Generally, opinions, on sports-talk radio especially, get a little personal: that he’s a smug, cold bottom-line guy quite willing to jettison popular players once they approach the ripe old age of 30. Troy Vincent. Hugh Douglas. Duce Staley. Brian Dawkins — that one, Dawkins, really hurt.
The perception is he’s a guy who doesn’t really care about winning. Not enough, anyway. Not like we do. Though he’s very good at lining Jeff Lurie’s pockets with ever-increasing amounts of our cash. (Forbes says Lurie’s team is now worth a cool billion.)
“What’s going on?” Joe whispers to Olivia. She starts to fuss. “Don’t be doin’ that. Don’t be doin’ that. … This is the best lap in the whole building.”
“I probably gave you a cranky baby,” Tina apologizes.
“You’ve got the best lap in the whole building and you’re going to give me a hard time, huh?” Joe coos.
“Babies are his thing,” Tina explains.
Joe Banner gets up from his desk with Olivia. He’s a small man — tiny, really — with a springy, athletic bounce. Perfect for calming babies. Though Tina reminds him of another visit, when a two-year-old vomited across his desk from the relative safety of its mother’s lap.
“It was quite unpleasant,” Joe remembers pleasantly, bobbing around his desk with Olivia.
“Now she’s fine with you, Joe,” Tina observes, “so just take her for the afternoon.”
“How’s that thumb?” Banner asks Olivia. “You’re chumpin’ on that thing pretty good.”