WATCH: ESPN Did a 30 for 30 on Ex-Eagles Owner Leonard Tose
The Philadelphia Eagles were once owned by a very nice man named Leonard Tose who smoke, drank and gambled away all his money. That’s the story in Tose: The Movie, a weird, entertaining 15-minute 30 for 30 short by Mike Tollin.
Tollin, who previously did the 30 for 30 feature-length doc Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL, is a producer and director who’s been involved in lots of sports-themed films and TV shows like Varsity Blues, Radio, Arli$$ (as well as an Oscar-nominated Hank Aaron documentary). His mini-feature is framed around his attempt to get a narrative film made about former Eagles owner Leonard Tose.
Tose, a trucking magnate, invested in the team as early as 1949. Eventually, he bought the Eagles for a record $16.1 million in 1969. He owned the franchise until 1985, when he sold it in order to pay off $25 million in gambling debts in Atlantic City.
“I was one of those compulsive gamblers,” Tose says in an archival interview in the film, “and it didn’t mix with the scotch.” He later sued a casino for plying him with alcohol as he gambled tens of thousands of dollars at a time long into the night, but lost.
He also spearheaded the founding of the Ronald McDonald House, after an Eagles player’s daughter was diagnosed with leukemia. Yes, an Eagles player’s daughter was seriously sick, and Tose and general manager Jim Murray somehow got McDonald’s to help start a charity because of it. Which is pretty amazing!
The movie brings four Eagles experts from that era: journalist Ray Didinger, Murray, quarterback and golf course owner Ron Jaworski and coach Dick Vermeil. They share stories about Tose as the short takes us through the highlights of Tose’s tenure with the team, notably The Miracle at the Meadowlands and the NFC Championship Game win over Dallas in 1980.
“If I’m going to describe Leonard Tose in one word it would be: complex,” Didinger says, which feels like cheating. I really enjoy how Didinger comments on Tose’s sartorial splendor in the way he would compliment an old football player: “I never saw a man that, on a day-in, day-out basis, dressed better than him.”
As it happens, my father covered the Eagles for the Bucks County Courier Times during Tose era. Journalists liked Tose, my dad told me, because he always had a spread laid out at Eagles home games. Tose figured if you treated the writers nice, they’d be more likely to say nice things about you. As an occasional sportswriter myself, I must say I encourage all team owners to have nice food for reporters.
As for the other panelists, Vermeil cries (obviously), Murray says “Atlantic City wouldn’t be shutting any casinos if [Tose] were still alive” and Jaworski recounts a tale when “golf balls rained down from the 700 Level” during an Eagles game. Maybe national announcers should bring up that instead of the tired story of when we threw snowballs at a crappy, fill-in Santa.
Tose died in 2003, and was pretty much penniless (several of the panelists speak of having to help him out financially). The movie shows him as a man who spent life of enjoying his vices and living and dying with his football team — like many good Philadelphians before him.
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