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Remembering the Time John F. Kennedy Almost Bought the Eagles

Today is the 59th anniversary on John F. Kennedy's inauguration as the 35th President of the United States of America. So why is that being mentioned on an Eagles blog? Because something almost happened involving the President that would have altered the Eagles franchise forever.

JFK and his brothers, Robert and Ted, all loved the game of football. In fact, they loved football so much that they discussed potentially owning a NFL team. That team? The Philadelphia Eagles.

In a NFL Network documentary series called The Untold NFL History of That Day in Dallas, a friend of the Kennedys mentioned that one day the three brothers were together and talked about the Eagles being for sale, and discussed on whether it seemed plausible to become NFL owners.

According to a writeup by the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Frank Fitzpatrick, the sale price for the Eagles at the time was listed around $4 Million, and Kennedy was worried he’d have nothing to do and bored when his second term ended (assuming he would win reelection due to his popularity). Kennedy would have been 51 years old after his second term, so he was thinking of what career he could get into once his political career ended. Here's more about what was discussed in the Oval Office that one afternoon about the Eagles"

"A sports-page junkie and football fanatic, JFK had read that the Eagles’ principal owner, James P. Clark, had recently died of a stroke. Reports said his team, just two years removed from an NFL championship, would be sold. “Jack and Bobby,” [sportswriter Bob O’Donnell] wrote, “thought it would be a terrific investment.” According to O’Donnell’s version, the president asked Ted to set up a meeting with Eagles management. The team’s president at the time was Frank McNamee, one of the “Happy Hundred” ownership group Clark had assembled in 1949. That meeting never took place. According to O’Donnell’s account, the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 scuttled whatever Eagles plans the Kennedys may have had."

So JFK's duties as President interrupted any possibility of him figuring out his future plans and desire of owning a football team. The team ended up being solid shortly after JFK's November assassination in 1963 to Jerry Wolman, a building developer, for $5.5 million.

So how different would the Eagles franchise have been if the Kennedys would have teamed up to buy the Eagles? It probably couldn't have been worse than what the Eagles ended up being in the 60s and 70s.

With Wolman as owner from 1963-1969, the team went 34-60-4 in seven seasons. They finished last in the division three times, and never finished better than 2nd place. Wolman's businesses crumbled into bankruptcy and he had to sell the team in Leonard Tose.

With Tose as owner of the franchise, the Eagles did have a brief window of success, but for the most part it was a painful era of Eagles football. The team went 92-120-5 in 15 seasons under Tose's control, winning the division only once. They made the playoffs four total times, and had a Super Bowl appearance, but they finished last in the division five times under Tose's rule.

The Kennedys likely would have made sure the Eagles had plenty of enough investments made into them to be among the league's best teams year-in and year-out. Their name and power would have drawn much more interest for the head coaching vacancies the Eagles had. So instead of guys like Jerry Williams, Ed Khayat and Mike McCormack, maybe the Kennedys hire a guy like Don Shula, Chuck Noll or John Madden.

Of course with the Kennedys from Massachusetts, it also begs the question would they have moved the Eagles up to their home state? The Boston Patriots were just two years old and in the AFL at this time, so there is a possibility that would have been discussed. Still, they would have had a hard time getting away with that, as fans and city officials got in the way of Leonard Tose trying to sell and move the team to Arizona in 1985.

One last "what if" from this hypothetical is about the stadium they would have played in. The Eagles were leaving Shibe Park in the late-60s/early-70s, and ended up going with Veterans Stadium in South Philly. With the Kennedys having full power, would they have been able to put the stadium somewhere else in the city they felt was better? There was discussion that the new shared Eagles and Philadelphia Phillies stadium in the 70s would be near 30th Street Station, and that proposed idea had some endorsements from city officials. Before South Philadelphia became the home of all the sports complexes, there were other ideas being spread for Veterans Stadium to be placed in other Philadelphia locations. Aside from near 30th Street Station, Center City and areas along the Schuylkill River were also discussed. Ultimately Veterans Stadium turned out pretty cruddy, so the question also becomes would the Kennedys have had turned the new Eagles Stadium of the 70s into something nicer than what the Vet turned out to be? Would they have built a football;;-only stadium and force the Phillies to get their own place?

It is very interesting to think about how the future of the Eagles franchise could have drastically changed if John F. Kennedy and his brothers would have purchased the team. Because of the Cuban Missile Crisis unfolding though, all this will ever be is a fun idea to think about.

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