During the Philadelphia Eagles' final preseason game with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Veterans Stadium Susan Fletcher, the Eagles' new front office chief, had a lengthy meeting in the executive box with her lawyers.
"I have to give a deposition tomorrow so we had to get together," said Fletcher, one of the principals in an emotional battle for ownership of the team. "It's a difficult way to try to watch a game."
It also became the latest bizarre scene from the tumultuous world of the Eagles, who are regrouping after a series of astonishing administrative and on-the-field changes that started with Coach Dick Vermeil's sudden resignation after last season.
Amid the ownership struggle, the Eagles are searching for ways to return to the glory days of 1980, when they marched to the Super Bowl, prodded by Vermeil's fire and their own overwhelming desire to win.
Gone is Vermeil's boot-camp, high-intensity approach, where practices were three hours long and almost as emotional as games. Vermeil's successor, Marion Campbell, has tried a new way: shorter workouts, firm but low-key guidance, and a positive attitude.
"We are trying to regain the Eagle attitude," said cornerback Herman Edwards. "Marion has done a very good job of getting everything very positive around here. We've had a very good camp, with everyone on the right page. I'm very encouraged by what I've seen."
Under the Eagles' new front office structure, Campbell and Lynn Stiles, the team's executive director of personnel, run the football operation once headed by Vermeil. The business side is run by Fletcher, the Eagles vice president and one of the newest celebrities on the often zany Philadelphia sports scene.
Leonard Tose, Fletcher's father, is the owner of record, although he has been trying to sell at least some of the franchise to offset substantial personal and business debts. Presently, he and Fletcher are being sued by a group of prospective buyers who claim Tose agreed to sell 99 percent of the team (for $40 million and other considerations), then tried to cancel the deal. That group officially includes Fletcher, who would be managing general partner under the new ownership setup.
Until the legal issues are solved (next court date: Sept. 7), Fletcher is firmly entrenched atop the team's administrative structure. Previously the Eagles lawyer, she and Rams' owner Georgia Frontiere are the only women operating NFL franchises. And, like Frontiere's reign in Anaheim, Fletcher's regime has been plagued by controversy.
Since last winter, when she assumed her new duties, Fletcher has made sweeping changes in the front office. Among those eventually dismissed were the general manager, Jim Murray, as well as the marketing manager and the business manager. Murray's departure was surprising, because he owns 1 percent of the team and once had been described by Tose as his best friend.
According to the memorandum of agreement signed by the potential buying group and Tose (he's been struggling for years to hold onto the team), the new owners are to assume $33 million in Eagle debts and lend Tose $9 million to meet his personal debts. Tose's estate would have to pay back both amounts after his death.
"I think we'll show a profit this year," said Fletcher, 41, a former junior high school teacher who ran her own clothing firm before entering law school. "We estimate that we will save as much as $1.5 million this year in terms of overhead expenses as a result of the cost-saving measures we've instituted."
Fears that Fletcher's bottom-line attitude might adversely affect the Eagles' on-the-field performance have diminished. Philadelphia was the first team to sign all its draft choices this year and there were very few contract squabbles with veterans. When injuries decimated the linebacking corps in training camp, the Eagles quickly traded a No. 2 choice for Atlanta's Joel Williams, and then promptly renegotiated his contract.
"I've really done a lot of soul searching the last couple of months," said Fletcher, who alienated some employes by intitially installing a time clock, which was removed a few weeks ago. "There has been a lot of pain and very little pleasure. But all I really ask is that people don't judge because I'm a female, a girl trying to do a man's job."
Fletcher describes herself as "basically a very open, straightforward person. I don't have the personality that allows me to soft-pedal people. I'm direct and blunt and probably very tactless at certain points, because I am in a hurry to get where I want to go. I'm not very patient. We had to restructure things, and it was very tough to remold people who had a philosophy very different from mine . . . The people around me now are loyal, competent and driven.
"If I had the attitude that I'm the boss' daughter and I'm going to stay here no matter what, so I don't have to do a good job, where would I be? I have to treat my role here as a professional. I want to succeed because I am a professional, because I am competent, and not because I'm here by virtue of my birthright . . . You get a lot of power very quickly in the NFL. I have to constantly shake myself and say, hey lady, remember objectivity.
"I'm also convinced that once all litigation is settled, that Leonard Tose will remain as the Eagles owner."
The shocking resignation by a burned-out Vermeil, following a disheartening 3-6 season, created a significant leadership void. To replace him, Tose promoted Campbell, Vermeil's defensive coordinator who had been Atlanta's coach for less than two years in the mid-1970s.
"We haven't been a very good football team the last year and a half, and we knew that, coming into camp, we had to get ourselves back on the right track," Campbell said. Nicknamed Swamp Fox, Francis Marion Campbell is as quiet as Vermeil was vocal. But when he does lose his temper, "everyone listens intently," linebacker Jerry Robinson said.
The Eagles have lost 13 of their last 20 games after a 6-0 start in 1981. They were badly bruised by the players strike last fall and then the bottom fell out against the Giants when they couldn't gain a first down rushing. Campbell reduced Vermeil's emphasis on passing and rebuilt the offense around halfback Wilbert Montgomery, who promptly hurt a knee in preseason. Until he returns, No. 1 draft choice Michael Haddix, who was impressive against Pittsburgh, and veteran Perry Harrington will fill in.
Injuries also have sidelined linebackers Reggie Wilkes and Frank LeMaster and offensive tackle Dean Miraldi, which prompted the return of retired veteran Stan Walters.
Campbell will get a good idea how things are progressing Saturday when the Eagles open their season in San Francisco.
"We've all seen the change in emphasis," quarterback Ron Jaworski said. "The younger guys see now they have a chance to start. You can also see the change in the team. We had to learn to win again and we did in preseason (3-1). We're getting a good feeling about ourselves. I don't know how good we are, but I do know that we aren't a last-place team like all the experts are saying."