As negotiations to keep the Eagles in Philadelphia were recessed until today, the National Football League, which has said it is powerless to stop franchise shifts, yesterday filed suit in U.S. District Court there to prevent debt-ridden owner Leonard Tose from taking his team to Phoenix.
Amid conflicting, unconfirmed reports that Tose either had made up his mind to stay in Philadelphia or already had signed a deal with Phoenix businessman James Monaghan, representatives of the Eagles, the city and its major lending institutions met twice yesterday to negotiate what Philadelphia officials hoped would be a $42 million loan and refinancing deal to keep the Eagles.
The talks recessed until 1 p.m. today with one hangup delaying a resolution: the major lending institutions do not want Tose or his daughter, Susan Fletcher, the team's vice president, to operate the Eagles, according to a source. They would remain as figureheads, the source said.
The source also said that impetus for moving the team to Arizona was coming not from Tose, but primarily from his daughter, who was said not to like Philadelphia and who thinks the team can make more money in Phoenix.
After the meeting, Mayor W. Wilson Goode said Tose and the banks continue to disagree about "control over management." But Goode added that the city's odds for keeping the team had increased to 70-30.
"I am convinced that Mr. Tose is trying to work to find a way to keep the team in the city," Goode said. "I think there is absolutely no certainty that that will happen, but I think the odds indeed have increased because of his expressed desire to do so."
Eagles spokesman Ed Wisneski denied a report that Tose, whose casino gambling losses are partly responsible for his being a reported $40 million in debt, and Monaghan would meet today in Orlando, Fla., where Monaghan has another business and residence.
In the Phoenix suburb of Tempe, the Arizona State University Board of Regents met in executive session to discuss a lease for the Eagles at Sun Devil Stadium. But the regents put off any public comment on the situation until after meeting again today, according to regent Jack Phister.
Sen. Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) has said announcement of a move to Phoenix could come as early as Monday, but a newspaper in Phoenix reported yesterday that no announcement would be forthcoming until after a special NFL meeting in New York Tuesday to discuss the Eagles' situation and the issues it raises.
Even if Tose decides to keep the team in Philadelphia, the NFL suit filed yesterday is not moot because it could establish that the league has the legal power to require teams wishing to move to justify their request.
The NFL considers such a ruling vital in light of court decisions in the Los Angeles Raiders' antitrust case that resulted in a $49 million judgment against the league. The league has been gun-shy, as one official put it recently, about trying to stop other teams from moving because of the possibility of losing another suit.
In a civil complaint filed yesterday, the league asked the court to enforce the Eagles' contract to be the NFL team in Philadelphia. The NFL also alleged that Tose secretly had negotiated "in bad faith" to move the team. It also said there was "substantial likelihood the league members would not approve a move."
NFL lawyers were said to be contemplating their next move: whether to seek a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction.
"What began as a trickle, in the wake of the Raiders' case in California, now threatens to become flood if the Eagles leave the country's fourth-largest market," the NFL said in a statement released from its New York headquarters.
"The NFL is concerned at the damage the Eagles' situation might do to the public perception of professional football."
Wisneski said Tose would have no comment about the NFL suit.
In Washington, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said he had written Commissioner Pete Rozelle, urging the NFL to adapt "a rule of reason" bylaw, requiring a simple majority to govern franchise shifts, when the league meets Tuesday.
Few details surrounding Tose's impending deal with Monaghan have surfaced other than that Monaghan intends to buy a minority interest in the team and move it to Phoenix. There has been speculation that Monaghan will be purchasing the entire franchise and taking control of it in two or three years. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported yesterday that such a deal involved $40 million cash, with Monaghan arranging a $45 million loan. In effect, Monaghan would be paying $85 million for the franchise.
In its suit, the NFL contends, "The league has recently been requested to approve certain financing transactions regarding the Eagles, one of the effects of which would, as proposed, result in transfer of a substantial ownership interest in the Eagles to a person who, on information and belief, intends to acquire an NFL franchise and transfer it to Phoenix.
"In connection with this request the league was not informed of, or asked to approve, a move by the Eagles' . . . franchise to Phoenix. On information and belief, however, the defendants, absent action by this court, will sign contract commitments in the near future requiring the Eagles to operate in Phoenix, Ariz."
Sources confirmed that Monaghan would eventually take control of the Eagles, if his deal with Tose goes through, but one source said that the $85 million deal was about $10 million too high. Another said Monaghan was paying $15 million for 25 percent of the team and that the Toses would retain control over it.
In Philadelphia, the Associated Press reported a source as saying that Tose was being paid $30 million for a minority interest in the team and that he already has received some of that money.
The deal to keep the team in Philadelphia was believed to involve the city's major lending institutions putting together a $42 million package of loans and refinancing.
On Thursday night, Tose emerged from two days of seclusion in his Villanova, Pa., home to get a haircut and meet with city officials. He told Frank Dolson of the Philadelphia Inquirer that he wants to stay in Philadelphia.
"I'm not very happy about the contemplated move to Phoenix," Dolson quoted Tose as saying. "I feel very close ties to the city."
Tose said that his lawyers had advised him to remain quiet, but he said he was hurt by the city's anger. "I guess it's a natural reaction," he said. "I didn't foresee it, but it doesn't really surprise me . . . I don't feel very happy. I don't feel very good." He said he has signed no documents with Monaghan.
Meanwhile, Louis Guida, a Yardley, Pa., investment broker who recently bought a limited partnership in Laurel Race Course, said he had sent telegrams to the St. Louis Cardinals, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and New Orleans Saints, asking about their availability if the Eagles moved.