Leonard Tose's days as owner of the Philadelphia Eagles appear to be numbered because a California bank has told him that it will extend him no extra time to refinance the National Football League team.
Sources told The Washington Post yesterday that Crocker National Bank has informed the debt-ridden owner it will not sit still for default on any provisions of its $27 million in loans to Tose and the team. If Tose is unable to get a minority partner or other refinancing, the bank likely will begin foreclosure proceedings, take over the team and sell it. The Eagles are pledged as collateral for the loans.
"Leonard tried to buy some time with the bank, and the bank said no," a source in Philadelphia said yesterday. "It means the bank's on offense, and Leonard's on defense. The ball's in their court . . . on the West Coast. If they were to execute the default, then he'd have to sell the team. It's the beginning of Armageddon for Leonard, if he can't get a minority partner or raise the money."
In its latest issue, the Edelstein Pro Football Letter, a respected weekly newsletter on the business side of the sport published in Philadelphia, reported that the Crocker bank this week began foreclosure proceedings against Tose. It said Tose has about 30 days to come up with a new minority partner in order to retain control of the team he has owned since 1970. Edelstein reported that Tose must raise $15 million to stay out of default.
Spokesmen for Crocker National and Tose declined comment, and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle was unavailable.
"To my knowledge, that (the beginning of foreclosure proceedings) has not been the case," said Jay Moyer, the NFL's lawyer in New York. "The bank has not formally advised him of that at all . . . He's obviously under pressure to get the team on firm financial footing in the foreseeable future, but it isn't imminent pressure."
The Edelstein Letter reported that Tose may be negotiating with a potential minority partner named Redick Edwards in Houston. Moyer said he had not heard of Edwards until Wednesday, and Edelstein said civic leaders in Houston and other NFL owners are unaware of Edwards or his background.
"We don't comment on internal business matters," said Ed Wisneski, the Eagles' director of communications.
Tose, 69, accumulated debts -- currently at about $30 million -- by lavish spending and losing at casino gambling. Potential minority partners or investors have been unwilling to make a deal, because Tose would keep control of the franchise.
In December, Tose was set to sell a minority interest in the Eagles to James Monaghan, a Phoenix resident, and move the team there in return for Monaghan personally guaranteeing a refinancing of Tose's loans with Crocker National. That deal fell through when news of the move was leaked to a Phoenix newspaper, and both the NFL and City of Philadelphia sued in federal courts to prevent the move.
Subsequently, Tose accepted a package of stadium improvements and financial concessions from the City of Philadelphia. But a deal to borrow $42 million from a consortium of Philadelphia lending institutions collapsed when Tose refused to relinquish control over the day-to-day operation of the franchise.
At a special league meeting Dec. 18 in New York, Rozelle formed a three-man committee headed by Tampa Bay Buccaneers owner Hugh Culverhouse to study Tose's financial problems and make recommendations to other NFL owners.
Culverhouse, Buffalo's Ralph Wilson and Denver's Pat Bohlen were unavailable for comment yesterday. According to the Edelstein Letter and one other source, league owners are not expected either to guarantee another loan for Tose or bail him out by lending the money to him.
At Rozelle's annual State of the NFL press conference during Super Bowl week, a reporter asked why the league would continue to bail Tose out of his debts. Rozelle replied, "We'll have to wait until the bottom line is written before making a judgment."
Yesterday, one source said making refinancing arrangements for Tose was not a primary purpose of the Dec. 18 special meeting. He said it was to make sure that Tose did not move the team in the middle of the night, as Robert Irsay had done in taking the Colts from Baltimore to Indianapolis. There also is concern about Al Davis' $49 million antitrust victory, and a $1.3 billion antitrust suit filed by the USFL, which has a team in Phoenix.
With the Davis case still in litigation, the NFL did not attempt to stop Irsay's move. But it moved quickly in the Tose case. CAPTION: Picture, Owner Leonard Tose of the Philadelphia Eagles reportedly must raise $15 million to avoid default. AP