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Subject: Leonard Tose, 88, Former Owner of the Philadelphia Eagles

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Date Posted: April 16, 2003 2:01:59 EDT

Leonard Tose, a son of an immigrant peddler who built a multimillion-dollar trucking business, bought the Philadelphia Eagles pro football team in 1969 and later sold the business and the team to pay off more than $25 million in gambling debts at Atlantic City casinos, died yesterday in Philadelphia. He was 88.

A slim, suave man who always dressed impeccably, Mr. Tose was, by his admission, a compulsive gambler and an alcoholic, with a lifestyle others called flamboyant and he called comfortable. He and the fourth of his five wives had matching Rolls-Royces.

"I have a limousine," he once said. "It's eight years old, and it's got 300,000 miles on it. I move around by helicopter sometimes because it's quicker. I like to go to Acapulco on vacations. To me, that's not flamboyant."

By 1985, the Eagles and the trucking company were gone. A decade later, there was no mansion in the exclusive Main Line suburbs, no limousine, no helicopter, no Dom Pérignon.

In recent years, Mr. Tose lived modestly in a hotel in Philadelphia's Center City. The bills were paid by three or four friends led by Dick Vermeil, his former Eagles coach and now coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.

"When he had money, he had a lot of friends," Vermeil once said. "When the money was gone, many friends were gone."

In 1971, Mr. Tose's second wife asked a court to declare him incompetent to handle his affairs because he was spending so much. She lost.

"She sued me because I played gin too much," he said. "I never picked up a card again."

But that was not so. Mr. Tose told Pete Rozelle, the National Football League commissioner, he would not go to casinos again. But he did not keep that promise and was notoriously unsuccessful at blackjack.

The casinos sent limousines and provided him with his own table, dealer, cocktail waitress and monogrammed glasses kept filled with scotch. He sometimes played seven $10,000 hands simultaneously. On one night, he signed $1 million in credit markers. In 72 losing nights, he lost $14.67 million at the Sands alone.

On some nights, he won big, stuffing athletic bags with hundreds of thousands of dollars. In the end, he lost it all, by his estimate more than $20 million at Resorts International and $14 million at the Sands.

"I don't even know the total number for sure," he said. "I had serious blackouts. There were times when I would get up in the morning and nobody ever wanted to tell me what I lost. I didn't know whether I lost $50,000 or $500,000. Stupid!"

In 1991, the Sands sued him for $1.23 million in gambling debts. He countersued, contending that the casino got him too drunk to know what he was doing. Eventually, the casino won.

Leonard Hyman Tose was born March 6, 1915, in Bridgeport, Pa. His father, who came to the United States from Russia, settled outside Philadelphia and was a peddler with a pack on his back. He eventually owned 10 trucks, the beginning of the family business.

Eventually, Tose Inc. owned more than 700 trucks and grossed $20 million a year.

Mr. Tose went to Notre Dame, played end on the freshman football team but never on the varsity and graduated in 1937. In the late 1940's, he owned 1 percent of the Eagles. In 1969, when the team's principal owner, Jerry Wolman, went bankrupt, Mr. Tose and several others bought the team for $16,155,000. In 1977, after Mr. Tose had almost lost the team to a bank, he borrowed $5.3 million from another bank and soon bought out his partners.

He and the team became active in Philadelphia charities. He raised $2 million to fight leukemia, gave $79,000 to save high school sports programs and helped found the Ronald McDonald houses, where families could stay with their sick children.

His Eagles reached the 1981 Super Bowl but lost to the Oakland Raiders, 27-10.

He provided Super Bowl transportation, room and board for 762 friends and employees.

By 1983, Mr. Tose's personal debts threatened the team's financial stability.

Two years later, he sold the Eagles to Norman Braman, a South Florida businessman, for $65 million. That allowed Mr. Tose to pay off the $30 million he owed a California bank.

Susan Fletcher, Tose's daughter and one-time vice president and general counsel of the Eagles, once told Sports Illustrated: "I could never give my dad advice on something like gambling. He's his own man."

Through it all, Mr. Tose remained upbeat. In April 2002 he told The Philadelphia Inquirer: "I'm doing all right for a man my age, 87. I'm alive. I have an income. Low, but I have one. I'm trying to get a job. I don't need $1 million a year."

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