The Eagles Almost Moved To Phoenix In 1984 On A Handshake

It is said that during football season, the city of Philadelphia bleeds green. Tailgates stall traffic to a snail's pace. Wawa parking lots transform into seas of green and white jerseys emblazoned with the symbolic Eagles head. It could be said that the city, like the team it represents, is flying, soaring with the spirit of a winged bird of prey.

Eagles fans are notorious for their passion, sometimes pushing the boundaries a bit too far. For example, in the wake of the Eagles' 2018 Super Bowl win, there was one fan that raced a dune buggy straight up the Rocky steps of the Philadelphia Art Museum (per ABC6). Talk about driven. Such wild antics are synonymous with Philly football, but one simple handshake could have forever changed the game. 

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Eagles almost moved to Phoenix, Arizona back in 1984. Had it happened, the city's iconic aesthetic would have been entirely different. No more Philly basements covered in emerald and eagle-style quilts. No 17,000 square-foot mural of iconic team members (via Lincoln Financial Field). And without enthusiastic Philadelphians on the sidelines, who would be there to taunt the Cowboys with vicious but hilarious online memes? Good thing this move never came to fruition, but here's a look at how it almost went down.

One handshake between moguls almost made the Eagles an Arizona team

According to The New York Times, Leonard Tose was a well-dressed self-made millionaire with a poor immigrant background who made a fortune with his trucking business ... and lost that fortune rather unfortunately. He had a taste for the finer things, like stretch limos, Rolls-Royces, and designer threads, not to mention women, having married a total of five. His lavish lifestyle garnered much attention. He was more than willing to take a gamble, and many of those risks paid off.

In 1969, as one of those risks, he purchased the Eagles football team for a whopping $16 million (via ESPN). According to Statista, the franchise is now worth $4.9 billion — certainly not a bad return. But not all of his bets were this good. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the blackjack enthusiast was saddled with so much debt that he was forced to sell a portion of the team in the mid-'80s. As part of that deal, which was sealed with a handshake, real-estate developer James Monaghan would purchase 25 percent of the team, and the Eagles would relocate to Arizona.

While the deed was already done, Tose still tried to satiate disappointed Philadelphians, stating (The Philadelphia Enquirer), "In the first place, I'm not going to sell the club. In the second place, even if I ever did, the only way they'd get them out of Philadelphia is over my dead body."

The Philadelphia Eagles almost played their final game under that title on December 16, 1984

According to the Philadelphia Eagles' official website, December 16, 1984, holds a special place in the team's history, but certainly not for athleticism. Acclaimed sports writer and radio personality Ray Didinger described the season as "forgettable," a series of games marred by broken legs and broken spirits. Then something else broke — the news that the beloved green team was leaving the city for good — a story first printed by the Arizona Republic. This news was greeted with grief and support from Philadelphia sports fans.

On the day of what was to be their final game, fans from Philadelphia poured into Atlanta to watch the Eagles endure a humiliating loss against the Falcons as rain streaked the cold December sky. They arrived carrying an array of inspiring signs emblazoned with slogans like "The Eagles Belong in Philadelphia." It is reported that many of them left in tears, believing their home team had been taken right out from under them and in a final, losing game at that.

Despite the 3-12 defeat, however, not all was lost. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports the deal went sour just in time.

Negotiations and lawsuits prevented the relocation

According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, no dead bodies were required to keep the Eagles flying high over the City of Brotherly Love, regardless of comments made by ostentatious gambler-deal broker Leonard Tose. Instead, all it took was a lawsuit filed by the NFL and some clever negotiations to keep the Eagles both intact and in Philadelphia.

These keen negotiations are said to have happened in the 11th hour and were conducted by Philadelphia's first African American mayor, one Reverend Dr. W. Wilson Goode (via The Philadelphia Inquirer). The deal was indeed a whole lot sweeter than forcing the Eagles to say goodbye to Philadelphia. It included a restructured stadium lease and some fancy box seats to keep the revenue rolling in.

As for Leonard Tose, the co-owner who almost single-handedly sent the Philly football team packing, he died at 88 years old in true gambler's spirit, having lost and won several fortunes along the way. The Tampa Bay Times reports that he was loved by many NFL players. His charitable efforts for the Ronald McDonald House and the Eagles Fly for Leukemia program are among his many triumphs. 

Longtime friend and fellow coach Dick Vermeil made the following statement regarding the man and the legend: "I think the National Football League has lost one of its most unique characters in a position of ownership that ever existed. He was not ordinary. He lived life to the fullest."