Leonard H. Tose, 88; Ex-Owner of NFL’s Eagles Lost Fortune Gambling
Leonard H. Tose, a former Philadelphia Eagles owner and jet-setter who gambled away his fortune, died Tuesday in Philadelphia. He was 88.
Tose died in his sleep in the hospice wing of St. Agnes Medical Center in Philadelphia, former Eagles general manager Jim Murray said. The cause of death was not announced.
Born in Bridgeport, Pa., Tose graduated from Notre Dame and served in the U.S. Army. He joined the trucking business started by his father and made a fortune. He bought the Eagles in 1969 for $16.15 million, then a record for a professional sports franchise.
But he later estimated that he lost as much as $50 million gambling.
He spent his last years alone in a downtown Philadelphia hotel room.
As owner of the Eagles, Tose lured Dick Vermeil from UCLA in 1976 to coach a team that had recorded only one winning season from 1962 to 1975. Vermeil’s 1980 team went to the Super Bowl, but lost to the Oakland Raiders.
“I’ve lost a very close friend,” Vermeil, now coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, said in a statement on the Eagles’ Web site. “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.”
Tose flew to Eagles home games in a helicopter, was married aboard the liner Queen Elizabeth 2, and fed reporters filet mignon and shrimp cocktail.
Former Philadelphia Inquirer sports editor Frank Dolson once wrote: “Some people collect stamps for a hobby. Others buy antiques. Tose’s hobby is spending money.”
Many of his spending sprees were for good causes.
Tose was the driving force behind the Ronald McDonald House program, which provides families a place to live while their children are in the hospital. He established the Eagles Fly for Leukemia program in 1973 to help support former Eagles tight end Fred Hill, whose daughter was afflicted with leukemia.
But gambling debts forced Tose to sell the team to Norman Braman in 1985. On his 81st birthday, in 1996, Tose was evicted from his seven-bedroom Main Line Philadelphia mansion after losing it in a U.S. marshal’s sale.
In 1999, he told a congressional hearing on compulsive gambling that his losses totaled $40 million to $50 million.
“I made every mistake you can make,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer in April 2002. “I sit here and think of all the mistakes I made. You’d need a big book to put them all in.”
Tose unsuccessfully sued Atlantic City’s Sands Hotel & Casino, claiming that he was encouraged to drink while gambling and lost $10 million while drunk.
Married five times, he is survived by two daughters, a granddaughter and two great-grandchildren.
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