Lurie is upbeat on the Birds

"We're right there," the owner said in his annual address.

Posted: August 08, 2007

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Jeffrey Lurie was back in front of the microphones, television cameras and tape recorders yesterday at Lehigh University.

He was back in the tent where he uttered the infamous phrase "gold standard" in 2003; back in the tent where he survived a violent summer electrical storm in 2005 only to watch his team's season be washed away by a tsunami of injuries and controversy that fall; and back in the tent where he annually offers his various opinions on the state of the ultra-valuable franchise he purchased from Norman Braman in May 1994.

This time, Lurie didn't offer any juicy sound bites that could come back to bite him.

He did, however, address the man-beats-dog issue that has dominated the NFL headlines since the indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick last month. He also talked about the future of his own quarterbacks - Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb - and the Eagles' "elusive" quest to win their first Super Bowl.

"It's the quality of the players in the game," Lurie said when asked about the dogfighting charges that have been brought against Vick, to which he has pleaded not guilty. "You don't want to have guys that are not real popular with the fans, or respected by the fans, playing on the field. That doesn't do anything, so the measures the teams take are important.

"I can't say it's the league. It's the individual teams that have to be very diligent. You have to mold the 24-year-old, the 23-year-old, in a positive way. It's not foolproof, but if you're on top of them at 22 or 23, you may not have dramatic surprises at age 28 or 29. Be very disciplined in what you stand by."

Lurie recalled that the Eagles had two former players charged with dog abuse and dog neglect and showed little tolerance for it. Back in 2000, rookie running back Thomas Hamner pleaded guilty to beating his pit bull after initially failing to appear in court. A year later, safety Damon Moore pleaded guilty to abandoning a Rottweiler puppy.

Hamner didn't return to the Eagles after the 2000 season and Moore didn't return after the 2001 season.

"They were both gone from the team almost immediately, if not immediately," Lurie said. "Both draft choices, and it sets a tone that we just don't accept those kinds of attitudes towards other people or animals. I'm a dog lover. [Coach] Andy [Reid] is a dog lover. We're very sensitive to people who would not treat other humans or animals with total respect."

Moore did have issues beyond puppy neglect, and Hamner was an expendable running back.

Anyway, the Eagles never have had a legal problem quite as big as the one the Falcons and Vick are facing, and this year they have almost no controversy to deal with as they prepare for the 2007 season.

"It's a positive," Lurie said. "But I don't think you ever want to base your decisions on lowering the chance of distraction, because that's not necessarily the way to win big. You're going to have holdouts; you're going to have questions about different players finishing contracts and all that. I don't think you shy away from that. I think it's a plus when it's not a distraction."

It would also be a plus, of course, if McNabb could get through the 2007 season without being injured, something he hasn't done since 2004.

"To me, he's in the prime of his career," Lurie said of the 30-year-old passer. "He's had these injuries, but . . . the average age of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, I think, is about 30 or 31 or right around there. He's one of the top three quarterbacks in football when healthy."

And what about Kolb? Is he the future franchise quarterback?

"We hope," Lurie said. "It's only a hope at this point. Andy's philosophy and the team's philosophy has been that if ever there was a quarterback that fit everything we were looking for, we would pull the trigger regardless of anything else, because it's so hard to find. It's like a left tackle. I think you have to solidify the hardest positions to fulfill and . . . if you have a surplus for a while . . . that's a great thing to have."

Lurie said he was proud of the way the Eagles recovered from a 5-6 record and injuries to McNabb and defensive end Jevon Kearse last season to win the NFC East, and he believes this Eagles team could be even better than the 2004 squad, which lost to New England in the Super Bowl.

"I think we have an excellent talent level," Lurie said. "I think we probably have better depth than the 2004 team."

Now the owner is crossing fingers and hoping for good luck in the injury and chemistry departments.

"You need health and you need everybody to play at their potential," Lurie said. "We have a great mix of veterans and young players developing. You need the veterans not to descend; you need the young players to ascend. We're right there."

In Lurie's view, the Eagles are still at the doorstep of winning a Super Bowl, a place they've been hanging around most of this decade. Now he must wait to see if this develops into his dream team.


Staff writer Zach Berman contributed to this story.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

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