Inside the Eagles: Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie all smiles at event, says little about team's plans

At a playground build, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said he would take football questions later.
At a playground build, Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said he would take football questions later. (      DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer)
Posted: June 01, 2012

This time, Jeffrey Lurie was all smiles.

Painting brick walls bright colors Wednesday at Comegys Elementary School in West Philadelphia, there was little reason for anything less.

All around, Eagles players joined Lurie as part of the team's annual playground-building event, a point of civic pride for the organization and their owner.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chad Hall grooved with children dancing to hip-hop beats. Jason Kelce let young students paint his massive beard pink. Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson signed autographs. Andy Reid worked on coloring in - appropriately enough - a big green bird.

For Lurie and the Eagles, it has been an uplifting few months, full of smart free-agency moves, the big trade for DeMeco Ryans, a widely-lauded draft, and a classy retirement ceremony for Brian Dawkins. Spring practices have a vibrant, hopeful feel.

Lurie wasn't about to let questions about expectations ruin his vibe or take attention away from the Eagles' signature public-service event.

But seeing him beam, it was hard not to think of the change from January, when the owner, in a decidedly different mood, blasted an "unacceptable" 2011 season and made it clear he expects better this time around. Those were Lurie's last extended comments on the current state of the Eagles. His only public availability since was for Dawkins' retirement.

Back in January, Lurie said he kept Reid on board in the belief that the 2012 season will be "substantially better."

Which leads to the question that will hang over Reid until next January: what exactly constitutes "substantially better" than last year's 8-8?

Would the owner accept a 10-6 record and a playoff berth as progress? If Reid wins the NFC East but again crashes out without a playoff win, how would Lurie weigh regular season success against postseason failure? After the investments of the last two years, will only a deep playoff run suffice?

There are many reasons to believe that significant improvement is within reach. The Eagles defense is younger and faster. DeSean Jackson has a settled contract. Young players are getting a full offseason of work. Credible moves have been made to solidify the linebacker corps.

But the memories of last season remain, a reminder that high hopes make losing all the more bitter.

Lurie wouldn't engage in a discussion about what his hopes are for this year, beyond allowing that it has been an "exciting" offseason. So was the last one.

Instead, he talked up the playground-building and paid tribute to "Eagle Joe" Brown, a longtime season-ticket holder and memorable sideline fixture at Eagles training camp since 1988.

"He was the most uplifting, enthusiastic fan ever, and knowledgeable," Lurie said of Brown. "It was always such an uplifting moment to see him for the first time every August."

Lurie said he would take football questions back at training camp, at his annual summer press conference.

At that event last August, amid another exciting offseason, Lurie made clear what he considers a success after many years of being very good but never a champion.

"We've won so many division titles, been in five championship games, the Super Bowl. The only goal for us is to win the Super Bowl," Lurie said then.

Teams that have spent years at the bottom can take pride in incremental progress and winning records without playoff wins. Lurie signaled that the Eagles expect more.

As he spoke, with his free-agency spending still creating a buzz across the NFL, some compared the Eagles to the Miami Heat. But the link quickly turned negative as pressure built on each team and their failures were dissected under bright lights.

The Eagles say they have a different attitude this year, but as Miami and LeBron James again make their way through the playoffs, some comparisons remain apt.

For both, the question persists: what will they do on the biggest stage, with the biggest stakes?

As with James, regular season success for Reid will only be considered a first step toward success, not a positive end in itself.

Even a strong start will come with a question attached: Can Reid and his team excel when the playoffs arrive? Or will they just be peddling more of the "fool's gold" that Lurie saw in last year's too-late winning streak?

The focus now is on the minutiae of offseason practices, and soon training camp will arrive, bringing with it more anticipation and hope. Maybe Lurie will be more talkative then, but it's unlikely he'll be able to provide any definitive answers.

For that, he and fans wait for the cold, winter games that mean the most. Assuming the Eagles are still in the mix then, that's when the real evaluations should begin.

Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214, or follow on Twitter @JonathanTamari.

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