"He never lost his optimism. He showed the same respect for people that he always did. . . . He never showed the pain."
"I had the pleasure of meeting Jerry on multiple occasions when he came back to watch an Eagles game," team chairman and CEO Jeffrey Lurie said. "Each time, we enjoyed reminiscing about Eagles football and sharing in the enjoyment of owning such a historic franchise."
Leo Carlin started to work part time in the Eagles ticket office in 1960 and became a full-time employee in 1964. He said Mr. Wolman had a "very special personality" and was "incredibly pleasant."
Carlin said Mr. Wolman insisted that everyone call him Jerry, and he often played practical jokes on his friends. Once, Carlin said, he was on the phone in his office in Franklin Field when a lion cub walked in.
"It scared the hell out of me, and he was over there laughing as I stood on my desk," Carlin recalled. "I originate from North Philadelphia, so I didn't know a cub from a lion."
Carlin said he found out the cub was a gift to Wolman, who donated it to the zoo after it grew.
Alan Wolman described the years when his father owned the Eagles as "a fairy tale," recalling that the family lived in Maryland but also had an apartment in Bala Cynwyd and would come up for practice the day before home games.
"He was like a Donald Trump at the time. Everywhere you'd go, it was like, 'Hey, Jerry, how's it going?' "
The Eagles did not fare well on the field under Mr. Wolman's ownership. They won no more than nine games in any of his six seasons, were 30-51-3 overall, and went 2-12 in his final season of 1968. They also got a national black eye when fans booed and pelted Santa Claus with snowballs at halftime of a Dec. 15, 1968, loss to Minnesota.
Mr. Wolman may have been best known for giving ill-fated coach Joe Kuharich a 15-year contract, saying later, "I really liked the guy, and I was loyal to him."
Kuharich, hired in 1964, was fired as coach by new owner Leonard Tose before the 1969 season.
"I can't even tell you how many people he started in business or bought them a car or gave them an apartment or picked up rent because they couldn't afford it," said Mr. Wolman's daughter, Helene Sacks.
Mr. Wolman also was a catalyst for the launch of NFL Films.
"He envisioned what modern football could become," said Larry Pitt, a Philadelphia lawyer and investor in a film project about Mr. Wolman's life.
The Shenandoah, Schuylkill County, native was outspoken about his role in getting the Flyers to town.
Downplaying a feud with Flyers chairman Ed Snider, Mr. Wolman said in a 2010 interview with The Inquirer: "I don't have any grudges. But the truth is, I was solely responsible for building the Spectrum and, along with Bill Putnam, who really had the idea, for bringing the Flyers to town."
This has long been a point of contention. Snider, the chairman of Comcast-Spectacor, eventually took over both the team and the Spectrum and always said he was responsible for both.
Mr. Wolman said that although he wasn't a hockey fan, he was approached by Putnam with the idea of getting an NHL team in Philadelphia. He said he thought the city should have a franchise in all the professional sports leagues.
He persuaded a somewhat skeptical NHL board of governors, he said, to award an expansion team to Philadelphia instead of Baltimore by promising to build a state-of-the-art arena.
That arena, the Spectrum, opened in 1967, closed in 2009, and was demolished in 2011.
As a young man, Mr. Wolman worked in a Washington paint store until he got involved in real estate construction. By the mid-1960s he had amassed a fortune of more than $100 million, and though he was in his 30s, was hailed as the boy wonder of finance.
But construction problems beset his biggest project, the John Hancock Center in Chicago. Banks called in loans, and he was forced to sell his interest in the Spectrum, Connie Mack Stadium, and eventually the Eagles.
Mr. Wolman had bought the Eagles from a group of investors in 1963 for $5.5 million. Six years later, he sold the team to Tose for $16.2 million.
"I tried to hang onto the Eagles as long as I could," Mr. Wolman said in 2010. "But by that time there was so much pressure I just wasn't able to."
His authorized biography, Jerry Wolman: The World's Richest Man, said Mr. Wolman began working for his father at age 5 and cleaned produce in a warehouse cellar.
The book related that Mr. Wolman and a friend, still preteens, would hitchhike more than 100 miles to Philadelphia to wait outside the gate at Eagles games, then get in for free at halftime.
By age 14, the book said, Mr. Wolman often would drive his father's 10-ton truck in the evening from home to Philadelphia's Dock Street Terminal, returning by 5 a.m. before going to school. Mr. Wolman dropped out a year short of graduating from high school after his father was disabled by a stroke.
After marrying his first wife, Anne (who died of a heart attack in 1971), they moved to Washington, D.C.
Mr. Wolman got a job with a paint company. His wife was hired for the bookkeeping department of an insurance company. After striking out on his own, Mr. Wolman moved into construction. He soon prospered.
Then, he said, he got a tip that the team he loved as a child, the Eagles, was for sale. The biography recounts how Mr. Wolman headed for Philadelphia, to Old Original Bookbinders, where he introduced himself to the owner, John Taxin, and told him of his plan to buy the team from the group of stockholders. Taxin became his consigliere, and his bid won the team.
While he owned the Eagles, Mr. Wolman set out to build what became the John Hancock Center in Chicago - a building that would be 1,127 feet high, at the time the tallest building in the world outside New York.
But an engineering error ruined the project. Concrete was poured into the foundation in sleeves that were smaller than normal. As it turned out, the sleeves had been pulled too quickly, and the next one poured before the previous concrete had dried. This turned out to be disastrous, discovered in 1967 - a year into the project.
Mr. Wolman had used his own cash and lines of credit to guarantee the project. Creditors squeezed him, he recounted in the book, and he sold off almost all his holdings, including any interest in the Hancock Center, which eventually went up after considerable delay and additional expense, and without his involvement.
He did hold onto the Eagles after going into bankruptcy, until selling them to Tose. The $16.2 million went to creditors and stockholders.
"It really was the most extraordinary run of bad luck," said Mark Rosenthal, who is writing a screenplay based on the book.
When he started the film project, Rosenthal said he was instantly charmed by Mr. Wolman.
"Jerry adopted you when he met you," Rosenthal said. "He was an incredibly elegant man. He was the Sinatra of NFL owners."
Mr. Wolman is survived by his wife, Bobbie; his two children; and seven grandchildren.
The funeral will be Thursday at 1 p.m. at Tifereth Israel Congregation, 7701 16th St. NW, Washington, D.C.
Contact Mike Jensen at email@example.com or
Staff writers Matt Breen and Frank Fitzpatrick contributed to this article.