Did the Kennedys have designs on buying the Eagles?

President John F. Kennedy (right) conferring with brother Robert at the White House in 1962.
President John F. Kennedy (right) conferring with brother Robert at the White House in 1962. (AP file)
Posted: November 21, 2013

The three Kennedy brothers didn't want for much in October 1962.

Power, youth, money, glamorous wives, their famous vig-ah, the tousle-haired trio had it all.

Especially power.

Jack was president of the United States. Bobby was his Attorney General. And Ted, within a month, would be elected to the U.S. Senate.

Yet with all that, there may have been at least one more thing the Kennedys desired:

The Philadelphia Eagles.

An NFL Network series related to the Kennedy assassination and the NFL again raises the possibility that this city's beloved football franchise could have fallen into the Massachusetts family's hands.

Timed for this week's 50th anniversary of JFK's assassination, The Untold NFL History of That Day in Dallas, which debuts Wednesday on NFL.com, includes a remembrance from a close Kennedy friend that the Eagles' "relatively modest price" intrigued the brothers. (The series continues through Sunday on NFL Network.)

News reports at the time listed the asking price at $4 million.

But the Kennedys grew "convinced it wouldn't work with Jack's responsibilities as president," John Culver, the future U.S. senator from Iowa who was a close friend of Ted's, told reporter Mark Kriegel.

Fifty-one years later, the story's details and origins remain hazy.

In the 1990 book, Pro Football Chronicle, co-author Bob O'Donnell noted that the topic of the Eagles arose as the brothers relaxed in the Oval Office one day that October.

Since the president had pointed out that, if elected twice, he'd be only 51 when his second term concluded, the brothers casually contemplated future careers.

A sports-page junkie and football fanatic, JFK had read that the Eagles' principal owner, James P. Clark, had recently died of a stroke. Reports said his team, just two years removed from an NFL championship, would be sold.

"Jack and Bobby," O'Donnell wrote, "thought it would be a terrific investment."

According to O'Donnell's version, the president asked Ted to set up a meeting with Eagles management. The team's president at the time was Frank McNamee, one of the "Happy Hundred" ownership group Clark had assembled in 1949.

That meeting never took place.

According to O'Donnell's account, the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 scuttled whatever Eagles plans the Kennedys may have had.

The team eventually was sold in 1963, shortly after JFK's November assassination, to developer Jerry Wolman for $5.5 million.

Half a century later, with the three brothers gone, it's impossible to gauge the seriousness of their interest or even whether they actually had any.

O'Donnell wrote the brief, 110-word item on the Kennedys and the Eagles, according to Dan Daly, a Washington sportswriter who co-authored the book with him.

"But cancer got him last winter," Daly said of his colleague.

O'Donnell was, by all accounts, a meticulous reporter who was an active member of the Pro Football Researchers Association. He also was an expert at combing through newspaper files, which is where he might have discovered the story.

Stephen Plotkin, the reference archivist at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston, suggested Tuesday that if the brothers did discuss an Eagles purchase that October, they likely did not do so in the Oval Office.

None of the Oval Office recordings for that month in 1962, he said, include a meeting of the three.

"The most likely site [for a reference to the topic] would be Edward M. Kennedy's papers, but those are not yet open for research," Plotkin said in an e-mail. "John F. Kennedy's personal papers include virtually nothing from his administration years."

Jim Gallagher, the former longtime Eagles public-relations official, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Pipe dream or not, the possibility of Kennedy ownership remains fascinating for Philadelphians to contemplate.

Would the team have been moved to their Boston hometown? Would they have invested heavily? Would all-purpose Veterans Stadium still have been built or would the family have used its political clout to get a football-only stadium?

Any move to Boston would have been complicated by the fact that the two-year-old American Football League had a team, the Patriots, there. And besides, the Eagles were in relatively sound financial health.

Plotkin suggested the story's origins would be difficult to trace at this point.

"My suspicion," the archivist said, "is that the source for the story, if it in fact has any basis, is somebody's anecdote, perhaps in a memoir or even in one of our oral histories."


ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com

@philafitz

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