Hollywood producer Jeffrey Lurie is a member of that most rabid subspecies of NFL fanatic, the draftaholic. In recent years he has prepared for the league's annual college draft by holing up in the media room above the garage of his Beverly Hills home and watching tapes of the Blue-Gray Game, the Japan Bowl, the Senior Bowl—Lurie would have them all—on his big-screen, surround-sound TV. Last year Lurie, a fan of the New England Patriots, the team with the first pick in the 1993 draft, went even further. He and Jeffrey Auerbach, a fellow producer and football nut, obtained Washington State and Notre Dame game films, the better to study the talents of the two top quarterbacks in the draft, the Cougars' Drew Bledsoe and the Irish's Rick Mirer.
"We watched the films, and 98 percent of the time we'd see Bledsoe go for what appeared to be the primary receiver, while Mirer would look for his second and third option," says Auerbach. "We decided you couldn't go wrong, because they were both so good. I favored Mirer. But Jeff favored Bledsoe for the Patriots because of his raw talent." The Patriots, of course, took Bledsoe.
Last week obsession met reality when Lurie, who late last year abandoned an attempt to buy the Patriots because it didn't make financial sense, agreed to shell out the highest price ever for a pro sports franchise. Subject to the anticipated approval of NFL owners, Lurie will pay Miami car dealer Norman Braman $185 million for the Philadelphia Eagles. Steep? That doesn't begin to describe it. Five years ago Jerry Jones paid $140 million for one of the NFL's crown jewels, the Dallas Cowboys. The reason for the Eagles' enormous price tag is that Philadelphia was one of the few financially solid NFL franchises that Lurie, who desperately wanted to buy a team, could hope to pry from its owners. Braman, widely unpopular in Philadelphia because of his perceived greed, wasn't aching to sell his team when he and Lurie began talking a few months ago. "If you don't want to sell your house, and I want to buy it, that makes it hard to cut a deal," says Lurie's lawyer and adviser, Daniel Kaplan.
The 42-year-old Lurie, heir to a publishing and movie-theater fortune, won't be your average NFL owner. A liberal deeply concerned, friends say, with the rights of women and the poor, Lurie grew up outside Boston and earned a master's in psychology from Boston University and a Ph.D. in social policy from Brandeis. His dissertation was entitled "The Depiction of Women in Hollywood Movies." As a filmmaker he is known for movies that promote causes or offer the kinds of complex women's roles seldom available to Hollywood actresses. He cast Kathleen Turner as a private eye in the critically panned 1991 movie VI. Warshawski and recently made an HBO movie about the plight of inner-city hospitals called State of Emergency. Fueled by the fact that he has an autistic brother who recently began to communicate after a lifetime of silence, he is also heavily involved in autism research.
"The most misleading two-word introduction about Jeff is 'Hollywood producer,' " says Auerbach. "He's so non-Hollywood. He's an East Coast guy who happened to want to make movies."
Last Friday, two days after reaching tentative agreement with Braman, Lurie attended a Brooklyn Dodger reunion in Manhattan. Afterward he spoke of being moved by the emotional ties between the former Dodger players and Brooklyn. Friends say that such connections are something he would like to foster with the Eagles in Philadelphia. Lurie is also likely to push Philadelphia's city fathers to install grass at Veterans Stadium, where, according to many NFL players, the AstroTurf is the worst playing surface in the league.
Another of Lurie's avowed goals is to build a bridge between himself and the Eagle players, many of whom intensely disliked Braman. As Lurie put it last week, "I want a relationship with the players that fosters their ability to give everything they can, knowing their owner is backing them 100 percent at all times."
To Philadelphia's traditionally skeptical fans, Lurie sounds like the anti-Braman. In a city passionate about its Eagles, he could be the best news in years.