If the news of Joe Banner stepping down as Eagles team president had broken a year ago, I would be on the floor receiving CPR right now, unable to type this.
For a long time I thought of Joe as Jeffrey Lurie's surrogate, his summer camp buddy from childhood whose business and sports savvy made it possible for Lurie to own and operate a pro team. Lurie hasn't been a constantly vocal presence during the decade I've covered the team. Usually, when he did speak, it seemed to me Jeffrey's perceptions were filtered through Joe, that in essence, Joe was Jeffrey, on a day-to-day basis.
But remember that searing, anguished postmortem Lurie delivered on the 2011 season, the one in which it seemed like Lurie was building a case for firing Andy Reid, before he pulled back? That was not the sort of address Banner would have delivered. Joe has always conceded very little to critics. He is the guy who pointed out last offseason that even though the Steelers had won a bunch of Super Bowls, at that point the Eagles actually had more consistently made the playoffs over the previous decade.
What I heard whispered in the wake of that speech was that Lurie's disquiet was not limited to Reid, that the chairman was genuinely at his wits' end over the Eagles' sour image in Philadelphia, the inability to connect with the fan on the street. That image has two parts -- Reid's stolidity, and Banner's sneer. In the intervening months, the team has tried to present Reid in situations where normal conversation with reporters has been possible, where he might be a bit more relaxed and forthcoming. And Banner has disappeared from the public eye altogether. Sam Farmer from the Los Angeles Times dropped into a notes column a few months back the intriguing news that Reid had demanded more say in personnel, that Banner's power was on the wane. The Eagles issued a statement from Reid explaining that he had always had final say in personnel, which was true on the face of it, but most people around the team felt Banner drove a lot of personnel decisions, especially where the salary cap was involved.
I wrote about this a few weeks ago for SportsWeek, a column entitled "Where's Joe Banner?" Banner was unavailable to speak with me for that, just as he had been out of sight when the team announced LeSean McCoy's new contract that week, but the team public relations apparatus got in touch, concerned about what I was going to write. I was given a company line about a natural evolution of general manager Howie Roseman's role that would make him more of a spokesman, blah, blah, blah. I was told that Joe's situation was essentially unchanged.
This was absolute crap, of course, and I knew it was at the time. At the McCoy signing, agent Drew Rosenhaus kept talking about how different it was doing business with the Birds these days. Rosenhaus described a negotiation done with Reid and Roseman, and spoke of having had an opportunity to "visit with" Banner. Rosenhaus described Reid's heavy involvement as unprecedented.
At the Eagles' Youth Partnership Playground Build last week, I chased Joe around while he conferred with State Sen. Hardy Williams, then attended to urgent business with a paintbrush, too busy to do anything but tell me over his shoulder that his role wasn't changing. When it came time to admit it was, he summoned a representative from the Inquirer to impart the news, which is Banner's longtime custom.
It will be fascinating to see what unfolds. Roseman started out as Banner's protege, but his style is very different. Reid still doesn't have a contract beyond 2013, but remember, it was Banner who said Andy had to win the Super Bowl to get a new deal. Neither Lurie nor Roseman has been quoted on that subject. Wonder if it's still true?
Are the Eagles Andy Reid's, more than ever, this morning, or are they Howie Roseman's? Or were they Jeffrey Lurie's, more than we realized, all along?
I think we'll be writing about all this stuff a lot more for a long time to come.