Jerry Wolman, the man from Shenandoah, Pa., who took the Philadelphia Eagles under his wing as owner for six years starting in 1964, died Aug. 6. The Potomac, Md., resident was 86.
Raised in an Orthodox home, Wolman once considered the rabbinate for his future, but he was forced to drop out of high school to take care of the family produce business when his father was disabled by a stroke.
He built a different career for himself, however: A construction magnate by his early 30s, Wolman nevertheless had a hard time putting together a winning team when he bought the Eagles in 1964 for $5.5 million.
Over the years, his team compiled a 30-53-3 record, and he angered the fans when signing the much-maligned Joe Kuharich to a 15-year contract as coach. “Joe Must Go!” became a fan mantra (Kuharich eventually did, fired by Leonard Tose when the new owner bought the team from Wolman for some $16 million in 1969).
The Eagles weren’t Wolman’s only concern; In an interview with the Jewish Exponent discussing his biography, Jerry Wolman: The World’s Richest Man, he talked about his role in bringing the Flyers to Philadelphia and building the Spectrum, a point disputed in a long-running feud with Ed Snider, the mega-developer and sports team builder whose resume includes both.
Because of a failed fiscal deal when he was underwriting the construction of Chicago’s John Hancock Center, Wolman’s empire went under. And the man once worth $100 million was forced to sell off his interests in Connie Mack Stadium, the Spectrum and the Eagles.
Was he a modern-day Job? The onetime Eagles owner who claimed he “always had faith in the good Lord” nevertheless felt at a loss at times. “Sometimes I felt like it was all a test,” Wolman mused of the good news, bad news and even more bad news that plagued his fortunes. “Who can be sure?”
His construction plans extended beyond Chicago. He said he had one last major site on his drawing board when the Chicago project collapsed around him. That was “to develop a city within a city in Camden.”
But no matter his fame and notoriety, Wolman understood the vicissitudes of life and how fame was fleeting.
In 2010, he recalled a relatively recent visit to Philly when he spotted a woman who kept looking at him. Obviously, she recognized the onetime construction and sports team magnate. Finally, she just had to ask.
“She comes up and asks me,” recalled Wolman, “ ‘Are you Soupy Sales?’ ”
Wolman is survived by his wife, Bobbie; a daughter, Helene Sacks; a son, Alan; and seven grandchildren.