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This Eagles CEO Lives and Breathes Football

September 7, 2006 By:
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While other National Football League executives may spend time schmoozing with clients and working to develop business relationships during a home game, Philadelphia Eagles president and chief operating officer Joe Banner prefers to watch in limited company, free to analyze his team with no distractions.

"I have a little, mini-suite for myself, and one or two top execs -- and nobody else," says Banner, 53.

He does acknowledge that he spends pregame "doing some entertaining," but 40 or so minutes before kickoff, it's all about football.

Banner's road to the Eagles presidency started when he was a 15-year-old in his home just outside of Boston. A friend invited him to watch a New England Patriots game at "Jeff's house." ("Jeff," as it turned out, was future Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie.) After this chance meeting, the two teens became fast friends.

"We spent a lot of time going to ball games, talking sports and playing golf," relays Banner.

After finishing high school, Banner studied economics at Denison University in Ohio. In 1975, his love of sports brought him to Philadelphia, where he spent a semester interning at WCAU 1210 AM radio. Hired soon after as a sports producer and reporter, Banner got his first taste of the city -- and its notoriously overzealous sports fans.

"They are knowledgeable, passionate, deeply emotionally invested," he says. "It's a fun thing. I wouldn't want to work in a city that doesn't have that passion."

Banner left sports for a time when he opened a chain of clothing stores in Boston called Designer's Clothing. He then headed up City Year, a national non-profit organization promoting community service for youth. He ran the Boston office for a time, then started a Philly chapter.

In 1994 he made his move to professional football after his old friend purchased the Eagles. In the early stages of the Lurie era, the front office was frequently criticized for lacking experience.

To manage the NFL salary cap, Banner helped implement a system that includes gaining core players in the draft, signing young players as free agents and refusing to overpay for aging veterans.

"If you're going to stay competitive, it's impossible to keep everybody," he feels. "The hard part is to decide when and who. I feel like we got more right than wrong."

Under his tutelage, the team has been able to string together a sustained period of success. Since 2001, when Banner was named team president, the Birds have won 65 regular season games, the most by any other franchise. The team appeared in four NFC Championships and one Super Bowl.

After being mocked for inexperience at the start, Banner is now referred to as a "salary-capologist" by football experts.

"What is true almost all the time is that you're not as good as the compliments you get and not as bad as the criticism you get," says Banner. "You have to have a strong enough inner core and trust that, in the end, it will prove to be the right thing."

His high profile and success have allowed Banner to give back to the community. One program he has supported is Operation Understanding, which promotes dialogue between African-American and Jewish youth.

"Most of the donations I make are around organizations that support teaching tolerance and understanding, and bring people together," he explains.

In his private life, Banner and his family are members of Har Zion Temple in Penn Valley, and has a deep dedication to Israel.

"I'm passionate in my beliefs in Judaism and Israel," he says. "Educating my children with those beliefs is important." Banner and his wife, Helaine, have two sons and a daughter.

With the Eagles opening the season Sunday at Houston, the team hopes to rebound from a year plagued by injuries and a distraction known as Terrell Owens.

"I'm not foolish enough to make any win-loss predictions," says Banner, "but I think we have a strong team. We're a talented team with a great attitude." 

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