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Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie fulfills lifelong dream

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MINNEAPOLIS -- Jeffrey Lurie sat in the corner of a mint-green loveseat in the back of a jam-packed victory party early Monday morning, clutching his mother's left arm with one hand and the Lombardi Trophy with the other.

The 66-year-old owner of the Philadelphia Eagles had just realized his lifelong dream, in the form of his franchise's surreal, 41-33 Super Bowl LII victory over the New England Patriots at U.S. Bank Stadium, and now the emotions were flooding fast and furious in the presence of the nonagenarian woman who understood his journey like no one else.

As Bostonian philanthropist Nancy Lurie Marks took a turn hoisting the iconic silver, football-shaped trophy while soaking up the love of her doting son, Lurie pulled another shiny object -- this one gold, and far less grandiose -- out of the left breast pocket of his navy blue suit jacket. And it was at that moment that it all became so indelibly clear: The measure of this man's obsessive quest to win the big one was deeper and more primal than all but his closest friends and family members could ever have understood.

"This was my dad's watch," Lurie said, displaying a Van Heusen and Vacheron Constantin model that dated back to the first half of the 20th century. "It's one of the few things I have from him, and today I brought it with me to the game, to have him close to me. I was going to put it into my (pants) pocket, but Tina (Lurie's wife) told me, 'It needs to go near your heart,' and so I put it into my jacket right here."

He paused to compose himself and continued: "I pulled it out a lot today and rubbed it for luck, at key moments, and especially in the fourth quarter. I did it before Zach Ertz caught that touchdown pass, and I rubbed it again right before Brandon Graham knocked that ball out of Tom Brady's hands. And I rubbed it before he threw that last pass, and as it fell incomplete and we finally could celebrate.

"My father taught me to love football. The last game we ever watched together was that Colts-Giants overtime (1958 NFL championship) game. ... That was a special game."

Two years later, the Eagles captured their third and -- before Sunday -- last NFL title, defeating the Green Bay Packers. The following April, Lurie's father, Morry, died at the age of 44, and 9-year-old Jeffrey felt a lasting void that he symbolically held close to his heart on Super Sunday, as Nancy and Tina and a green-clad crew that included "Silver Linings Playbook" star Bradley Cooper surrounded him with equal parts angst and adoration.

Super Bowl LII was an insane game that would feature more combined yards (1,151) than any -- regular or postseason -- in NFL history. There were plot twists and mood swings and bizarre moments, and lots and lots of tension, right up until the final tick of the clock.

There was an all-time great quarterback, at the age of 40, playing out of his mind: A day after earning his third regular-season MVP award, Brady completed 28 of 48 passes for a Super Bowl-record 505 yards (eclipsing his incredible performance of a year ago), three touchdowns and no interceptions. And there was a maligned, marginalized fill-in quarterback, Nick Foles, who snatched away Super Bowl MVP honors by completing 28 of 43 passes for 373 yards and three touchdowns (against one juggled-ball pick) and catching a scoring pass off a trick play for good measure.

It gets crazier: A wide-open Brady dropped a potential big-gainer on an earlier, nearly identical trick play by the Patriots, who, incidentally, never punted and still somehow lost. There was also a surprise benching: New England cornerback Malcolm Butler, the hero of its Super Bowl XLIX victory over the Seattle Seahawks three years earlier, was shelved for Eric Rowe, though Patriots coach Bill Belichick had not designated Butler as one of the team's seven inactive players, and the displaced starter said afterward he was blindsided by the move. Oh, and each team missed a PAT, and the Eagles came up short on a pair of two-point conversions, and the Patriots botched a short field-goal attempt.

The Eagles didn't succeed the Pats as Super Bowl champs -- they seized the title. Down the stretch, after his team had fallen behind for the first time in the game on Brady's 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski, ultra-aggressive Philly coach Doug Pederson, who called a hell of a game, chose to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 45 with 5:39 remaining. Foles found Ertz, his Pro Bowl tight end, for a 2-yard gain to keep the drive alive; three minutes later, the two connected on an 11-yard touchdown catch (one of two close Philly plays that would survive protracted replay reviews, a fitting finale to a 2017 season filled with catch/no catch controversies) that put Philly ahead for good -- though the game was far from settled.

When the Pats stopped the Eagles' two-point conversion try to keep it 38-33 and, after a touchback on the kickoff, took over at their 25-yard-line with 2:21 remaining, tens of millions of viewers and many of the 67,612 fans in attendance believed Brady would summon his usual magic and win a sixth Lombardi Trophy, all with Belichick as his coach.

The Patriots failed -- and might be headed for an offseason of soul-searching and upheaval -- but, more to the point, the Eagles triumphed. And in pulling out the game in dramatic fashion to win the franchise's first Super Bowl on the third try, it continued a Philadelphia Story that Lurie, a former film producer, has conceded he'd find too schmaltzy even by Hollywood standards.

The story took a dark turn during Lurie's most recent trip to L.A., his onetime home. Last Dec. 8, on a hazy Friday afternoon in Malibu, he sat outside at Nobu, the famed high-end sushi mecca, clutched Tina's hand and smiled broadly as he stared out at the Pacific Ocean.

"I feel like I've found my franchise quarterback until I'm 80," Lurie told me, referring to second-year sensation Carson Wentz. "And that's a beautiful thing."

Two days later, Lurie witnessed the ghastly sight of Wentz's left knee buckling in the third quarter of a game against the Rams. Foles, an Eagles standout in 2013 who'd since been cast aside by two other teams before returning to Philly in 2017 to back up Wentz, helped pull out a 43-35 victory. Yet with Wentz facing reconstructive knee surgery, the Eagles -- who'd already lost several key players to season-ending injuries, including perennial Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters -- seemed unlikely to fulfill their owner's Super Bowl fantasy, at least for this season.

In the aftermath of Wentz's injury, Lurie, an eternally positive, thoughtful and genial man with a passion for social justice, heard his share of dismissive comments, one of which he relayed to his players last Friday afternoon during a surprise speech at the end of their practice at the University of Minnesota.

His 10-minute talk to the team, one witness said, was "an 11 on a scale of 10" in terms of inspirational power. Yet it wasn't Lurie's greatest motivational feat before a Patriots game: That happened late in the 2015 season, when the Eagles, who were reeling from a three-game losing streak in what would be the last of coach Chip Kelly's three seasons, showed up at Gillette Stadium for a road game against the heavily favored Pats -- and Lurie, in the minutes before the team took the field, went locker to locker, firing up his players by telling them just how badly he wanted to beat that opponent. The Eagles delivered, incidentally, pulling off a 35-28 upset.

Lurie had his reasons for wanting to prevail over the Pats: A native of Newton, Massachusetts, which is just outside of Boston, Lurie had lost out to Robert Kraft on a bid to buy the Patriots in 1994, instead purchasing the Eagles from Norman Braman a few months later. Despite a long run of success under coach Andy Reid, Philly fell short of a championship, making the Super Bowl only once (following the 2004 season) -- and losing to the Patriots by a 24-21 score.

As veteran safety Malcolm Jenkins told me a few days after the Eagles' NFC Championship Game blowout of the Minnesota Vikings, "He has a special place in his heart for the Patriots. He let us know just how much he wanted it."

Recalled veteran tight end Brent Celek: "He was going locker to locker, letting us know just how much it meant to him. I had never seen anything like it. He's from there, and they beat him in that Super Bowl, and he really, really wanted that one. And trust me -- we know how much this one means, too."

Last Friday, according to numerous players, Lurie made that abundantly clear, in animated fashion.

"I've been here, so I knew how he felt. But for guys who don't know him, it was a chance to see how passionately he feels about this," Jenkins said Sunday night. "I love playing for him. He's not afraid of personalities. He embraces it. He's a personality himself."

Said Ertz: "This guy's been doing everything he possibly could in his power to get this for Philly. The guy was longing for a Super Bowl. All he cared about was bringing a championship to Philly. This is a great owner to play for. He cares so much about his players. It's a family, not an organization. He worked for this, and he earned it."

"Even though the teams are playing, the owners are going head-to-head, too -- and Jeffrey wanted to win this badly," said one player who preferred to remain anonymous. "He's been waiting for this a long time, even more so against that team, that dynasty, that quarterback and that owner. This was incredible for him."

Lurie's Friday speech also touched on the positive elements of the Eagles' stirring Super Bowl run. As he recalled early Monday at the victory party, "I told them it was the most impressive group of young men I'd ever seen in any walk of life. The resilience, the trust, the love for one another, and overcoming what they've had to overcome ... it's truly inspirational. I told them I was proud of them, no matter what. And I talked about us being a family."

As the game's thrilling climax played out, Lurie, from his lower-level suite above the Eagles' sideline, turned to his non-extended family for comfort and support. On one side of him was Tina, his wife of the past four-and-a-half years, a warm woman with an ever-present smile -- except during tense Eagles games, when she is a ball of nerves and stomach-turning skepticism unless and until victory is secured.

"I really believe she's an important part of this," said Jeffrey's longtime friend Lynn Forester de Rothschild, a London resident who flew to the U.S. for each of the team's postseason games. "Jeffrey's care for everyone -- for the fans, for the community, for these players -- he wanted it for everybody but himself. He's the most generous person I've ever met; he's honest and selfless and out for the greater good. And the personal happiness and groundedness he's found with Tina has been significant, and she has helped bring that all out."

Said Tina: "Why does he care so much about winning this? Because it affects so many people, and they've been waiting 57 years."

A couple of minutes later, Dr. Matt Stern -- a neurology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a close friend of Lurie's since they met at Browne and Nichols elementary school in Cambridge, Massachusetts -- put the owner's long wait in perspective.

"Some people dream about being the shortstop of the Red Sox, or playing point guard for the Celtics," Stern said. "He wanted to win a Super Bowl. I think he's wanted it more than anybody in this city -- and really, he wanted it for the fans of Philadelphia, more than anything. For him, it's part of giving back."

For Lurie, getting to sit next to his mother during the most memorable game of his life was an added bonus.

"She hasn't left Boston for a couple of years," Lurie said of Nancy, who had a cane at her side as she sat with him at the victory party. "I wasn't sure she'd be able to come. It means so much to me."

Suffice it to say that for Nancy, who long ago altered family meal times to accommodate her eldest child's athletic obsessions -- as a tennis and baseball player, and as an avid sports-watcher -- no motivational speech before this showdown with her hometown team was required.

"I prayed for weeks that he would win this game -- and beat the Patriots," she said. "I was nervous. But I wasn't that nervous. I've had a lot of faith in him for a long, long time."

In the game's climatic moments, Jeffrey had faith in Pederson and his players -- and he had his father's watch as a good-luck charm steeped in personal significance.

His extended family, it turned out, had the owner's back. When Brady, on second-and-2 from the New England 33, dropped back to pass with 2:16 remaining, it was time for the Eagles' defense to make a stand.

"We just needed one play," Graham said. "Someone had to make it. We said, 'We can't let Brady be that guy again.' And when I got close and had a shot at him, I was thinking, I want that ball. If we get the ball out of his hands, we're good."

Graham did, and rookie defensive end Derek Barnett recovered at the New England 31, setting up fellow rookie Jake Elliott's 46-yard field goal that pushed Philly's lead to eight with 1:05 remaining.

When the Eagles stuffed the Pats at their own 9 after a poorly executed kick-return lateral, it looked bad for Brady and the Pats -- but he extended the drive with a 13-yard completion to Danny Amendola on fourth-and-10, then connected twice with Gronkowski (nine catches, 116 yards, two TDs) to push the ball to the New England 49.

With nine seconds to go, Lurie rubbed the watch like it was a bottle with a wish-granting genie inside. Brady dropped back, slipped away from the on-rushing Graham's grasp and -- naturally -- launched a gorgeous Hail Mary that gave Gronkowski a chance at an epic catch in the front of the end zone, with several players from both teams converging.

Alas, another Minnesota Miracle was not to be. The ball fell incomplete as time expired, sending Lurie's suite and the Eagles' sideline and Broad Street and virtually all of greater Philadelphia into a celebration awash in hysteria and euphoria -- and sending the Patriots into a period of uncertainty, in which the futures of Belichick, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels (presumed to be the Indianapolis Colts' next head coach), Brady and Gronkowski (who admitted in postgame interviews that he is contemplating retirement) all might play out under the glare of a national spotlight.

That, of course, is not Lurie's problem. On Monday morning, he was focused on the glare of the Lombardi Trophy as he helped his mother hold it like she and Morry once held him as a newborn. Nancy took a turn kissing it, and so did Jeffrey, and then they passed it off and simply held on to one another.

In the background, the sounds of Cardi B and Migos blasted across the large tented-off area behind the Renaissance Depot Hotel, and players and employees and family members and jersey-clad fans surrounded the various food-buffet lines and crowded elbow to elbow around the open bars and drank in the greatest night in modern Philadelphia football history.

In the back corner of the party he threw, Lurie soaked it all in and stayed quiet. He took out his father's gold watch and rubbed it one more time, and then he put it back in his left breast pocket and lay his head to rest on his mother's shoulder.

Neither Nancy nor Jeffrey spoke for the next several minutes. Super Sunday had turned to the sweetest of Mondays, and a dream nearly six decades in the making had come true, and all around them people were having the times of their lives. It was all good; there was nothing left to say.

Follow Michael Silver on Twitter @MikeSilver.

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