The Philadelphia Eagles told a judge in March that they quietly tried to settle a long-running financial dispute with the city to avoid "negative publicity."

Like many football games, things didn't go as planned.

The two sides settled the dispute yesterday with a Common Pleas Court ruling that the team will pay the city $3 million. That comes after exactly the kind of publicity that the team hoped to avoid.

Mayor Nutter yesterday called the dispute "unfortunate" and said that he was happy to put it behind him.

"I'm satisfied with that," Nutter said when asked about the $3 million. "The matter is over. I'm looking forward to the preseason and the upcoming season with the Eagles, and hopefully we're going to the Super Bowl."

The Eagles also expressed relief.

"While it wasn't the easiest decision to make, we wanted to come to a conclusion," said Eagles spokeswoman Pamela Browner Crawley. "So, this is exactly where we wanted to be."

Crawley said that the team wired $3 million to the city yesterday.

The dispute began when the city tried to collect $8 million it was owned from skyboxes at Veterans Stadium for the 2000 and 2001 seasons.

It grew more complicated in August 2001 when a preseason game was canceled due to problems with the stadium's city-maintained playing surface. The Eagles claimed that the missed game cost them $8 million, and declared the team even with the city.

The city disagreed, leading to dueling lawsuits in 2004. The case has been delayed for years as the two sides negotiated.

Senior Judge Albert Sheppard Jr. ruled last week that the Eagles owed the city $8 million. He ruled yesterday that the city owed the Eagles $5 million. So, the city comes out $3 million ahead.

That was the result of negotiations that intensified after the Eagles asked Sheppard in March to hold the city to a deal that the team claimed to have quietly struck with then-Mayor John Street a few years ago to settle the dispute for less than $1 million.

The team complained that delays resulted in more legal fees and, "perhaps worst of all, exposing the Eagles to precisely the type of negative publicity" they hoped to avoid.

Street, in April, denied approving a secret deal, which the team claimed was struck during negotiations to build Lincoln Financial Field. The former mayor said that he would not have settled the matter for less than $1 million, believing the case was worth more than $2 million for the city. *