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Daniel Rubin: Eagles call foul on slam over libraries

The Eagles have thrown the challenge flag at the suggestion that money they owe the city could spare the libraries Mayor Nutter wants to cut.

The Eagles have thrown the challenge flag at the suggestion that money they owe the city could spare the libraries Mayor Nutter wants to cut.

I'm told they didn't appreciate the headline I slapped onto my blog after posting a video that questions the team's citizenship:

"Eagles to Libraries: Drop Dead."

I think this one's going up to the replay booth for review.

You hear the Eagles are fighting the city over about $10 million, and you think that's like a rounding error to a team that, according to Forbes, is worth $1.1 billion.

It's not that simple.

The Eagles may not owe that much. There are claims and counterclaims flying around court. And if the team did cough up some cash, there's a good chance it would be needed to plug bigger holes than the ones left by operation of the endangered libraries.

The city's money worries grow by the day. Nutter projects that in five years the deficit will exceed $1 billion. The money saved by library cuts is roughly equal to the amount the city says the Eagles have owed since 2002.

Reversals of fortune

If you remember back to the go-go 1980s, when Philadelphia was flush and the Eagles were not, taxpayers helped by letting the team keep the revenue from luxury boxes built at the Vet for 15 years.

The grace period is done, but the Eagles have never ponied up. A judge has said the city is entitled to 70 percent of the revenue from those boxes. That's about $9.6 million, plus interest.

But when the city sued for that money in Common Pleas Court in 2004, the team made a counterclaim. They seek to be made whole from a 2001 preseason game that was canceled when the new artificial turf at the city-owned stadium was so ragged and uneven that the NFL said it was unsafe to play the Baltimore Ravens.

Eagles president Joe Banner put the losses at $7.8 million for that one game, figuring what the team missed in revenue from ticket sales, TV and radio broadcasts, and concessions.

The case is before Judge Albert Sheppard. Both sides say they are eager to resolve the dispute. The clock ticks.

The team's a big target. At a time when everyone's feeling financial pain, people don't have much pity for professional athletes and those who prosper from their play.

I think of a line from that cheeseball sports flick, The Replacements, when a show-pony quarterback is asked by a reporter whether fans will think him greedy for going out on strike:

"Look," the QB says, "I know that $5 million a year sounds like a lot of money. But I gotta pay 10 percent to my agent, 5 percent to my lawyer, plus alimony, child support . . . "

Adds another player, sticking his head in front of the camera, "You got any idea what insurance on a Ferrari costs?"

A sensitive subject

The Eagles are rightly feeling bruised by my clumsy "Drop Dead" line because they do work in the community for literacy. This year the team made 330 stops in poor neighborhoods around Philadelphia, giving children 37,767 new books, which cost more than $200,000.

Brendan Skwire, who helped create the video about the Eagles and the libraries, is unmoved. He is a grant writer who lives in Kingsessing, which could lose one library, a pool and a sprayground in the cuts.

"I have little sympathy for the Eagles' hurt feelings mainly because there's a debt - and until a court says it's invalid, it's still outstanding," he told me.

"They can afford to do this and, given their community relations priorities [kids, literacy, athletics], they should. And it's outstanding PR value that lasts for years."

One number keeps coming back to me: $7.8 million for a preseason game. Sounds like a perfect opportunity for a benefit. They could call it the Library Bowl.