by Len Lear
Philadelphia Eagles fans are going berserk this season since their team unexpectedly has the best won-loss record in the NFL and appears to be a legitimate contender for the Super Bowl. But Marnie Schneider and Susan T. Spencer are immersed in the Philadelphia Eagles in a way few others ever could be.
Why? Because Marnie’s grandfather and Susan’s father was the late Leonard Tose, who owned the Eagles from 1969 to 1985 and guided them to the team’s first Super Bowl in 1981! But Marnie and Susan are still so obsessed with the Eagles that they have co-written a children’s book: “Football Freddie and Fumble the Dog: Gameday in Philadelphia” (www.footballfreddie.com), which follows a young football fan and her dog and culminates in an exciting Eagles game. Marnie signed the book for Eagles’ fans on Saturday morning, Nov. 25, at Big Blue Marble Bookstore in Mt. Airy.
“My best memories are watching the fans be so excited about their precious Birds going all the way,” said Marnie, now 49, in an interview with the Local. “A highlight for me was beating Dallas in 1981 to go to the Super Bowl. I was 12 years old, but I can remember it like it was yesterday! Obviously, losing games was not fun when I’d go to school on Monday morning. The 1978 wildcard game was a crushing loss, and the 1981 Super Bowl was absolutely heartbreaking!”
Technically speaking, Marnie. who went to Episcopal Academy and then earned a degree in broadcast journalism from Penn State University, grew up in Lower Merion, but she insists that “I really grew up in Veterans Stadium! The Eagles are still in my blood, and I do still bleed Eagle green.”
Marnie’s grandfather, Leonard Tose, son of an immigrant peddler from Russia, built a multimillion-dollar trucking business, Tose Trucking, Inc., based in Norristown, which owned more than 700 trucks and grossed $20 million a year. He bought the Philadelphia Eagles and later sold the team to pay off more than $25 million in gambling debts at Atlantic City casinos. Tose died in April of 2003 at the age of 88.
Tose was, by his own admission, a compulsive gambler and alcoholic with a lifestyle often called flamboyant. He and the fourth of his five wives had matching Rolls-Royces. According to the New York Times, Tose gambled away more than $20 million at Resorts International and $14 million at the Sands in Atlantic City.
But Marnie remembers a very generous man who also shared the wealth. “My grandfather donated a wing at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and he wrote the checks and used his relationship with Ray Kroc (the founder of McDonald’s) to start the Ronald McDonald House along with Dr. Audrey Evans and Fred and Fran Hill. Jim Murray has also been a tremendous help to the house, but my grandfather definitely gets overlooked!”
Marnie is also proud of the fact that Tose donated a great deal of money towards the building of the Tiferet Bet Israel synagogue in 2000 in Blue Bell, where the family attended services. A chip off the old block, Marnie started the Keep on Playing Foundation in 2014, which brings pro sports, reading and play into the lives of kids.
“I love taking kids to Major League games,” said Marnie, “and giving them the VIP experience like I had as a kid, getting them great seats that the teams donate and watching a game.” Marnie’s non-profit also brings Major Leaguers to city recreation centers to play ball with the kids and teach them basic instruction during the summer. “We are making a difference! When kids play and read, we all win!”
How did “Football Freddie” come about? “It’s pretty much my life story and my love letter to all the wonderful NFL cities I had a chance to visit when my grandfather owned the Eagles! I loved getting to eat a praline in New Orleans and learn about the city or see the sights of Dallas, New England, tour the great museums and history or New York, the mountains in Denver and meet all the amazing fans in every city.”
Marnie’s mom, Susan T. Spencer, who co-wrote “Football Freddie,” for years was the only female radio sports talk show host in Las Vegas with her weekday program, “Not Just Sports.” “If you are a woman living in Las Vegas and want to catch a man, learn sports,” she would tell listeners. She and Marnie are currently developing a unique mother-and-daughter sports radio talk show.
How does Marnie feel about the fact that her grandfather lost the Eagles by gambling? “Like Sinatra said, he did it his way, and he paid everyone back dollar for dollar; most don’t do that. And when given the chance to leave Philadelphia for Arizona and millions of dollars, he stayed in Philly, where the Eagles belong. Gambling and drinking are trouble!”
What is the best advice Marnie ever received? “From my grandfather, ‘Civility is not a sign of weakness,’ and from coach Dick Vermeil, ‘Write a game plan not just to play but to win!’”
What is the hardest thing Marnie ever had to do? “Keep up an upbeat cheerleading attitude when my oldest son, who’s almost 18 now, was diagnosed with neuroblastoma opsoclonus myoclonus and didn’t walk or talk till he was almost 5. He had surgery to remove his tumor, chemotherapy, occupational, physical and speech therapy for the first years of his life! … Getting divorced was not so fun, either, but that’s almost a decade now, so it was definitely the right thing to do, even if it was one of the hardest; that’s often how it goes; right?”
If Marnie could spend a couple of hours with anyone on earth, who would it be? “Easy; Ben Franklin and then my grandfather!”
What is Marnie’s biggest pet peeve? “Phonies and people who are mean. And wasting food!”
For more information, visit www.keeponplaying.org/the-founder or www.footballfreddie.com All proceeds from the sale of “Football Freddie and Fumble the Dog: Gameday in Philadelphia” will be donated to A Level Playing Field, helping thousands of children get access to the opportunities youth sports provide.