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Ray Didinger

The Eagles Encyclopedia
Ray Didinger and Robert S. Lyons

A Q&A with co-author Ray Didinger about his favorite team, his favorite players, and his favorite memories, all captured in The Eagles Encyclopedia

Q: When did you see your first Eagles game, and how did you become a lifelong fan? Do you ever miss a game?
A: The first actual Eagles game I ever attended was the home opener in 1956. The Eagles played Washington in a downpour at Connie Mack Stadium. But I was following the Eagles long before that. My parents were such huge fans that when my father took his two-week summer vacation, we went to the Eagles training camp, which was then in Hershey, PA. Who needs the Jersey shore when you can watch the Eagles go through two-a-days?

Q: Did you ever have dreams to play pro football, or, coach the Eagles? Or do you prefer just to watch and root for the team?
A: As a youngster, I had dreams of being another Tommy McDonald. He was my boyhood idol. But I soon came to realize I was better suited to the press box than the field.

Q: What player do you most admire? Who in your opinion is the most underrated athlete on the team? Who on the current roster do you expect we'll be celebrating in the years to come?
A: I admire David Akers for his perseverance to keep going after being released by three other NFL teams and signing with the Eagles to become the best kicker in team history. He truly made it the hard way. In my opinion, the most underrated player is cornerback Sheldon Brown. He was the one starter in the secondary that didn't go to the Pro Bowl last season, yet he certainly was deserving. He is an outstanding young corner with a very bright future. The player we will be celebrating is Donovan McNabb. He already has led the Eagles to more post-season appearances than any quarterback in franchise history and as we saw last season, he is still improving. I fully expect him to win a Super Bowl for the Eagles.

Q: Which Eagle player/coach from the past that is no longer alive would you have liked to have interviewed or seen play?
A: I've had the good fortune to interview most of the coaches and players from the last 60 years, including the stars from the 1948-49 championship teams, such as Steve Van Buren, Pete Pihos and Chuck Bednarik. I didn't see those teams play, but I've certainly seen the films and in my opinion, they were one of the great teams of all-time. Van Buren looks like a 1940s version of John Riggins, a stunning combination of speed and power. I wish I could have interviewed Greasy Neale, the coach because he was such a brilliant football mind and also a colorful character.

Q: Is there a personal highlight in the 30-plus years you spent covering the Eagles?
A: That's easy. It would be August 1, 1998, when I presented Tommy McDonald for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. It was an incredible feeling, standing on the steps of the Hall of Fame, delivering the presentation speech for the man who was my boyhood idol. It was one of the great thrills of my life. I was honored beyond words that Tommy allowed me to be a part of that glorious weekend.

Q: The Eagles Encyclopedia contains some pretty wild stories such as the one about Adrian Burk's seven touchdown day, or Donovan McNabb passing for four TDs with a broken ankle. How did you research/discover these amazing anecdotes, and which is your favorite?
A: In the course of writing about the Eagles for The Philadelphia Bulletin and The Philadelphia Daily News for 27 years, I either covered those stories as they happened or I researched them for various anniversary tributes. My favorite was the 17-sack game by defensive end Norm (Wildman) Willey in 1952. To this day, many people think it is a myth because the NFL did not start counting sacks as an official statistic until 1982, but it really did happen. Back then, the Eagles coaches gave the defensive players a $10 bonus for each hit they put on the quarterback. That week, Willey recalls getting an envelope with $170 in it. "I felt like I was rich," he said. It truly was a different era.

Q: The sidelines chapter in the book is great fun—the names and nicknames, the top 5 touchdown celebrations by T.O.—but you also talk about the tragedies, such as the losing seasons 1983-1985, and Blenda Gay's shocking murder. What are your favorite moments from watching the Eagles antics on the field and off?
A: My favorite moment as a reporter was standing in the end zone at Giants Stadium and watching Herman Edwards run directly toward me on the Miracle of the Meadowlands. I can still recall a New York cop standing next to me saying, "That CAN'T be a touchdown. There has to be a penalty—or something." I'll never forget the silence that fell over that stadium. My other favorite moment was the 1980-81 NFC Championship Game against Dallas. To see the team under Dick Vermeil complete its five-year climb to the top—and see the celebration in the city of Philadelphia—was something I'll never forget. My favorite moments off the field were the times I spent with the late Reggie White, watching him bring hope and meaning to the lives of the people in North Philadelphia.

Q: Where did you find all of the great player photographs and images of the fans? How long did it take you to compile the book?
A: Some of the illustrations were personal photos I collected over the years, growing up in Philadelphia as an Eagles fan. Many of the other photos were provided by Ed Mahan, the Eagles' long-time photographer, and Joe Labolito, the Temple staff photographer who also shoots Eagles home games.

Q: You couldn't know all of the history and trivia about the Eagles when you sat down to write the Encyclopedia. What did you learn writing the book?
A: I developed a greater appreciation for Tommy Thompson, the quarterback of the Eagles' 1948-49 championship teams. Previously, I thought those teams were carried by Van Buren, Pihos, Alex Wojciechowicz and Bednarik, the Hall of Famers. And those players were a big part of the Eagles' success. But Thompson also played brilliantly. He threw 57 touchdown passes in 36 regular season games in 1947-49 and his statistics compared favorably with the superstar quarterbacks of that era, such as Sammy Baugh and Sid Luckman. He was not given enough credit for the team's success.

Q: OK, I have to ask: Do you think the Eagles will WIN the Super Bowl this year?
A: I feel the Eagles still are the best team in the NFC, so on that basis, I will pick them to go back to the Super Bowl. Will they win it? Check back with me in February.


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