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  • Matt Santoleri

RAY DIDINGER SAYS GOODBYE WITH THE CLASS EXPECTED OF A HALL OF FAMER


NFL Hall of Fame writer Ray Didinger was the voice, soul and conscience of every sports fan in the Delaware Valley for over five decades. Photo by Joseph V. Labolito/Temple University.


Saying goodbye to a legendary sportswriter, author, radio personality, NFL Hall of Famer and Philly media icon like Ray Didinger has been a tough pill to swallow for many longtime area sports fans.


Many, including myself, don’t remember a time in which his coverage and commentary on Philadelphia sports wasn’t an engrained aspect of life. For over 53 years “Ray Diddy” blessed fans of the Eagles, Sixers, Phillies, and Flyers with nuanced takes, fact-based insights, and the warm and cozy embrace of friendship his voice became synonymous with. Always the consummate professional Didinger handled his farewell tour these past few weeks since announcing his retirement on his radio show on WIP with the exact genuine gratitude you would expect. Getting a chance for Footballstories the Radio Show to be one of these stops on his road to retirement was truly an honor as he left us with even more insight before hanging up the headset. Didinger, never one to come off as egotistical in any way, didn’t see the adoration that many fans have been throwing his way coming. “A little shocked by the reaction, it’s been a lot more than I thought it was going to be. I figured some people would reach out, but I didn’t expect it to be what it has been for the last three weeks. It’s been a lot, frankly it’s been a little overwhelming, but its all been nice, and people have said some really lovely things which makes me feel good.” As someone who has not only been covering the Eagles for over 50 years but has written several books about the team, including one about their momentous 2017 Super Bowl run, we had to hear straight from the source what that moment during the parade down Broad Street meant to him. “It was an overwhelming experience, one that you’ll never ever forget, I know I won’t. But having said that I wasn’t surprised, and I expected it to be every bit of that. I knew what winning the Super Bowl meant to the city and the fans of the city. I knew there was going to be a crazy outpour of emotion and tears and all of that stuff. "It wouldn’t have mattered if it was twenty below zero or seventy-five degrees, or a raging snowstorm, it would have been the same because the people had just been waiting. You refer to it as Eagles Nation and it is, that’s how I think about it and they had been waiting for generations, not just a matter of years, but for generations for that moment…It just meant so much to so many people.” Al Thompson, Editor-in-Chief of the Magazine and Host of the Radio Show recounted the standup gesture of Eagles Insider Dave Spadaro that day when paused the crowd for a moment of silence in remembrance for the Eagles fans who didn’t live to see that day while at the podium and Ray perfectly added to its importance. “I thought Dave and Merrill [Reese] did a great job at the podium and in that same vein I’ll tell you a little anecdote on my end. When we got there to Eakins Oval, I exited the bus and walked over to what was going to be our broadcast location and as I was walking over there was a guy standing behind the police barricade wrapped in a blanket clearly there all night staking out his position. "He was calling my name and waving me over saying he wanted to show me something. So, I went over, and he reached in his pocket, and he pulled out this picture of a man and a boy and they were at Franklin Field. "He said to me this is me and my father at the 1960 Championship Game and we were there when the Eagles beat the Packers and we made a vow that if the Eagles ever played in a Championship game again, we would be there. We went to New Orleans to see the Eagles play the Raiders and they lost. We went to see them play the Patriots in Jacksonville and they lost. My father died three years ago so he wasn’t here to see this, but I held on to this picture ever since and I knew when the Eagles beat the Patriots on Sunday, I had to come here to see this and having this picture with me is kind of like having him here to celebrate this together.’ “I almost broke down and cried.” While some out there rejoiced at seeing more football to consume with the return of the USFL this year and the XFL in 2023, when asked about viability of these startups Ray seemed less than sold. “Those leagues are just going to be what they are. They can exist and they can develop some level of interest and as long as they have a TV contract, they will survive but they’re never going to be anything competitive with the NFL. “The World Football League was actually kind of a joke I thought, but the [Original] USFL was actually a pretty credible league with some decent teams like the Philadelphia Stars who were actually pretty good. “Problem was, led by Donald Trump they decided to take on the NFL in the fall and that was a kamikaze mission and it proved to be. You have to understand that the NFL is a colossus, and nothing is going to topple that, and no one can really even challenge that. “You can exist on the periphery of it, as kind of a quasi-minor league and if that floats your boat then good, go for it. Maybe that’s what the aspirations of the [New] USFL are but the idea that they could ever be truly competitive to the NFL is a pipe dream and it ain’t happening.” While the Delaware Valley is saying goodbye to Ray Didinger as their confidant and trusted source on everything Philly sports, they will always have the memories, stories, and time spent with the man whose integrity has never come into question. Ray will now have the time he never did to travel, develop hobbies outside of sports and relax knowing he’s left a lasting legacy. His family will now get Ray, unburdened by his tireless commitment to his work to spend more time with his wife, kids, grandkids, and dogs which he is gleefully looking forward to doing. In his final show on WIP he said "I've written thousands upon thousands of words, but never the word goodbye—not until today," knowing you’ll still see him around the Linc, not as a reporter but as a fan, it feels more like "see you later." *


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