Philly’s Ray Didinger on 50 years of ‘Headlines, Heroes, and Heartaches’ 

Hughe Dillon

It’s Monday morning and Ray Didinger — Philadelphia’s preeminent sports writer and multimedia commentator currently hosting at 94WIP Sports Radio and acting as football analyst for NBC Sports Philadelphia — is ruminating about the recent fate of the Eagles just as he has for the last five decades. After losing as they did to the Kansas City Chiefs during Sunday’s outing that was plagued by penalties, Didinger says he’s disappointed, but pragmatic.

“The Eagles played really hard, but unfortunately they didn’t play very smart,” says Didinger after the Birds’ 30-42 loss to the Chiefs. “They were up against a much better team. The Chiefs might be the best offensive team in the game right now. The Eagles just don’t have the horses to play against a team like that. They were fighting out of their weight class. They made a good effort, though… And Andy Reid is the first professional coach to win 100 games with two different organizations.”

Pragmatic yet passionate, ethical and moral too, Didinger has long been the head and heart of Philly sports.

He published a memoir, ‘Finished Business: My Fifty Years of Headlines, Heroes, and Heartache’ through Temple University Press. And on Oct. 6, another iteration of his biographical play, “Tommy & Me,” dedicated to late Eagles legend and colorfully charismatic baller Tommy McDonald, will start its run at the Delaware Theatre Company through Oct. 17.

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“I did not think ‘Tommy & Me’ would have a longer life beyond one-and-done when we did the first production in 2016, but this is the fourth showing among three different theaters and I’m amazed and delighted,” says the playwright. “What’s most gratifying is that the same people come back and see it, time-after-time to experience Tommy’s life and career.”

Talking as he did about McDonald and Sunday’s game, you could tell that Didinger truly comes alive for football, with his mind’s eye toward the Eagles.

“Pro football is what I love most. I could feel my pulse quicken with other sports in other arenas, but football speaks to me in a whole different way. Going back to when the games were held at Franklin Field, walking into that stadium… that was magical. I felt that way from the first day I went as a fan to now as a veteran reporter. That tingle and excitement never changed.”

Yes, ‘Finished Business’ reminds readers that Didinger has covered the wide world of sports, from the Philadelphia Flyers and the championship Broad Street Bullies to the Phillies and 76ers. Didinger’s new book also recalls “real oddities in my careers” into professional wrestling (“I had no experience, and none since, writing about wrestling. One of few times I tried to give an editor back an assignment as I didn’t think it belonged in the sports section – not a real sport – and Associated Press picked up the story and ran it in 200+ papers”), boxing, and the very start of his interest in the storytelling of sports at his grandfather’s bar, Ray’s Tavern along Southwest Philadelphia’s Woodland Avenue.

“When my grandfather spoke, you could hear a pin drop in his bar – a bar filled with men who lived and breathed sports –  he was THAT great of a storyteller. I wanted to do that,” Didinger recalled.

Having worked his whole life as a writer in Philadelphia, Didinger hadn’t planned for a memoir, and despite his publisher’s urgings couldn’t wrap his mind around it. That is until the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2018.

“When I flew back to Philly from covering the game in Minneapolis with a plane full of Eagles fans, landed and saw the crowd’s madness at our airport, went to the parade and saw the millions of people celebrating at Eakins Oval – that was it. I was able to write the book… In all of the years I’ve covered Philly sports, I was there for two Flyers Stanley Cups, two Phillies World Series wins and the Sixers NBA Championship victory with Dr. J and Moses Malone. The one thing that was missing was an Eagles Super Bowl victory. With that, the circle was complete: the book had an ending, a reason to exist, something to justify its title.”

Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Julius Erving and one-time Eagles owner Leonard Tose are just a few of the smart, colorful and clever subjects interviewed by Didinger for ‘Finished Business.’ The author explained the importance of focusing on the city throughout his memoir—it’s sports history, experiences and of course, it’s incredible fan base.

“The one thing I wanted to do when writing ‘Finished Business,’ the greatest challenge, was not writing about myself, but rather the game and my experiences,” says Didinger. “I didn’t want to write about me. I wanted to be a tour guide, walking the reader through the last 50 years of Philly sports.”

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