On the day of the report of pitchers and catchers to Clearwater, we deviate from the diamonds and fresh wood bats to a painful subject right now, the Eagles. But, when one is forced to speak of those who preside across the parking lot from the confines of Citizens Bank Park, there is nothing better one can do than speak to an NFL Hall-of-Famer.
Ray Didinger is an NFL Hall-of-Famer. The man has earned it too. From Memorial Day to New Year's Day Didinger, doesn’t have a day off. He works as a producer with NFL Films, in Mt. Laurel, N.J., as an analyst on Eagles Pre-Game Live, and Eagles Post-Game Live on Comcast SportsNet, and as a host on 610 WIP-AM. Ray found some time this off season to chat with us about our neighbors, the Eagles.
SHAY RODDY: Can you give us your background, how you got started, and the various jobs you’ve had over the years?
RAY DIDINGER: I was born in Southwest Philadelphia, raised in Ridley Township, Delaware County. I went to St. James High School in Chester. From there, I went to Temple University and studied communications. I graduated in 1968. I then went to the Philadelphia Daily Times, for a year, as a news reporter. In 1969, I went to The Philadelphia Bulletin and worked in the sports department. I left the Bulletin in 1980 and went to the Philadelphia Daily News. I was there for 16 years. Then, in 1996 I joined NFL Films as a Senior Producer. I’ve been at NFL Films ever since.
You’ve obviously worked in print, but you’ve also worked in TV, both on the air and off the air, with NFL Films and Comcast SportsNet, and in radio, with 610 WIP-AM. Has there been one that’s been your favorite?
Yeah, I’d have to lean toward writing. I started out as a writer, so I always thought of myself as a writer, and I kind of still do. Writing is what always came most naturally to me. I feel fortunate that I’ve had the opportunity to do all sorts of different stuff; the radio and TV have been fun. The opportunity to join NFL Films has been really cool too; I’ve actually gotten to become a filmmaker, and make some films that I’m really proud of. That was a lot of fun and really unexpected. But if you ask me, what am I really, I’d have to say a writer because that’s really all I ever set out to be.
You’re a producer at NFL Films. What’s involved in that?
I do what a producer anywhere would do. I generate story ideas for films or shows, I then go out and do research and interviews for them. Then I go through footage, pick out the music, and write the script. Then I sit down and edit it, and put the whole thing together on the editing machine. It’s a challenging job, but it’s really a lot of fun. When you see the whole thing come together, it’s very satisfying.
Certainly, when you’re on the air, you’re known for your note taking and thorough preparation. What goes into making those notes and finding those stats you use?
It’s really just years of research, years of covering the game. I always try to look inside the numbers and find, out of the mountains of statistics that come out after games, the ones that really mean something, and separate them from the ones that are just numbers. You break down a game and there is always a lot of numbers you can throw out there. Some statistics I think are misleading, some statistics I think are just bogus. Then, there are the statistics that really cut to the heart of why teams win and lose and over the years I’ve tried to identify them. So I look at those and once the game’s over I try to quantify it that way. So, those stacks of papers in front of me are just years of research, which I try to apply to the game that we just watched, week in and week out.
It’s interesting because every game is a little bit different and sometimes the numbers tell you it should go this way, but it goes an entirely different way, for reasons that are hard to explain sometimes. That’s the beauty of it, so you have to break it down and say, well if you look at this, this, and this, the Eagles should have won this game, but they didn’t, and that’s because this, this, and this didn’t happen. I love all the sports, I really do, but that’s why football really stands out, the team aspect. Everyone needs to work together in order to be successful and I like that.
The Eagles have been to five NFC Championship games under Coach Andy Reid. What is the biggest reason for their success?
Over the course of his tenure they’ve had continuity. They’ve had one coach, one quarterback, and one ownership group; in today’s NFL that’s pretty rare, and that definitely helps. Over that period of time they’ve also had a consistently good defense. Having a top ten defense over the course of a decade has definitely helped them be more than just competitive.
Early in the decade the NFC and in particular, their division was not very good, and that definitely gave them an advantage. But, even in the last few years, when the division and the NFC got better, they showed that they can play with just about anybody. Five championship games in 10 years is a pretty good feat but they still haven’t reached the ultimate goal of winning a championship.
Yeah, even though they’ve been to five, they’ve lost four and the one they did win, they lost in the Super Bowl. It seems to me that when the stakes are high, the Eagles come up short. Why is that?
Well, every game is different. They didn’t lose every game for the same reason or because of the same person. If you had one general reason you could point to this game and say, they lost this game because of this, or this, but it really doesn’t work that way. McNabb has had his chances to win games and hasn’t come up late, but I think it would be unfair to say he’s the reason. In some of the games they’ve been outcoached, but I don’t think you could say that they lost every one of those games because of coaching. There were some games where they had the lead late and lost it, but you can’t say the defense is at blame for all of the losses. Each one of the games is different and they have to be evaluated separately.
The bottom line is, they’ve had their chances but haven’t been good ENOUGH. On each given day they have to find a way to be good enough to beat that other team, whoever that other team may be. So far, they haven’t been able to figure that out yet.
So, this offseason, what would be the one move, or one selection they could make to make them good enough?
Well, I think they have a number of things to do, most of them on the offensive side of the ball. I think the defense is in pretty good shape; maybe they could use one more, good pass-rushing defensive end to take a little pressure off Trent Cole. I would put most of my focus on the offence. I think they definitely need to sure up the line. They have two 30 year old tackles, and I don’t know if either one of them will be back. They need to look into the Shawn Andrews situation, and find out if he can come back, and if so, if he can ever be the player that he was before. If he can’t you may need to get another guard.
I think, as much as Brian Westbrook’s been great for this team, we’re seeing the end of his productive years. One of the priorities needs to be finding someone who can share that load with him. I also think they need to get another tight end. L.J. Smith certainly won’t be back and as good as Brent Celek was in the championship, two tight ends is sort of a necessity in today’s NFL. If they can get a good tight end, some one who can be consistent, and there are so of those guys in this draft, then they should add one of them as well.
One word to describe Andy Reid is…
Organized. It doesn’t cover all of it, but it’s the best word, to me. I don’t always agree with the game plan, but week in and week out, he strikes me as very organized.
Will the Eagles ever be good enough to win a championship under Reid and McNabb, together?
Yeah, they could. .I can’t really sit here and predict that they will or they won’t all I can really say is, they could. They’ve been close a number of times and they’ve gotten there once. The trouble with making these types of statements is sometimes people will just make a simple statement of fact like, this coach will never win, or this quarterback is never going to be good enough, or these two are never going to win together. I remember when they said that about Tony Dungy and Payton Manning. Well they did.
They said the same thing about Cowher and Coughlin, but they did. When someone goes out and is never successful, then it’s pretty safe to say they aren’t going to be successful, but when a quarterback and coach reach a certain level of success over a long period of time then it’s a little silly to say they will never win a championship together. They’ve had their opportunities and they haven’t gotten it done, but could they come back and win it next year? Yeah they could.
You’re a member of the NFL Hall-of-Fame. What does that mean to you?
It means a lot. For someone who really respects the game and the history of the game, to be a part of that, even in a small way, is really special. To have gone to Canton, Ohio, and to have been a part of that ceremony, and to see your name on the wall, and to give an acceptance speech and look around into the audience and see Gail Sayers, and Bart Starr, and Otto Graham, and Bob Griese, and Larry Csonka, and some of the great people that have ever played listening to you speak…I just can’t imagine a bigger thrill.
And then to be able to share this with my parents, who came up for the weekend, and my wife, and kids, its really been the greatest thrill of my life to have that opportunity and receive that recognition, because I really do love the game of football, and to see my name in the same building as the guys who created this game and starred at this game is jut the biggest thrill. It’s a day I’ll never forget, that’s for sure!