Another chance to see Tommy and Me

Tommy and Me, the autobiographical play by Ray Didinger, author of One Last Read and the forthcoming Eagles Encyclopedia: Champions Edition, is getting an encore production at the Media Theater August 8-26. This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post the author/playwright’s blog entry, slightly tweaked from what published last summer after the original production ended its run.

I didn’t know it was possible to have an experience that is both exhilarating and painful. But that’s what I was feeling when Tommy and Me, my first—and probably last—stage play, had its final performance at the Fringe Arts theatre.

It was exhilarating because the sellout crowd sent the play off with a standing ovation and afterwards people stayed around to say how much they enjoyed it. The story flashes back to the 1950s and ’60s and the career of Eagles great Tommy McDonald and dozens of people came up to me to relate their own memories of Franklin Field. Some still carried the ticket stubs in their wallets. Three bucks for a seat in the end zone. Yes, it was a long time ago.

TommyandMe SetThe painful part was walking back into the empty theatre and seeing the crew dismantle the set. During the two-week run I virtually lived in that theatre. It became my world and each night when the lights went down and the actors took the stage, I was transported back to my boyhood when I was the freckle-faced fan who wanted nothing more than to carry Tommy McDonald’s helmet as he walked to the practice field. It brought a lump to my throat every night. But on Sunday, seeing it stripped down and silent, reminded me it was, indeed, over.

I knew this night was coming. I knew there would be that moment when I had to let go and Tommy and Me would become a memory, but it did not lessen the sense of loss. We sat at the bar for a long time—the cast, the crew, the whole Theatre Exile team—and talked about the play and how it grew into something larger than we first imagined. All 12 performances were sell outs and each show ended with a standing ovation that seemed to grow louder each night. Tom Teti, the veteran actor who played Tommy McDonald, said, “This was a rare one.” The others at the bar nodded in agreement.

Picture_r688x459Once we left the theatre that night last year we would go in different directions. I would return to talking about the Eagles on WIP Sports Radio and Comcast Sports Net.

Eagles;Champions_smBut for a little while longer, we were sharing the bond that was Tommy and Me, the play I wrote about my boyhood hero and our unlikely 40-year journey to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I had never written a play before and when I started I wasn’t at all sure it would ever be produced. But thanks to Joe Canuso, who believed in the project, and Bruce Graham, the superb Philadelphia playwright who helped in its development, we were able to bring Tommy and Me to life. To sit in the theatre each evening and hear the audience laugh, sometimes cry, boo any reference to the Dallas Cowboys and ultimately applaud at the final curtain was a thrill unlike anything I had experienced before. I know I’ll never forget it.

Each night ended with the cast returning to the stage to answer questions from the audience. The very first night, a woman stood up and said: “I’m not an Eagles fan. I don’t even like sports…” I thought, “Where is this going?” Then she said, “But this story really touched me.” Several theatre critics [reviews below] made the same point: it isn’t a football story. It is a story about a boy, his hero and dreams coming true. It is a story I always wanted to tell and that’s why it was so hard to let go.

Read the DC Metro‘s review. 

Read the Broad Street Review‘s review

Read Philly.com‘s review

Read NewsWork‘s review

Read Philadelphia Magazine‘s review 

 

 

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Fly, E-A-G-L-E-S, Fly

This week in North Philly Notes, we continue the celebration of the Eagles and Ray Didinger, author of The New Eagles Encyclopedia.

Ray Didinger, longtime and beloved sportswriter, was remarkably composed when he visited Temple University Press’ offices in the week leading up to Super Bowl LII. But after the Eagles beat the Patriots in the big game, Didinger, who bleeds green, broke down on camera. Check out this video from NBC Sports’ Post Game Live, which shows Didinger getting emotional.

There is another video, “Philadelphia…This is your moment!” which also features Didinger.

The New Eagles Encyclopedia_smDidinger’s reaction to the Eagles win was also covered in this column by Rob Tornoe that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on February 5.

 

By Rob Tornoe

NFL Hall of Fame writer and analyst Ray Didinger is generally known for his calm and level-headed analysis of the Eagles on NBC Sports Philadelphia and SportsRadio 94.1 WIP (unless your name is Chip Kelly).

But early Monday morning, after the Eagles stunning 41-33 victory over the Patriots in Super Bowl LII, the normally stoic Didinger got emotional when Eagles Postgame Livehost Michael Barkann introduced a guest on set — Didinger’s son, David.

David, who works for NFL Films, embraced his father live on air to celebrate the Eagles first Super Bowl win in an emotional moment that reflects the strong generational bond Birds fans have with their team.

“That scene is being repeated in Philadelphia thousands and thousands and thousands of times,” said former Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell.

“It’s [for] everybody that didn’t have a chance that see this. My grandparents, my mom’s parents, my Uncle Kevin,” David Didinger noted as his father fought back tears. “I’ve waited 44 year and I swear I’d never thought I’d see this day.

Of course, Ray Didinger has waited longer for this moment than his son. The Eagles last championship came in 1960, when Didinger was just 13 years old. As he attempted to dry his eyes, he pointed out that he’s lived in the same house for 30 years, and during that time he’s had pigeons, hawks and even cats climbing on the garage.

On Saturday, Didinger’s wife told him when she woke up, there was an eagle sitting on the garage.

“I don’t believe in mysticism… She said to me ‘That’s either got to be the spirit of your father or your mother.’ And I truly believe that,” an emotional Didinger said. “To be able to share this with my son is beyond special.”

Last week, Didinger reflected on his family’s love of the Eagles, and tried to sum up what it would feel like if the Birds managed to knock off the Patriots to win the Super Bowl.

“My parents and my grandparents,” Didinger told Angelo Cataldi on the WIP Morning Show last week. “They’re all gone. But the last time they won this thing in 1960 we were all together in the east stands at Franklin Field watching it happen. If the confetti starts falling on Nick Foles on Sunday night, the first people I’m going to think about are my parents and grandparents. I think that’s true across the city.

“Family is so tied in to what people feel about this team, that everybody is going to feel exactly the same thing, ‘I wish grandpa was here. I was Uncle Bill was here. I wish they could all share in this,’ ” Didinger said. “Or, if they are still here, they’re all gonna share in it together.”

 

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