Ray Didinger, Comcast football analyst and one-time Bulletin and Daily News sportswriter, is not exactly a guy of the times. For the longest stretch, he didn’t have a cell phone—and for all I know he still doesn’t. He doesn’t drink. He doesn’t get mad or excited or rant. He is a man who looks and sounds like he might be running for county commissioner. In 1957.
Which is why I—like the ex-governor of this great state—love Ray. We’ll get to that.
But first: On Sunday, after the Eagles victory over the Dallas Cowboys, there was Ray on Comcast SportsNet, positively animated. In fact, you could say that Ray went off, in an exchange with that wannabe sports commentator, one Ed Rendell:
Ed (laughing, tongue somewhat in cheek): “Now Michael Vick is the best quarterback in the NFL today, and LeSean McCoy is the best running back, ever.”
Ray (trying to reel the governor in): “How about this, you’re 3-4, you’re 3-4 … “
And this is when it happened. Suddenly, Ray cupped his hands around his mouth to project his voice, and announced to the world:
“REALITY CHECK! WE HAVE ALL THESE GUYS WHO ARE THE GREATEST WHO HAVE EVER PLAYED, BUT WE’RE 3-4!”
Ed: “Ray, I have to say this. And I love Ray, and I have loved Ray for years, but Ray is Scrooge—he’s the epitome of Scrooge.”
Ray: “We’re 3-4!”
Ed: “If somebody won a $10,000,000 lottery, Ray would point out there are a lot of taxes to be paid.”
Ray’s face dropped into his hands, in stunned disbelief.
Ed: “Let us enjoy this, Ray. For God’s sake! Let us enjoy this!”
Oh, poor Ray. It’s getting worse. More and more, this era is making him a dinosaur. Yesterday the New York Times ran a piece about ex-jocks who become TV talking heads, and how they’re now, as the headline declared, “Talking Trash, Just to Be Heard.”
“This new generation of talking heads subscribes to a bellicose corollary of Cartesian metaphysics,” the Times intoned. “I rip, therefore I am.”
They accuse players of taking it easy. They say players are sick of teammates they cannot trust. Recently, there was even a hit by former quarterback Trent Dilfer on Michael Vick—generally beloved by fellow jocks. Vick had complained about a late tackle; Dilfer railed against QBs who whine.
The way of the world: more noise. In praise or blame.
Now, Ray is not an ex-jock—he’s about as far from being an ex-jock as Ed Rendell. Though Ed certainly fills the role of grandiose opinions. Ray, I should point out, is quite capable of harsh criticism when he feels it is warranted, such as writing that the Eagles run defense was “a joke.” Or that blowing fourth-quarter leads week after week was “inexcusable.”
I like that “inexcusable.” That’s Ray ordering the world. Ray telling it as it should be. Almost always, though, it’s medicine spooned with honey, and a little anecdote. Here’s a recent dollop that he penned for the CSN website:
Football is a complex game with a language all its own. If you ever sat with an NFL coach while he broke down film, you would appreciate what a highly detailed business it is. There are so many layers and so much jargon, it can be complicated.
Then again, it can be pretty simple.
Years ago, I interviewed Chuck Noll, who won a record four Super Bowls as head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. We talked a lot of X’s and O’s with Noll scribbling on a sheet of paper, but finally he dropped his pen, rocked back in his chair and said, “Look … ” He was about to cut to the chase.
“Football is all about running the ball and stopping the run,” Noll said. “Everything else is just gingerbread.”
I’ll always remember the look on Noll’s face and the tone of his voice. He did not want to go into more detail when no detail was necessary. He could talk all day, but it would all come back to this: It was all about the fundamentals.
Nicely said, Ray. Now stop shouting.