5 Questions With Eagles Great Tommy McDonald

Ray Didinger’s play about his friendship with Pro Football Hall of Famer Tommy McDonald opens tonight at FringeArts. It's already sold out.

Tommy McDonald played seven seasons with the Eagles, from 1957 to 1963. Photo provided

Tommy McDonald played seven seasons with the Eagles, from 1957 to 1963. Photo provided

Long before Ray Didinger was an award-winning sportswriter, Comcast SportsNet commentator and WIP host, he was an eager kid trotting after Tommy McDonald, No. 25, at Eagles training camp, spouting off the wide receiver’s stats and hoping to carry his helmet.

Year later, Didinger started crossing paths with his boyhood hero as a writer for the Philadelphia Bulletin and the Daily News, and the two formed a close friendship. But it wasn’t until McDonald was being inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998 that he revealed their long-ago connection.

Didinger turned the story of that friendship into his first play, Tommy and Me, produced by Theatre Exile and premiering tonight at FringeArts. The show’s full run is already sold out.

McDonald, now 82, answered our questions about seeing the play, asking Didinger to present him at the Hall of Fame and being a lifelong Eagles fan.

Tommy McDonald and fans. Photo provided

Tommy McDonald and fans. Photo provided

How did you feel when Ray admitted you had been his childhood idol and he had come to see you at practices in the 1950s?

I felt very honored because by that point Ray had established himself as a prominent writer in the Philadelphia region. I had wished that he would have said something sooner; part of me felt I should have known. However, over the years, we were around so many fans that it was tough to recall — Philadelphia has so many great fans.

Why did you ask him to present you when you were inducted into the Hall of Fame?

It was the proper thing to do as all the pieces came together. I had seen the initiative Ray took in promoting my stats and accomplishments to the selection committee, so without his efforts my election to the NFL Hall of Fame would never have happened. I had to have the stats and respect around the league, but Ray knew how to educate the other writers that may not have had access to my film or stats at the time. He really understood the honor, the game, the Hall of Fame and what it meant to me to be elected into that special class of players, so it was such an easy choice to ask Ray to be my presenter.

Did you know Ray was writing a play about your friendship? Have you read it or heard a reading of it?

I don’t recall really reading any of it until it was done. I got to hear it all together during the practice reading last summer. It took me right back to Hersey [where training camp was held in the 1950s and ’60s] and my memories of the Eagles training camp.

I’ve read a lot about how much your friendship with Ray means to him. What does it mean to you?

It’s a friendship of a lifetime. It’s very unique and difficult today to have the bond that Ray and I developed over the years. I was fortunate enough to help grow and influence the love of the game in a young man and then have that young man still follow my career even after I was traded. Ray’s love of the game, his skills and involvement as a career allowed our bond to grow even more. It made me proud to watch Ray after my playing days become so respected and successful in his field of media, knowing that it all started out as a little connection between a player and a young boy that grew each year.

Are you an Eagles fan now?

Yes, forever. How could you not be?

Tommy and Me runs August 3rd–14th at FringeArts (140 N. Columbus Blvd.). Tickets are sold out.

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