Didinger Recalls Eagles in Hershey

Fri, 06/08/2018

Didinger Recalls Eagles in Hershey

 

The Sun
By Charles Huth
June 20, 2017

Nearly 100 citizens filled the Hersey Public Library's meeting room Sunday, July 16, to hear Hall of Fame Sportswriter Ray Didinger talk his play, Tommy and Me, and a bit about his childhood vacations to Hershey.

Didinger said his annual family vacation from 1956-67 was to Hershey to see the Philadelphia Eagles training camp.

"We toured the old chocolate factory once. The rest of the time it was just all about going to practice," Didinger said. "I can honestly say I never set foot in Hershey Park all those summers."

Didinger said his parents were true football fans and he loved the games as much as them.

Didinger said his favorite player was Eagles reciever and eventual Pro Football Hall of Famer Tommy McDonald. Their relationship is the focus of the play. The two met in Hershey at the Eagles training camp in 1957, McDonald's rookie year when Didinger was 10.

Didinger said the Eagles dorms were in the Hershey Community Center back when they held training camp in the township. He said access was far greater back then, with kids having the ability to simply wait outside the locker room and talk to whomever they wanted. He said the players would have to walk a good distance to reach the practice field.

"I would just wait by that door," Didinger said.

Didinger was waiting outside the locker room when he met McDonald. Didinger asked him for an autograph and McDonald asked him if he would carry his helmet while he signed the paper.

"I was an alter boy so I was used to carrying religious things," Didinger said as the crowd laughed. "I kinda did it every Sunday, I actually carried holy water for the Arch bishop once but Tommy McDonald's helmet, now we're talking."

Didinger said he walked with McDonald to the field each day of the two-week vacation.

Didinger went on to become a sports reporter for the Philadelphia Bulletin around 1969. McDonal had been traded from the Eagles after the 1963 season and retired a few years later. Didinger interviewed McDonald on occasion as a former player but didn't tell him he was the kid who followed him around.

"I never told him about Hershey," Didinger said.

Didinger said he felt it would be a violation of journalistic ethics to have told him. He said he was also worried McDonald wouldn't even remember him.

Over the course of those interviews, McDonald told Didinger he regretted not making the Hall of Fame and argued for years to get McDonald in.

Spoiler alert, he was eventually successful. Didinger didn't tell McDonald about Hershey until shortly before his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. McDonald had told Didinger his plans for induction, which included a boombox, chest bumps and the flinging of his Hall of Fame statue up in the air.

Didinger said he told him he was his biggest fan and he didn't want him to do it. McDonald went through with his plans anyway and his speech was quite well received by the public, including Didinger.

Paul Kreider, Friends of Hershey Public Library, said they are hoping to have the play performed in Hershey next year.

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Tommy and Me runs August 8-August 26, 2018 at The Media Theatre

Buy Tickets through The Media Theatre 
610-891-0100