David Didinger was raised on the Veterans Stadium turf. He was raised in press boxes, taking the rickety Vet media elevator down to the field level after seeing his famous dad, Ray, before he went to work. David would watch games from the mouth of the visitors tunnel with a security guard, since his mom was an Eagles’ cheerleader.
He was raised on the 1980’s Philadelphia Eagles.
He’s watched the Eagles everywhere, through his own eyes from the lumpy Vet stadium carpet, and through a viewfinder as a TV network cameraman. He’s watched the Eagles everywhere except sitting next to his father.
Last Sunday, after 49 years, that changed.
Planted next to his dad on a sofa in Ray’s den, David and Ray, who just turned 76, watched their first Eagles’ game together. They got a chance to sit and laugh, and scoff, and yell, and do what fathers and sons do when they’re watching the Eagles.
The Didingers took in a scarier-than-it-should-have-been 38-35 Eagles’ season-opening victory over the Detroit Lions in front of the cameras of NFL Films.
It was unique, recounting old stories, busting each other’s chops, and mostly absorbing a game and a team that they were both raised on and love.
Their eyes never left the screen. You don’t just watch a football game with retired Hall of Fame sportswriter Ray Didinger. You better don a lab coat, because he dissects the game like a chemist going over cultures in a Petri dish.
“You know, after all of these years, I knew my dad took out the legal pad and kept track of every play, but I never sat down and actually saw him do this before in person,” said David, 49, laughing as his father was continuing to take copious, detailed notes on what the Eagles were doing on second down at the 24. “This is incredible.”
Then David joked with his dad, “You know on NFL.com, you can see all of this stuff.”
“You know David, I have my own system and it took me 53 years to refine it, don’t ask me to turn back the clock,” his father replied.
They both laughed.
It felt weird for Ray not to be working. He continued to stay with his routine. After 50 years of charting plays, he has no other way of watching a game. David joked with his dad that he never charted any of David’s high school games at Cherry Hill East.
Then, Ray, ever with the keen eye, made a valid point during a critical juncture early in the game about the Eagles having problems in the red zone and on third downs; how the Eagles’ defense continues to be passive and is not attacking the line of scrimmage.
Why wasn’t this happening with the Eagles’ having better defensive personnel? David and Ray wondered aloud.
David and Ray recounted the Tommy McDonald Hall of Fame plans. The late Eagles legendary Hall of Fame receiver wanted to throw his bronze bust into the air and catch it. Ever the old-school pragmatist, Ray winced at the thought. He thought he had convinced his friend it was not the way to go.
Until McDonald asked David.
“Hey, that’s awesome!” David suggested.
“I tried to convince Tommy to read his speech and go and sit down. That’s the way it’s done,” said Ray, shaking his head. “I was telling Tommy all of this was a bad idea. Then David came in and says, ‘That sounds cool.’ and I knew it was hopeless. Tommy thought it was a great idea.”
Then the two went back to a classic Didinger story. David was around 12 and Ray was still playing in an adult baseball league.
“I am not the voice of reason,” David said, laughing. “This guy (Ray) got hit during a men’s league baseball game with a pitch and the guy throwing that day was throwing gas. It had that hollow sound like a ball hitting an empty barrel. I mean, by the time my dad got back to the dugout, his ribs were purple and you could see the baseball stitch marks on his ribs.
“So, we go back to my grandparent’s place (Ray’s parents). My dad gives me strict orders, ‘Whatever you do, do not tell grandmom that I got hit!’ I said, ‘Ok, right.’ We walk in and my grandmother asks us, ‘How was the game?’
“I turned to my dad and said, ‘Show her where you got hit.’”
Ray shook his head over the recollection. The commercial break was over and their attention was once again placed on the game.
David lives in South Jersey with his wife Christine and their two college-aged daughters, Hailey and Kaitlyn. He’s a national network cameraman for NBC Sports, shooting Notre Dame football on weekends and Thursday Night Football for Amazon Prime Video, which uses an NBC Sports production crew for their telecasts.
It has not always been easy for David, who had to climb his way up to fulltime status.
For eight years, he worked part-time as a UPS driver 15 hours a week, from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m., for the healthcare benefits. He was able to work weekends for NFL Films and being local allowed him to shoot Flyers, Phillies and Sixers home games. There were often times when games ran late, and David would get a few measly hours of sleep. He was still at UPS the next day. The hours weren’t great, David said, but the people were.
In 2022, he made the national network jump to Thursday Night Football and Notre Dame. He’s shot 24 Super Bowls and the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
“I was waiting to watch a game with my father forever,” David said, “but it never occurred to me that I never watched an Eagles’ game with my dad before.
“It was mind-boggling that the last game I watched with him was Super Bowl 30 between the Cowboys and Steelers in 1996. By Super Bowl 31, we were both working at NFL Films. When I thought about it for a second, when he announced his retirement, we never watched an Eagles’ game together. We gotta do this.
“When I was young, he was in the pressbox and I was down on the field. When I grew up, we were both working. We were in the same stadiums together. We were together for the Eagles’ Super Bowls in Jacksonville in 2005, and in Minneapolis for Super Bowl LII in 2018.
“But Super Bowl LII was the first time I saw my dad as a fan, when he got a little choked up when we hugged. That was the kid who used to watch Eagles games with my grandfather in Section EE at Franklin Field coming out 60 years later.”
Ray covered every Super Bowl from 5 to 30, and since then, three other Super Bowls, including the Eagles’ two appearances. Combined father and son covered in one capacity or another 53 Super Bowls.
They shared the one poignant father-son moment that resonates throughout the Delaware Valley when Ray hugged David, whispering “That’s for Pop,” referring to Ray’s dad, after the Eagles beat the Patriots in Super Bowl LII.
“For half the time, I was working when David was a kid, and when David got older, we were both working,” Ray said. “When I was working, David was around all of the time. When the game began, I went to work.
“I’m very proud of David. He’s worked incredibly hard for where he is today. David worked two jobs and worked long hours. He worked for UPS during the day and shoot at night, trying to get a little sleep somewhere. He then had to find time to be a good husband and a good father. Honestly, I really don’t know how he did it all of those years.
“It was remarkable. What’s even more remarkable is most people that do that complain all of the time. Working all of those hours, people tend to let everyone around them know that they aren’t happy about it. David never did. He just worked. He never complained. He’s one of the most pleasant people to know. The one thing everyone at NFL Films and NBC continue to say about David is how much of a pleasure he is to be around.
“That’s just David. He has a remarkable likeability. The last time I was at NBC Sports, guys came over and told me they loved working with my son. That makes me feel good. It’s just David’s personality. David’s very admirable.”
It looks like Ray Didinger authored more than great stories.
“I can’t take credit for that. But they’re the real joy of my life, my kids, David and Kathleen, and my grandkids,” Ray said. “I’m proud of how they’ve turned out to be terrific people and terrific parents. The pride I have in those kids, that’s what I’m thankful for more than any story I wrote.
“Now, I finally get to sit down and watch an Eagles game with my son.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who has written feature stories for SI.com, ESPN.com, NFL.com, MLB.com, Deadspin and The Philadelphia Daily News. In 2006, he was nominated for an Emmy Award for a special project piece for ESPN.com called “Love at First Beep.” He is most noted for his award-winning ESPN.com feature on high school wrestler A.J. Detwiler in February 2006, which appeared on SportsCenter. In 2015, he was elected president of the Boxing Writers Association of America.