REVIEW WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
@brianbingaman on Twitter
In a sport naturally boiling over with emotion, he’s the guy with the facts.
Pro Football Hall of Fame writers honor roll inductee Ray Didinger can always be counted on for even-keeled and insightful analysis when it comes to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Ten years ago “R-Diddy,” as Comcast SportsNet Philly’s Michael Barkann likes to call him, compiled perhaps the definitive history of the team, “The Eagles Encyclopedia.” Joining forces with “On Any Given Sunday: A Life of Bert Bell” and “Palestra Pandemonium: A History of the Big Five” author Robert S. Lyons (who passed away last year), Didinger surpasses his usual excellence with “The New Eagles Encyclopedia,” being released Sept. 18 by Temple University Press, as football season gets underway.
Anyone who’s followed the Birds has seen some combination of the good (appearances in Super Bowls XV and XXXIX), the bad (losing the first 11 games of 1968, when the season was 14 games long) and the unwatchably ugly (a wretched 23-82-2 combined record for the team’s first 10 seasons of 1933-1942).
Among the things that make “The New Eagles Encyclopedia” a must-have for all who bleed green is the entertainingly written summaries of every playoff game — good, bad and ugly; a complete summary of Andy Reid’s tenure as head coach (his 140 wins are, by far, the most in team history); new entries on coach Chip Kelly, former quarterback Michael Vick and stars Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy; a new chapter on the rivalry with the hated Dallas Cowboys; and expanded, feel-good chapters on hall of fame Eagles and milestone moments in team history, both good and controversial.
The NFL Championships of 1948-1949 and 1960, last season’s snowstorm victory against the Detroit Lions, the Miracle of the Meadowlands, the merger with the Pittsburgh Steelers during World War II, the pickle juice game, the Fog Bowl, the Body Bag Game, the O.J. Bowl, the 75th anniversary game, the Frankford Yellow Jackets, what really happened the day Santa Claus was booed … it’s all there. In the appendix, where you can look up any team record without going online, there’s even a complete list of Birds’ draft picks — the good, the bad and the ugly.
The photos are a treat too: the iconic shot of Chuck “Concrete Charlie” Bednarik looming over an unconscious Frank Gifford; a 1987 turf-level image at Veterans’ Stadium with offensive tackle Joe Conwell and his brother, Tommy, who was at the height of his popularity fronting the band Tommy Conwell & The Young Rumblers; John Travolta posing with Eagles all-time rushing leader Wilbert Montgomery at his locker in 1980; Freddie Mitchell catching an improbable pass on a postseason, do-or-die, fourth and 26 play; the 1926 NFL Champion Frankford Yellow Jackets; the retiring of Jerome Brown’s No. 99; safety Brian Dawkins going airborne to sack Ben Roethlisberger; Tom Dempsey kicking with only half a right foot; Steve Van Buren scoring the winning touchdown in the 1948 NFL Championship during a blizzard at Shibe Park …
“The New Eagles Encyclopedia” is such a complete and detailed chronicle — even having a chapter for the owners and “key executives” — that it seems like a glaring omission that the “Eagles Fans: Portrait in Passion” chapter lacks the story of the “Fly Eagles Fly” fight song — or even better, the rap song “Buddy’s Watchin’ You” that the players recorded in 1988.
And you can’t judge this book by its boring cover art. Yeah, it’s an homage to the City of Philadelphia’s flag, but a book of this caliber deserves a more eye-catching cover. For example, the 2002 edition of “Tales from the Eagles Sidelines” by Gordon Forbes has a nice black and white/color collage (with both midnight and kelly green) of Van Buren, Donovan McNabb, Bednarik, Randall Cunningham and Reggie White.
Nonetheless, “The New Eagles Encyclopedia” doubles as the ultimate fan argument-settler, and a soothing balm for after those inevitable losses to remind you that things will get better.