Tommy and Me by Ray Didinger Evokes Nostalgia for a Bygone Era in Professional Sports

Tommy and Me by Ray Didinger Evokes Nostalgia for a Bygone Era in Professional Sports

When my brother Mark announced his plan to take us to see Tommy and Me by Ray Didinger, I had no idea what to expect. Although a lifelong Eagles fan, my earliest memories of the team begin in the 1970’s with players like Tom Dempsey, Harold Carmichael, and Roman Gabriel…when the Dallas Cowboys ruled and loyal fans suffered through consecutive losing seasons until Dick Vermeil came along and turned the Eagles into winners, beginning with the 1978-79 season. The one characterized by the Miracle at the Meadowlands, culminating in a 9-7 record. Winners!

I had heard about older players and the 1960 championship from my parents and brothers, but it didn’t mean much to me until I attended Didinger’s one-act play, featuring just four excellent actors. Performed at Theatre Exile, it tells the uplifting and heart-warming story of a Philly boy (Didinger) who loved his Philadelphia Eagles, and in particular, his idol Tommy McDonald. Their personal relationship begins one summer day in Hershey, during the Didinger family’s annual Eagles training camp vacation, when after patiently waiting outside the locker room for an autograph, young Ray meets his favorite Eagle. Tommy McDonald graciously engages the boy in conversation and asks him to hold his helmet as they walk together toward the field. It’s the start of a lifelong connection, though McDonald won’t realize it until decades later.

We follow Ray through his career as a Philly sportswriter and commentator, which reunites him with McDonald in the 1980’s and culminates in McDonald at last being inducted into the Football Hall of Fame in 1998. At the end of the performance, I learned something new about my own family when my dad raised his hand during the Q & A to tell the story of how he took care of McDonald when he was a resident doctor at Misericordia Hospital in West Philly.

More than anything, Tommy and Me made me nostalgic for the days when professional athletes were connected to their fans and played mostly for the love of the game. What a refreshing tribute to a bygone era in professional sports. Many thanks to the cast, writers, and crew for the fun, interactive conversation with the audience at the end of the performance. I’m so thankful I was still “up north” to see it.

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The Blind Side: Inspiring, Illuminating and Instructive

Published by Parcbench on February 11, 2010:

As someone with a strong aversion to liberal orthodoxy — no matter how subtle — masquerading as entertainment in major motion pictures, I can count on my hand the number of yearly visits I make to the movie theater. Contrary to popular media opinion, even politically astute conservatives enjoy a little escapism every now and then, whether in the form of action, adventure, drama, romance or historic films. Alas, with so few worthy offerings at the cinema, an activity that was once an enjoyable addition to my leisure time has become a  rare occurrence.

That’s sad because there’s nothing quite like viewing a great film in the Palace Premier at Muvico in Boca Raton. The problem is, like most conservatives, I don’t want to be lectured about how “greedy” (like those “evil” Hollywood executives or overpaid actors, perhaps?) our corporate CEOs allegedly are, or how careless with the environment our middle-class citizens supposedly are (compare and contrast the condition of D.C. after the inauguration, and after the 9/12 March on Washington for the real story).

Those of us who proudly cling to our God, guns and patriotism, or at least appreciate our country and military, know that America is mostly made up of decent, hard-working, charitable people. While far from perfect, we recognize that the USA truly is “the last, best hope on earth”, even if our moral superiors in Hollywood don’t.

And when we fork over our hard-earned money for two hours of entertainment, we expect to be entertained, not demeaned for rejecting the “values” of Tinseltown and believing in the goodness of Americans, including our military members — even those who happened to hail from the south, a typical target of Hollywood derision.

Which makes my review of The Blind Side all the more satisfying to write: not only is it based on a true story of Christian charity and faith, it takes place in Memphis, Tennessee, in a part of the USA liberals refer to as “flyover country”. Or in other words, a vast, non-coastal area populated with nothing but racist rednecks who shoot off their guns indiscriminately and inbreed with close relatives.

Academy Award nominee Sandra  Bullock stars as Leigh Anne Tuohy, an upper-middle-class interior designer and married mother of two who lives a comfortable life in an upscale neighborhood.  One cold, late-fall evening, while driving home with her husband Sean (played by country singer Tim McGraw) and son S.J. (Jae Head) from a Thanksgiving play at her kids’ prestigious Christian school, she encounters homeless, shivering “Big Mike” (Quinton Aaron), the latest addition to the student body.

What begins as an act of compassion leads to a positive, life-altering experience for both Michael and the Tuohy family. In a definitive demonstration of the superiority of decent, determined  and committed individuals over the failed policies of the nanny state, Michael flourishes under the care of his “adopted” parents and siblings, who recognize his potential as a human being, athlete and scholar.  And while the newest addition to the family confronts seemingly endless obstacles on the way to his ultimate triumph, none of them are a direct result of racism — at least not on the part of his caretakers, for whom the color of his skin is irrelevant.

Michael himself is a living, breathing testament to the enduring spirit of the individual. In spite of the circumstances of his birth to a welfare mom living in deplorable government housing, he never succumbs to the anger, bitterness and violence that consumes his peers in the projects. Instead, he develops into a young man with a remarkable protective instinct and a heartbreakingly gentle disposition that endures, whether he’s rinsing out his only shirt in the washtub of the laundromat or quietly seeking shelter in the cold, long after the school day has ended.

In one telling scene toward the film’s conclusion, Leigh Anne — having  just spent hours searching for her “son” amid the slums of Hurt Village — asks how he managed to survive in such a soul-killing environment. Michael explains that whenever something bad would go down, his mother would instruct him to close his eyes and not open them until it was all over, until it was “good again”.

“I only saw the good,” he tells an emotional Leigh Anne. And it’s precisely that ability to block out the pain of the past and stay focused on whatever good he can find, that prevents Michael from descending into a life of crime and despair. As an individual, he manages to rise above the dire consequences of oppressive statism masquerading as government benevolence.

And in the Tuohy family, we witness the results of faith in action. While I fully acknowledge it’s not necessary to believe in God in order to have the capacity to demonstrate meaningful compassion toward others, given Hollywood’s proclivity to denigrate Christians, it is gratifying that the real people behind the story just happen to be followers of Christ. Oh and yes — they also happen to be southern. The more I think about it, the more amazed I am that the powers-that-be in the entertainment industry even made this incredible film in the first place. Lucky for us, even Hollywood hypocrites embrace the “dirty”, capitalistic concept known as profit — something they’d make more of, if only they’d produce more positive, uplifting films like The Blind Side.

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