"He's the guy who said they were always looking for guys who were agile, mobile and hostile. And you wrote, 'How come they wind up with so many guys who are docile, fragile and senile?' "
I did that? Maybe I did, as a reaction to one too many Eagles draft picks described as "rougher than a stucco bathtub." Whatever. The NFL draft was simpler, quieter back in the day. Fewer teams, more rounds, no television, no radio, and no mock drafts for weeks preceding the event.
Bert Bell invented it to bridge the chasm between the haves and have-nots in the league. He owned the Eagles then, and they were in the have-not category, or had you already guessed that?
"I started in '49," said Jimmy Gallagher, who worked in various capacities for the Eagles until 1995. "We had a little office at 17th and Market. Ticket office on the first floor. Upstairs Ed Hogan, the publicity man, and Vince McNally, the general manager. There was a big pipe down the middle of that room.
"McNally would call [college] coaches he knew and gather information on players. He'd depend on friends. Greasy Neale would write some names on the back of a matchbook cover. McNally subscribed to big-city papers, Boston, New York, Chicago, Atlanta, and read the stories about college games.
"We didn't have a full-time college scout. The Eagles' assistant coaches, and we only had three or four, would go out on Saturdays and scout college games. Mainly in the East, because we didn't have much money.
"We didn't always have the right height or weight on a guy. We relied on the center pages of the game-day program, the ones with the Chesterfield ad or the Coca-Cola ad. I remember recommending a guy I thought was 6-1 and 220. He showed up, he was 5-foot-nothing. I was embarrassed.
"Later, I made up a form asking [college] assistant coaches to list the top players they'd seen that year. I figured the head coach would crumple it up and toss it, so I sent it to the assistant coaches. And then I'd send them a check for $50 for the information.
"We had that great draft in '57, [Clarence] Peaks, [Bill] Barnes, [Tommy] McDonald, [Sonny] Jurgenson, two of 'em in the Hall of Fame. Well, that was the year Jim Brown came out of Syracuse. The Canadian league had been coming down and signing some kids, so Bert Bell moved the first four rounds of the draft up to November.
"Syracuse closed with Colgate, beat 'em 42-nothing and Brown scored all the points, six touchdowns and kicked the extra points. The draft was in reverse order of standings and Brown is still sitting there. We'd tied a game, so we were a half-game ahead of Cleveland, so they picked ahead of us, and that's how they got him."
Unlucky, but not the last close brush with greatness. The Eagles of 1968 lost the first 11 games. And then, with O.J. Simpson there for the taking with the first pick, they won two in a row, beating Detroit, 12-0, on four Sam Baker field goals, and then whipping New Orleans.
Buffalo took Simpson, the Eagles lost a coin flip with Atlanta and chose Leroy Keyes, a Purdue running back, with the third pick in the draft. Keyes held out, then faded out.
"Bill Daddio coached at Purdue and he raved about Keyes," Gallagher said sadly. "I remember a couple of guys pushing for Joe Greene. He's in the Hall of Fame."
There were those hazy, crazy years when the AFL went to war against the NFL, players "kidnapped" and hidden away in motels. "Guys were getting signed on the field, end of their final game," Didinger said. "The Oilers signed Billy Cannon under the goal post his last game for LSU.
"It was the Cowboys who were ahead of the game for a while in the '60s and the '70s. Gil Brandt was the general manager, and he fed the information into computers, height, weight, 40 times. He'd give the players grades.
"And then he'd take chances on people. Took [receiver] Bob Hayes, who was basically a track guy, a sprinter. And Hayes changed the game, because teams had to create zone defenses to stop him.
"They took [receiver] Pete Gent, a basketball player. [Multipurpose back] Preston Pearson, another basketball player who played 10 years. They drafted Roger Staubach on the [10th] round, even though he had a long military commitment ahead of him."
Didinger grew up a devout Eagles fan. Then wrote for the Bulletin, the Daily News, and had a long and distinguished stint at NFL Films. He will bring his expertise and draft-day memories to Comcast SportsNet.
There was that one time he wriggled out of his journalistic neutrality to try to influence an Eagles pick.
"Mike McCormack was the coach," Didinger confessed. "A genuinely nice guy. I wanted them to draft Billy 'White Shoes' Johnson. I had seen him at Chichester High and at Widener. If he didn't make it at running back, I knew he could be a terrific kick returner.
"So I left the media room and stood outside the coach's office. McCormack came by and I said, 'You've gotta take Billy Johnson.' McCormack didn't like to just say no, so he said, 'He's too small, but we'll think about it for later on.'
"They were in the 15th round then! Later on? I made my pitch again and he just sighed and said, 'Too small.' Fifteen minutes later, the Oilers took Johnson."
The rest is history. You get to watch another chapter this week, televised, analyzed, scrutinized. And not nearly as much fun. *
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