Eulogy for a great Philly Fan Dog... somehow a kindred spirit of Tommy McDonald

Eulogy for a great Philly Fan Dog... somehow a kindred spirit of Tommy McDonald

Eagles

Eulogy for a great Philly Fan Dog... somehow a kindred spirit of Tommy McDonald

L.J. the Doberman was with us through the darkest days of the last decade and the brightest…he belonged to our esteemed GateKeeper GK Brizer…. yesterday he had to be put down due to (I assume) terminal kidney failure.

Like Admiral Palmy says, you regret the passing of your canine best friend, but you don’t regret a single day he or she was there with you.

I can relate. I’ve lost several wonderful dogs due to accident or old age, each of whom I’ve held on to for dear life whilst watching the Eagles on TV either protecting a close lead or blowing it.

Dogs (or “dags” as we call them around here) know in an intuitive way what we really care about or are emotionally invested in. So was L.J. as he followed his master GK Brizer into the Bryn Mawr man-cave most Sundays for the past half-dozen seasons or so.

I am personally devastated by this loss. The main reason is somewhat selfish, as I went into surgery on Monday to have a baseball-sized lipoma removed from my back. The first thing I looked up on my tablet after coming out of surgery was to see how L.J. was doing. He was gone. And here am I still living. Somehow it doesn’t seem fair. L.J. was like 60 years younger than I. I’m tempted to say to the powers above, “take me, not L.J.”… but selfishly I realize I still have unfinished business.

L.J. in Disney movie terms should have outlived me. He was special. I am not.

So major condolences go out to the Brizer family.

When they recruited L.J. as a puppy, we were a struggling franchise. Yeah, we had a winning season or two under Chip Kelly as L.J. cut his teef, but the bloom was off the rose. We were treading water personnel-wise. Our owner finally said “Enough!” of this madness.

L.J. matured into a championship adult, and so did we as a team which refocused upon new leadership qualities and ultimately blossomed as a winning “underdog” club for the ages.

Sadly the story ends there for L.J., but he definitely goes out a winner.

I always think of Henry Gross’ “Shannon” lyrics when one of our beloved dags passes away; with poetic license, I rewrite it for L.J:

Another day is at end
Mama says she’s tired again
No one can even begin to tell her

I hardly know what to say
But maybe it’s better that way
If papa were here I’m sure he’d tell her

L.J. is gone I hope he’s drifting out to sea
He always loved to swim away
Maybe he’ll find an island with a shady tree
Just like the one in our backyard

Mama tries hard to pretend
Things will get better again
Somehow she’s keeping it all inside her

On that note, HOF Eagles receiver Tommy McDonald goes out on the same day with L.J.  There is some poetic glory in that, I guess.

Ray Didinger: “I cried when Joe Kuharich traded Tommy to Dallas in March 1964. I was 17 so I thought I was way past shedding tears but I did that morning. The Eagles had traded my favorite player, a guy who had become like part of my family, and I had no say in it. The fan inside me probably died that day. It was the first time I knew – really knew – pro football was really just a business after all.

“When I became a sportswriter, I met Tommy at various functions. I interviewed him about the 1960 season and other moments in Eagles history. I never told him about the summers in Hershey [when Didinger would follow McDonald around as a designated “little brother”]. I didn’t want to seem like some dopey fanboy. Also, there was a part of me that was afraid he wouldn’t remember.

“You were that kid,” he said.

I didn’t think he would remember but he did. He gave me a hug.

“I always wondered what happened to you,” he said.

“Well, here I am,” I replied.

“That was what inspired me to write the play, Tommy and Me, which was performed by Theatre Exile the past three summers. Tommy gave me so much in terms of his friendship when I was a boy and years later I was in position to give him something back, something he really wanted, and that was election to the Hall of Fame. It was more than a football story, it was a story of two lives coming full circle. Most of all, it was a story of dreams coming true.

“I visited Tommy last month and we spent one more afternoon together. His daughter dressed him in his green No. 25 jersey and that’s how I’ll always remember him, in his Eagles jersey, smiling and giving me the thumbs-up sign.

“Vince Lombardi once said: “If I had 11 Tommy McDonalds, I’d win a championship every year.”

“I’m sure Lombardi believed that. I believe it, too.”

Somewhere in the spirit world Tommy McDonald and L.J. are playing a wicked game of “fetch”.

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