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Didinger: Gamble Made The Eagles Better

Posted Jan 28, 2014

Harry Gamble joined the Eagles in 1981 after 14 seasons of coaching college football. He was head coach at Lafayette for four years then head coach at Penn from 1971 through 1980. Before that he coached high school football in South Jersey.

Dick Vermeil had a full coaching staff, but he made room for Gamble. Gamble came in as an unpaid assistant and spent a year breaking down film for the other coaches. Asked why he added Gamble to his staff, Vermeil said, "When you bring in good people, you make your organization better. And Harry Gamble is a good person."

Gamble, who died Tuesday at the age of 83, was a true gentleman who loved football and made it his life. He was with the Eagles for 15 years and later worked in the NFL office as coordinator of football operations. He was a consultant to then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. In recent years, he co-hosted a weekly football talk show with Merrill Reese on WBCB radio. He never strayed far from the game.

"I've been very fortunate," Gamble said in a 1997 interview with the Philadelphia Daily News. "A lot of times people go into something either to make money or think this is what they want to do in their life and they may spend a lifetime and realize, 'Geez, I could have done this or I should have tried that.' But I don't have those feelings. I've done exactly what I've wanted to do."

Gamble spent one year as an unpaid assistant with the Eagles. In 1982, Vermeil put him in charge of tight ends and special teams. Two years later, Gamble moved to the front office as director of football administration. In 1985, Norman Braman purchased the Eagles from Leonard Tose and promoted Gamble to team president and chief operating officer.

Gamble's rise took some NFL people by surprise. Dallas general manager Tex Schramm told the Philadelphia Inquirer, it was "one of the damnedest things I've seen in this business. Meteoric is an understatement."

Gamble was ideally suited for the difficult role he was given; that is, keeping the peace between a strong-willed owner in Braman and a feisty head coach in Buddy Ryan. Braman and Ryan are as different as any two people can be and it was inevitable they would clash on issues involving the team. Often, it was about money.

Braman was a tough businessman who drew a hard line when it came to negotiating contracts. Ryan always stood with his players.

It was a drama that played out every summer when some veteran would fail to report to Training Camp. Braman, who was typically vacationing in the south of France, would shrug and return to his wine cellar while Ryan made it clear to anyone who would listen that he wanted his players in camp. At least once a day, Ryan would refer to Braman as "the guy in France" and how he was making his job harder.

Gamble was the one caught in the middle and he did his best to smooth the troubled waters. Only a man as decent and likeable as Gamble could have pulled it off. Reporters would come to Gamble for a comment on whatever Ryan said that day and Gamble would look up in the sky and say, "Well, I think what Buddy means is ..." I doubt the Ryan era would have lasted as long as it did if it wasn't for Gamble's diplomacy.

What I'll remember about Gamble is how he would frequently just drop into the press room at the Vet, pull up a chair, cross his legs and say, "So how are you guys doing?" He projected a genuine warmth and he passed that along to his son, Tom, who now works for the team as Vice President of Player Personnel.

Dick Vermeil was right. Harry Gamble was a good person and the Eagles are a better organization because he was there.

An award-winning writer and producer, Ray Didinger was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. He has also won six Emmy Awards for his work as a writer and producer at NFL Films. The five-time Pennsylvania Sportswriter of the Year is a writer and analyst for Comcast SportsNet. Didinger will provide Eagles fans a unique historical perspective on the team throughout the season for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. You can read all of his Eagles History columns here.

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