This excerpt from A Bird's-Eye View: My Mostly Wonderful, Always Unforgettable Half-Century with the Philadelphia Eagles by Leo Carlin with Paul Domowitch is reprinted with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit TriumphBooks.com/BirdsEyeView
I was a big racquetball guy in my younger days. I loved playing the game and became pretty good at it, if I do say so myself. I can't play anymore because of health issues, but back then I was still in good shape and I would play anybody. And I'd usually beat them. I played a lot with former Eagles players, such as John Bunting, Stan Walters, William Fuller, Chad Lewis, Mike Bartram, Mike Evans, Ron Jaworski, Bill Bergey, and many more. I also played against Buddy Ryan, but those games weren't very competitive; I could have beaten him with the racquet sticking out of my ear.
Jimmy Carr, who was a starting cornerback on the Eagles' 1960 NFL championship team and later was an assistant coach with the team in the early 1970s, actually was the guy who taught me how to play racquetball. Jimmy was quite a character. He would come into our offices and jump up on a desk and start dancing. It was hysterical. I remember this one girl we had working in the ticket office. She had just started with us and Jimmy came in and jumped up on her desk. She almost fainted.
We had a racquetball court in the basement of Veterans Stadium. Like I said, I was pretty good, and frankly I could be a little obnoxious. I loved talking trash after beating one of the players or coaches. I'd say, "You're a pro? I just kicked your (butt)." Well, Buddy eventually got tired of me doing that to him and his players and wanted to teach me a lesson. One day, I was in my office and Buddy called me and told me to come down to the court. He said he had a game for me. I told him I was really, really busy and wasn't sure I had the time. But he insisted.
This was before the start of the 1990 season, which would be Buddy's last with the Eagles. That summer, they had signed former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon to back up Randall Cunningham. When I got down to the racquetball court, McMahon was there with Buddy. I tried to strike up a conversation with McMahon. I said, "So do you play a lot, Jim?" He looked down at me, smiled, and said, "Sort of."
He said he played a lot when he was with the Bears. I asked him where he played in Chicago because I had played a little bit when I had visited there and thought maybe it was the same place he played. It wasn't.
He said he played in his house. I thought, Good Lord. The man has a racquetball court in his house. He can play anytime he wants. I was beaten before he ever hit the first ball. I mean, I had never played against anyone who had his own racquetball court in his house. Jim was really, really good. He kicked my butt all over the place. After it was over, I came off the court, and there was Buddy, laughing hysterically. He looked at me and said, "You're not so hot now, are you, Carlin?"
That was the end of my ego trip with racquetball. But it was a great experience. Jim and I became friends and we played against each other often. He would always beat me, but it was enjoyable—and a little more competitive than that first (butt) kicking he gave me.
After 55 years of service to the Philadelphia Eagles, longtime ticket director Leo Carlin will retire at the end of the month ...
Another guy I used to play racquetball with a lot was Ken Iman. Ken—another good friend, who passed away in 2010 at the too-young age of 71—was a former NFL offensive lineman who played in the league for 14 years, most of them with the Los Angeles Rams. He was part of a great Rams offensive line that also included Hall of Famer Tom Mack, Joe Scibelli, Charlie Cowan, and Joe Carollo.
Ken played for Dick Vermeil when Vermeil was an assistant with the Rams under George Allen. When Vermeil got the Eagles' head coaching job in 1976, he asked Ken to join his staff as the offensive line coach. Iman coached the Eagles' offensive linemen for 10 years. He met his wife, Joyce, at Veterans Stadium. She was the Eagles' longtime accounting supervisor and spent almost as many years with the organization as me. After Buddy decided to replace Ken following the 1986 season, Norman Braman gave him a job in the sales and marketing department selling penthouse suites.
Anyway, Ken and I were playing racquetball one day down in the basement of the Vet when he accidentally took the top of my ear off with his racquet. It had to be sewn back on. I assure you, I handled it very well. OK, maybe not. I cried like a baby. The trainers weren't around, so Ken picked me up and carried me to his car and rushed me to the hospital. The team's orthopedic surgeon at the time, Dr. Vince DiStefano, was there. Ken had the wherewithal to put my ear on ice, and Vince sewed it back on.
I remember asking him, "Hey, Vince. I'm not going to have any hearing problems, am I?" He started moving his lips and pretended to be talking. I was not amused. I called him a few choice names. But I'm eternally grateful to Vince. He did a nice job of saving the ear, and it has held steady ever since.