When Leo Carlin was inducted into the Eagles Hall of Fame in 2012, he was genuinely surprised.
"Why me?" he asked, which is just what I would have expected.
Leo never thought of himself as anything special even though he was. Just ask anyone who worked in the Eagles organization over the past half-century. The stories about Leo and all the things he did behind the scenes to keep the franchise chugging along are endless.
Football coaches talk about "glue guys." They are the players who don't get a lot of publicity, but they show up everyday and hold things together. You need superstars to win in sports, but you need the glue guys, too. Leo Carlin was one of the all-time great glue guys.
This week, Leo announced his retirement. He is leaving his position in the Eagles' ticket office at the end of the month. He has been a part of the team for 55 years and, frankly, it is hard to imagine the organization without him. It was impossible to walk through the office without hearing his voice or seeing his smiling face.
His entire adult life has revolved around the Eagles. Now 77, he was hired as a part-timer in 1960 to handle the crush of ticket requests as the team made its run at the NFL Championship. He stayed on to become the full-time ticket manager and business manager. He has worked for five different ownerships and 14 different coaching regimes. His loyalty never waivered.
After 55 years of service to the Philadelphia Eagles, longtime ticket director Leo Carlin will retire at the end of the month ...
Leo was always there to solve problems. If someone arrived at the stadium and realized they didn't have their tickets, they saw Leo. If someone lost their tickets or the dog ate them, they called Leo. If someone needed their seat changed to a handicapped row, they went to Leo. His phone rang constantly and he took every call. If you left Leo a message, it was always returned.
In the '60s, Leo worked behind a counter in the team's offices at 30th and Market Street. On the wall behind him, there were individual boxes with tickets for that week's game. People came in and put down their cash. Leo would say, "Where do you want to sit?" Then he would shuffle through the tickets until he found the best available seats. That's how business was done back then.
Now all the ticketing is done by computer, but Leo continued to put a human face on it. If you needed to talk to someone, Leo was there.
He was the point man whenever the Eagles changed stadiums. When they moved from Franklin Field to Veterans Stadium in 1971 and when they moved to Lincoln Financial Field in 2003, he was responsible for drawing up the new seating plan.
"That was a brutal couple years of my life," he said.
That's because Leo wanted to satisfy every customer and it couldn't be done. People who had season tickets in one location at Franklin Field wanted to have the same location and sight lines at the Vet, but because the two stadiums were entirely different shapes, it was impossible. With Lincoln Financial Field came the Stadium Builders Licenses which further complicated matters.
Somehow Leo managed to sort it all out, offering to give fans a personal tour of the new stadium so they could see where they were sitting and assuring them everything would be fine. Leo, who described himself as "just a guy from Hunting Park," understood Philly fans and talked their language. They knew they could trust him.
My favorite Leo story goes back to those days when the offices were at 30th and Market. They were on the ground floor of what was then the Philadelphia Bulletin building. One day, two guys held up the ticket office. Leo was in another part of the building so one of the secretaries was working the counter. She handed over the money and the two guys fled onto Market Street.
Leo came in the office, heard what happened and bolted out the door. Leo, who was not that far removed from his days in the Marine Corps, found himself gaining on the robbers. One man stopped, turned and pointed his gun at Leo.
"That's when I thought, 'You know what, the money's not that important,'" Leo said. "I turned around and went back to the office."
Leo will finally leave the office for good at the end of this month. Trust me, it won't be the same.
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 year for PhiladelphiaEagles.com. You can read all of his Eagles History columns here. He is also the author of The New Eagles Encyclopedia and has penned his first play, Tommy and Me, about Tommy McDonald which will be read at the Plays and Players Theatre on May 4. Tickets are available now.