On one side was the owner of the Eagles, a car salesman and self-made multimillionaire who owned a villa in France, Norman Braman, dubbed Bottom Line Braman for his penchant to, in the words of disgruntled Iggles fans, throw around nickels like they were manhole covers.

On the other side was the Iggles combustible coach, the bombastic Buddy Ryan, who assured one and all that his next mistake would be his first, and who took undisguised glee in verbally harpooning Braman, referring to the owner, the man who signed his checks, as "that guy in France."

And in between the two was Harry Gamble, president, referee, pourer of oil on troubled waters, soother and master of diplomacy.

Also, the most decent man I ever knew.

He spent his apparently inexhaustible supply of patience dashing from one brush fire to the next oil-rig inferno, and in enduring an endless stream of 3-in-the-morning phone calls saying: "You'll ever guess what Buddy just said." Or: "You'll never guess what the owner just did."

Harry passed yesterday. It is a loss that leaves a hole in the hearts of legions.

Harry Gamble was that rarest of men - selfless and without ego, concerned always with the common good, and unconcerned with personal gain or prestige.

Harry believed there was no disagreement so deep or so bitter that it couldn't be solved by applying the lyrics of a country and western song: "You start walking your way, and I'll start walking mine, and we'll meet in the middle 'neath that ol' Georgia pine."

But, Lord knows, the ongoing Braman and Buddy vaudeville show tested even Harry's capacity for patience, for the decade of the '80s was especially rocked with tumult and turmoil.

The owner allowed one star low-paid player after another leave for greener pastures and the coach was a one-trick pony to the end - defense, defense, defense. They made the playoffs three times, and didn't win a single game.

Through it all, Harry persevered. He had a remarkable capacity for persistence, and a knack for self-deprecating humor, defusing tense situations with such deliberate Yogi-isms as: "I don't want to beat a dead horse to death here . . ."

Or: "I believe we did in fact do what we did . . ."

Harry knew how to work a room; no one was a stranger. If there was a benefit, a charity, a church social, a worthy fund-raiser in need of a speaker, Harry obliged.

Without fail.

He knew just where to slap a back and his handshake was firm, blacksmith firm, sincere, and his voice was a miniature bullhorn. And his laugh boomed.

One thing more: If he gave you his word, you could take it to the bank.

Harry lived an extraordinary life, one with great swings of the pendulum. He was a football star at Pitman High and Rider College, coached high school ball, joined the staff at Penn, was head coach at Lafayette and Penn, ascended to the post of head man at Penn. There, from 1971 though 1980, the losing was persistent, drumbeat persistent, drumbeat painful.

What struck me was how Harry handled the adversity that was bone deep and without letup. He never gave in, never gave up, shouldered the blame, all of it. Penn finally had no choice but to fire him. Cut adrift, he cast about for a place to land.

The Eagles wanted him.

Well, actually it was the other way around. The post was volunteer assistant. In charge of pumping up the balls, snagging punts . . . in other words trying not to get in anyone's way, starting one level below the basement. I have a hard time thinking of someone who would be willing to put aside their ego. But then I remember: Harry didn't have one.

There followed a rise that was beyond meteoric. From pumping up the balls to running the whole shebang. From volunteer assistant to president, with brief, mind-boggling stops along the way.