Hall of Fame wide receiver Tommy McDonald passed away yesterday at the age of 84. The news was broken by David Baker, president and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The cause of death is not yet known, but McDonald has suffered from dementia illnesses for some time.
In a formal statement, Baker shared a few comments about McDonald:
"Tommy McDonald lived life like he played the game of football. He was charismatic, passionate and had fun. He was such a character. Heaven is a happier place today.The entire Hall of Fame family that includes his fellow Hall of Famers, the Board of Trustees and staff share our heartfelt condolences with the McDonald family. The flag at the Pro Football Hall of Fame will fly at half-staff in Tommy's memory.Tommy's legacy will forever live in Canton, Ohio through his bronzed bust that is a symbol of many great accomplishments. His impact on the Game serves as inspiration to generations of fans."
McDonald's energy and influence were beyond his pedestrian 5 foot 9, 175 pound frame. The Eagles drafted him in the third round of the 1957 NFL Draft as a running back from the University of Oklahoma. Local press were enthusiastic about the pick. During his three seasons with Oklahoma the Sooners never lost a game and were crowned national champions in both 1955 and 1956. McDonald was presented with the Maxwell Club Award, presented to the best all-around player in the United States. At Oklahoma, McDonald proved to be a unique talent as he could both run, pass, and catch. Plus, McDonald was fast, said to be able to run the 100 meter dash in 9.9 seconds. Former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Don Daniels remarked in January 1957 that he "wasn't born a football player, he's not big enough. He was born a champion and he just chose football to be it in...he should make the Birds a better ball club than they were last year."
The electrifying Eagle played the game his way, shunning a face mask because he said it made it hard to see the ball and cutting his football jersey sleeves short which he said gave him better arm extension. McDonald also sandpapered his fingertips before games because he said it made them more sensitive and made it easier to feel the football. He was among the first to celebrate a touchdown by throwing the ball into the stands. Football historian Ray Didinger defined McDonald in his Eagles Encyclopedia as "an original." Former teammate and fellow Hall of Famer Norm Van Brocklin was quoted as saying "I played with a lot of great receivers, including Elroy Hirsch and Tom Fears with the Rams...but if I had to pick one guy to throw the ball to with the game on the line, I'd pick McDonald. I know somehow the little bugger would get open and he'd catch the football." Vince Lombardi admitted that he'd win the championship every year if he had a team of Tommy McDonalds.
He was drafted as a back but was switched to flanker during his rookie season to see if he could make an impact. He caught two touchdown passes and forever stayed outside the tackles. The team acquired quarterback Norm Van Brocklin the next year and the era's best big play duo formed as Dutch's cannon arm launched footballs to one of the quickest and fastest receivers in the league. The duo helped lead a high flying Eagle offense to the NFL championship game in 1960 where the two hooked up in the 2nd quarter on a 35 yard touchdown pass to give the Eagles the lead.
McDonald was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in 1964 for a kicker, Sam Baker, defensive tackle John Meyers, and offensive lineman Lynn Hoyem. Needless to say it was one of the worst trades in team history. McDonald went revived his career in 1965 when he joined Roman Gabriel in Los Angeles. He retired following the 1968 season and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.