McDonald Heads to Hall of Fame
Jul. 29, 1998
Tommy McDonald had to wait a long time to make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He didn't mind a bit.
``The taste is so much sweeter,'' he said.
Twenty-four years after he was first eligible, McDonald on Saturday will join Paul Krause, Anthony Munoz, Mike Singletary and Dwight Stephenson in the induction class of 1998 in Canton, Ohio.
A mighty-mite wide receiver who always seemed to come up with the ball, McDonald labored a dozen years in the NFL with Philadelphia (1957-63), Dallas (1964), Los Angeles (1965-66), Atlanta (1967) and Cleveland (1968). He was nominated for induction by an old-timers committee.
McDonald, 64, was an unlikely choice to ever make it big. He was 5-foot-9 and 175 pounds. He came from Roy, N.M., population 1,300, with 150 students in its high school.
``I have always felt that the big guy upstairs was looking over me,'' he said. ``I always seemed to luck out at the right time. I came from the small town of Ray. And now this.''
His first break came when his family moved to Albuquerque, N.M., where he blossomed as an athlete at Highland High School, averaging more than 20 yards a carry in football and breaking the state scoring record.
Yet only two schools offered him scholarships: New Mexico and Southern Methodist.
However, Oklahoma basketball coach Bruce Drake came to Albuquerque to coach a high school all-star game and stayed to watch an all-star football game. Impressed with the little guy running the ball, Drake suggested that McDonald's parents write to Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson.
Based on Drake's recommendation, Wilkinson invited McDonald to Norman and offered him a scholarship. The Sooners and McDonald never lost a game and won two national championships with him playing running back and catching passes.
Pro scouts didn't think McDonald had the size for the NFL.
``Everybody was always telling me I was too little,'' he said. ``When I got out of high school, scouts said they'd like to give me a scholarship but I was too small. `You'll get hurt,' they said. That's all I ever seemed to get.
``Out of college, I was a two-time All-American. But a lot of teams passed over me because they said I was too small.''
Oklahoma was a dominating team on the ground. But before McDonald's senior year, Wilkinson designed a play to use his speed and pass catching. Six times it resulted in touchdowns.
McDonald was drafted in the third round by the Redskins. After eight games spent as a kick and punt returner, McDonald finally got into a game as a receiver and promptly scored twice, including a 61-yard reception and run that the late NFL commissioner Bert Bell called ``one of the greatest catches I have ever seen in pro football.''
McDonald had found his niche. He averaged 25.3 yards on receptions, turning him into a favorite target of Washington quarterbacks Norm Van Brocklin and Sonny Jurgenson.
``If I could have stayed with Norm and Sonny for all 12 years ... what the hell!'' McDonald said.
McDonald was a prime reason the Eagles won the NFL title in 1960, capped by a 17-13 victory over Green Bay.
The quarterbacks, the uniforms and the cities changed for the rest of his career, but his ability to catch passes and befuddle defenders didn't.
By the time he retired after the 1968 season, he ranked sixth in career receptions (495), fourth in yards receiving (8,410) and second in touchdown catches (84). He averaged a TD every six times he caught a pass.
Now, a generation later, the little guy is being honored for big achievements.
``I used to think, `Hey, I've got the numbers!' '' said McDonald, a father of four who now works in the Philadelphia area running a company that makes plaques and framed artwork.
``But I realize now that it's better this way, after the wait. I think God purposely made me wait to get in because he knew it would be so much more enjoyable, that I wouldn't take it for granted now.''