McDonald’s death was announced by the Pro Football Hall of Fame Monday. Details were not disclosed.
McDonald was born in Roy, N.M. on July 26, 1934. His family moved from Roy, a town with a population of 1,074 according to the 1950 Census, to Albuquerque before his sophomore year in high school. The 5-foot-7 McDonald developed into a three-sport athlete, excelling in football, basketball, and track.
McDonald ultimately chose football and played for legendary coach Bud Wilkerson at the University of Oklahoma from 1954-56. He never experienced a loss with the Sooners as he was part of a team that won 31 consecutive games and two national championships (1955, 1956).
McDonald was an All-American in the Sooners’ national championship seasons in ’55 and ’56. He gained more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage in his college career and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1956 behind Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung and Tennessee’s Johnny Majors.
In spite of rumblings that he was too small to play in the NFL, the Eagles selected McDonald with the 31st overall pick in the 1957 NFL Draft.
He was used mostly on punt and kick returns during his rookie season before being inserted as a flanker midway in the season. McDonald scored two touchdowns in a game against the Washington Redskins, including a 61-yard score that commissioner Bert Bell reportedly described as “one of the greatest catches I have ever seen in pro football.”
McDonald and quarterback Norm Van Brocklin became of one of the most formidable quarterback/wide receiver tandems of the day. Their most memorable play was a 35-yard touchdown that propelled the Eagles to a 17-13 victory over the Green Bay Packers in the 1960 NFL Championship Game.
It was the Eagles’ third championship, the franchise’s last championship until Super Bowl LII, and Vince Lombardi’s only championship game defeat.
McDonald reminisced about the game before the Eagles’ appearance in Super Bowl XXXIX.
“You can’t go any higher,” he said. “We were at the top of the hill looking down yelling, ‘Hello!’ Nobody expected us to be here.”
McDonald followed up his 1960 championship season by setting a franchise record with seven receptions for 237 yards in a game against the New York Giants. He finished the 1961 season with 64 receptions for a league-leading 1,144 yards and 13 touchdowns.
In seven seasons with the Eagles, McDonald played in 88 games. He had 287 receptions for 5,499 yards and 66 touchdowns. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in five consecutive seasons (1959-63).
He was traded to the Dallas Cowboys in 1964 and to the Los Angeles Rams in 1965. He showed he could still be a productive player with a career-high 67 receptions in his first season with the Rams to go along with 1,036 yards, nine touchdowns, and his sixth Pro Bowl selection.
McDonald finished his career with the Atlanta Falcons (1967) and Cleveland Browns (1968). When he retired after the 1968 season, he ranked second in league history in touchdown catches (84), fourth in receiving yards (8,410), and sixth in receptions (495).
Despite his excellent resume, McDonald waited 30 years for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Oh, baby!” he said during the 1998 induction ceremony. “Do I look excited, like I just won the lottery or the jackpot? Yes! I’m in the Hall of Fame!”
At 5-foot-7, 175 pounds, McDonald is the smallest player inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His induction speech included tossing his bronze bust in the air, pulling out a radio and dancing to disco music.
“Tommy McDonald lived life like he played the game of football. He was charismatic, passionate, and had fun,” Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker. “He was such a character. Heaven is a happier place today.”
Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie released a statement.
“Tommy McDonald played the game with a passion and energy that was second to none. He will be remembered as one of the most exciting players ever to play his position but what really separated him and made him so unique was the infectious personality and charisma that he brought to his everyday life.
“He had a genuine love for this team, for the Philadelphia community, for the fans, and, of course, his family. He was a man of character, both on and off the field, who exemplified all the qualities that we hope to represent as an organization. He was a champion, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, and one of the most genuine individuals I have ever met. On behalf of the Philadelphia Eagles, I would like to express our deepest condolences to the McDonald family.”
A list of McDonald’s survivors has not been made available.
– Curtis Rawls is a Managing Editor for Full Press Coverage and covers the NFL, the New York Giants, and the NBA. Please like and follow on Facebook, Twitter, and Twitter. Curtis can be followed on Twitter @CuRawls203.