Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Philadelphia County
Hall of Fame receiver Tommy McDonald played for the Eagles from 1957 to 1963.
Awards: Football Hall of Fame
Tommy McDonald was born in Roy, New Mexico, on July 26, 1934. McDonald was an All American at the University of Oklahoma and won the Maxwell Award in 1956 as college football’s player of the year. McDonald was selected in the third round of the NFL draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. Over his 12-year career as a wide receiver, McDonald helped lead the Eagles to a 1960 NFL Championship, was selected for six Pro Bowls, led the league in touchdown receptions twice in 1958 and 1960, and led the NFL in receiving yards once in 1960. When McDonald finished his career in 1968 he was sixth in career receptions with 495, fourth in career receiving yards with 8,410, and second in total touchdowns with 84. In 1998, McDonald was recognized for his accomplishments with induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Tommy McDonald was born in Roy, New Mexico, on July 26, 1934. His father Clyde McDonald was a part time farmer, part-time electrician, and a full-time sports lover. Clyde recognized McDonald’s enormous athletic potential and did all that he could to cultivate it, including rigging a spotlight on the house so he and his older brother C.R. could play basketball at night after they finished milking the cows. Clyde also introduced his son to competition at an early age, setting up competitions with strangers while McDonald helped his father power-line troubleshooting in towns around Roy. McDonald recalls: “Dad would strike up a conversation with somebody, and first thing you know, I would be running a race with some guy’s son.” His father would usually wager around $5 or $10 that his son could outrun any and all challengers. McDonald says, “I earned Dad a nice piece of change that way.” When McDonald was ready to enroll in high school he was 5’1” and weighed 98 pounds. His football coach and father thought that he should stay back a year in order to give him a chance to mature and grow. McDonald did not want to repeat the grade, but in the end he grudgingly agreed after his father promised to give him a motor bike. He later joked, “I showed them all, I didn’t grow an inch.” The following year McDonald and his family moved to Albuquerque where he developed into one of the state’s best athletes. In McDonald’s senior year at Highland High School he averaged over 20 yards per carry in football while breaking the state record in scoring with 157 points. McDonald’s records did not stop on the gridiron; he also set the scoring record in basketball and won five gold medals in state track meets. Despite all of his accomplishments, there were only two schools, New Mexico and Southern Methodist, that offered McDonald scholarships. He was not interested in attending either. McDonald’s attendance at the University of Oklahoma came about much by accident. He said, “Bruce Drake the Oklahoma basketball coach was in Albuquerque coaching an all-star high school basketball team. He stayed over to watch an all-star football game I was playing in and asked me to have my parents write to Oklahoma.” Based solely on Drake’s recommendation, legendary Oklahoma coach Bud Wilkinson invited McDonald to visit the University of Oklahoma. Shortly after his visit with Coach Wilkinson he accepted a scholarship offer. During his three years of varsity competition at Oklahoma, McDonald helped to lead his team to a 30-0-0 record, capturing two national championships and an Orange Bowl victory. Coach Wilkinson called him “the best halfback I’ve ever coached.” In his career at Oklahoma, McDonald rushed for 1,683 yards and averaged 6.8 yards per carry. When McDonald was a senior Wilkinson decided to use him as a threat at receiver. McDonald remembers, “It was simple enough. At the snap I ran to the line of scrimmage and milled around for a couple of counts, trying to get lost, and then busted out behind the defense.” Six times the play resulted in a touchdown, including a famous one against Texas, which was so spectacular that one observer suggested that McDonald caught the ball with his fingerings, not his fingertips. In 1956, McDonald’s senior season, he was named a consensus All-American, won the Maxwell Award for the nation’s most outstanding college player, and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting to Paul Hornung and Johnny Majors. Despite his tremendous college career, McDonald was not drafted until the third round in the 1957 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. He was not that disappointed and later commented, “Nowadays, if you’re drafted first or second or third, it’s a real big deal. But back in those days, it wasn’t anything. And besides, I didn’t go real high anyway because everybody was afraid of my size.” After spending the majority of his rookie season as a punt and kick returner McDonald caught a break when one of the Eagles starting receivers got hurt, and the coaches used McDonald to see what he could do. McDonald remembers the game: “I got a 61-yard touchdown and a 25-yard touchdown and they came to me after the game and said, ‘You’re going to be a receiver from now on! You’re not going to be a halfback anymore!’” In the final four games of the Eagles season, McDonald caught a total of nine passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns. McDonald averaged 25.3-yards a catch and a touchdown-to-reception ratio of 1-in-3, which were signs of great things to come. McDonald spent his first seven seasons with Eagles catching 287 passes for 5,499 yards and 66 touchdowns. McDonald, along with legendary quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, led the Eagles to the NFL championship game in 1960, where they defeated the Green Bay Packers 17-13 in large part to a crucial touchdown reception by McDonald. In 1961, he led the NFL with 64 receptions for 1,144 yards and 13 touchdowns which was a new Eagles record for touchdown receptions. In 1962, McDonald totaled 58 catches for 1,146 yards and another 13 touchdowns. McDonald attributes his incredible stats to a constant study of the game: “I would study a defensive halfback on film and I knew him better than he knew himself. Whenever I went out on that field to play against them, I knew if I could double-fake him or single-fake him or anything like that. I just could really turn him around. I could get in the end zone. That was my job, to get in the end zone and score points.” Another characteristic McDonald took pride in was his consistency playing in 152 out of 155 NFL games. No matter what it took, McDonald would see to it that he was on the field every Sunday, which included playing a game with his jaw wired shut. McDonald recalls, “I broke my jaw in ‘59. A defensive halfback came up and just really gave me a shot. It knocked me completely out! And I played the next Sunday and scored four touchdowns.” After seven seasons with the Eagles, McDonald spent his next five seasons with the Cowboys, Rams, Falcons and Browns before retiring in 1968. McDonald finished his career sixth in receptions with 495, fourth in receiving yards with 8,410, and second in touchdowns with 84. A six-time Pro Bowl selection (1959-1963 and 1966) McDonald also averaged an astounding 17 yards per catch and a 1 in 5.9 ratio of touchdowns-to-receptions. Due to all of his great accomplishments on the field, McDonald was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998. Upon retiring McDonald started up his own portrait business, Tommy McDonald Enterprises. McDonald’s company has done portraits of Heisman Trophy winners for New York’s Downtown Athletic Club, football All-Americans for Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Maryland, and first-year participants in Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game. McDonald’s introduction to the business was actually by accident as he explains, After one of my games, I come out of the dressing room and this guy is standing out there with a box, about 16x20 and he pulls a painting. It was fantastic. He tells me that he wants me to have it because he’s a big fan of mine and he appreciated me sending him out an autographed picture. Then I thought about it and of all the rings, watches, trophies and silver trays, nobody gives something like (the portrait). I’m telling you it was a gold mine. McDonald now resides in suburban Philadelphia with his family. McDonald dabbles in artistic hobbies and paints, and he once sold a portrait he painted of Joe DiMaggio for $4,000.