“I have been knocked out five times in my seven years of pro football, and at one time or another I have played with a broken jaw, a shoulder separation and assorted cracked ribs. . . . My hands are no larger than my wife’s, and I wouldn’t say hers are large for a woman. . . . Size helps but it isn’t everything, except maybe in a hog-growing contest.”
— Hall of Fame wideout Tommy McDonald
Sports Illustrated ran “The Monsters and Me” — a first-person piece by Tommy McDonald, the Eagles’ Hall of Fame receiver — in 1964. His ghostwriter was Tex Maule, the magazine’s NFL guy. If you’ve got a few minutes, check it out. It’s worth your while.
McDonald was a small (5-foot-9, 178 pounds), utterly fearless wideout who, at that point in his career, had 66 touchdown receptions. Nobody remembers today, but no receiver in NFL history had caught that many TD passes in his first seven seasons, not even Don Hutson (53). In fact, Tommy still ranks in the Top 10 in this department. Wait until you see who he’s tied with:
MOST TOUCHDOWN CATCHES, FIRST SEVEN SEASONS
|1962-68||Lance Alworth||Chargers (AFL)||73|
|1959-65||Art Powell||Raiders (AFL), 2 others||66|
Yup, Megatron himself.
McDonald was renowned for playing without a facemask — to the very end of his career in 1968. If you want proof, here he is in his next-to-last season with the Falcons (1967) and his final year with the Browns:
Occasionally you’ll see a photo of him with a facemask, but there’s an explanation for that. “Sometimes,” he said in The Pro Football Chronicle, “I’d crack mine [helmet], and the Eagles didn’t have a replacement for me. So I had to borrow one from a teammate. I had a very small head, 6 ¾. I’d take a towel, or half a towel, and stuff it in there to make it fit. That’s the only time I’d wear a facemask.”
In the SI story, McDonald mentions a scoring grab he made for Oklahoma against Texas in 1956, the year he finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting, that “someone said . . . was so far out in front of me I caught it with my fingerprints, not my fingertips.” Here’s the video of that, in case you’re interested:
And just think: “I have played for years,” he said, “without the tip of my left thumb. I lost it in an accident with that motorbike Dad gave me.”
In ’57 the Eagles drafted McDonald in the third round and Sonny Jurgensen in the fourth. Both, of course, are now in Canton. Can’t do much better than that. Sonny once told me he and Tommy had a drill they liked to run. They’d sit in a darkened room, back to back, and Sonny would flip a football over his head.
“Tommy never dropped it,” he said. “Not once.”
Sources: pro-football-reference.com, The Pro Football Chronicle.