Tommy McDonald, the flamboyant, record-setting Hall of Fame receiver who starred on the Eagles’ 1960 NFL Championship team, died Monday, the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced. He was 84.
“Tommy McDonald played the game with a passion and energy that was second to none,” Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie said. “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 entire McDonald family.”
McDonald was the Eagles’ third-round draft pick out of Oklahoma in 1957 and in seven seasons with the Eagles, he caught 287 passes for 5,499 yards and 66 touchdowns.
Despite standing just 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, McDonald led the NFL in touchdowns in 1958 and 1961 and in receiving yards in 1961.
In the 1960 Championship Game, which the Eagles won 17-13 over the Packers at Franklin Field, he caught three passes for 90 yards, including a 35-yard touchdown from Norm Van Brocklin in the second quarter.
After the game, legendary Packers coach Vince Lombardi famously said, “If I had 11 Tommy McDonalds, I’d win a championship every year.”
McDonald finished his career with the Cowboys, Rams, Falcons and Browns and retired after the 1968 season with 495 catches for 8,410 yards and 84 touchdowns. He was a four-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler.
When he retired, McDonald ranked sixth in NFL history in catches, fourth in yards and second to long-time Packers great Don Hutson in touchdowns.
Today, 55 years after he last played for the Eagles, he still ranks second in franchise history with those 66 touchdown catches, behind only Harold Carmichael’s 79.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
“I played with a lot of great receivers, including Elroy Hirsch and Tom Fears with the Rams,” Hall of Famer Norm Van Brocklin said in a 2016 article on the Eagles’ website written by long-time NBC Sports Philadelphia contributor Ray Didinger.
“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.”
But McDonald was much more than a terrific player.
Long before Twitter and Instagram, he was a beloved personality who put on a show when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, dancing on stage to the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive,” telling jokes about his wife, tossing his Hall of Fame bust in the air and catching it, and chest-bumping the other inductees.
His colorful life was immortalized in the play, “Tommy and Me,” written by Didinger, who first met McDonald as a kid attending Eagles training camp in Hershey in the 1950s.
Asked in a 2012 interview with Bleacher Report what his strengths were as a player, McDonald said: “Good instincts and good hands. I was on the cover of Sports Illustrated in 1962 I think, and the headline was ‘Football's Best Hands.’ B-E-S-T! God also blessed me with S-P-E-E-D! I won 5 gold medals in track in my senior year of high school. Who wins 5 gold medals?”
Didinger wrote in that 2016 piece on the Eagles’ website that McDonald never wore gloves because he wanted to feel the ball into his hands.
“He sandpapered his fingertips before every game,” Didinger wrote. “He said it made his fingers more sensitive and helped him feel the ball. He scraped his fingers on the brick wall at Franklin Field before home games to achieve the same effect.”
Many of the legendary players from the Eagles 1948, 1949 and 1960 NFL Championship teams have died in the past several years.
Hall of Famer Chuck Bednarik died in 2015 at 89, Hall of Famer Steve Van Buren died in 2012 at 91, Hall of Famer Pete Pihos in 2011 at 87 and Al Wistert, a five-time Pro Bowl lineman from the 1940s who should be in the Hall of Fame, died in 2016 at 95.
The only surviving Hall of Famers who spent at least half their NFL career with the Eagles are Bob Brown, who is 76, and 2018 inductee Brian Dawkins.