Tommy McDonald was my first sports
idol. Actually, he was the only one. I had
other favorite players on other teams but
Tommy was my hero.
I kept a scrapbook with all the stories
written about him and there were many.
When they put him on the cover of Sports
Illustrated with the caption “Football’s
Best Hands,” I hung it in my bedroom. I
had a program he signed for me one day at
But mostly I had the memories ...
The memories of him making acrobatic
catches, the memories of him bouncing
up after a big hit, the memories of him
tumbling into a snowbank after scoring
the go-ahead touchdown in the 1960 NFL
Championship Game, the memories of the
gutsy little receiver who played the game
with no fear and no facemask, the daredevil
who made the big play every week.
32 PHILADELPHIA EAGLES GAMEDAY MAGAZINE
The memory I’ll cherish though is that
of meeting him at Eagles Training Camp in
Hershey. He was a rookie third-round draft
pick and I was a wide-eyed 10-year-old
with an autograph book. I was waiting for
him outside the locker room one August
morning. I called him “Mr. McDonald.” He
said, “My name’s Tommy.”
That’s how we met.
I asked for his autograph. He asked if I
wanted to carry his helmet and we walked
together to the practice field. It became a
ritual. Every summer my family would go to
Hershey to watch the Eagles practice. Every
day I’d wait for Tommy at the locker room
door. Over time he started calling me
Even then I devoured football statistics.
I knew everything about Tommy’s career
at the University of Oklahoma. I knew he
never lost a game in three seasons. I knew
he set dozens of school records and I knew
he won the Maxwell Club Award as college
player of the year. I told him he should have
won the Heisman Trophy, but it went to
“Yeah, Paul Hornung, the golden boy,”
he said, laughing.
In his seven seasons with the Eagles, we
took a lot of walks together. I asked him a
million questions. He answered every one
with a patient smile. I remember asking him
why he never wore a face mask. “Everyone
else does,” I said.
“Suppose I score a touchdown and a
cheerleader wants to run up and give me a
kiss,” he said. “A face mask would just get
in the way.”
“Oh,” I said fully believing him.
He laughed and said, “I’m only kidding.”
He explained he never wore a face mask in
high school or college and when he tried it
A FAREWELL TO MY HERO
TOMMY McDONALD WAS MORE THAN WIDE RECEIVER TO RAY DIDINGER.
WHEN McDONALD PASSED AWAY, DIDINGER LOST A CLOSE FRIEND.
BY RAY DIDINGER