in the NFL he felt it blocked his vision so he
took it off. Players were allowed to do that
back in the day.
That was how I fell in love with pro
football - spending those summers in
Hershey then going to games on Sunday
at Franklin Field. All the people who sat
around us in Section EE knew about Tommy
and me. Whenever he made a big catch -
which was pretty much all the time - the
men would turn to me, point, and smile.
“That’s your boy,” they would say.
I cried when Joe Kuharich traded Tommy
to Dallas in March 1964. I was 17 so I
thought I was way past shedding tears but
I did that morning. The Eagles had traded
my favorite player, a guy who had become
like part of my family, and I had no say in it.
The fan inside me probably died that day. It
was the first time I knew - really knew - pro
football was really just a business after all.
When I became a sports writer, I met
Tommy at various functions. I interviewed
him about the 1960 season and other
moments in Eagles history. I never told him
about the summers in Hershey. I didn’t
want to seem like some dopey fanboy.
Also, there was a part of me that was afraid
he wouldn’t remember.
When we talked about his career - which
34 PHPIHLIALDAEDLEPLHPIHAI EAA EGALGELSE GSA GMAEMDAEDY AMYAGAZINE
spanned 12 remarkable seasons with five
different teams - he would often say the
one thing missing was a place in the Pro
Football Hall of Fame. It bothered him that
he was passed over - he wasn’t even a
finalist for the first 16 years he was eligible
- and he had just about given up on ever
So when I became a Hall of Fame voter,
I began a campaign to get Tommy into the
Hall of Fame. It should not have been hard.
When he retired, he ranked sixth all time in
the NFL in receptions, fourth in yards, and
second in touchdowns. It took longer than
it should have but finally in 1998 Tommy
was voted into the Hall. What I didn’t
expect was for him to ask me to be his
presenter in Canton, Ohio.
Standing backstage at the Hall of Fame,
I finally told Tommy about our history.
I didn’t know quite how to put it so I
stumbled around saying, “I was your
biggest fan,” and “I used to wait for you
outside the locker room.” Suddenly, his
eyes lit up.
“You were that kid,” he said.
I didn’t think he would remember but he
did. He gave me a hug.
“I always wondered what happened to
you,” he said.
“Well, here I am,” I replied.
Of all my experiences in sports, nothing
comes close to the feeling of riding
through the streets of Canton in an open
convertible seated next to my boyhood
idol. What are the odds of that happening
for anyone? Who could ever be that lucky?
Yet, it happened for me.
That was what inspired me to write the
play, Tommy and Me, which was performed
by Theatre Exile the past three summers.
Tommy gave me so much in terms of his
friendship when I was a boy and years later
I was in position to give him something
back, something he really wanted, and that
was election to the Hall of Fame. It was
more than a football story, it was a story of
two lives coming full circle. Most of all, it
was a story of dreams coming true.
I visited Tommy in August and we spent
one more afternoon together. His daughter
dressed him in his green No. 25 jersey and
that’s how I’ll always remember him, in his
Eagles jersey, smiling, and giving me the
Vince Lombardi once said: “If I
had 11 Tommy McDonalds, I’d win a
championship every year.”
I’m sure Lombardi believed that. I
believe it, too.