Friday, August 24, 2001
Well worth the wait for McDonald
By Phillip Lee
Special to ESPN Classic
For Tommy McDonald, getting inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame was a dream come true.
"Every kid that puts on a football jersey and a helmet, there's only one town that he wants to wind up in -- Canton, Ohio," McDonald said.
During his 12-year career in the National Football League with the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Rams, Atlanta Falcons and Cleveland Browns, McDonald caught 495 passes for 8,410 yards with 84 touchdowns and was a six-time All-Pro. And despite being just 5-9 and 175 pounds, McDonald was extremely durable and missed only three games in his first 11 seasons.
In 1998, McDonald finally got the call that he would be a member of an elite group -- the Pro Football Hall of Fame. However, getting to that point -- the eight months of waiting -- were excruciating for the native of Roy, New Mexico.
"They told me (June 4, 1997) that I was the senior nominee," McDonald said. "Paul Hornung and Sid Gillman had recommended me. I had to wait from June 4 to Jan. 24. Every night I would go to bed and hope the writers would vote for me. I sweated that out."
McDonald hoped to hear about his fate a little earlier, especially during the holidays.
"Here comes Christmas and I'm thinking the greatest Christmas present I could get would be to get into the Hall of Fame," he said. "I was thinking why couldn't it be in a little box? I could unwrap it, take it out from under the tree, open it up and it would say, 'You're in the Hall of Fame.' But it didn't happen that way."
When Jan. 24 arrived, there was plenty of anxiety. McDonald anxiously awaited for the phone call.
"They told me that they would call me between 12 and 2:30," McDonald recalled. "So I waited from June 4 to Jan. 24 and now I had to wait from 12 to 2:30 and since they were in San Diego (and I'm on the east coast), it was three hours longer.
"Here it comes, it's 12," he continued. "The hands started going and it's one and two and then it goes 2:27, 2:28, 2:29 and 2:30."
The phone didn't ring.
"They said if you don't hear from them by 2:30, you didn't get it," McDonald said.
"When the clock said 2:30, I told my wife to dial 911 because I'm having a heart attack. I have never in my life had such a dead feeling and then the phone rang at 2:35. I picked up the phone and said, 'I hope this is the Hall of Fame people telling me that I made the Hall of Fame.' And they told me yes. I said, 'You dirty rat, why didn't you call me about an hour before and put me on hold? I would have paid for the call.'
McDonald was inducted along with Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Anthony Munoz, Minnesota Vikings and Washington Redskins defensive back Paul Krause, Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Dwight Stevenson and Chicago Bears linebacker Mike Singletary.
At the induction ceremony, McDonald stole the show. During his speech, he exuded how good he felt, cracked jokes about his wife, tossed his bust in the air and took out a radio and started dancing to the Bee Gees' "Staying Alive."
For McDonald, he managed to stay alive and it was definitely worth the wait.