The Pro Football Hall of Fame has teamed up with Allstate Insurance Company on a national program called Hometown Hall of Famers. The program tours the United States, honoring the hometowns that shaped the careers on the game’s greatest players.
Hometown Hall of Famers is a nationwide program that honors each player in his local community with a special ceremony and plaque dedication. The Hall of Fame and Allstate will honor up to 50 players leading into the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 50th anniversary in 2013.
The current honoree is Philadelphia Eagles Hall of Fame wide receiver Tommy McDonald. McDonald will be honored with a plaque of his own at Highland High School in his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico this afternoon.
McDonald is one of the all-time great players in the game of football. He was a two-time All-American at Oklahoma, won the Maxwell Award, finished third in the 1956 Heisman Trophy voting and won two national championships.
In the NFL, McDonald was named All-Pro four times, was voted to six Pro Bowls and starred for the 1960 NFL Champion Philadelphia Eagles. He was also inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998. He averaged 17.0 yards per reception and had 84 touchdown receptions for his career.
McDonald is also an all-time great human being, a joy to talk to and a true treasure to the city of Philadelphia. I was fortunate enough to get some time to talk to the legend himself about his life, his career and his latest honor:
Ron Pasceri: Tommy, you are beloved in the city of Philadelphia, but a lot of people don’t realize that you were actually an All-America running back in college. Was there anything about being a running back that helped you as a wide receiver?
Tommy McDonald: Oh, being a running back helped me tremendously. It taught me judgement in the defense and how to judge the football. Playing halfback in high school and college was marvelous! It taught me how to get to the end zone. I wanted to make my nickname “End Zone Tommy!”
RP: You grew up in New Mexico and played college football in Oklahoma. You spent the first 22 years of your life in the southwest. What was the biggest change for you coming to Philadelphia?
TM: Well it wasn’t too big of a change. I was born in a little town called Roy in New Mexico, but we were lucky that God blessed our family and my father was able to become an electrician. He opened up McDonald Electric in Albuquerque. Albuquerque was a big city with hundreds of thousands of people, so people got to see me on television and hear about me on the radio.
Moving to Albuquerque was a blessing from God and it prepared me. Now the city of Philadelphia has been wonderful to me! It is a marvelous city and it has done a lot for me in my life! I’d like to think that when I die I can come back to Philadelphia again!
RP: What do you think was your greatest attribute as a wide receiver?
TM: 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?
RP: I guess only “End Zone Tommy” does!
TM: Yes, good old number 25!
RP: You played with some of the greatest quarterbacks ever to play. Sonny Jurgensen, Norm Van Brocklin, Don Meredith and Roman Gabriel. If you could have played with just one for your entire career, which would it be?
TM: All of them were so great and so fantastic for me. I want them all! Nobody would just pick one, I want A-L-L of them!
RP: You are obviously a Philadelphia legend, but you played with another legend in Philadelphia. What was it like to play with Chuck Bednarik?
TM: Oh, old number 60! Yes siree, number 60 knew how to H-I-T, hit! You definitely didn’t feel good after getting hit by number 60! He was tremendous!
RP: Did he ever get a hit on you in practice?
TM: Are you kidding? I would never let him hit me! He would have pinned me up on the goalpost!
RP: You were a two-time All-American, a Maxwell Award Winner, an All-Pro, a Pro Bowler and a College and Pro Football Hall of Famer. What do you think was your greatest individual achievement in the game?
TM: All of them. Every one was fantastic for me! God has been so good to me and I am so thankful that I can’t pick just one. Hopefully my greatest achievement will be getting into heaven!
RP: You won two National Championships at Oklahoma and an NFL Championship in Philadelphia. How does it feel to play for a championship team?
TM: Let me tell you, it’s S-U-P-E-R! SUPER! Yes sir, it made me feel like Super Tommy! I think I just came up with a new nickname for myself, “Super End Zone Tommy!” But winning a championship is marvelous.
RP: You were the last NFL player to ever play without a face-mask. Concussions are a big part of football today. Did you ever worry about injuries to your face?
TM: Oh yes sir, let me tell you the first thing I had to do was to be ugly! I didn’t have to wear a mask on Halloween to scare people, so I didn’t need one to cover my face on the field!
RP: You are known for your enthusiasm and positivity. What type of impact did those traits have on your career?
TM: Well, that was where I got my energy! It gave me the feeling of “I want more!” I just always had energy and my energy came from G-O-D! But I never needed anyone to get me going because I always had that energy.
RP: You had a well-known portrait at one time. How did that come about?
TM: Well let me tell you that’s an interesting story. I was in Los Angeles doing an autograph show where I met an artist. He asked me for an autograph and I said, “Sure, that’s what I’m here for.” He told me he wanted to paint me in a portrait in my uniform. Well he painted me in my Eagles uniform as number 25.
Then when I was in Los Angeles with the Rams, somebody already had 25 so they gave me 29 and he painted me as number 29 too! It was fantastic, absolutely marvelous! God has just always put me in the right place I guess.
Also, I want to make sure that everyone knows, God has been my greatest quarterback and I’ve caught a lot more than 84 touchdowns with Him!
RP: Tommy, you are in the College Football Hall of Fame, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and now you are being honored as a Hometown Hall of Famer. What does that mean to you?
TM: You know what? It makes me know and feel like people know me and remember me. And it is marvelous that Allstate and the Hall of Fame are doing this. What it tells me is that they are angels! They are all angels for doing the Hometown Hall of Famers! Old Tommy McDonald still loves New Mexico!
So there is the man himself. I don’t know that I could have done justice to the energy, enthusiasm and just how kind and sweet Tommy McDonald is. Again, he is being honored this afternoon in Albuquerque, New Mexico at Highland High school
For anyone interested in the Hometown Hall of Famer program and past and future honorees, the schedule can be found here. It is truly a wonderful program for both the players and the communities that shaped them. Tommy McDonald is a great Eagle and a great Philadelphian.