As one of the smallest men in the National Football League—now that Eddie LeBaron has retired, I guess I am the smallest regular of all—I have spent half my time plotting ways to catch passes and the other half figuring out how to stay alive. At 5 feet 9 and 175 pounds I am a mackerel among sharks. The sight of McDonald stretching out for a high one affects defensive backs the way a chunk of horse-meat affects my poodle, Calhoun. They bite me, with relish. I have been knocked unconscious five times in my seven years of pro football, and at one time or another I have played with a broken jaw, a shoulder separation and assorted cracked ribs.
But I have always made a point of bouncing right up after being hit. As a regular I have missed only four games. I don't like to let some big guy on the other side think he can hurt me just because I am small. If he gives me his best lick and doesn't cave me in he gets a little discouraged. I guess I simply get a kick out of proving there's a place for a runt in pro ball. I don't enjoy the punishment. I just like catching passes, and maybe helping a team win a championship, the way it worked out with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960.
Down inside I'm a peaceable man, a sentimental man. I like people, and I want them to like me. I think I could even like Bill Pellington, the gentleman from the Baltimore Colts who put me to sleep for a while in my very first exhibition game in the pros, if he'd only stop trying to squash me like a beetle when he gets a piece of me. And since I have been traded to the Dallas Cowboys I hope the football fans of Dallas will take a liking to me. Having grown up in New Mexico, I consider myself a neighbor, a real friendly neighbor.
Let bygones be bygones, I say. It has been a long time since I played for Oklahoma and we beat Texas three straight years. It was a thrill for me to score five touchdowns against Texas but, now that I think back, I was pretty lucky. It was a special thrill in my senior year when I made a 53-yard reception, away out on my fingertips on the 18, and ran it over for a touchdown, but I'll forget all about it if Dallas will.
July 26, 1964
I just hope I can do the same for the Cowboys there in the Cotton Bowl—and it is only human nature to want to do well against the Eagles. It was a shock to be traded away from the Eagles after seven years—and 287 receptions for 66 touchdowns and 5,499 yards—but that's football. Anyway, I think I have learned something about playing this game—about survival, too—since I first got into it on my sixth-grade team back in Roy, N. Mex.
Home in Roy was a small farm. I liked being a farm boy. I used to get up at 5 o'clock, and the first thing I had to do was bring in the cows—that was a mile walk each way—and milk them. Then after the cows were milked, I fed the chickens and slopped the pigs and gathered the eggs. Then it was time for breakfast. After breakfast we'd run to school. It was fun. Farms are fun for kids. There's not much to do besides work, but there are lots of things to entertain you. There aren't many kids to play with, but there are horses to ride, and then we used to have a barn there in Roy that had high stacks of hay in it, and when the hay got low, my brother, C. R., and I would climb up on it and swan-dive off the top, down into the hay on the floor.
The thing I didn't like was cattle-branding time. We used to have to dehorn them, too, and when they cut the horn off the blood spurts and the calf bawls, and I used to feel sorry for them. I was supposed to help hold them down, and my size was no help then.
I would try to hold a leg or something and they would kick and throw me about 20 feet, and I would get back and try again, and they would kick me another 20 feet. My granddad used to laugh himself almost to death. That was his entertainment for the day. I liked riding our horse Billy a lot better than wrestling calves, and I still ride whenever I get a chance.
I was lucky as a kid, I guess, with all the fun I had. For example, to show you I was lucky, I caught typhoid fever just as they developed a new drug to cure it. I was one of the first they tried it on. I was lucky my dad decided to live in Roy, and that was purely an accident. He was born in Joplin, Mo., and he had to quit school in the sixth grade. He caught a train for California and happened to get off in Roy to get something to eat, and somebody offered him a job as a mechanic in a garage, so he stayed.
If I needed a whipping, Dad would let Mother whip me. But when he really wanted to get a point over to me, he would take me out himself. He used to just grab me by one hand, and we would go in a little circle, and I would get the old strap. Dad was a part-time farmer, part-time electrician and full-time sports lover. He had been a good pitcher, and he had come close to having a tryout with the St. Louis Cardinals. His dream was for me or C. R. to be a big-league ball-player, but he was willing to settle for a good showing in any sport.
He encouraged us to run hard and play hard. C. R. and I didn't always walk or ride the mile to school in Roy; more often we ran it. Dad rigged up a spotlight so we could practice basketball at night after milking the cows. We must have gotten out the bats and balls for a thousand pepper games. Dad was proud of our athletic ability.
I was always fast. Dad did a lot of power-line troubleshooting in the towns around Roy, and during school vacations I would go along with him. People would come to stand around and gawk. Dad would strike up a conversation with somebody and, first thing you know, I would be running a race with the guy's son. "I'll bet $5 Tommy here can beat your son," Dad would say. Then we'd get about 50 yards away and race back to the crowd. I earned Dad a nice piece of change that way.
Dad liked my speed, but he was a little worried about my size. When I was in the eighth grade he and my football coach decided to have me stay back a year to give me a chance to grow. I didn't want to, but Dad bought a motorbike for me to change my mind. It didn't make any difference. I didn't grow an inch. Size helps but it isn't everything, except maybe in a hog-growing contest. I entered one of those when I was in the Future Farmers of America. My project was to raise a prize hog. A friend sold me my pick of a litter, and out of that whole lot I picked the one that turned out to be the runt. He had speed and good moves, but the competition was for hogs the size of defensive tackles, not scatbacks.
I had better luck in sports. From the sixth grade on through high school I was a football quarterback, and I had a knack for basketball and the sprints, too. The only thing I had trouble with in high school was my studies. I wasn't blessed with too much intelligence, I guess, and competing in sports cuts your study time. After school we would work out at one sport or another until 6 or 6:30, and by the time I got home I was tired. After my high school sophomore year we moved to Albuquerque. Dad had two reasons for moving—a better job and the knowledge that college scouts would have a better chance of seeing my brother and me. C. R. had no luck at all. In his senior year his back was broken in an automobile accident. He recovered, but that was just about the end of his sports career.
It was up to me to be the athlete. In my senior year I was fortunate enough to break the state scoring record in football with 157 points. I broke the city scoring record in basketball. In track I won five gold medals in the state meet—running the 100, the 220, the low hurdles and two relays. With a favoring wind I could occasionally do the 100 in 9.7. On a still day it was 10 flat.
More colleges were interested in me as a basketball prospect than for football or track. The only football scholarship offers I received were from Southern Methodist and New Mexico. I went to Oklahoma almost by accident. Bruce Drake, the Oklahoma basketball coach, was in Albuquerque coaching an all-star high school team. He stayed over to watch an all-star football game that I was playing in and asked me to have my parents write to Oklahoma.
Pop Ivy, then an Oklahoma assistant coach, now a scout for the football Giants, invited my parents and me to visit Norman, Okla. That is when I first met Bud Wilkinson.
They called him the Great White Father around there, but not in his presence. I was asked to take a seat in his outer office and wait. I felt like a kid with a toothache waiting to see the dentist. My hands were sweating. I was scared skinny. There I was, 5 feet 6 and 143 pounds, wondering how to impress the coach of some of the most tremendous football teams of all time.
I was finally called in, and as Mr. Wilkinson talked to me I began thinking that I might be too small for college football. I told him so. My size was against me. I didn't want to sit on the bench.
"Why, Tommy," he said, "if that's what you think you are going to do here, then that's what you are going to do. But if you make up your mind that you are going to play for Oklahoma, you'll do it. You will have to decide."
I don't know how I impressed Mr. Wilkinson, but he has never stopped impressing me. The papers at home were impressed in another way when I enrolled at Norman. They blasted me for going out of the state.
Mother had wanted me to go to Notre Dame. She wrote them a letter and sent along some press clippings. They replied that I was a mite too small. That tickles me, because in my senior year at Oklahoma we waxed Notre Dame 40-0, and I did all right.
I thought about that letter as I was walking off the field. One of the fathers came up to me. "Tommy," he said, "I want you to know that on the day we decided not to offer you a scholarship the good Lord was not with us." That made me feel real good.
It was after losing to Notre Dame in my freshman year that Oklahoma began its famous 47-game winning streak. That was the only defeat during my four years at Norman. I wasn't a receiver then, of course, but a running back and passer on the option play. I could catch the football, though, and when I was a senior, Mr. Wilkinson gave us a passing play with me as the receiver. It was simple enough. At the snap I ran into the line of scrimmage and sort of milled around for a couple of counts, trying to get lost, and then busted out behind the defense. The play was good for six touchdowns, including that long one—and I promise not to mention it again—against Texas. Jimmy Harris, our quarterback, threw it. When I got clear of the defense and saw it coming I knew I couldn't run and keep an eye on it too. I just put my head down and took off like a New Mexico roadrunner and tried to judge when to put my hands out. I lucked out and guessed right. It came down over my head and onto my fingertips. Someone said afterward it was so far out in front of me I caught it with my fingerprints, not my fingertips.
In college I didn't think about playing pro ball because of my size. Then, on television, I saw Doak Walker—not a real big man—playing out on the flank for Detroit. I thought maybe I could live out there. Anyway, all of the clubs sent telegrams asking if I wanted to play, and I replied yessirree, but I couldn't believe they were serious.
I wasn't drafted until the third round by the Eagles. Before I could sign I had some postseason games to play, including the Hula Bowl in Honolulu. In those days it was a game between college and professional all-stars. It was my first taste of action against the pros. I could tell I had a lot to learn when I got hung on a hay hook.
I was playing halfback and going through the line on a little swing-pass pattern. On the farm a hay hook is a tool for moving bales of hay. In football it is the outstretched arm of a defensive player, used to reap pass receivers or ball carriers. This linebacker swung his arm up out of nowhere, and all of a sudden I had a broken nose and split lips. The flanker position, out away from the hay hooks, was looking better and better.
I was just as ignorant about talking contract terms, and Billy Vessels, the great Oklahoma back who was four years ahead of me, gave me some advice. He said pick a money figure and stick to it. I picked $12,000. Every time I talked to Vince McNally, the Eagles' general manager, I said, "Twelve and one"—$12,000 and a one-year contract. I finally got it. These days youngsters are getting $100,000 and more for signing, but that's life. I came along five or six years too soon.
Clarence Peaks, the Michigan State running back, was the Eagles' No. 1 draft choice that year, with Billy Barnes of Wake Forest second, me third, Sonny Jurgensen of Duke fourth and my Oklahoma quarterback, Jimmy Harris, fifth.
In the summer of 1957 I went straight to the College All-Star camp in Evanston, Ill. instead of reporting to the Eagle camp in Hershey, Pa. We had a tremendous All-Star squad. Paul Hornung and John Brodie were the quarterbacks. Among the running backs were Jimmy Brown, Don Bosseler, Billy Barnes, Jon Arnett, Abe Woodson and me. Clarence Peaks was playing on defense. The flankers were Jim Podoley and Del Shofner. Jerry Tubbs was at center, Ron Kramer was one of the ends and Jim Parker one of the guards.
As it turned out, Jimmy Brown and I sat on the bench most of the game. Curley Lambeau was the All-Star coach, and Jimmy Brown and I were alternate running backs. Lambeau said we would play in the second quarter. We were supposed to alternate quarters with Barnes and Arnett. But the second quarter came and we didn't get in, and then the half came and we still hadn't been in, and Jimmy and I were fuming.
In the dressing room at half time Lambeau said, "You guys let Barnes and Arnett start again, and I'll put you in after about five minutes." What was I going to say? He was the coach. The third quarter came and went and we still didn't get in, and then in the fourth quarter, when the Giants were kicking the straw out of us, Lambeau finally called me over and said go in and throw the option pass. It was third and 12.
As soon as I went out on the field, the Giant defense started hollering "option" because I was noted for that play. I got the ball and ran the option, and I couldn't even see a receiver for all the Giants in the way. I kept the ball and ran for minus one. I got up and started back to the huddle, and there was Arnett coming in for me.
After that experience I went to the Eagle camp feeling blue. Sonny and Jimmy and I worried plenty whether we'd survive the Eagles' cut. At the time of our last exhibition game on the coast, against the 49ers, I still didn't know. I figured if they cut me out there it would be cheaper than an earlier cut in the East, because the carfare home would be peanuts.
But I made it—and then spent the first eight league games on the bench. In the ninth, Coach Hugh Devore sent me in as a flanker. "This is it," I thought. "I either show something here or screw the whole thing up."
I was fortunate. We were playing Washington, and the defensive halfback covering me was Joe Walton. They had switched him from end to defensive back—why I'll never know, because Joe just isn't that fast. He is doing real great at end now for the Giants.
Jurgensen was our quarterback. He started out throwing to Bobby Walston on the other flank. Then he asked me, "Can you get deep on Walton?" I said, "I'll try."
Walton was playing me back about 14 yards, which gave me a big advantage on short passes. He had to play back there to have some chance on the deep ones. Well, I got behind him. Just as Sonny threw, someone hit his arm and the pass was short. Walton stopped running with me and stood waiting to intercept. I went back and circled around Walton, jumped up in front of him and caught the ball. When I came down Walton was off balance. I took off for the end zone and made the touchdown. In the same game Sonny hit me in the pocket between the zones of the Redskins' defense, and I scored another touchdown.
The sportswriters asked me afterward why I hadn't let anybody know that I could catch the football. I said, "I can't. At least I can't run patterns the way they should be run. I still have to learn how."
The skills you learn in college aren't necessarily useful in pro ball. Jimmy Harris was a terrific split T quarterback at Oklahoma. He could run the option real well. But the Eagles played Sonny because Sonny had the arm and Jimmy didn't; what the pros want is the arm. Harris became a defensive back. When it comes to throwing, there isn't an arm in the business as strong as Sonny's, except maybe Johnny Unitas'—and, when he was playing, Norm Van Brocklin's.
I started the rest of my first year, but didn't learn a great deal. Then, the following year, the Eagles signed the man who taught me what the game is all about.
Dutch Van Brocklin wasn't the most diplomatic guy in the world. He was friendly over a cup of coffee, but a hard man on the field. The first time I worked with him in practice and came back after running a pattern he just stared at me for a minute. Then he said, "McDonald, you're terrible. You may be the worst I ever saw. You need more than help. You may need donations." Funny man, Van Brocklin.
Dutch was working with all of us. He actually taught Pete Retzlaff how to catch a football. He made Pete work at receiving the ball in every conceivable position, and today Pete's a fine receiver with good hands.
We had to get used to the way Dutch threw. There was a big difference between his delivery and Sonny's. He threw a soft ball, Sonny threw hard. In that way Sonny is like Unitas and Bobby Layne and John Brodie and Billy Wade. Passers like Van Brocklin would be Eddie LeBaron. Y.A. Tittle and Otto Graham.
We were not a top team that year or the next, but we were developing that spirit, cohesion, togetherness—call it what you like—which can make a so-so team a lot better than it looks on paper. In camp one day in 1959 I was in the whirlpool bath and a lineman shoved my head under just for laughs. He weighed 280; I wasn't strong enough to shove his hand away. He didn't know that I could hold my breath a long time—something like two and a half minutes. I stayed under a couple of minutes, then let a little air out. When he saw the bubbles coming up he panicked. He grabbed me by the hair and hauled me out. I leaned over, real limp, and he hollered, "Tommy, speak to me!" It scared hell out of him, but everybody else had a good laugh.
Things like that pulled the club closer together. On the field I was getting a book on the defensive backs. I was learning that a good many of them talk to you and try to distract you. Some would give me the needle. Others would help me up after tackling me and say, "Nice catch, but don't work so hard."
The roughest back for me, whether he speaks or not, is Night Train Lane of the Lions. He's a wonderful guy personally and I like him, but he has so much speed you need five or six seconds to throw enough moves into him to get away—and you almost never get that much time. He plays you up close, maybe six yards away. Any time a back can play you that tight, you're in trouble. It means he has as much speed as you do, or more, on the deep passes, and is taking away the short ones. He can't afford to make many mistakes, playing in that close, but Night Train has so much speed he can outrun his mistakes. He is tall, too, and can jump like a jackrabbit.
When I am playing against the Giants and Erich Barnes is covering me, he will give me anything up front to make sure I don't get the long bomb on him. But when you catch one up front, he'll come in and really try to rack you up. figuring if he can sting you a little you won't want to catch the ball so much next time. You will be aware of him.
Johnny Sample, with the Redskins now, has real good speed, but he is not as tall as Barnes or Night Train Lane, and he will try to play you real short. He knows he can run with you, and he will depend on his speed to stay with you wherever you go.
Jerry Stovall of the Cards is a speedball, and so is Roosevelt Taylor of the Bears. They haven't been around as long as Night Train, though. You can do things to them that you can't do to him. Most of the defensive backs are fast, of course. A few aren't. Tom Brookshier, when he was with the Eagles, was one of the most amazing. If the receivers had known how slow he really was! But Tomcat was probably the best defensive back the Eagles ever had. He was tough. He really worked on the receivers. Just as the ball was snapped, he liked to sneak up and belt an end to mess up his pattern. After he's had a few of those belts an end starts to look for them. It takes something away, to put it mildly.
At first, I didn't have anything you could call a pattern to disrupt. My style was to go out full speed and grab. The first thing Van Brocklin taught me was that you must be an actor. "Tom Fears and Elroy Hirsch were actors," he said. "They would come out of the huddle on a pass play looking poor mouth, as if they never expected the ball to come within a mile of them."
He knew what he was talking about. When your number is called you have to go out there with your eyes blank and make the halfback look at you and think, "It's a running play this time; this guy is looking to go downfield and get a block." Then when you move out you go at half speed, then turn it on, then slow up, turn it on, slow up, turn it on. You never blast off full speed because that alerts the defensive back. Or, if the ball is not coming to you, you can't just stand up. That tells your back the play is going the other way and frees him to help out over there.
I think this is something that hurts Bobby Mitchell of the Redskins. If he doesn't go hard, you know he's not going to get the ball.
Pete and Bobby Walston and I worked with Van before practice most of the time, because after practice you are too tired to absorb very much. We would go over all the moves: outs, corners, posts, hooks, pitch-outs, centers, crosses—everything. When we made mistakes Van would run the patterns himself. He wasn't fast, but watching him you could visualize what he wanted against every back you would be in against.
Speed got me to the Eagles, and now I was discovering that speed was my biggest problem. I was trying to use too much of it too often. Van taught me that you only go full throttle when you have gotten behind the defender. Otherwise you want to move at half speed or three-quarter speed and be certain your jukes are under control.
Van also taught me to concentrate. When he called a play with me as a receiver I would go out on the flank thinking, "Am I giving it away? Do my eyes look tingly? Have I got a smile on my face because I know the ball is coming to me? I'd better catch it when it comes, too, or else." You hear about players getting butterflies before a game. I got butterflies every time Van called a long pass to me.
The hardest patterns for me to learn were an out, then a corner, then a zig-out, where you run a kind of double out. You want to deceive the back into thinking you are going to run an out, where you break to the sideline. Then you turn upheld, and as soon as he is running hard with you, you cut to the sideline again. It's a hard pattern. One of the best at it was Billy Howton when he was with the Cowboys.
The footwork is tricky, and knowing exactly how fast to go and at the same time sensing whether the back is taking your bait adds to the difficulty. You don't learn it in college. It takes two or three years in the pros just to get onto the little technical things. They talk about hearing footsteps—meaning a back coming up to hit you just as you catch a pass—but those footsteps can mean different things. You must be able to judge how far away the back is without looking at him. If he is running with you, you can cut a pattern off sharp. If he is not with you and you cut it sharp anyway, he'll be right in there for the ball.
The pros do not waste time on fundamental maneuvers. If you can't execute them, forget pro ball. When they have a defensive-line scrimmage they are only interested in finding out which lineman can get to the quarterback quickest or which offensive lineman can hold the defender out best.
In Van Brocklin's finishing school I learned to experiment with the back keyed on me whether I was going to catch the ball or not. I went over the things I saw in the game films. Maybe that week he was covering to the inside. What do I do if he plays me head up or to the outside? He might play farther back or closer in. Or, with the kind of two-man coverage I get most of the time, the corner back might play me close and to the outside to take away the outs and the hitch-outs, and then again it might be inside for the hooks and slants. What if the corner linebacker helps him inside? I learned that if I got past those two the safety would likely be waiting for me, looking for a post or a corner or a cross, which would be the only patterns left to run. I would be past the point of no return on the others.
Double coverage is murder. The quarterback has to have the arm and the confidence to really pop the ball in there, and he has to be gambler enough to take the chance in the first place. The odds favor interception when he throws to a receiver covered by two men. But if the quarterback is not willing to take that chance the receiver being doubled winds up with nothing for the day. I was lucky with the Eagles in having two quarterbacks, Jurgensen and Van Brocklin, who were willing to take the risk. On the short ones they would fire the ball in, and on the long ones they were willing to try hitting between the short and long defenders. Completing the long pass takes talent. The ball has to come to the receiver just as he has cleared the short man and just before he gets to the sector where the deep man will pick him up. If the quarterback throws too soon, the short man intercepts. If he throws late, the long man gets it.
Last year Sonny was hurt, and his replacement, King Hill, didn't have the feeling for that kind of pass. He had a few interceptions and stopped throwing into double coverage. I was used as a decoy quite a bit last year and for that reason caught only 41 passes myself.
There is a lot of noise on the field, some of it made by me. If I think I can confuse the backs by yelling something, I sound off. Say there is a switching man-to-man defense, with one back taking you part way—inside or out or short or deep—and then dropping off to pick up another receiver. I always holler, "Switch," as I start downfield, because that is what they call to one another. Deceive them and they might leave you all alone or drop one of the other receivers. Naturally, this works best on rookies.
The Eagles didn't worry anybody with their running game, which made it possible for other teams to double up on our receivers—the usual way with the corner back and the safety, or with a linebacker and the corner man.
A linebacker playing you head on costs you a second and a half. I figure you have to have four to five seconds to throw in all the fakes you can on the defensive back, because the quarterback normally has that much time to throw and no more. If a linebacker takes a second and a half, you have two to three and a half seconds left. That's not enough against Night Train or any of the good ones.
Outweighing me by 50 pounds on the average, the linebackers can lean on me hard. Occasionally, I can get away quickly with a head fake. More often I can't. The roughest linebacker for me is Galen Fiss of the Browns. Dan Currie of the Packers is almost as tough.
Some people argue that the receiver has the advantage in his duels with the various defenders. I disagree. The defender has only three things to think about. First, staying with you after you have made your break. Second, batting the ball down. Third, intercepting if he has that kind of a shot at the ball.
Receivers, first of all, have to think out a pattern. Then we have to hope that the offensive line is keeping the big boys on defense off the quarterback's neck long enough for him to get the ball away. Then there is the matter of catching the ball and hanging onto it while a defender is trying to rearrange your ribs.
Snow and rain do not help the receiver, despite what you might hear to the contrary. We have to break our patterns off crisply. We do not run banana-shaped patterns. When we plant a foot on a wet field we are just as likely to slip as the defensive back. And catching the ball on a rainy or snowy day is like fielding a 10-pound shot. The leather gets soaked, and the ball gets heavy. Unless you have considerable strength and really squeeze the ball you are not going to hold it. In freezing weather we can count on some knee and elbow damage from the hard ground.
I can't explain exactly how I catch passes. Some people are born with the knack, while others couldn't catch the ball if it had handles. I was blessed with the hands for it, and I have developed a lot of little ways of making the catches surer. It isn't necessary, to my mind, to have big, superstrong hands. My hands are no larger than my wife's, and I wouldn't say hers are large for a woman. At Oklahoma, passing on the option play, I wasn't able to take a normal grip on the ball because of the smallness of my hands. I had to hold it out at the end and flip it sidearm. And I have played for years without the tip of my left thumb. I lost it in an accident with that motorbike Dad gave me. Some receivers squeeze rubber balls or chunks of clay to increase the strength of their hands. I don't. Strength isn't as important as sensitivity.
You have heard of safecrackers who sandpaper the tips of their fingers to develop supersensitivity. Well, I do somewhat the same thing. Before a game I rub my fingertips against something rough, like an unfinished concrete wall, to make them tingle. I also bite my nails—not from nervousness but to get the blood in my fingertips circulating better. Playing basketball helps pass catching. You handle the basketball out on your fingertips, too.
I have learned to play in short sleeves no matter what the weather and in spite of bone chips from taking falls on unprotected elbows. Sensitivity again. The bare skin of the arms is sensitive; jersey sleeves are not. When the ball comes in and hits skin your reaction is immediate, your judgment is improved and most likely you can hold the ball. It is like the difference between catching the ball wearing gloves and catching barehanded. With a pair of gloves on, you can't catch a thing.
I have another reason for not wearing long sleeves. See how far you can reach in a suit coat. The sleeves bind you in the shoulders. A long jersey binds so much that it takes an inch or two from my reach, which would mean a lot of passes dropped that could be caught.
In the matter of physical survival, the biggest thing I have learned is not to struggle with the big boys. Whichever way a tackier wants to take me is the way I am perfectly happy to go. I fall like 175 pounds of spaghetti.
Unfortunately, that technique is not foolproof. In 1959, for example, my jaw was broken when a defensive halfback rapped me from the blind side as I was running a pattern. By the time it healed I had played six games. I couldn't risk having my jaw wired. It wouldn't have taken a very hard knock to cut my mouth to pieces. So it was soup through a straw for six weeks.
At my weight I can't afford to be a cream puff. The time Bill Pellington knocked me out I came to while a couple of players were walking me to the sidelines. They told me later that I had been singing the Oklahoma fight song, Boomer Sooner. Maybe I was. I have always had great admiration for Mr. Wilkinson. What really bothered me was that it was only my first pro game. Some people were already saying that I had made All-America only because I played for a great Oklahoma team. Now they would be saying the Eagles had drafted a man with a glass jaw. I didn't want that kind of talk to start. I got back into the game after missing four plays and played the rest of it.
In 1960 I was still alive and beginning to understand how to play the flanker position. That was the year we won the championship, but as the season started none of us suspected what was coming.
In Part II, Tommy McDonald tells the story of a championship season, discusses such pro stratagems as blitzes, audibles and pickoffs, and analyzes his new deal in Dallas.