In 1956 Oklahoma senior running back Tommy McDonald narrowly
missed having his name recorded as one of the Heisman Trophy
winners at New York City's Downtown Athletic Club. McDonald
received the most first-place votes for the Heisman that year,
but after the second- and third-place ballots were tallied, he
wound up third in overall points--behind winner Paul Hornung of
Notre Dame and Johnny Majors of Tennessee--in one of the closest
calls in the trophy's history.
McDonald eventually got his name prominently displayed at the
Downtown Athletic Club anyway: 61 times and counting. Following
a 12-year NFL career as a wide receiver for five teams, during
which he made six Pro Bowls and three SPORTS ILLUSTRATED covers,
McDonald started a portrait business that has produced official
likenesses of every Heisman winner dating from the first, the
University of Chicago's Jay Berwanger, in 1935. Even though
McDonald doesn't wield the brush himself--"God blessed me with
being able to catch the football and run, not with being able to
paint," he says--his signature appears in the bottom righthand
corner of each portrait to identify it as the work of Tommy
McDonald Enterprises. The latest subject will be announced on
Dec. 14, in the Downtown A.C.'s portrait-lined Heisman Room.
McDonald, known in his playing days for being only 5'9" but
having great hands, says he got the idea for his company in 1966
when a fan gave him a portrait drawn from one of McDonald's team
publicity head shots. McDonald retired after the '68 season and
approached the Heisman Committee with a sample painting done
from a photo of its most recent honoree, O.J. Simpson of
Southern Cal, and sold his idea.
McDonald's company employs six artists and produces two
16-by-20-inch Heisman portraits each year for the Downtown A.C.
while continuing to develop a long list of other clients. "We've
painted everyone from Don Shula to Miss America," says McDonald.
His artists have produced two portraits of their boss, having
painted the winners of the Maxwell Award, presented annually by
the Maxwell Club of Philadelphia to the nation's best college
football player, and Oklahoma's All-Americas--honors McDonald
did win in '56. McDonald, 62, runs his business out of his home
in King of Prussia, Pa., where he lives with his wife, Patty. He
also owns a plaque company, the name of which reflects his
storied jovial personality: Old McDonald Had a Firm.
December 9, 1996