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At the end of practice two days before the season, Tommy McDonald, the Eagles' Little Boy Wonderful flankerback (see cover), showered and dressed and headed his red convertible across Philadelphia to the Old Original Bookbinder's for lunch. " 'It's a great place," he said. "Stan Musial eats there when he's in town. And Kirk Douglas. Sometimes we get together. Kirk's a great football fan. People say I look like him. Some say I look like Paul Newman. I've got to ask Kirk sometime if anybody ever tells him he looks like Tommy McDonald." As McDonald drove down Market Street, people called out to him and he responded genially. "Hey, Tommy, catch one for me Sunday, baby!" "Whattayasay, Tommeeee!" The simple crosstown drive became a one-car processional. Recognition was made less difficult by the cherry-red color of the convertible and the 72-point type on the door panels proclaiming TOMMY McDONALD, directly above a lesser plea for Phillies Cigars, which provides him the car and $250 a week in return for small favors. He says the sign on the door makes him self-conscious.
"Have you seen the commercial I do for Phillies?" said McDonald, driving with two fingers and puffing jerkily on a Cheroot ("I never inhale"). "I'm on this great big pinto, in a cowboy suit. I advise everybody to go out and buy a cigar, and 'be sure and tell 'em Tommy McDonald sent you!' Then I ride off like crazy. People ask if it's really me riding that horse. I tell 'em youdamnright. I'm from Albuquerque, New Mexico. I learned to ride a horse before I learned to catch a football."
His record as a cigar peddler on horseback is unavailable, but McDonald caught 64 passes last fall for 1,144 yards and 13 touchdowns, the best composite record in the National Football League. Twice an All-America back at Oklahoma, he has been used almost exclusively as a pass catcher during his six years as a pro. He has scored 51 touchdowns in all, some of his most brilliant coming in October 1959, when he played with a broken jaw. He scored four times against the New York Giants (once on an 81-yard punt return) and three weeks later made two more touchdowns and set up another with a 71-yard reception, as the Eagles, after trailing the then Chicago Cardinals 24-0, came back to win 28-24.
"I love to act, to perform," he said. "It's easy for me to get the right expression for a cameraman. You know, cocking an eyebrow the right way and all. There's a lot of acting to catching passes. Especially for a little guy like me. I roll my eyes and fake and feint and play possum. I think if I wasn't playing football I'd want to be an entertainer. I guess that's why I do some of the crazy things you read about. I enjoy breaking people up, making 'em laugh. This is a serious old world most of the time. One day after a game I came running into the dressing room yelling 'I'm in love, I'm in love!' and dived head first into a basket of dirty towels."
McDonald is without peer in the NFL for mock drownings in the whirlstspool bath and for fanciful leaps and skids on the practice field. At Highland High in Albuquerque he had a magical way of producing ice cubes in the huddle.
His war whoops ("iieeeeeeeee!") were the delight of Norm Van Brocklin, ex-Eagle quarterback and now head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, who was also a frequent target of his snowballs in the shower room. This is all good clean fun to McDonald, and he is resentful when people take it otherwise. "It really gets my dandruff (sic) up when some writer says, 'Is Tommy McDonald a kook?' or 'Is Tommy McDonald flakey?' " Tommy McDonald says.
At Bookbinder's, a seafood emporium near the Delaware riverfront, the owner's son met McDonald at the door. "Hey, Tommyboy," he chirped. "Wait'll you see our new hostess. Just your type. Mmmmmmmmmmuuh!" He turned offhandedly to Tommy's companion. "Oh, the dolls this guy comes in here with! A different one every time. And gorgeous. Gorgeous. I think he's better catching women than he is catching footballs." McDonald expressed only mild interest and punctiliously introduced his companion around. He sat down and ordered a shrimp cocktail, a shrimp salad sandwich and coffee. "I never seen this guy take a drink," said the owner's son. The owner came and said Stan Musial was in and that Tommy could catch him later at the game. McDonald said he hadn't been to a baseball game in two years but maybe he would, "just to see old Stanley."
McDonald talked about his hands. "Look at them," he said. "See this thumb? I lost the tip of it trying to take a motorbike up a high curb. Funny story. Dad wanted me to be a baseball player real bad. This was back in Roy, New Mexico, population about a thousand but a great little sports town. Anyway, my Dad figured I wasn't growing fast enough—I've been hearing that all my life—and said he'd buy me a motorbike if I'd stay in the eighth grade another year to be with kids my size. So I stayed back and got the bike, and blooey! there goes the thumb. I never did find a class where the boys were my size.
"I think catching passes is judgment, mostly. I've got good vision; good peripheral vision. I think sometimes I can see things the defensive back doesn't see. I watch for him to make his move—you've got to study the guys in this league—and if he's a fraction late compensating for mine, then I've got him beat. When you've got the jump, size doesn't matter.
"And I go for the ball, I don't wait for it to come to me. Vision and reaction. When I was a kid I'd lie on my back on the floor or in bed, throwing things up in the air—nails, pennies, rubber balls, anything. Then I'd close my eyes and try to catch them. Instead of passing things at the table, we'd pitch them. Mom made us draw the line at mashed potatoes. The best thing, though, is a ping-pong ball. It does weird things. If you can catch a ping-pong ball you can catch anything."