March 20, 2010

1964: Eagles Trade Tommy McDonald to Cowboys

Following the 1963 NFL season, the Philadelphia Eagles were a team in transition. They had a new owner, 36-year-old Jerry Wolman, and a new head coach/general manager, Joe Kuharich. Having finished in last place in the Eastern Conference in both 1962 and ’63, Kuharich decided a makeover of the team was in order, and he made several significant trades. The first major deal, on March 20, 1964, sent star flanker Tommy McDonald to the Dallas Cowboys for all-purpose kicker Sam Baker, DT John Meyers, and offensive lineman Lynn Hoyem.

The trade certainly generated plenty of controversy among Eagles fans. Since joining the club in 1957 as a third round draft choice out of Oklahoma, McDonald had become one of the most potent deep threats in the NFL. His statistics were formidable – 287 receptions for 5499 yards (a 19.2-yard average) with 66 touchdowns, including two thousand-yard seasons and four consecutive in which he scored at least 10 TDs. He was selected to five Pro Bowls and had received first or second team All-Pro recognition on four occasions.

Moreover, he was charismatic with an effervescent personality and had become a fan favorite. At 5’9” and 178 pounds, he was generally considered to be the smallest player in the NFL during his career, yet he was an intimidating force as he raced past opposing defenders while often making spectacular catches. When hit, he had a habit of bouncing up quickly, showing toughness and a lack of fear. Few receivers were more effective at running crossing routes.

Trading McDonald was a bitter pill for the fans, and it wasn’t helped that many questioned whether the Eagles had received equal value for the 29-year-old receiver (he would be 30 by the start of the ’64 season). Sam Baker was the best-known of the three players Philadelphia received from the Cowboys. Both a placekicker and punter, he had played under Kuharich when he was head coach at Washington and had led the league in field goals kicked in 1956 (17) and scoring in ’57 (77 points). After two years in Cleveland, Baker had moved on to Dallas for two years, where it was reported that his off-field carousing had worn out his welcome with Head Coach Tom Landry. A proven performer at age 35, with nine years of NFL experience, he had been twice selected to the Pro Bowl (1956 and ’63).

John Meyers, a 6’6”, 275-pound defensive tackle, was 24 years old and had been with the Cowboys for two years. He was considered to be a quality reserve. 25-year-old Lynn Hoyem, at 6’4” and 253 pounds, had backed up at center and guard and was expected to do the same for the Eagles.

All three players filled clear needs that the team had, and contributed. Baker stayed for six seasons and made the Pro Bowl twice while also leading the NFL in field goal percentage in 1966 (72.0 %, on 18 of 25 attempts). Meyers moved into the starting lineup and played for four years. Hoyem also stayed for four seasons in his utility role on the offensive line.

As for McDonald, the Cowboys moved him from flanker to split end. While Dallas already had an outstanding flanker in Frank Clarke, veteran split end Billy Howton had retired following the ’63 season. In upgrading the receiving corps for young QB Don Meredith, they also traded with Pittsburgh for another veteran deep threat, Buddy Dial. McDonald went on to have what, for him, was a rather mediocre season as he caught 46 passes for 612 yards (just 13.3 yards-per-reception) with only two touchdowns (one of them coming against the Eagles in Philadelphia).

With speedy rookie Bob Hayes joining the Cowboys in 1965, McDonald was traded to the Rams where he caught a career-high 67 passes for 1036 yards and nine TDs. He was selected to the Pro Bowl one last time and, after another year in Los Angeles followed by brief stints in Atlanta and Cleveland, McDonald retired after the 1968 season.

The McDonald deal to Dallas was arguably not the most controversial of the trades swung by Joe Kuharich in the 1963-64 offseason; the one made a few days later that sent QB Sonny Jurgensen to Washington for QB Norm Snead raised even more eyebrows and generated fierce debate long afterward. McDonald was something of a disappointment in Dallas, although he proved with the Rams that he still could be an effective receiver. But none of the players received could replace the excitement and spirit that he had provided the Eagles and their fans.