Tommy McDonald, the undersized but speedy and durable Hall of Fame wide receiver who helped propel the Philadelphia Eagles to the 1960 N.F.L. championship, died on Monday in Audubon, Pa. He was 84.
His death was confirmed by his son Christopher, who said he was found to have dementia several years ago.
At 5 feet 9 inches and 175 pounds, McDonald was a star running back in high school, but doubted he was big enough to play major college football. He nonetheless became an all-American with an unbeaten national-champion Oklahoma team, and then he wondered if he could vie with burly pro players.
But McDonald played for 12 years in the National Football League, and when he retired after the 1968 season, his 84 touchdown receptions were the second-highest in league history, behind the Green Bay Packers’ Don Hutson, who had 99.
McDonald was famously tough. Early in his career he was one of the last N.F.L. players to refuse to wear a face mask, fearing it would obstruct his vision, and he missed only three games to injury in his first 11 seasons. He caught three touchdown passes and ran a punt back 81 yards for a score against the Giants in October 1959 while playing with his jaw wired shut a week after he had broken it.
He also had relatively small hands and had lost the tip of his left thumb in a motorbike accident as a teenager. But he had a knack for holding on to the football, and he honed the sensitivity of his fingernails by rubbing them on something rough and biting the nails to get the blood flowing.
McDonald was voted to six Pro Bowls, five times as an Eagle and once with the Los Angeles Rams. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1985 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.
With the Eagles trailing the favored Green Bay by 6-0 midway through the first quarter, McDonald caught a 22-yard pass from quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, then hauled in a 35-yard touchdown throw on the next play. The Eagles went on to a 17-13 victory, capturing their first league championship in 11 years.
Van Brocklin, who had been a brilliant passer with the Los Angeles Rams and was closing out his Hall of Fame career as an Eagle, tutored McDonald and his fellow receivers in the art of running pass patterns.
“We would go over all the moves: outs, corners, posts, hooks, pitchouts, centers, crosses, everything,” McDonald said in a 1964 article for Sports Illustrated, written with Tex Maule. “When we made mistakes, Van would run the patterns himself.”
Van Brocklin had thrown to star receivers like Tom Fears and Elroy Hirsch with the Rams. “But if I had to pick one guy to throw the ball to with the game on the line, I’d pick McDonald,” he was quoted as saying by Ray Didinger in “The Eagles Encyclopedia” (2005). “I knew somehow the little bugger would get open and catch the football.”
McDonald led the N.F.L. in touchdown catches, with 13, and in receiving yards, with 1,144, in 1961, when Sonny Jurgensen took over as quarterback following Van Brocklin’s retirement.
The Eagles traded McDonald to the Dallas Cowboys in 1964 for a kicker and two undistinguished linemen. But he had a lot of football left in him.