Monday, September 17, 2007

An Early Hero Who Lived Up to the Name--Ron McDole

Ron McDole, right, in his glory days as one of the great defensive linemen on the AFL champion Buffalo Bills.

Many years ago, like most young kids, my heroes were athletes. My family moved from South Dakota to Washington, D.C. in 1968, when I was nine years old. Thus began a lifelong love of the Washington Redskins NFL football team. In all the years I lived in DC, from 1968, when I was in fourth grade, until 1977, when I graduated from Herndon High School, I never missed a game, whether on the radio or on our tiny black and white television. The Redskins were so popular in the DC area that their games were sold out years in advance. I held no hopes for actually seeing a game in person.

One year, in the early seventies, a new family moved into our neighborhood. They were a large Catholic family with five (or was it six?) kids, some of which were nearly as old as me. They were ordinary in every way but one---the dad was Ron McDole, and he was a professional football player. By the time he was traded to the Washington Redskins, McDole had already played a stellar career as a defensive end with the Buffalo Bills and the Houston Oilers.

This was back in the days before football players made millions and lived in gated communities. Ours was a very middle-class community of townhouses. However, it was close to the Redskins' practice facility near Dulles Airport, and many players elected to live near Redskin Park, as it was called.

The McDoles had one car, a huge station wagon. Mr. McDole (the only thing I ever called him either to his face or to others) went off to work and came home just like any other dad, only on Mondays, he lay on the sofa most of the day with ice packs all over him. By this time, Ron McDole had been playing football since 1962, and was in his thirties, which to me seemed ancient.
An early McDole trading card, from the sixties.

I was scared half to death of Mr. McDole. He was a huge man, at least six foot five or six and well over three hundred pounds, and he had thick mutton chop sideburns and hands that were as big as oven mitts. Whenever I was over at the McDole's house, I peeked at him but never really spoke to him. How could I? He was a famous football player. Fortunately, Mrs. McDole, who was barely over five feet tall, was a neighborhood mom and set every kid who came in the door right at ease. I don't recall Mr. McDole ever saying much. But he was very good-natured, always had a big smile, and took his turn driving us to soccer practice.

Ron McDole's player promo photo from the Redskins, circa 1975.

In 1972, the Washington Redskins made it to Super Bowl VII. Though they lost, Mr. McDole took the time to bring me back a program from the game. I still have it.

A few years later, I asked Mr. McDole, through his son Taz, if he would get a notebook signed by all the Redskins for me. I didn't have the nerve to ask him myself. A week or so later, Taz brought it to me. McDole had gone to every player on the team and had them sign for me.

McDole had played his early career for the Buffalo Bills, and the family still had a home in upstate New York. One Easter, they invited me to come up for a visit. I spent a week in Eden, New York, and it remains the only time I ever rode on a snowmachine.

My last year in high school, the McDoles invited me to a Washington Redskins preseason game. This remains the only professional football game I've ever been to. Even better, after the game was over, we went to a tribute at a fancy hotel in honor of Sonny Jurgenson, who had retired and whose number had been retired that evening. I had to keep pinch myself to make sure I wasn't dreaming.

Ron McDole retired a few years after I went off to college. He lives in rural Virginia and I believe went into the construction business, which he did in the off-season when he was a player.

Here was a man who lived up to the term 'hero' that came with being a professional athlete. He did small kindnesses for a kid he hardly knew. Not once, but many times. He never asked for anything in return. What a great lesson for a young kid, to know a man like that.

Thanks, Mr. McDole. I hope one day to call you Ron.

This photo of Ron McDole at an autograph signing shows his good nature and kindness.

Ron McDole's Biography

Roland Owen "Ron" McDole in 1939 in Ohio. He was nicknamed "the Dancing Bear" because he was nimble-footed despite his size. The defensive end from the University of Nebraska and went to the Buffalo Bils of the old AFL after spending the 1962 season with the AFL's Houston Oilers. McDole went on to anchor the left side of the Bills' great defensive line for the next eight seasons.

McDole was an AFL All-Star in 1965 and 1967. The Bills won two AFL championships while he was on what is possibly their best defensive line of all time. McDole and his defensive team-mates held the opposition without a rushing touchdown in 17 straight games over 1964-1965. McDole was the defensive team captain during those years, and years later, he was selected to the All-Time AFL second team.

From 1971 through 1978, McDole was a key defensive player for the NFL Washington Redskins under head coach George Allen.

Ron McDole has the most interceptions by a lineman, with 12. He is also ranked #44 on the all-time list of games played in the NFL.


Anonymous said...

Mr. Morris,

Just happened to run across this piece while searching the web for pics of The Dancing Bear. Wanted to drop by and say thanks for a very warm and welcome piece about a player few of our generation have forgotten.

I also extend a personal invitation to drop by, the Redskins official message board, and enjoy the company of many other like-minded lifelong fans of the team.

If you join us, please feel free to look me up. I go by "Om" and help run the place.

Until then, cheers, thanks again, and Hail.

Mark Steven

Anonymous said...


Great piece... I will make sure my dad has seen it if he has not already! Hope all is well with you and your family!

Tammy McDole

Anonymous said...

One of best defensive ends of all time.
I have never seen a down lineman defend against the run as well as old 79. Incredible spin moves and ability to play the angles.
You could write a textbook on his technique.

-Herndon '73