James Allen McDonald Jr. had a famous father, Ohio State all-American, second pick in the 1938 NFL draft, career football coach, head man at Tennessee for a season.
Young Jim did not latch onto dad’s coattails for a free ride. He made it on his own. He was a starting defensive end for two of Doug Dickey’s best Volunteer teams, 1967 and 1968.
Like too many of that era, Jim is now a special memory. He died Tuesday in Atlanta of virus-induced pneumonia. He was 73.
“He was hospitalized two, maybe three times, starting in November,” said former teammate Mike Price, wide receiver.
“He was making progress,” said former teammate Jerry Holloway, offensive tackle. “We thought he would win. This last time was too much.”
A few days ago, old Vols received a message from Patti McDonald, Jim’s wife.
“Jim asked me to share that he is at Northside Forsyth ICU, fighting like a true Tennessee Vol. His spirit and desire to beat this are greater than any game he has ever played. He has asked for prayers. He knows his friends and teammates are the best anyone could ask.”
Those UT teams were especially close-knit.
“Enough already,” said former defensive tackle Dick Williams. “Losing lifelong friends is such a sad experience.”
“In what seems like just the last few days, we’ve lost Manley Mixon, Ron Widby, Bobby Morel and now Jim. This is hard to handle. I’ll admit I’ve shed a few tears.”
McDonald and former Vol safety Bill Young got acquainted in biddy basketball as 11-year-olds. They were junior high rivals, Tyson versus South. They were fierce competitors in high school, Young against South.
McDonald once kicked a field goal for a Young High victory.
“The newspaper headline said ‘McDonald’s toe is South’s woe,’” recalled Young.
“I didn’t like him all that much.”
They were roommates for three years at the University of Tennessee.
“He was a great guy.”
The two thought they were different but Bill now says they were, in many ways, similar.
“Jim had a car. He was far more social than me. He was more mature. He was more like a big brother.”
Williams said “Wonderful human being.”
Holloway, Price, Williams and Young vividly recalled what Jim McDonald did for a former Young High and UT teammate. The consensus was it will stay with them forever.
“Jim did everything he could, for at least five years, to help Richard Pickens when he was sick,” said Price. “He managed Richard’s finances. He arranged outings. He monitored medical care.”
Jim and Richard had careers as railroad executives. Of course there was a Vol connection.
“David Rudder’s father was in charge at Southern Railway,” said Williams.
David was a former Tennessee quarterback. He prepped at Bearden.
Williams said he has spent hours replaying the good old days as Volunteers.
“McDonald was in line to start as a sophomore against Auburn. He missed the game. He had the mumps.”
“UCLA game, 1967, opening kickoff, Bruins fumbled, McDonald recovered. We got a touchdown.”
“Fraternity party, Beaver Brook Country Club, we rented costumes, borrowed an ambulance for transportation and had a wonderful time. Jim dressed as a matador.”
Ex-Vol Jim Weatherford had an interesting perspective of Jim McDonald.
“He was not a hot shot, a great football player or athlete. He was an outstanding person and teammate.
“He moved to Macon several years ago due to his job. The next time I saw him, I felt like I had received a gift.
“He defined ‘Tennessee Volunteer.’”
Marvin West welcomes comments or questions from readers. His address is email@example.com