It was late November 1982 and the weather in Cleveland was nasty. Snow
turned to sleet, then to rain. Only five days earlier, former Browns
assistant coach Paul Hackett told McDonald he was getting the Sunday nod
against the Steel Curtain from Pittsburgh.
The four-time Super Bowl champions were still intact. Guys like Mean
Joe Greene, Jack Lambert and Mel Blount were still playing ferocious
McDonald, who always received the offensive plays from the sideline as
the USC quarterback for two years, was suddenly thrust into a situation
where he was expected to call the plays, while barely able to hold onto a
For a capper, Cleveland got the ball first that day, and as McDonald
walked up to the line, he looked around to check Pittsburgh's alignment.
Sure enough, there was Lambert staring at him with a merciless snarl.
"There was No. 58 with no teeth, and looking wild-eyed and wacko like
most middle linebackers do, and Lambert definitely was," McDonald said.
"I thought to myself, 'Well, you finally made it. Here you are and
there's no hole to crawl in.' So there I was, playing against a
The Browns won the game, 10-9, and later made the playoffs that
season, in which McDonald threw two touchdown passes with no
interceptions in Cleveland's first-round loss against the Oakland Raiders
and his old USC teammate, tailback Marcus Allen.
While McDonald would start every game in the 1984 season and play
eight years in the NFL with Cleveland and the Dallas Cowboys, his
national championship in 1978.
McDonald, who set 17 NCAA, Pac-10 Conference and USC records as Coach
John Robinson's signal caller in 1978 and '79, was blessed with a golden
touch of a left throwing arm coming out of high-powered Bishop Amat High.
But strangers on the street wouldn't exactly see a quarterback chiseled
out of granite. He had height (6-foot-2), but McDonald was a
self-proclaimed "normal guy."
In an era featuring Heisman Trophy winners Allen and Charles White,
offensive linemen Brad Budde and Anthony Munoz, and defensive stars
Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Lott, McDonald played the perfect role for the
Trojans as the pitch man for Tailback U. who would kill opponents with
timing passes, like the game-winning, eight-yard touchdown pass to Kevin
Williams with 32 seconds to play in USC's come-from-behind, 17-12 victory
over LSU in September 1979.
An All-American in 1979, McDonald was part of several dramatic Trojan
finishes, as well as a 23-1-1 record in two seasons.
McDonald is one of four USC All-Americans to have worn jersey No. 16,
tied for the most in school history with Nos. 66 and 78. Brice Taylor,
Frank Gifford and Rodney Peete also wore No. 16 for USC and made
But McDonald, who completed almost 60% of his career passes (299 of
501) at USC for 4,138 yards, 37 touchdowns and only 13 interceptions, is
quick to point out his strong supporting cast.
"It was an opportunity of a lifetime to play on those teams at USC
with all those players at that talent level," said McDonald, who set an
NCAA record for the lowest rate of interceptions (2.6%) in his collegiate
career. "The talent around me allowed me to really show what I could do.
I've talked to a lot of quarterbacks, and they've said it's the other
people around them that had a lot to do with their success."
The Trojans went 12-1-0 and captured the national championship in
1978, defeating Michigan in the Rose Bowl, 17-10, to secure the title
McDonald, a Newport Beach resident and currently in his second year as
a radio analyst for USC football games, said one of his career highlights
is knocking off Notre Dame at South Bend, Ind., on national television in
"We'd just tied Stanford (21-21), so we were angry going in there,"
said McDonald, who will never forget the experience of playing at Notre
Dame in a hostile environment, inside a stadium rich with football
history and fans yelling as if victory meant life or death.
"That was my athletic highlight -- everything that went into the
game," said McDonald, whose Trojans won, 42-23, in a year he was voted
USC co-MVP, first-team All-Pac 10 and All-American by AP and Football
"I just worked hard (in my career) and loved to play. I had passion
for playing the game, and I loved to compete in big-time situations.
"I was able to achieve a lot, but not with a lot of God-given talent.
The fact that I had passion in what I was doing, and loved what I was
doing, it allowed me to devote endless hours to be good at what I was
doing. That's what I try to tell kids today. Whether you're playing
sports or not playing sports, whatever you're doing, have passion for
what you're doing.
"That's one message I've tried to tell my children. I don't care if
they play football or sports, but what I do care about is that they find
something to have passion about, and hopefully God will put you in a
position to have an opportunity."
McDonald, drafted by the Browns in the fourth round in 1980, graduated
from USC with a degree in business finance and a 3.51 grade-point
average, meriting several academic awards, including membership on the
Dean's List and Beta Gamma Sigma, USC's business school academic honorary
society. An NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship winner, McDonald was also an
Academic All-American (first team in 1979, second team in '78).
Heavily involved in the community and with charities, McDonald has
served on the Board of Directors for several organizations, including
"Street Smart Kids," a company that promotes child safety, and "Sports
for Life," a program that teaches children how the lessons of sports
apply to life.
"You've got to give back to the community you're from, and that's the
real legacy you can leave," he said. "It's not about collecting things,
but it's trying to make a difference."
For the past two years, McDonald, formerly of Wells Fargo Bank, has
been a partner at Spectrum Alliance Group based in Newport Beach, a
company that specializes in "loyalty" programs and seminars. McDonald
also serves on the Board of Governors of the USC Alumni Association,
coaches a Junior All-American football team in the area and can always be
spotted at Irrelevant Week.
McDonald, a member of the Daily Pilot Sports Hall of Fame, celebrating
the millennium, married Newport Harbor High graduate Allyson Riley (Class
of '77) 17 years ago. They have four children: Michael, 14, Stephanie,
11, Andrew, 9, and Matthew, who will celebrate his first birthday on
"I like to say it's a second marriage, but the same wife," he said,
referring to the timing of their latest addition.