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Rams game will be a father-son reunion for Tim and T.J. McDonald

Rams game will be a father-son reunion for Tim and T.J. McDonald
Rams safety T.J. McDonald intercepts a pass intended for Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald during their game on Oct. 2, 2016. (Norm Hall / Getty Images)

Tim McDonald will have the best seat in the house Sunday to watch his son play safety for the Rams.

And there's a good chance McDonald won't catch more than a glimpse of the action.

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He won't have the time to watch his son, T.J. McDonald, because he'll have responsibilities of his own: helping coach the Buffalo defense. The elder McDonald is the secondary coach for the Bills, and for the first time, he will be on the opposite sideline from his son.

"He's working his tail off to beat dad," McDonald said. "If he comes out on the winning side of this thing, he's going to be excited as heck. He's not going to be thinking about Dad. But he knows Dad is serious about football, and he knows Dad is going to try to whup his tail."

Strong defensive play has been a big reason the Rams have won three games in a row, and T.J. McDonald has been solid. The fourth-year pro from USC had an interception at Arizona last Sunday and a sack at Tampa Bay the Sunday before. He has 19 tackles and has knocked away five passes.

Father and son typically text each other and talk every few days. This week, understandably, there was radio silence.

"We just don't," T.J. said of communication in the ramp-up to this game. "You've got to understand. For him, he wishes me well, but that's part of the game."

Whereas most dads in that position would be informed fans, Tim McDonald understands the job at a much deeper level. Like his son, he was a standout defensive back at USC and went on to play 13 NFL seasons with the Arizona Cardinals — he was drafted by them when they were still in St. Louis — and the San Francisco 49ers. He was All-Pro once, made six Pro Bowls and helped the 49ers win Super Bowl XXIX. He was a fixture in a San Francisco secondary that included Deion Sanders and Merton Hanks.

He came back to USC and finished his degree in 2011, 25 years after leaving school early to prepare for the NFL draft.

"I've been beating my sons upside the head on the importance of school and getting a degree," McDonald told The Times five years ago. "I'll be damned if I was going to let T.J. beat me to it."

Tim and his wife, Alycia, have a younger son, Tevin, who started his college football career at UCLA, was dismissed from the team after two seasons and finished at Eastern Washington. He was on the Oakland Raiders' roster last season. The McDonalds' daughter, Taryn, is a USC student.

Tim McDonald has a keen eye when he comes into the office early on a Monday morning and punches up the video from his son's game the day before. It's the only defensive tape he watches all week, spending the rest of his time studying the offense of the upcoming opponent.

"I've got to be ready to talk to him when T.J. gets on the phone with me," he said. "He's a little slow to call me when things aren't going as well. I have to call him and say, 'Hey, we've got to talk about a few things.' "

This off-season, those conversations extended well beyond what happens on the football field. The younger McDonald was arrested in May in Woodland Hills after police said he crashed into a parked car. He was charged with one misdemeanor count of driving under the influence of drugs and has an arraignment scheduled for Oct. 20.

"We spent a lot of time together this summer," his dad said. "In fact, my entire vacation was pretty much spent with him. We got a chance to talk a lot, talk a lot of football, talk a lot of life. I'm proud of his commitment."

Like his father, T.J. McDonald is known as a big hitter. He was evaluated for a concussion during the Arizona game a week ago. Naturally, the health of his son is on Tim's mind constantly.

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"These guys are running faster, and they're stronger," he said. "There are some collisions out there. I understand it."

The elder McDonald can understand the feelings of his own mother, who never attended one of his NFL games.

"She's still alive today and hadn't seen one of my games," he said. "She couldn't watch it. She'd watch the replay on videotape but couldn't bring herself to be there in person.

"When I was playing for San Francisco, I lived in Milpitas, and she'd come up and stay at the house. She would always wait for me to walk in the door after a game. Then, she'd be ready to watch it."

McDonald's advice to his son is simple and direct.

"You play hard, you lay it on the line, you stay mentally sharp, you carry yourself with character," he said. "And let the chips fall where they may."

Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.

Twitter: @LATtimesfarmer

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