Forty years ago this past week, McDole was traded to the Redskins from Buffalo and began putting an exclamation point on an outstanding 18-year NFL career.


A Bear Dances into D.C.

One coach’s aging veteran is another coach’s player with invaluable experience. In this case, George Allen was the latter coach and defensive end Ron McDole was the player.

Acquired from the Bills on May 11, 1971, for future draft choices, McDole, a two-time AFL All-Star, was heading into his 11th season and saw the writing on the wall in Buffalo. He would become anxious to read what was scribbled on the walls in Washington.

“John Rauch was [the head coach in Buffalo] and was changing things. He was getting rid of people and trying to build his own team,” said McDole. “It was obvious that he felt some of us older players wouldn’t be available when he got his team together, I guess. Everybody kind of anticipated that something was going to happen. You’re always kind of scared. You don’t know what it’s like going someplace else when you’ve been somewhere for quite a while.

“George called me up and, of course, he was a very enthusiastic individual. I think the first words were, ‘Well, how’s it feel to be with a winner?’ He wanted me to come to [Washington] immediately to meet him. That kind of made you feel like you’re welcome.

“And I knew some guys [who were with the Redskins]. Billy Kilmer and I started out together. And Pat Fischer and I went to college together and were captains at Nebraska. So there were people on the team that I knew very well. And then when I got there with the Over-the-Hill Gang, it was like old home week.”

But at 32 and despite what his former coach may have felt, McDole, who would later be nicknamed “the Dancing Bear” by teammate Sonny Jurgensen, didn’t feel over the hill. He felt the move to Washington was a breath of fresh air and renewed his enthusiasm for the game. As far as being labeled as one of the Over-the-Hill Gang, the veteran took it as a compliment.

“Basically at that time, when you got [to be] 30 and over, [teams] were trying to replace you. And George was picking people up,” McDole said. “We used to celebrate people’s birthdays when they became 30. It was a big deal.

“George was the type of guy who felt that the older guys made fewer mental mistakes and had more experience and knowledge. So he could do a lot more on the field. Especially on defense! He basically was a defensive coach. He felt if somebody lost a step or something like that, they’d make it up without making the mistakes.”


“Like I’m Going to Lateral the Ball”

If a cornerback is often referred to as a receiver who can not catch too well, what is a defensive end who snares passes like a centerfielder called? Try Ron McDole.

During his eight seasons with the Redskins (1971-1978) and 10 seasons before that with Buffalo, Houston, and St. Louis, the 6’4”, 265-pounder recorded 12 interceptions off of the likes of star quarterbacks Roger Staubach, Joe Namath, and Bob Griese.

“You’re playing against a guy over you who probably is just as good as you are. And if you can win 51 percent of the battles, you should have a big game,” said McDole. “So you’re fighting constantly to get to the passer and all of a sudden you’re free. If the guy didn’t fall down or have a heart attack, then there’s something up.

“I’d line up in my regular stance and then I would bail out and pick up a lot of screens. I think they threw to me because they were shocked to see 300 pounds trying to run backwards. Most of them were screens, and some of them I batted back up into the air when they tried to throw over me.”

Of all the quarterbacks that McDole picked off, he recalls Namath as the only one who had something to say about what happened afterward. “He always backed out [at the snap], he didn’t turn from the center,” McDole said. “So he was backing out one way, and I was backing out the other way. And as I was backing out, I was excited and kind of lost my balance and started stumbling backwards, and he threw the ball right to me.

“After the game, I told him, ‘I really appreciate your throwing me a pass.’ And he said, ‘I didn’t throw it to you. I saw you falling backwards and I started laughing and I couldn’t get it over your head.’”

On one other occasion, October 10, 1971, just his fourth game with the Redskins, McDole’s receiving prowess resulted in a trip to the end zone. Not a speedy trip, mind you, but it still counted in Washington’s 22-13 victory. “That was against [Oilers quarterback] Charley Johnson. He tried to throw a screen,” said McDole, who collected three of his six career interceptions as a Redskin that season. “The funny thing about that is Verlon Biggs was playing the other [defensive] end and was coming across the field from the other side as we rushed the passer. I picked the screen off and started running, and Verlon started running up front blocking for me. Then he pulled in behind me, and he always called me Dole. He said, ‘Lateral, Dole! You’re not going to make it! Lateral! Lateral!’

“So I got into the end zone and he jumped on top of me and said, ‘I didn’t think you’d get here.’ And I said, ‘Well, I’d have got here sooner if you’d block somebody.’ Like I’m going to lateral the ball. How many opportunities did I get to score?”

Excerpts from “Then Gibbs Said to Riggins…”