Defensive End Ron McDole was a cornerstone of the 1960's Bills' AFL Championship defenses. (RememberTheAFL.com)
DE Ron McDole (1963-1970) | 6'4", 265 pounds
Notable Achievements: Two-time Pro Bowl selection (1965, 1967), First-team All-Pro (1966), Second-team All-Time All-AFL, Member of Bills' 25th Anniversary Team, Member of AFL Hall of Fame
Roland Owen McDole was born on September 9, 1939 in Chester, Ohio. He grew up in Toledo, and would go on to play fullback and end at Thomas DeVilbiss High School before heading out to the University of Nebraska for college. McDole was a three-year letterman at Nebraska at right tackle, where he played with future NFL stars CB Pat Fischer and C Mick Tinglehoff. He started every game his junior season and was named a co-captain his senior year along with Fischer.
Following a stellar college career, McDole played in the Senior Bowl, Blue-Gray Game and the Coaches' All-America Game after the 1960 season. He was selected in the fourth round of the 1961 AFL Draft by the Denver Broncos, and the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the St. Louis Cardinals, where he began his professional career in 1961. After a lone season the NFL, McDole moved onto the Houston Oilers of the AFL, where he would spend the 1962 season before joining the Bills. He would go on to play eight seasons as the starting left defensive end in Buffalo, and then another eight in Washington before retiring after the 1978 season. McDole was named to the Bills' Silver Anniversary team in 1985, as well as the Redskins' all-time team.
After a pair of undistinguished seasons with the Cardinals and Oilers, Bills head coach Lou Saban decided to give McDole a chance in Buffalo. He had struggled with migraines as a member of the Oilers, and was afraid his professional career was going to end before it really got started. Luckily for him, and the Bills, Saban was willing to take a chance on McDole, and for that, he was forever grateful:
"I used to have what was called migraine seizure," commented McDole. "It was the closest thing you could ever get to an epileptic attack. I had started getting those when I was with the Oilers. I would get really bad headaches. And I would react strangely to them. But Saban and the Bills were willing to take a chance on me when other teams wouldn't. I'll always be grateful to Lou for giving me that chance." ~Legends of the Buffalo Bills by Randy Schultz, p.44
Once McDole joined the Bills, he became an instant contributor and anchor of a defense that would help define the Bills' success of the mid-1960s. He would remain a fixture on one of the better defenses in team history, and didn't leave the starting lineup until he was traded to the Redskins. The Bills tied the Boston Patriots for the 1963 AFL Eastern Division title before falling to them in the playoffs. After the disappointing finish to the 1963 season, McDole and his defensive teammates helped the team win their first of consecutive AFL titles in 1964. As one of the team captains for perhaps the greatest team in Bills history, McDole was a leader of one of the best defensive lines Bills fans have ever had the pleasure to root for. Teaming with Jim Dunaway, Tom Sestak and Tom Day, McDole helped the Bills' defense prevent a rushing touchdown for a ridiculous 17 consecutive games from 1964-1965.
A big part of the AFL Championship teams those years, McDole was also a player that was a bit ahead of his team. Blessed with athleticism that wasn't seen too often in a man his size at the time, McDole was utilized as a type of hybrid player during the 1965 AFL Championship game against the San Diego Chargers. In a move that is commonplace in today's NFL, defensive coordinator Joe Collier decided to drop McDole into coverage while blitzing linebackers Mike Stratton and John Tracey. The unique move helped the Bills' defense pitch a shutout as they won their first AFL title 23-0. The Bills won the title again the following year, with McDole earning his first of two All-Pro selections. He played another five seasons in Buffalo before being traded to Washington, much to the chagrin of Bills fans everywhere.
Second-year head coach John Rauch thought McDole was washed up when he decided to trade him to the Redskins for third and fourth round picks. It wasn't a move that went over well in Buffalo, especially with Ralph Wilson. After meeting with Rauch a few weeks earlier, McDole was traded on May 11, 1971, and the move helped seal the fate of Rauch as head coach.
"He [Rauch] went on a television show and said something to do with [that] I didn't play up to my potential. I was kind of amused. I led the team in tackles that year. I didn't have that bad of a year. Apparently he just tried to make an excuse why I was traded. And eventually, I guess what happened, the people in Buffalo put so much pressure on the organization that Ralph Wilson - and of course, Ralph told me this - he said, 'I had to make a statement'. He came out publicly and said that I was not a bad player. It [the trade] was not on account of my play. Rauch said that if he [Wilson] did that, he would resign. Of course, Wilson probably jumped up and down over that. It got him out of the contract." ~Then Levy Said to Kelly by Jim Gehman, p.65
Despite his play as a cornerstone of the Buffalo defense throughout the '60s, McDole didn't expect to play much longer after his trade to Washington. He went on to play eight more seasons, joining legendary Redskins head coach George Allen's "Over the Hill Gang" that would make a run to the 1972 Super Bowl. In the end, McDole believed his trade to Washington not only gave him a chance to win, but gave him a chance to actually continue his career:
"It didn't make any difference to me at that time. I was gone, and it was the greatest thing that ever happened to me. I was able to play eight more years. If I stayed there it would have been the end of my career." ~Gehman, p. 65
McDole proved Rauch incredibly wrong, as he would go on to play eight successful seasons for the Redskins and was selected as a member of their All-Time team.
He would finish his career having played in 240 games over 18 seasons for four different franchises. McDole is also the NFL record holder for interceptions by a defensive lineman with 12, again proving he was a talent ahead of his time. He is also tied for third all-time with three career safeties.
It is tough to single out an individual moment in McDole's career as being more significant than any other. His play in Collier's zone blitzing scheme during the 1965 AFL Championship game really stands out as the epitome of the type of player McDole was; a unique talent that was a team player in the truest sense of the term.
Another fun tidbit that I thought made for a unique story was McDole's rooting interest during the 1992 Super Bowl that pitted the Bills against the Redskins. Despite his less than memorable divorce from the franchise, his story of that day proved that he will always be a Bill through and through:
"We took both jerseys with us to the party," stated McDole. "I wore the Redskins' and my wife wore Buffalo's. I also purchased team hats for both teams and sewed them together. I just kept turning it around and around on my head as the game went along. But I have to admit that deep down I was really pulling for Buffalo because they had never won a Super Bowl. To me, the Bills are still of the old AFL. I really miss the AFL-NFL rivalry. It's not the same today with the AFC-NFC. I was sorry to see them [the Bills] lose it again." ~Schultz p.42
McDole, who was nicknamed "The Dancing Bear" by former Redskins QB Sonny Jurgenson after showing off his dance skills at a Georgetown nightspot, proved to be a player whose unique talents allowed him to succeed for far longer than the average NFL player. He was a productive leader that was a cornerstone for some of the best Bills defenses in franchise history. Not only was he a terror on the field, he was a great individual off the field. He will be remembered as one of the best defenders in AFL history, while some believe McDole should be considered for the NFL Hall of Fame. Even if he never reaches that plateau, McDole's status as one of the greatest Bills defensive linemen of all-time should never be questioned.
"Ron McDole was probably the best defensive end to go to the other side of the field to make a tackle," said former teammate Harry Jacobs.
109 games played in Buffalo
240 career games played
6 Interceptions (No. 39 in franchise history)
12 career interceptions (most by a defensive lineman in NFL history)
2 safeties (most in franchise history)
7 fumble recoveries (No. 18 in franchise history)