Paul McDonald will tell you he has been living in Southern California for most of his life centered around the Pacific Ocean.
He was born in Los Angeles, County and attended high school at Bishop Amal Memorial in a small town called La Puente, also located in Los Angeles, County. After a stellar high school career, he accepted a scholarship to USC located in Los Angeles.
The song “It never rains in Southern California” by Albert Hammond isn’t just a cliché - it’s a true statement. The weather in the Northern portion of California gets nippy at night even in the summer. But down in SoCal (Southern California)? The December weather can be 60’s to the 40’s. The same can be said for the traditionally frigid month of February. Those months are the tell-tale signs of a region’s winter environment. July may hit mid-80 degrees while nine of out 10 days are dry all year round.
The surf is always up, swimming, hiking, outdoor activities and weddings are planned every day. Major sports teams, live theatre, oceanfront restaurants – the list is endless.
Then, McDonald was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the fourth-round of the 1980 NFL draft. The Midwest. Windy Lake Eerie. Scarfs. Insulated jackets. Long johns. Hand warmers. Snow. More snow. Snow shovels.
In Southern California, you refer to the “Reef” or “Billabong” name-brand flip flops as your “dress pair.” With the sometimes brutal winters in NoOh (Northern Ohio) you better have several pairs of good boots.
So, what did this sunny-side up kid do? He adapted. Made adjustments. Learned the area. Ate at their restaurants. Bought a house. Started a family. Played quarterback for the Browns. And bought a snow shovel.
As the starting QB at USC, McDonald only lost one game as the starter with his final record as 22-1-1. He played sparingly his freshman and sophomore years, but was the full-time guy his junior and senior campaigns.
During those two years, he threw for 3,913 yards with 279 completions on 467 attempts, 37 touchdowns with only 13 interceptions, and finished with a 150.7 QB rating. He was a Second Team All-American, All Pac-10 as a a senior, an Academic All-American, and finished sixth in the Heisman voting. Plus, USC was named dual National Champions with Alabama in 1978.
In 1979, Brian Sipe was the Browns’ starting quarterback with Mark Miller and Johnny Evans as his backups. Sipe was the league’s second leading passer with 3,793 yards just behind Dan Fouts of the San Diego Chargers and their “Air Coryell” offensive machine.
Cleveland head coach Sam Rutigliano wanted a reliable backup who was successful on the field. So, the club drafted McDonald and kept Evans who also handled punting duties. McDonald’s rookie contract was a three-year deal worth $150,000 with a $40,000 signing bonus plus a $10,000 roster bonus.
McDonald played for the Browns for six seasons from 1980-1985. While with Cleveland, he played in 84 games with 21 starts. Eventually, he replaced Sipe. While with the Browns, McDonald threw for 5,269 yards, tossed 24 touchdowns with 37 interceptions, had 411 completions on 767 attempts, finished with a 65.7 QB rating, and was sacked 78 times, Sadly, that last stat is not a typo.
Today, McDonald is a success in the business world. He is the SVP of Sales at Fidelity National Title Insurance Company located in Orange County, California. He lives in Newport Beach, California which is just a stone’s throw from the Pacific Ocean.
McDonald married his college sweetheart, Allyson, a marriage that has now encompassed 38 years. The couple have four children: Michael, Stephanie, Andrew and Matt. All of the children were athletic. Stephanie performed dance and played field hockey while all three sons played D-I college football at the QB position. Youngest son Matt is currently the starting quarterback for Bowling Green State University.
McDonald is a avid golfer and is in the final stages of a book he is co-authoring with Jack Baric which should hit the shelves in mid-2021. It is not his life story, but his philosophy of life based on sports. Baric is a filmmaker who owns Baric Media Entertainment.
The United States Football League (USFL) came calling in 1984 and just happened to be at a time when both himself and Sipe’s contracts were up. This played into the hands of both players. Despite being offered a three-year deal worth $400,000 to play in his hometown area of Los Angeles with the LA Express, McDonald decided to stay in Cleveland whereas Sipe took a deal with the New Jersey Generals of the USFL. The Express signed QB Steve Young instead. McDonald was also approached by the Houston Gamblers who eventually signed Jim Kelly.
And even though McDonald signed for less money to return to the Browns, there was too much uncertainty with new leagues. Although with best intentions, sometimes players get paid with checks that bounce. Plus, McDonald liked the direction Cleveland was headed. Add the fact that for the 1984 training camp, McDonald came into camp as the undisputed starter. Marty Schottenheimer was the DC and had a propensity of building great defenses. Once he took over the head coaching job halfway through the 1984 season, he installed a system of running the ball to set up the pass. This alone took the pressure off the QB position with fewer throws and fewer grass stains on the back of McDonald’s jersey.
After his Browns’ stint, McDonald spent time with the Seattle Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys.
DawgsByNature sat down to talk to the former Browns’ quarterback to find out if he has any residual affects from being sacked so many times, what it was like to play in an NFL playoff game, and his experience of being a real life “The Replacements” football movie.
DBN: As the starting QB at USC, you played with Charles White and Marcus Allen, had a terrific offensive line, won a National Championship and lost only one game as the starter. With a great experience in college in your own hometown, were you mournful that you couldn’t play one more year and had to move on to the NFL and start earning a living?
McDonald: My freshman year was the first year of the Redshirt Rule. I played one quarter of one game in my freshman year which disqualified me from Redshirting a year and getting a fifth-year in. But I was ready to move on. I had accomplished just about all I could at that level.
DBN: In 2005, you were awarded the NCAA Silver Anniversary Award which is an award that recognizes just six former athletes on the 25th anniversary of the end of their intercollegiate eligibility. How did you find out you had won, and can we all ride in the Corvette you received?
McDonald: Unfortunately, no car. It was a special honor to recognize me not just athletically, but academically as well. USC applied on my behalf which was exceptional. Then I participated in the honors celebration with Rece Davis as the MC. It was a cool event. I was able to invite not only my family, but my mom and my brother and also the CEO of my company at the time. It was fun.
DBN: You were taken in the fourth-round of the 1980 NFL draft by the Browns. Did you know much about who the quarterbacks were with Cleveland at the time or the offensive system they ran when you were first drafted?
McDonald: I didn’t know much about anything east of the Mississippi at the time much less Cleveland. I had been on one trip for an academic award in New York once. It surprised me to hear the Browns had drafted me because nobody from the organization had talked to me prior to the draft. A lot of other teams had. I knew about some of the history with Frank Ryan and Otto Graham. But, not the current roster at all other than Brian Sipe, another quarterback. I found out very quickly that Cleveland was a town that loved football.
DBN: What part of town did you live, and where were some of the places you hung out after practices or games?
McDonald: I first lived in Strongsville. After I got married, we moved to Rocky River in Cleveland. Loved to eat at Sammy’s Restaurant.
DBN: What was your first training camp like?
McDonald: My first season from being an All-American to the NFL was a huge adjustment. All these veterans was a different world. I learned to listen, keep my nose clean and work hard to learn the offense. I followed Sipe around and did what he advised. He said I needed to take the offensive linemen out to dinner and buy them a lot of beer.
DBN: Did Brian Sipe mentor you, or treat you like the kid who was there to take his job?
McDonald: He didn’t treat me like a kid ever. He was very helpful to me and very open. A great guy. He knew I was a fourth-round pick and wasn’t going to push for his job at first, so we got along very well.
DBN: You became the starting quarterback for the Browns when Sipe was injured in the strike-shortened season of 1982. How did you find out you were starting your first game, and who was the first person you told?
McDonald: My friend Paul Hackett and I went back to my USC days where he was the quarterback coach. That year, he had the same title with the Browns. On the player’s day off, Tuesday, he knocked on my door. He said, “You didn’t hear this from me, but you are starting against Pittsburgh” which was our next opponent. Back then, Sipe called all the plays. I asked Paul who was going to call the plays? Paul told me I was, but they would help out. I called my wife first. I was pumped, but it didn’t really hit me what that all really meant. That game was snowing - freezing. We won the toss and got the ball. I called the play in the huddle and as I was walking up to the line, I saw #58 staring at me with no teeth. That is when it hit me and I said, wow....okay. Here I am. There’s no turning back now. Dave Logan roomed with me on the road. He was a veteran and a good player so I was able to get valuable playing information from him.
(Editor’s note: #58 was Hall of Famer MLB Jack Lambert who at this time period was in his ninth season and had made seven straight Pro Bowls)
DBN: That first game you started the Browns beat Pittsburgh 10-9 and then beat the next week defeated the Houston Oilers 20-14. As the starter, you were 2-0 but had been sacked eight times so far. Did you trade game tickets for the chiropractor bill?
McDonald: Let’s just say the quarterback didn’t have the skin tight jerseys back then. I was a pocket passer. The offensive line at USC was very good and I hardly got touched. The NFL is a different beast. You find out quickly you need to get moving in the pocket.
DBN: The Browns went to the playoffs in 1982 with you as the starting QB. How are the playoffs different than regular season games?
McDonald: Practice was more intense for one thing. That was the strike year and so divisions didn’t matter. We got in as the last AFC team. Our opponent was the (Los Angeles) Raiders in the Coliseum. We actually left Cleveland and practiced in Southern California where it was warm. Playoffs are one-and-done, so the mind set is more intense. The Raiders had a really good team that year especially the defense with guys like Howie Long, Ted Hendricks and Lester Hayes. We were prepared within our reach. But one fumble changed the game and had a 14-point swing that killed us.
DBN: The following training camp, was the competition for the starting QB position up for grabs?
McDonald: Yes it was. We had a new OC in Larrye Weaver who came from San Diego and that “Air Coryell” offense. It was a new system, a new offense and Coach Rutigliano let it be known whoever had the best camp would get the job. I came into camp in great shape, but probably overthought the process. Sipe had a great camp and won the job. I prepared each week to be the starter in case my number was called.
DBN: In 1984, Sipe wasn’t re-signed and you became the Browns’ full-time starting quarterback. Where were you when you heard the news the club wasn’t going to keep Sipe, and how was training camp different knowing you would be the starter going into the season?
McDonald: I actually read about Brian in the paper. It was a weird situation for the Browns because both mine and Sipe’s contracts were up - both starter and backup. The USFL approached both of us at some point. For me, Los Angeles and then the Houston Gamblers. I had worked really hard in the off-season that year and there were huge expectations that the Browns were going to do well. The Cleveland fans really live and die every game. I wanted to be a part of what we were building.
DBN: What NFL defensive player gave you the most grief?
McDonald: I have a list. Andre Tippett of the Patriots got under my face mask one game. I found out later he was a black belt. L. C. Greenwood, Howie Long, Mean Joe Greene. Those guys had some force when they hit you.
DBN: While with the Browns, you had some very good games: 320 passing yards against the Patriots, 13 straight pass completions against the Oilers, a 75% career passing completion ratio whenever you played New Orleans. Yet, you were sacked 53 times in 1984 alone. What do you say to the offensive line in a game when the defense just keeps pounding you?
McDonald: “C’mon guys. You want to get back there?” We did not run the ball very well until Schottenheimer became head coach. That meant we had to throw quite a bit and defensive guys who just tee off and not think about the run. That put a lot of pressure on the passer. When the running game became more in focus is when the sacks decreased.
DBN: In 1985, you were behind QB Gary Danielson. Then the Browns took Bernie Kosar in the first-round of the supplemental draft. What was your reaction when you heard the team had drafted Kosar?
McDonald: I knew Bernie was a great player. I also knew taking him in the first-round meant he would start sooner than later. That didn’t bother me. What did bother me was when they traded for Danielson. They needed a veteran mentor for Bernie and I was told even though I had played and started, they thought I was too young to become his mentor.
DBN: One of the best football movies was “The Replacements” which is the story of the strike-shortened 1987 season. You have your own replacements story. In training camp with the Dallas Cowboys, you competed and won the third QB spot over Kevin Sweeney. When the NFL went on strike, Sweeney was then signed as the Cowboys’ replacement QB. When the season resumed, Dallas kept Sweeney and cut you. How did you explain that to your wife and parents?
McDonald: That’s the business. There are unilateral motives in the NFL all the time. I got caught up in the numbers and was time to move on. When I got cut, at that moment I realized that I had lost my luster for the game. I then got a pretty good job making good money. I got a call from John Robinson who was the head coach of the Rams and my head coach at USC. He wanted me to work out and if everything was fine they wanted to sign me as their Number 3 quarterback. I asked him, “Coach, let me ask you two questions: Is me playing slim to none? And are you going to draft a third quarterback next year?” He told me yes to both questions. I told him I needed to think about it and then turned him down. The money they were offering was not much more than what I was making. I was in a good place with a good company. The fact that I would just up and leave and then when I was done playing football again, I didn’t know if they would hire me back. Timing is critical. The money offered by the Rams wasn’t life changing. The direction I was going down the road was where I thought I needed to be.
DBN: Your tight end was Hall of Famer Ozzie Newsome. He went on to build the new Browns into the Super Bowl champions Ravens as their celebrated GM. Did you ever call him up and tell him you were the one who made him what he became?
McDonald: He mentioned me in his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. We called him “The Wiz” because of Oz. He was a great blocker, had great hands and a huge heart.
(Editor’s note: The Wiz mentions Paul McDonald at the 15:05 mark)
DBN: What was Art Modell like as an owner, and were you shocked when you heard he was moving the Browns to Baltimore?
McDonald: Absolutely shocked. The whole City of Cleveland was shocked. I had worked with Modell on the first contract as a rookie so I got to know him a little bit. He was always nice to me - respectful, encouraging me. Money was the reason he made the move and now he will go on as one of the bad guys now. The City felt betrayal.
DBN: Your son Mike also played for USC. What was different from being the star quarterback on campus to being the dad on campus?
McDonald: Awesome just to see him in the uniform knowing he was able to experience being in the tunnel waiting to hit the field. Since I was doing USC radio games, we would have to be at the stadium early. One particular game during the early outs, I went down on the field and just started tossing the football to Michael. Then that became our tradition even on road games for just about 10 minutes or so. We did that everywhere and was special moments for me. On Senior Day against UCLA, I told him how pleased I was of him and how I loved our time together just tossing the ball around. He said he loved it, too. He went back inside the locker room while I went off crying a bit.
DBN: Today, you are a successful real estate executive. How did you get into this line of work?
McDonald: By accident. I was 30-years old and had never done anything but played football. I have been in title insurance for 19 years now and am in a very good place. I have some flexibility with my time and the money is good. I lived my 20’s into my 30’s.
DBN: What did you do for a living right after you hung up your cleats?
McDonald: I went to work with Wells-Fargo Bank in sales. We networked with other companies in Southern California and it was steady employment with an opportunity to advance.
DBN: You did USC radio broadcasts for 15 years as the color commentator. How did you get into this side of the sport?
McDonald: I got a call from a friend who was the producer for Prime Ticket in Southern California which did a TV show for USC. I interviewed for Mike Garrett who was the Athletic Director at USC and got the job. The following year, I interviewed for the “Pac-10 Pre-game Show” and got that gig. Then an opening for the radio broadcasts came up, interviewed for that and got that too in 1998. I loved doing the radio broadcasts. I quit because I had missed so much of my children’s lives and wanted to be there for my son Andrew’s college years who was his school’s quarterback.
DBN: Share some memories about the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland.
McDonald: Up to your ankles in mud which I liked because it slowed the defensive linemen down. There was a particular smell in the tunnel. Then out of the dugout and you hear the roar of the crowd. The wind would come in through that wide open end. I remember Don Cockroft trying to kick against that wind in the Ice Bowl.
DBN: Besides money, how is the NFL different than when you played?
McDonald: Faster, not much loyalty, a business that is not as much fun. We had moments of winning when 10,000 people would show up at the plane terminal to welcome us home. In college, everyone had the commonality of school, but with the pros everyone was from somewhere else and for some players, it just didn’t matter if their city was a winner or not.
DBN: As a former Brown, has it been difficult to watch Cleveland games on TV over the past decade, and what seems to be different about the offense this year?
McDonald: I feel for the city and the inconsistent play. Just settle on a quarterback and a coach and build a winning program. This is Baker Mayfield’s third season and he has had the same amount of coaches and systems thrown at him. He has made adjustments from his rookie year and will just improve. The approach should be you just can’t pull a rabbit out of the hat and become a winner. Run the football consistently and make the quarterback’s job easier.
DBN: What are your fondest memories of being a Cleveland Brown?
McDonald: The people. The friendships I developed. There is a special bond with the fans who dearly love their team. Midwestern values. The feeling, the vibe that the City of Cleveland wants to do well and always has optimism. They believe in their sports teams at all times.