HERNDON, Va. – Ron McDole doesn’t dress up for Halloween anymore. He’s 80, after all. But his daughter says he still enjoys the holiday.
“Of course he does,” Tammy McDole says. “He eats all the candy.”
Some of her father’s fondest memories from the Buffalo Bills glory days of the 1960s are of Halloween costume parties. He devotes a chapter to these monster mashes in his 2018 book, “The Dancing Bear: My 18 Years in the Trenches of the AFL and NFL.”
McDole got the Dancing Bear nickname after the Bills traded him to Washington following the 1970 season, when he was 31. Bills coach Johnny Rauch thought McDole was over the hill; Washington coach George Allen thought otherwise.
McDole would go on to star for Allen’s so-called Over-the-Hill Gang, a nickname borrowed from a 1969 made-for-TV western. It was bestowed on the team because Allen valued veterans and collected them like football cards. Washington’s over-the-hillers reached Super Bowl VII following the 1972 season, where they lost to the unbeaten Miami Dolphins, 14-7.
I met McDole 10 days ago at Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern, a Bills bar not far from where he settled in Northern Virginia after his playing days. McDole showed off a pair of oversized rings, one on each hand – his 1964 AFL championship ring with Buffalo and his 1972 NFC championship ring with Washington. And he gifted bar owner Jimmy Cirrito with a Bills No. 72 jersey with the name McDole lettered on the back.
He was at Jimmy’s to sign that jersey plus photos and copies of his book, which includes a chapter titled, “The Famous Buffalo Bills Halloween Parties.” Running back Joe Auer hosted the first one. (He played for the Bills in 1964 and 1965 but is most famous for inaugurating the Dolphins’ existence in 1966 by returning the opening kick of their first game for a touchdown.) Paul Maguire – punter, linebacker, funnyman – hosted after that, the book says.
And then McDole and his wife, Paula, took over as hosts, at first in a “spooky-looking” house – his words – that he owned with teammates Ernie Warlick and Al Bemiller on Grand Island and later at a huge home he owned in Eden with a widow’s watch that he’d decorate with a billowing bedsheet of a ghost plus pulsing strobe lights.
"I was the leader of the costumes, and I took my role very seriously,” McDole writes. “One year I was a ballerina” – complete with tutu and fairy wings. This Buffalo Bill weighed three bills, and in costume resembled nothing more than the elephant ballerinas from “Fantasia.”
Naturally, he always thought his costumes were best. One year he was the Great Pumpkin, but the costume was so Great – as in gargantuan – that he couldn’t get down the stairs in it. So partygoers had to go upstairs to see him.
Maguire came as a turtle one year with a shell made of roofing shingles. “As the night went on, Maguire got shorter and shorter from the weight of his costume,” McDole writes. “He finally took it off. But we have a hilarious photo of him sitting with his little green flippers sticking out, resting, his head poking out of his shell.”
One year offensive lineman Joe O’Donnell came as Big Bird and “looked as if he had just walked off the set of 'Sesame Street.' ” Another time McDole came as a big chicken. He dressed in yellow tights and his wife remembers how cars backed up on Route 75 to watch as she glued real chicken feathers on him in their backyard.
“At the party,” he says, “every time I walked up to somebody, they put their hand over their drink so my feathers wouldn’t fall in.”
McDole hated leaving Buffalo, not least because it meant the end of hosting Halloween, but the trade turned out well for him.
“I made more money,” he says. “And we had a bunch of old guys who weren’t over the hill. George hated rookies because he hated rookie mistakes. George didn’t like to teach how to block or tackle. He wanted guys who already knew how.”
McDole intercepted 12 passes in his career, a record for defensive linemen. He played in 240 regular-season games – third all-time for defensive ends, behind Jim Marshall and Bruce Smith. And he scored two TDs on interception returns and forced three safeties for 18 points in his 16 seasons.
He was joined on the Bills’ front four by Tom Day at the other end and Tom Sestak and Jim Dunaway at the tackles – celebrated stalwarts of Buffalo’s mid-'60s title teams.
“I’m the only one left,” McDole says sadly. “Everyone else has passed away. Dunaway and I were roommates and good friends. They were all great ballplayers. We had a heck of a line. We were dominating the league.”
So much so that the Bills did not allow a rushing touchdown for more than a calendar year, from Oct. 24, 1964, through Oct. 31, 1965. That covered 16 games – and two Halloweens.
Turns out team chemistry comes in all sizes, including 300-pound men in tutus and feathers.