When former LSU quarterback Alan Risher thinks of ex-teammate Orlando McDaniel, it’s usually three things.
“He was `my go-to’ receiver in 1981, the guy I had the most confidence in,” Risher said. “He caught everything I threw to him. And he was so fast I almost never outthrew him.”
Risher was stunned and saddened when he learned McDaniel, 59, died last Friday from coronavirus.
“That one hit really close to the vest,” Risher said. “He had to be healthy as a horse. He ran that (youth) track club (the North Texas Cheetahs in the Dallas-Fort Worth area). It’s just a sad day.”
McDaniel, named by LSU as its Athlete of the Year in 1981-82, was a football and track standout for the Tigers and at Lake Charles High where he was all-state in football and a track All-American as a hurdler.
After running the nation’s fastest high school time of 13.5 seconds in the 120-yard hurdles, he signed a football scholarship in 1978 with LSU.
By his junior season in 1980, he had worked his way into the starting lineup under first-year coach Jerry Stovall. Then in 1981 on a 3-7-1 team that averaged just 15.4 points – “We had a bad football team and I didn’t play all that great,” Risher said – McDaniel was one of the few shining offensive lights in an archaic, run-oriented attack that ranks among the worst in LSU history.
He was named second-team All-SEC after catching 41 passes (eighth in the league) for 717 yards and two touchdowns.
One of those TDs was a 76-yard bomb in a 38-14 Homecoming loss to Florida State in Tiger Stadium that Risher recalled quite vividly.
“We were going from our south end zone and I actually read a coverage correctly,” Risher said. “They gave us a certain look I’d seen on tape, I called a fly route (for McDaniel) and threw it about as far as I could.
“I later heard the radio broadcast of the play. (LSU play-by-play announcer) John Ferguson said, `Oh, no, Risher OVERTHROWS it. . .wait, MCDANIEL RUNS UNDER IT FOR A TOUCHDOWN!’ I threw it about 60 or 65 yards in the air.”
After that game, McDaniel said of the play, “I didn’t do anything special. I just ran the route and Alan got the ball to me. That’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it?”
The next Saturday against Ole Miss in Jackson, the Rebels had just taken a 27-24 lead with 29 seconds left. The Tigers took over at their 26 against a Rebels’ defense playing prevent coverage with a three-man rush and eight defending against the pass.
Risher threw a 19-yard completion to Mark Johnston. It gave Risher just enough time to fire a 30-yard strike to McDaniel who got out of bounds with one second left.
“I threw a corner route into a double zone,” Risher recalled. “It was probably one of the best throws I made in a long time. Orlando ran a great route. That was a big catch he made to get out-of-bounds.
LSU placekicker David Johnston entered and kicked a 46-yard field goal for a 27-27 tie as time expired.
“I was aware of how much time was left,” McDaniel said. “I was trying to get out of bounds someway. I crawled out. I was glad to look up and see that one second left in the game.”
McDaniel, who finished his LSU career with 64 receptions for 1,194 yards and three TDs, was a second-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos as a wide receiver in 1982. He had no catches in the three games he played late in the season before being cut.
His track career at LSU, which included a second-place finish in the NCAA 110-meter hurdles in 1980 and a third in 1981, was also cut short.
He was ruled ineligible by the NCAA as a senior because he attended NFL mini-camps at Miami and Tampa Bay. Though it was determined he hadn’t signed with an agent or accepted any money, the NCAA said McDaniel had broken a rule.
(The staff of Tiger Rag Magazine offers condolences to the McDaniel family and to the family of Pearson Jordan, a former LSU track star from 1976-79, who also died from coronavirus).