“23 pick comes up, not me. 24 comes up, not me. 25 I get my first phone call, and my first phone call was the Miami Dolphins, and sure enough, it was Don Shula. He asked would you like to be a Miami Dolphin? Hell yeah. Who wouldn’t want to be a Miami Dolphin. You’ve got the weather. You’ve got Coach Shula. You’ve got Dan Marino. You’ve got everything you want when it comes to that. It was unbelievable.”

This was the reaction of former Miami Dolphins receiver O.J. McDuffie when the Miami Dolphins drafted him in the 1993 NFL Draft. I had the chance to speak with O.J. as I went through his career, going from high school to college and then to the NFL.

Excelling In Multiple Areas In High School

O.J. grew up in Ohio and told me about his time at Hawken School, where his jersey number is now retired. He was also named the number three player of the 20th century in Northeast Ohio.

He discussed his time growing up in Ohio and how his high school career developed, eventually taking off and earning him a place at Penn State.

O.J. excelled in multiple sports and even told me that he won a State Championship in the long jump. He said: “Growing up in Ohio, it was always about Ohio State Buckeyes Football. Football is the biggest thing in that state. Everybody cares about football, and then they care about other sports a fraction compared to football.”

“Football is always something I loved. The the only thing about it was, growing up in Ohio, you couldn’t play tackle football if you were ten years old. You can start playing flag football when you’re eight years old. So, for me, I started playing other sports. I played a little soccer, baseball, basketball; we started playing those at the beginning. As you know, in the UK, it gets cold at some point, so we had to go indoors.”

“These kids down here (Florida) play everything all year round, which is ridiculous to me. I think you should play as many sports as possible.”

“What I used to do when I was playing baseball, which was my main sport in the spring, we’d play a doubleheader on Saturday, and in between games, I’d go to the track and get my jumps in for high jump and long jump and then go back for my second game.”

“Football was the family sport. My uncles played football. My mom loved my baseball career, but for me, it was always about football.”

“I played running back all my life, until I  got to Penn State. My senior year is the year I had that return. It was a Hail Mary attempt at the end of the game. We were up by three touchdowns. They wanted to try a Hail Mary attempt; we’re supposed to knock it down. I decided to bring it out and try to run the clock down, and then the next thing you know, I got into the end zone”.

O.J’s Time At Penn State

When O.J. started his time at Penn State, it did not get off to the best start.  He had just 16 receptions across his entire first three years in college, with less than 300 total yards during that time and just one touchdown.

He turned things around during his final two years at Penn State, with 790 yards and seven touchdowns in year four and 977 yards and seven touchdowns in year five. This eventually led to him being taken 25th overall by the Miami Dolphins in the 1993 NFL Draft. O.J. talked about what changed for him. He said: “It’s real simple. The game is changed a lot. You see the game now, and you see these quarterbacks and wide receivers with all kinds of inflated stats; they throw the ball so much. Back when I was playing, back in the late ’80s, ’90s, all we did was run.”

”The whole game plan was to run the football. That was hella boring but what it did was make me a more well-rounded receiver at that point because my blocking became more important.”

“That junior year, Kerry Collins became our quarterback. The whole game plan changed with Joe Paterno. We started throwing the ball a lot more. We started opening up. We’d have three, four wide receiver sets.”

That’s what happened with my numbers; I had the playing time but didn’t have the opportunity because the gameplay was so different.”

O.J’s Draft Day Experience

The NFL Draft is a much more televised event nowadays than it was back in 1993 when Miami drafted O.J… He discussed his draft day experience. He said: “I actually went back to Penn State. They had their annual spring game.  Now you see the draft on a Thursday night; it’s a spectacle. It’s unbelievable what they do on draft night.

“For me, our draft started on Sunday afternoon at 12. It’s on tv but wasn’t anything like it is now. I knew I wasn’t going in the first 15 picks, just from all what the scouts said and what my agent said. I was at Penn State the night before partying. I drove back to my hometown in Cleveland, and I got back that morning, and I was exhausted, so I laid down and went asleep.”

“I took a nap, and I said to my mum to wake me up when it gets to the 15,20 picks. She thought I was nuts. I wake up at the 19th pick. I thought I was going 22nd to San Diego. That’s what I was told the whole time. I’m awake and waiting for the phone call. 22 comes up, and San Diego takes a guy I went up against at Stanford.”

“23 pick comes up, not me. 24 comes up, not me. 25 I get my first phone call, and my first phone call was the Miami Dolphins, and sure enough, it was Don Shula. He asked would you like to be a Miami Dolphin? Hell yeah. Who wouldn’t want to be a Miami Dolphin. You’ve got the weather. You’ve got Coach Shula. You’ve got Dan Marino. You’ve got everything you want when it comes to that. It was unbelievable.”

“I never had any inkling the Dolphins were interested in me. They were at my pro day, but so were all the other teams. In South Beach, you couldn’t ask for a better situation.”

“What’s really strange is, I had a few interviews at Indianapolis at the Combine. The Chargers were definitely one of them. The Dolphins weren’t. I talked to the Browns and one other team I can’t remember right now.”

“What I wanted to really do, was go close to home, which was Cleveland or even Cincinnati, which wasn’t the best organization at that point, or I wanted to go close to school, which would be the Eagles or Pittsburgh Steelers, or I wanted to go warm.”

“I think a lot of times, these guys play such a good chess game with players and everybody else; they don’t want anyone else knowing who they’re really thinking about.”

“I tell you, a little titbit that I heard. If I didn’t get picked by the Dolphins at 25, I was going Buffalo at 26.”

Playing For The Miami Dolphins

Like at Penn State, O.J. initially struggled to get going for the Dolphins before eventually becoming Dan Marino’s favorite receiver. He had just 197 yards and zero touchdowns in his rookie year before just 488 yards and three touchdowns in his sophomore year. O.J. talked about how his time slowly in college and slowly bedding in helped him going into the NFL. He said: “They really wanted to me come in and be a return guy initially because the Marks brothers were still there. I knew I wasn’t going to get an opportunity too much to play wide receiver but they really wanted me to return kicks.”

“It absolutely helped me, going through what I went through with Penn State, knowing that I’ve just got to bide my time with the Miami Dolphins before I get my opportunity.”

“They didn’t pick me in the first round for no reason. I’ve just got to keep working hard, stay humble, listen to the veterans. If they tell you to pick up some food, go do it. Humble yourself. Be hungry.”

“If you get drafted late in the first round, that tells you you’re going to a hell of a team. I went to a hell of a team. Throughout my career, we competed and kicked a lot of butt.”

The Dan Marino Experience

O.J. played with the greatest player in the Dolphins’ history in Marino, and gave some tales about what it was like to play with him. He said: “We joke about this all the time; he refused to throw me the football man. You see those stats, they’re terrible the first few years.”

“We figured it out, Dan and I had such a great relationship on and off the football field, and we still maintain a good relationship. Just knowing what he wanted from a receiver, what he expected from his guys, the studying, the knowledge, the film study, that was fun.”

I sat a couple tables away from Danny, but every time he would see something on film, I’d point at him and say I see it too. We were always on the same page, and that is how the numbers started getting better and better. As a matter of fact, it even got to a point where Jimmy Johnson said that Danny was throwing the ball to me too much.”

“It was super honor for me to be part of something special. It was me and Danny counting on each other, relying on each other.”

“I had a lot of fun playing wide receiver in our system with Marino; it was a lot of fun.”

“He’s definitely top three quarterbacks ever, in my opinion, and I’m a little biased, but I saw, as you talked about in practice, some of the most incredible throws you will ever see. Some of the throws he made in practice were better than some of the throws he did in the game.”

“Some of the ones he’s done in practice, everything stopped, and they’re like, wow did you see this? His arm, his accuracy, everything about it was uncanny and it was so much fun to watch. Of course, as a young guy going into camp, you’re like hell I’ve got Dan Marino.”

“He’s just such a great guy overall; I was blessed to play with an incredible quarterback.”

A Season To Remember In 2023?

Finally, O.J. expressed his optimism about the upcoming Miami Dolphins season as the team looked to improve on their Wild Card Round appearance last season. He said:  “This is the best team I’ve seen us have in a long time; it really is. What I love the most is that coming into our second year with who I love, with Mike McDaniel as our main man and play caller, and then we’ve got our quarterbacks, all our line, all our running backs, most of our skill guys outside in the system for a second year. That’s going to be huge; the growth we are going to have under this offense is going to be incredible. It always happens that way.”

“This dude (McDaniel) is so smart; he’s going to get it right too. Its his first time being a head coach. That’s what makes me so excited, this second year when you’ve got someone who’s so smart. Tua’s super smart, Mike White is super smart. These guys are intelligent people, so imagine going into year two when you’ve got the whole offensive line back, all the running backs back, all the top receivers back. It’s going to be something special.”

“Then you look at the other side of the ball; you bring in Vic Fangio, you talked about Jalen Ramsey, you’ve got X, you’re gonna get Brandon Jones back, you’ve got Snowman back there with Jevon Holland. You’ve got a defensive line with Jalen Phillips, Chubb, you just keep going on and on. The success of our team will depend on our health , which is the hardest part to control. You can’t control it. If this team is healthy, you’ve got to imagine this team being one of the best teams, not only in the AFC but in the NFL. I’m excited.”