Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Pat Toomay—An Interesting Career

 By John Turney 
Pat Toomay was a 6th round (153rd overall) pick by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1970 NFL Draft out of Vanderbilt. He played ten seasons in the NFL for four teams and it was very nearly five but we'll get to that.
He was a tall (6-5) quick-type defensive end who once led the AFC (unofficially) in sacks. Again, we'll get to that.

Entering the NFL, at rookie orientation, he was about 230 pounds but grew to around 244 by training camp. Cowboys scouts had said, "(He) needs to put on weight, but that his frame is capable of carrying it. He has never worked at beefing up before". Clearly, Toomay took it to heart.

His first two years in Dallas he backed up/alternated with George Andrie and also was a part-time rusher on passing downs, sort of a duel role. He was quicker than Andrie at that point but Andrie knew the Flex defense much better, but Toomay also played some in the base to learn how to play the Flex.
In 1972 Toomay took over at the right end and played it well. In 1973 he led the Cowboys in sacks and made a career-high 54 tackles and was complimented by Landry on his pass rush. Toomay once told the Dallas media about pass-rushing, his forte, "getting a good start off the ball. Then use a quick move, a quick head slap, or a hard pull on the jersey. All you need is a fraction of an inch. Get him a half-step out of position and you've got him."
However, in 1974, things changed quickly. Dallas took Ed "Too Tall" Jones with the number one overall pick and in his rookie year he was the designated pass rusher and Toomay sat on likely passing downs. On the other side, the left defensive end, Larry Cole, for the second year in a row, sat on passing downs with Harvey Martin the nickel rusher.
Cole and Toomay looked at the role-playing philosophically with the same pay for fewer snaps—"More effective pay per play", they said. 

The World Football League offered Toomay $600,000 for five seasons and Toomay was going to take it since he was making $30,000 a year with the Cowboys.

This led to Toomay's departure in 1975 from Dallas who spent the Winter and Spring trying to trade him. That year Martin moved to the right end and Jones took over at left end and both became starters.

Also likely contributing to Toomay's departure from Dallas was his book about the Dallas Cowboys entitled "The CrunchAn irreverent trip through the NFL, from rookie year to a world championship to the player's strike"

The book was a non-fiction version tell-all like the non-fiction work of Pete Gent—"North Dallas Forty", showing the Cowboys organization, warts and all. 

However, the WFL and its financial issues led to the voiding of Toomay's contract in May of 1975. Finally, in July Toomay was traded to the Bills for a third-round pick in 1976.
Toomay was the usual starter at right end in Buffalo, when healthy, and led the Bills in sacks with 6½ and also led the team with four forced fumbles and was voted the Bills defensive MVP. He played opposite Walt Patulski who was the NFL's second overall pick in the 1972 draft. The Bills were 8-6, their third winning season in a row. 
In March, Toomay was chosen by the Buccaneers in the 1976 expansion draft and was their right end, playing next to number one overall pick Lee Roy Selmon who was a "flop" tackle and sometimes "flop" end, essentially a three-technique much of the time. But Selmon was lost to an injury just after midseason and Toomay and the rest of the line felt his loss. "Lee Roy was just so quick, he might not have always gotten to the quarterback but he made the quarterback step up, and it helped us all". 

Toomay also said he felt like he played more than one season in 1976 because the defense was on the field so long. "Usually a defense plays 40-45 plays. With us we play 70, 75 every week. I've never been so tired after a game as I've been this year". 

We asked John Madden about his acquisition of Toomay some years ago and he was not much help, telling us, "We needed a defensive lineman and was out there so we picked him up.".

Thanks, coach.

Actually, in July the Bucs traded Toomay to the Raiders for what turned out to be a ninth-round draft choice. 

Bucs coach John McKay said that "Pat didn't want to be here unless he was a regular and I wasn't prepared to make that kind of commitment". The Bucs moved to a 3-4 defense and the new right defensive end was Selmon and the left end was going to be a competition but the Bucs didn't think Toomay was a fit there.

McKay went on, "Pat was a defensive right end and that is all he was comfortable with. You have to be able to play both sides because of the injury factor. he was more comfortable with that big tackle next to him in that 40 defense"—alluding to the reality that the Bucs were going to the 30 defense. 

It was a very good trade for the Raiders and Toomay. Toomay wanted out of Tampa as much as they wanted him out. And Toomay was stellar in 1977 for the Silver and Back.

Toomay was a backup in the preseason but due to an injury to Matuszak (the 1973 number one overall pick) Toomay was set to step in at left end. However, Otis Sistrunk, the starting right end took Toomay aside and said, "I know you like the right end better so I will play the left and you can play the right". Toomay "made some plays in preseason", and when the Tooz came back ready to play the Raider coaches wanted to find a spot for Toomay to play.

What they did was begin to use a 4-man line in passing situations, which they had not done in 1976, the first year they committed to a 3-4 full time. They had blitzed linebackers to get pressure that year. But in 1976 right end Sistrink moved to left defensive end, left end Matuszak would sink to left defensive tackle, and Toomay and a defensive back would come into the game. 

The new 40 nickel scheme worked very well, with Toomay getting tons of pressure and sacks all season, getting featured a couple times on Monday Night Football's Halftime Highlights, and Howard Cosell making comments about Toomay.

Toomay ended up the season with 14½ sacks, which was the most of any defender in the AFC. It was not known at the time, but people did see that he was having a lot of success. The Raiders fell short by one game of the Super Bowl but Toomay had his best season since 1973. He also had played with the NFL's number one or number two overall pick for the fourth time in four seasons. We doubt that has happened since.

The next year, "For whatever reason", Toomay told us, "we got away from the 4-man scheme in passing downs. I just was not on the field much and didn't have the opportunities I did in 1977". Toomay thought one of the reasons was the Raiders were trying to bring along some younger guys like Dave Browning and that there were some new defensive coaches that "threw out the four-man line" in nickel situations in favor of a 33 nickel with Matuzak going out, Toomay going in and the right end, rookie Browing, moving to left end and using Ted Hendricks and others to generate pressure from the second level. 

This 33 nickel scheme, though was not always deployed, sometimes the base linemen, Matuszak, Browning, and Sistrunk (that year playing nose tackle) would stay in, leaving Toomay "helmet sitting".
Then, in 1979, Toomay was told by his agent that the Rams were interested in signing him to replace Fred Dryer. 

Dryer always felt that coach Ray Malavasi was trying to replace him because he was too small. For years Dryer was a fine blind-side rusher but since 1976 his sack numbers fell. Part of it, according to Dryer, were the rules liberalizing the rules for offensive linemen. In 1978 those rules became even more wide open. 

However, anyone looking at films could see Dryer had become a very good run defender, especially in the Rams "under" front. "Isiah and I dined out on the under for years", Dryer said. 

Nonetheless, Dryer was 33, was 222 or so pounds, was highly paid for that era, somewhere around $175,000 when players like Jack Youngblood were under $100,000. So, it seemed Dryer was expendable and Toomay was available. 

Toomay was 31 and 245-250 pounds or so in 1979 and making $125,000. In 1977 and 1978 Dryer had 12 sacks total and Toomay had 18½. Fans would not have known those numbers but the coaches would have. 

Media reports said the Raiders asking price for Toomay was a sixth-round pick. 

Toomay was anxious to go to a contender that he could help, he felt it "wasn't time" for his career to end. Toomay thought there were some fishy things going one. For one his agent called and asked if he was writing a book about "the Raiders and drugs". Toomay said, "No, I am writing a fiction book, though (which turned out to be entitled, "Any Given Sunday"". So Toomay suspected that he may have "written" himself out of the league because of his controversial first book and the rumors of a "drug" book. 

At one point he was "traded" to Cleveland, but the trade was nixed because Toomay's salary was "too high". Eventually, Toomay asked Al Davis to waive him, and Davis complied.

Toomay thought it odd that teams like the Rams and Browns who had shown interest, even perhaps offering picks never picked him up on waivers, getting him for free and then letting him earn a spot on their rosters.

Toomay even placed a call to Denver and a team rep said "come on up" and when he got there "nothing happened", so he went back home to Dallas. Toomay said, "I was 31, never had been injured, my salary was in line with other players". he just didn't get it.

In the preseason Raider starting left end John Matuszak hurt his shoulder and tried to play started the first game of the season but was not able to start. So, for a few games rookie Willie Jones played the left end and it was clear that was not going to work.

So, less than a month after he was waived the Raiders re-signed Toomay and the starting right end was moved to the left end and Pat Toomay was the starter on the right side. Said Toomay, "I went from playing outside and rushing in pass situations to nose up on a tackle, which was never my game".  And while he gutted it out, it was clear he was not suited to play a two-gap end on run downs.

The Raiders did play more and more 4-man lines and also rotated their linemen a lot with Willie Jones spelling Toomay (and left end Browning) and even playing on passing downs, in Toomay's old spot of nickel rusher, which was a bit ironic, and he led the team in sacks with ten.

 He ended that miserable season with 11 tackles and two sacks. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, Dryer had a fine season with 10 sacks, including five in one game versus the New York Giants. Go figure. 

Al Davis told writer Murray Olderman, "I think he can still play. In a four-man line he's comparable to many defensive ends in the league". 

Toomay contemplated coming back in 1980. But Toomay's career was over. In August he stated, "I'm done, finished, through". He'd had knee surgery on a chronically nagging knee injury but he failed the Raider physical, telling the media, "If you can't go, you can't go".
Toomay played 142 games in ten seasons and totaled 62 sacks, so he averaged 14 games and 6-6½ sacks or so. He was a smart, interesting character, a rebel of sorts. But even so, he was a gung-ho type player who loved the game. He said he'd rather play football that ear. And even when he was a designated rusher, he was fine with it, but given his choice would have rather played full-time.

Sure, he wanted to play in a scheme he'd be most successful in (a 40 at right end) but he did what he was asked in 1978 and 1979 when he had to play nose up a lot as well as with Dallas in the Flex defense. 

So, as mentioned, he had an interesting career. No All-Pros, no Pro Bowls, but had perhaps two seasons, 1973 and 1977 that were worthy. Back then, designated rushers were not honored—Fred Dean in 1981 was the first. Much much later guys like Trace Armstrong and Robert Mathis made Pro Bowls as non-starters with big sack seasons, but in 1977 it was verboten.

Now, averaging a sack a game gets you $10 million a season. Times have changed. Thus, Toomay's note in history is he's the first designated rusher (non-starter) to lead a conference in sacks, albeit unofficial and in some ways that is fitting. It makes sense. 

An unofficial record for an iconoclastic guy. 


  1. Great piece John, though like McKay said, had he played both end positions, might have played a little longer. After Bernie Parrish's book in 1971, the NFL owners had to have been more aware and wary of players writing books and what revelations were made. Did it hurt Toomay ? Maybe ...

  2. John, appreciate the piece -- thank you!