Tuesday, June 1, 2021

You Get Bruised When You Mess With The Tooz

 By John Turney 
How good was John Matuszak? Hard question. He was a guy who played nine seasons, was a starter for eight of them but never achieved any post-season honors. However, he was the owner of two Super Bowl rings, so there is that.

He played most of his career in a 3-4 defense with the Raiders, sometimes sinking to defensive tackle in passing situations. When you watched him on film he was not athletic, really, he bent at the waist, not at the knees. He looked more lumbering than nimble, but of course, he was 6-8, 280 pounds.

Coming out of the University of Tampa he was timed at 4.8 in the forty and that, combined with his size vaulted him to the top of the 1973 NFL draft where he was the number one overall pick by the Houston Oilers. 
Matuszak at Tampa
He stepped in right away at the right defensive tackle spot for the Oilers with some well-down names—Pro Bowler Elvin Bethea at right end, the left defensive tackle was former first-round pick Al Cowlings and at left defensive end was Tody Smith (Bubba's younger brother) himself a number one pick of Dallas who came to the Oilers in a trade. So, big things were expected from those four.
Matuszak was All-Rookie in 1973 and totaled 68 tackles, 7.5 were stuffs plus four sacks. But his Oiler career ended after his rookie season. 

But the World Football League reared its head and lured Matuszak to sign a future contract which led to a holdout and other complications. He felt mistreated (underpaid) by the Oilers after the NFL strike and that caused him to join the Houston Texans of the WFL sooner than he planned to. The Oilers signed him to a five-year $190,000 contract in 1973 and the Tooz liked the reported $1 million better.

After hanging out on the sidelines during a Texan-New York Stars game he requested a uniform and played five or seven plays (reports vary) before a restraining order was served to him by a sheriff during a game, barring him from playing for both Houston teams at the same time.
All those complications led to a midseason trade to the Chiefs with a third-round pick for Curly Culp and a first-round pick. That Oiler third-rounder became receiver Henry Marshall, a decent player for the Chiefs for quite a few years but the Oilers took Robert Brazile with the Chiefs first-rounder. The Oilers netted two Hall of Famers for the Tooz and Marshall. It could be said that the Oilers go the best of that transaction. Just a little bit.
After arriving in Kansas City he finished the season playing mostly right defensive tackle for an inured Buck Buchanan. Culp played nose tackle for the Oilers and really was a huge factor in turning the Oilers from a 1-6 team to a final 7-7 record. 

In 1975 the Chiefs moved Matuszak to left defensive end and Buchanan, healthy again, was at his usual right tackle position. The right end was 6-6, 285-pounds (at least) Wilbur Young, and the left tackle was manned at first by Marvin Upshaw was who 260, but he went down with an injury after a month. After that Bob Maddox, Tom Keating, Larry Estes took turns at the position. Maddox and Keating filled in for Buchanan and Young as well, but the line was generally Tooz, Buchanan, and Young who averaged 6-7, around 280 pounds. The left tackle depended on the week. But that was a big threesome for the era.

Matuszak played pretty well, 55 tackles and 5½ sacks, he recovered a fumble for a touchdown on national television versus Dallas in a 34-31 upset. It was a solid but unspectacular year. 
In the Chiefs 1976 training camp, the world nearly lost Matuszak as he overdosed on alcohol and valium and nearly died. Paul Wiggin, his head coach, pounded on his chest after his heart had stopped beating and drove him to a hospital which undoubtedly saved his life.

After that incident, the Chiefs traded him to Washington for a 1977 eighth-round draft pick, where he was cut by George Allen two weeks later. He then joined the Raiders as a free agent just before the second game of the 1976 season.  Asked why he'd cut Matuszak,  Allen replied, "Vodka and Valium, the Breakfast of Champions."

The Tooz finally found a home by the Bay.

The Raiders were short defensive linemen early in 1976 since Art Thoms, Tony Cline, and Horace Jones all got hurt and left the Raiders with little option but to switch to a 3-4 defense, and that made room for the week two arrival of Matuzak.

John Madden has said that he was willing to wipe the slate clean, that he didn't call Sid Gillman or Paul Wiggin or Allen to get a "report card" to find out the skinny on Matuszak. He didn't want to know what happened for all of them to give up on him. He simply said, "I wasn't a psychiatrist or psychologist. I was a football coach. If you play football for me, good. If you screw up, goodbye."

The Tooz backup rookie 6-9, 276-pound rookie Charles Philyaw until he became familiar with the 3-4 scheme, and then he finished the season and playoffs as a starter finishing with 48 tackles and a career-high 9½ sacks, and a nice piece of jewelry. He did play decently good football for Madden and did so for the next three years for Madden. 
The next season, 1977,  was more of the same, playing left end, getting in on a good number of tackles and sacks, holding his side of the line. In nickel packages, he moved to left defensive tackle in between Otis Sistrunk (LDE) and Dave Rowe (RDT) with newly acquired Pat Toomay playing RDE. 

There was a change in 1978 when the Raiders got away from using a four-man line in passing situations and sometimes would take Matuszak out and move right defensive end to the left side and bring Pat Toomay in and play right end, but keep a three-man line in a 33 nickel scheme.  However, it was not something the Raiders did all the time. Sometimes they'd run the 33 nickel with the base linemen in their usual positions as well. Toomay didn't like it much, Matuszak likely didn't either but still, the Tooz had a good statistical season with 82 tackles and six sacks.

Nineteen seventy-nine was different. Matuszak nursed a should for the first half of the season, starting just the opener. He started versus the Oilers in Week 11 but that was it. Dave Browning was playing the left end for the most part as the Raiders varied schemes and rotated defensive linemen quite a bit. 

In 1980 the Tooz was healthy and had, according to him a "Pro Bowl season".  It would be hard to argue, though the three who got the honor—Fred Dean, Art Still, and Lyle Alzado were also worthy. 

The 1980 Raiders had a fun scheme on the defensive line. Matuzak was the left end and Dave Browning moved back to right end with Reggie Kinlaw on the nose—this was the three-man base. On likely passing downs, the Tooz and Browning moved to defensive tackle with Kinlaw going out and the left end, coming off the bench, was Willie Jones and the right end, also coming off the bench, was newly acquired Cedrick Hardman who led the team with 9½ sacks. Ted Hendricks and Matuszak tied for second with 8½. 

With this sub package being so effective the team upped its total from 33 sacks to 54 and that pressure undoubtedly helped the secondary who picked off 35 passes (13 by Lester Hayes). 

With the offense effective but not spectacular the defense really carried the Raiders through the Super Bowl and it capped its fine defensive season with Rod Martin picking off three passes in the big game in what should have given him the Suober bowl MVP, but to the quarterback goes to spoils. Oh well. 

Regardless, the Tooz had a second piece of nice jewelry.

The Tooz capped his career in 1981 with a mediocre season, much liked the est of the 1981 Raiders. He missed the 1982 season with a severe back injury and it forced his retirement in May of 1983. And a quick unretirement in July being placed in injured reserve in August. But his career had been over when the 1981 season was over. 

In Goonies
Matuszak had already acted in North Dallas Forty and Caveman made movies and television his full-time career. He did many of the usuals then got a role in Goonies which is still a beloved role by fans— "Hey, you guys!"
In the A-Team
He kept it up through 1989 when it all abruptly ended. After many rocky years of drug and alcohol abuse, detox programs, posing for Playgirl, fights, parties, car accidents, the Tooz died of an accidental drug overdose. This time there was no Paul Wiggin around, sadly. When he was found nonresponsive by his girlfriend she called for an ambulance and the Tooz died en route from his Hollywood home to St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, California.

The cause of death was ''acute propoxyphene intoxication (Darvon)'' Matuszak, who was 38 years old, suffered heart failure.  After his death, the autopsy found cocaine in his urine and also a high amount of Tylenol although the coke and over-the-counter pain reliever did not contribute to his death. 

Matuszak had been suffering back pain since the early 1980s when his career ended because of the back injury and apparently had been medicating himself beyond what doctors had been prescribing, taking a fatal dose of the Darvon.

Two years before his death Matuszak wrote in his biography that he was clean and sober and never wanted to go two the dark places he's been in his life. 

We wish he'd been able to do just that.

Back to the question of how good the Tooz was. As mentioned he never got honored in terms of the Pro Bowl or All-Pro selections and he didn't look athletic on the field, at least with the Raiders, but his size and strength (400-pound bench presser) allowed him to be stout versus the run.

But we have to ask why a couple of former Raiders dropped so much shade on him. In 1981, Howie Long's rookie season, Al Davis was standing next to Long and watch Matuzak in a drill and David said "Boy, the Tooz is sure a force out there". And Long retorted, "You mean a farce, don't you Al?".

That was a story told to Lyle Alzado by Long and Alzado, in turn, told it to Sport Magazine. The story was an illustration of how bold and confident Long was as a rookie.

Alzado dropped a couple of bombs himself at media day at Super Bowl XVIII. After calling Russ Grimm "A fat pig" a reporter asked Alzado about Matuszak. This time Alzado snorted, "John Matuszak never played a good day of football in his life'. Howie Long is nine thousand billion times the football player John Matuszak ever dreamed of being". 

Alzado then softened it a bit, "I like John. I just never thought he was a good football player".

Trash talk does go on between players in the media:

Randy White told Steve Hartman, then of XTRA Radio in San Diego that "With Howie Long, all they do with him is line him up on the weakest player on the line every game", implying that the Raiders made it easy for Long. 

But turnabout is fair play. Donovan in his book said that "Every time I see Randy White he's getting blown off the ball five yards. 
—Sidebar over

Countering that was Russ Washington who told us once that Matuszak was tough to move due to his size and power, that he was a challenge due to those physical qualities. 

Our view is he was solid enough at the point of attack and had a knack for keeping alive, even in his hunched-over style and if the edge rushers did their job and pinched the pocked, but didn't get the quarterback but did cause the passer to step up the Tooz was there more than most to pick up a sack or get some interior pressure or get his hands up to deflect the pass or cause the quarterback to hesitate.

No, Lyle, he was no Howie Long. But he was pretty good. 
Tn North Dallas Forty

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