Monday, August 9, 2021

Tom Keating—Another AFL Defensive Lineman Plagued With Injuries

 By John Turney 
The AFL had so many talented defensive linemen (or began their career in the AFL) who didn't get to play 12, 14, or 15 years like some of their NFL counterparts due to injuries. Players like Tom Sestak, Rich Jackson, Earl Faison, Ernie Ladd, Gerry Philbin, John Elliott, and also Tom Keating. Actually, you can add some AFL players at other positions as well but that is a post for a different day.
Jim Dunaway #78, Tom Sestak $70,  and Tom Keating #74
Tom Keating got his first injury in his rookie season, 1964. He was the starting left tackle, next to Tom Sestak and after three games he went down with an ankle injury. He never got his starting job back, playing just six games in 1965. 
1964 with the Bills
In December of 1965, he was sent to the Raiders for Bo Robertson and an additional draft pick. Actually, Keating was one of the proverbial "players to be named later" because was traded from the Raiders to the Bills at midseason and Keating was injured at the time.

There he was healthy for the first time and in camp bet out a fine defensive tackle, Dae Costa for the starting right tackle position and Costa asked for a trade, and he was shipped to, yes, Buffalo. 
With the Raiders, now at right defensive tackle
Keating was excellent in 1966, making the AFL-All Star game and voted All-AFL by NEA voted on by the AFL players and was Second-team as voted on by the media—AP and UPI.

Now, here is where we have issues with tackle statistics. The Raiders credited Keating with 128 total tackles (71 solo) and we are not sure we but it. Assists are not defined and it just seems high for a defensive tackle. However, that is what was listed in their records so we report it as is. Anomalies happen and that just may be one of them. Sufficeth it to say it was a fine season.
However, when you see the film of 1967 you can see even better play. In fact, outside Tom Sestak, there was not a better defensive tackle in the AFL and that includes Buck Buchanan, Ernie Ladd, or anyone else you care to name. he was quick off the ball, had great strength to disengage, had good pass rush moves. He put good pressure in the middle which allowed the ends to swoop in.

No, he didn't have the most sacks or even the second-most, but he was the best defensive linemen on the team. He made it happen, he was like smaller Bob Lilly or like an Alan Page-type, a penetrator but he had more strength (a weight lifter) than both of them. 

He had a heavy stance, a lot of weight forward, on his hand, and had a good takeoff, he was just fun to watch, really special). 

Then came the Achilles injury and it cost him the 1968 season and really, a lot of his effectiveness the rest of his career. He tore in the 1967 AFL title game against Houston and played on it in Super Bowl II in what Paul Zimmerman called, "(O)ne of the most heroic performances in Super Bowl history".

He came back in 1969 and was again an NEA All-Pro (like 1966) but was not a consensus All-AFL like he was in 1967. He had a career-high in sacks (four opening day) but was not all over the field like before. It surely seemed like he was not quite 100% physically despite the sacks but still, a very, very effective player.

In week three of 1971, Keating broke a leg and missed seven games in the middle of the season. It was a good showing of grit coming back after seven weeks, in which he spent lifting a lot of weights while in a cast. 

The following year the Raiders acquired Otis Sistrunk who quickly grabbed the left defensive tackle position and Art Thoms was entrenched in Keating's right tackle spot, so Keating's role in 1972 was backing those two up. he also missed significant time again due to an injury, the fifth time in his nine-year career.

So, the Raiders grabbed a fourth-round pick from the Steelers and sent Keating on his way. Keating was a backup there alternating some with Ernie "Fats" Holmes, though he did start four games, three for Fats and one for Mean Joe Greene.
1973 with the Steelers
Keating was the Steelers NFLPA rep and was heavily involved in the NFL-players union negotiations and strike in the preseason of 1974. he didn't report until late in camp after the strike was settled and there was a "cooling off period". 

As a result, Keating didn't perform well or didn't have a chance to make the team, depending on whose story you believe. Regardless he was waived by the Steelers and signed by the Chiefs but was really a  trade. The Steelers were to receive a conditional draft choice which turned into a 15th round pick. Presumably, the Steelers got compensation so someone else would not pick up Keating before the Chiefs. 
1974-75 With the Chiefs, playing left tackle
Keating, with his legs not where they were, but with his strength every-present was able to hold his own as the left tackle, next to Buck Buchanan and he'd also play nose tackle when the Chiefs used a 3-4 defense. 

Keating was cut in September of 1975 but brought back in October when injuries hit their defensive line and he finished the season playing nine games and starting four.

He did get one more chance to play. 

He was released in May of 1976. Keating also sued the Pittsburgh Steelers for reinstatement and back pay because he contended that he was not given a fair opportunity to make the team in 1974 because he had spent so much time on the player's association negotiations board that he was punished for those activities. The judge in the case agreed.

The Steelers were ordered to take him back and the Steelers were not sure if they had to play not only his "due back salary" but also the Super Bowl and playoff monies. The Steelers Dan Rooney also said that the decision to waive/trade Keating in 1974 was based on "Chuck Noll's decision that he could not make the team".

Seemingly, according to the judge's order the case hinged on the Steelers trying to trade Keating during the 14-day cooling-off period but were not able to do so, but then were able to right after. so the remedy was a second chance to make the team which the Steelers were sure would not happen in 1976 any more than it was going to happen in 1974.

But the odd lawsuit and court order saga got even odder when Keating asked for an extra day to report to camp and was given permission. Then didn't show. He called that day and asked for another couple of days but was denied. The Steelers said to not even show.

Keating claimed he had business to attend to and the Steelers said "He's late, that's it". So ended Keating's career. 

One has to wonder what he might have been. We've sometimes posted about who the quickest defensive tackles we've seen were. We've been mentioning Aaron Donald since his second year. Also, Sam Adams, Mike Reid, Alan Page, Michael Dean Perry, and we're sure a few others. Tom Keating has to be on that shortlist. 

Obviously, that is relative because no one in the NFL isn't 'quick" but those are some of the names that just seemed, to the eye, quicker than others, especially at getting off the ball. 

He just didn't have a long peak and didn't get to sustain that quickness as long as the others because of those leg injuries, they just kept coming and piled up so he had to compensate with his strength, he did bench press over 500 pounds in his later years, though he was strong before that as well. 

He was known as kind of a joker, perhaps a bit of a "flake" (when asked if he loved or hated Al Davis he deadpanned, "yes") but when it came to football he was business. "If you're a pass rusher you work on your moves and you develop more than one thing. You take off and you're aggressive. You attack 'em, you hit them because if you don't they hit you and it's no fun". 

He was the Michigan Wolverines MVP his senior year and was also All-Big 10 and was an alumnus of  St. Mel High School in Chicago.

Keating passed away in 2012 of prostate cancer at age 70—two months after his close friend and fellow Raider linemate Ben Davidson passed away from the same disease. 

Career stats—
What we would really enjoy if we could go to the land of "what ifs" is this: letting a healthy Tom Sestak and a healthy Tom Keating play together. Nothing against Jim Dunaway who was a solid player but if Big Ses and Keating could have been defensive tackles on the same line it would have been like Merlin Olsen and Bob Lilly together almost. A big quick guy with strength in Sestak and Keating the super-quick penetrator, they would have fit so well together. Or, call it a Joe Greene/Alan Page tandem if you will. Sam difference. 

Oh well, injuries are part of the game but they do ruin a lot. 

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