By Jeff Freier on February 4th, 2010 12:03 PM
We all know about the great athletes in New York sports history – Babe Ruth, Tom Seaver, Lawrence Taylor, Joe Namath, Mark Messier, Walt Frazier – and even the busts – Ed Whitson, Mo Vaughn, Roberto Alomar, Stephon Marbury, Scott Gomez. But what about the slightly-to-highly-above-average athlete? The kind-of-great but not all-timer? They may not have been Hall-of-Famers, but they were All-Stars, fan favorites, cogs on a championship team or maybe even just pretty darn good. They’re the little brother that didn’t hog all the attention. But they’re certainly worth talking about and remembering. So when do they get their due? Well, now they will. Here is a series of the not-quite-legendary in New York sports history.
Al Toon was the antithesis of Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens and other receivers cut from the aggrandizing, look-at-me cloth. He proved that all receivers don’t have to be showboating boneheads. Toon wouldn’t even spike the ball after scoring a touchdown. Instead, #88 played eight productive, classy seasons for the New York Jets, ducking the attention that he deserved. Besides using his size and leaping ability to his advantage, he was an outstanding blocker, and off the field, he took ballet classes, showing he had both toughness and graceful athleticism.
Besides starring on the Wisconsin football team, Toon also ran track in college and almost made the Olympic team in 1984. The Jets nabbed him with the 10th overall pick in the 1985 draft (selected six spots ahead of Jerry Rice). In his rookie year, he caught 46 passes for 662 yards, and scored three touchdowns. He led the Jets in receptions for the next six seasons, and never had fewer than 57 catches in those years. Twice he gained over 1,000 yards (1,176 in 1986, 1,067 in 1988). In 1988, he led the NFL with 93 receptions. He made three Pro Bowls (1986, 1987, 1988) and was a First-Team All-Pro in 1986.
His place on the all-time Jets receiving lists is right near the top. He is third all-time in receptions (517), behind only Don Maynard (627) and Wayne Chrebet (580). And he’s fourth in receiving yards (6,605), trailing Maynard (11,732), Wesley Walker (8,306) and Chrebet (7,365). He caught 31 career TD passes. He played on three Jet playoff teams, often with an offense led by Ken O’Brien, Freeman McNeil and Wesley Walker.
Sadly, Toon had to retire in 1992 when he suffered his ninth concussion, after getting nailed by Bronco Michael Brooks. He was only 29. Today he watches his son follow in his footsteps, playing receiver for Wisconsin. Al Toon was a classy counterpoint to the me-first player. And he was a great Jet.