On Monday night at halftime of the game against the Dolphins, the membership in the Jets' Ring of Honor will swell to 10 with the induction of the four members of the Class of 2011 — LB Larry Grantham, RB Freeman McNeil, DE Gerry Philbin and WR Al Toon. Over five days we'll present a profile on each player along with a slideshow recalling their playing careers and audio of a news conference each player had with reporters this past week. Today: Al Toon.
Al Toon may not have been a burner, but he raced to immediate production after the Jets selected him in the first round, No. 10 overall, out of Wisconsin in 1985.
"My first five years with the Jets were fast and furious. We had a lot of success, being a three-time MVP in consecutive years," he said of winning that team honor in 1986, '87 and '88. "I had a lot of success, led the AFC in receptions one year, and my kid was born. A lot of great things happened. It was an awesome time playing for the Jets."
After a solid rookie season, Toon had a tremendous three-year run, averaging 82 receptions, 1,073 yards and six TD receptions.
"I came in from the University of Wisconsin, which was a run team. We were a little bit more of a passing team my last few years," Toon said. "But to step on the field in New York and the Meadowlands and have the ball come 14, 18 yards downfield ... I got to make it my thing and that was pretty awesome for a guy coming from a running team."
The Jets won 11 regular-season games in Toon's first pro season as the 6'4", 200-pounder was Ken O'Brien's second-favorite target with 46 receptions. Then Toon became "the man" and led the Green & White in receptions from 1986-91.
"As a player for the Jets in the early Eighties, and more specifically as an offensive player, you couldn't have asked for anything more," he said. "I had a great quarterback in Kenny O'Brien who had a cannon for an arm, and his accuracy was impeccable.
"Then having some stud running backs in the backfield like Freeman McNeil and Johnny Hector, and Mickey Shuler at tight end was extremely well respected. And my partners in crime — Wesley Walker, JoJo Townsell and Kurt Sohn early on," he recalled. "There were some guys out there who could put some points on the board. Our offensive line was great at the time. Kenny was protected and it allowed us to get the ball downfield. It was an exciting time for me."
"It Was a Cool Time"
Toon would appear in three playoff games his first two seasons, catching nine balls for 93 yards in the AFC Wild Card loss to the Patriots on Dec. 26, 1985, then combining for nine catches, 141 yards and one score as the Jets beat the Chiefs the following year on Wild Card Weekend before falling in an overtime heartbreak at Cleveland.
"I think we had a little bit of a chip on our shoulder and we had some characters on the team. It's an entertainment business and characters are good, especially when they're producing — the Mark Gastineaus, the Joe Kleckos, the Wesley Walkers, the Freeman McNeils," Toon said. "You name it and they were there. To be a part of that and growing up and maturing in the game, it was a cool time."
New York's AFC representative would attain only one more winning season before Toon retired in 1992. Football is not a forgiving game, and the excellent Jets wideout absorbed multiple concussions and a lot of punishment during his 110 games (107 regular season, three postseason).
But almost two decades since his retirement, he's feeling good and recently celebrated his 25th wedding anniversary with his wife, Jane. Their son, Nick, followed his dad's footsteps and is a standout receiver at Wisconsin. They have a pair of daughters also in Big Ten athletics as Kirby, a sophomore at Wisconsin, and Molly, a sophomore at Michigan, are volleyball participants. A third daughter, Sydney, resides in Middleton, Wis., with her parents and also plays volleyball.
An active businessman, Toon is an investor in a Burger King group and a landscaping company called Olson Toon. He helped start a bank in 1995 and Capital now has two branches in Madison, Wis.
And Toon, who is a member of the Green Bay Packers board of directors, ironically now has a championship ring.
"It's a little strange to have a Packers ring. Obviously I'm honored to have it, but it would have been a great opportunity to have a ring as a player," he said. "I've been blessed with the honor to have been asked to be on the board of the Packers."
Important Brick in the Jets' Tower
Al Toon will always be a New York Jet, though, and he'll enter the team's Ring of Honor on Monday Night at halftime of the Jets' game against the Miami Dolphins.
"Almost 20 years retired, I can look back at it and feel like you were at least one brick to building the Jets' tower, building the Jets' arch and building the Jets' legacy," he said. "I applaud Mr. Woody Johnson for embracing the alumni and starting to bring us back to the game because it was a big part of us and who we are."
Toon, who finished his career with 517 receptions, 6,605 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 19 100-yard games, also set the franchise mark of 101 consecutive games with at least one reception.
"It was a significant accomplishment in retrospect, knowing how hard it is to stay on the field. My goal as a player and as an athlete was not to have super-high highs and super-low lows," he said. "I tried to be consistent so the coaches, the players and your teammates — and even yourself — you don't overburden yourself with anxiety."
Once a wide-eyed rookie looking at his new locker, Toon has no need for angst anymore. It's time to take a bow for a job well done.
"It doesn't really hit you until you walk to your locker and see your nametag up: '88 Toon,' " he said. "I was fortunate to be around for eight seasons and have some success as a player and generate an Al Toon fanbase."
Sunday: Freeman McNeil