Al Toon was a fantastic wide receiver in the late 1980’s. Toon was the main threat in the New York Jets passing attack, and dominated the NFL from 1986-1988. The University of Wisconsin product could have been one of the greatest of all-time, if concussions had not cut his career tragically short.
The New York Jets selected Al Toon, from the University of Wisconsin, with the 10th overall pick in the 1985 NFL Draft. Toon would not get much playing time in the first half of his rookie season, but he would become a full-time starter after his performance in Miami versus the Dolphins in the 10th game of the season. Al lit the Fins defense up for 156 yards on 10 catches, but the Jets lost 17-21. The following week the Jets took out their frustrations on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, whipping them 62-28. Toon had six cathes for 133 yards, highlighted by a 78-yard touchdown catch. The stage was set for Toon to make a mad run.
In his second season #88 broke out. Toon proved that the third year breakout receiver was a myth all the way back in the 80’s. In 1986 Al had 85 receptions for 1,176 yards with eight touchdowns. His 85 catches were the third most in the NFL, and his was named to his first of three consecutive Pro Bowls. The Jets relied on Toon in most games, as he had at least five or more catches in eight games. The following year #88 showed the best he had to offer.
In 1987 the NFL and its players went on strike, leading to teams replacing the players for weeks 4-6 of the season, while reducing the length of the season to 15 games. The players referred to these picket line crossers as Scabs. When the strike ended the Jets went into a free fall, but Toon was just producing magic. Al had 68 catches on the season, second best total in the league. In a three week span toward the end of the season Toon had 23 receptions for 378 yards and three touchdowns. He had at least 100 yards and a score in each game. Even though the Jets finished 5-7 Toon was named to the Pro Bowl.
In 1988 Toon would complete his magic three-year run. Once again he was the main target for the Jets offense, and he would lead the league in receptions with 93. Toon had at least five catches in eight games, and never had less than three catches which happened only twice. Toon saved his best for last, as he was the most dominant wide receiver in the game over another glorious three-week span toward the end of the season. In games 13-15, Al went off for 26 catches for 386 yards and two scores. There was one game that stood out amongst the others this season, and it was against the Dolphins yet again. Toon helped the Jets move the offense down the field all day with 14 catches for 181 yards in a 38-34 shootout win over the Fins. The Jets finished with a winning record of 8-7-1, and while they missed the playoffs Toon was named to his third straight Pro Bowl.
During this three year run #88 had 246 catches for 3,219 yards, and 18 touchdowns. He finished in the top three in receptions in every season (86’ 3rd, 87’ 2nd, 88’ 1st). Toon was also in the top 10 in receiving yards in all three seasons (86’ 5th, 87’ 6th, 88’ 10th), as well as in yards per game (86’ 6th, 87’ 5th, 88’ 8th). The sky was the limit for Al, but his road got a lot tougher after 1988.
Toon would continue to play for the Jets until 1992, when he was 29 years old, but was forced into retirement due to concussions. In 2014 we are well aware of the dangers of concussions and the long-term effects, chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. During the era in which Toon played, there was not as much attention paid to them, and the possible implications of multiple concussions. Toon was diagnosed with nine concussions during his eight-year NFL career. Since those are the diagnosed numbers, I bet he sustained even more.
It is a shame that Al Toon was not able to achieve his potential due to concussions, but in the end he made the right decision for his future. In a recent interview he was asked about the concussions.
“I do have some residual but nothing significant,” Toon, 48, said in a phone interview from his office. “Nothing I care to talk about in public. I’m able to live a happy life.”
Toon was an amazing wide receiver, and one of the league’s best for a three-year span. It was unfortunate that his career was cut short, but at least we were able to enjoy his greatness during that run in the late 80’s, and he is still living a happy life today. As far as the New York Jets and their fans are concerned, he is still one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game.