Although he considered himself a basketball player in high school, Pat Toomay went on to have an amazing NFL career. He was a Super Bowl champion with Dallas, a member of a winless team with Tampa Bay and was coached by John Madden while in Oakland.
"I went from a penthouse to a doghouse and back to a penthouse," said Toomay of his career in the National Football League.
A 1966 Edison graduate, Toomay was an all-state athlete in football, basketball and baseball. His athleticism - perhaps inherited from his father who played professional basketball - still sticks out in the minds of coaches and administrators from the 1960's.
"As a three-sport star, Toomay achieved as much as any athlete in Northern Virginia," said former Hammond High School baseball coach - later the football coach at T.C. Williams - Glenn Furman. "Here I am 40 years later, and I am still remembering him as being that formidable." Furman recalled the day Toomay pitched a no-hitter against Hammond in a 1-0 playoff win.
While Furman remembers Toomay's pitching, it was not baseball that was his claim to fame. Toomay considered himself a basketball player first while in high school. His 6-foot-5 frame helped Edison basketball to record victories during the school's early days. The Edison coach at the time, Carl Hensley, said Toomay was the only player he coached for all four years in his 33-year coaching history.
"He was highly intelligent, and he brought that to his play," said Hensley. "That helped all of us. He was a very cooperative player, eager to do what we wanted him to do."
HENSLEY SAID THAT Fairfax County schools - not just Edison - could not really compete with the Arlington and Alexandria schools in basketball at the time. In order to expose his players to better competition, Hensley scheduled summer and spring league games in Washington. "What we looked for [in Washington] was competition, and that helped Pat. He had to adjust to playing against better competition," said Hensley.
At the time, the schools in the area were segregated, and Hensley scheduled a lot of the games against black schools from Washington. Toomay remembers when Eastern High School - a black school in Washington - came to Edison to play the Eagles in a scrimmage. One of the Eastern players was shooting free throws, and Toomay was waiting for a possible rebound, blocking out a player by the name of Louie West. West put his hand on Toomay's shoulder, and as the ball bounced off the rim, West used Toomay to boost himself above the rim and slam dunk the basketball through the hoop.
"The ball hit me right in the face," said Toomay. He added that he respected Hensley's decision to schedule matches against talented teams such as Eastern, and look past the racial segregation.
According to Hensley, five to six Atlantic Coast Conference coaches would attend Edison games, trying to recruit Toomay on basketball scholarships. In the end, Toomay decided on Southeastern Conference's Vanderbilt, where he went on a split football and basketball scholarship. He played both sports his freshman year at Vanderbilt, but then had to choose at the end of the year which one he would commit to.
AT VANDERBILT BASKETBALL was a different game, according to Toomay. While at Edison he could play the role of a big man at 6-foot-5. In college he could not, as most guards were close to that size. He said he did not move like a guard, but like a big man, and therefore football was a better choice for him.
Competing in the SEC, Vanderbilt was a private university of 5,000 students playing against the likes of the University of Kentucky and the University of Alabama. Being a private university, every student had to go through a rigorous academic program.
However, Vanderbilt held its own in football. Toomay said his best year was his junior year, when the team went 5-4-1 and beat Alabama. He said it was a tumultuous time to be a college student in the South, as race relations were taking a turning point, exemplified by his friend Perry Wallace. Wallace pioneered the presence of black varsity athletes in SEC schools, enrolling at Vanderbilt on a basketball scholarship.
Coming out of college, Toomay was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round of the NFL Draft. He said he was tall and fast, but questions were asked whether he could gain enough weight to play as a defensive end.
"I was at about 220, and needed to be 250, and I did the work and got a few breaks," said Toomay. From 1970 to 1974, Toomay played with the Dallas Cowboys under coach Tom Landry. During his five years there, the Cowboys went to two Super Bowls, losing 16-13 to the Baltimore Colts in January of 1971, and winning 24-3 over Miami the following year.
After five years with the Cowboys, Toomay went to Buffalo in 1975. After only a year in Buffalo, he was snatched by an NFL expansion team, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Bucs went 0-14 in their inaugural season.
"That was a memorable year," said Toomay. "I played every down. [The defense] was out there 90 plays a game, it was like playing two seasons in one." Toomay added that most weeks the defensive players could not recover well enough from Sunday to Sunday, because their bodies would be beaten from the previous week's game.
AFTER A YEAR IN TAMPA BAY, Toomay found his way back to the top of the NFL. In 1977 he was picked up by the defending Super Bowl champions, the Oakland Raiders.
"That was the highlight of my career," said Toomay. "I played the best ball I ever played for John Madden. He was the kind of coach I had been looking for since high school." Toomay said that it was not only Madden's coaching that made his time with the Raiders such a highlight, but also the characters of his teammates.
The coaches and the administrators who remember Toomay from his high school days say they are not surprised by the level of success he achieved in his NFL career. The former Edison director of student activities, Bob Carson, said he remembered Toomay as a great athlete who posted great academic scores as well.
"I am not surprised at all with his NFL success. He was a great talent and a very committed athlete," said Carson.
Hensley echoed Carson's words: "I wasn't surprised to see him in the NFL because of the way Pat does things. The Cowboys had a set of physical tests and he passed every one of them. He played longer and better than I thought he would."
Toomay lives in New Mexico and occasionally works on sports writing projects. He has published two books, one of them titled On Any Given Sunday. The title was later used for an Oliver Stone movie in which Toomay plays a small part. He has taken an interest in New Mexico's abundance of Native American culture.
Pat Toomay is 17 in a survey of the area's Top 100 Athletes by Connection Newspapers in 2000.