The product

Former Dallas Cowboy Pat Toomay found it harder to write about the NFL than to play in it

Pat Toomay's name is not so prominent in the history books, perhaps because he played for the Dallas Cowboys between a beloved veteran (George Andrie) and a would-be Super Bowl MVP (Harvey Martin). Or maybe someone has gone into the history books and erased his name, since he did not leave the Cowboys on the best of terms. The Vanderbilt-educated defensive end did, after all, threaten to join the rival World Football League in 1974. Tom Landry wished him all the luck in the world. Landry was just too Christian to wish him luck with a capital F. Then, a year later, Toomay wrote a book about the Cowboys that was as embarrassing as it was enlightening. He didn't make anyone too happy.

But Toomay -- who moved to Dallas in 1970 as a sixth-round draft pick, only to leave for New York 25 years later, when his marriage finally disintegrated -- always knew he wasn't a household name. And he didn't mind. He just enjoyed playing pro football on a Super Bowl-winning team. He has the ring to show for it -- and the scars, which run far deeper than surface wounds. His only problem was that he was too smart to play football. He could just never bring himself to enjoy hitting a man.

In "The ghost of Tom Landry," found on page 15, Toomay returns to the sport he loves most: writing. About the Dallas Cowboys.

Pat Toomay, before The Crunch
Pat Toomay, before The Crunch

It's been 15 years since he's had anything published and 24 years since Toomay's name first appeared as author. Then, as now, he showed he was willing, at all costs, to pull back the curtain and expose The Wizard -- a football god who goes by the name of Tom Landry.

Toomay began writing The Crunch in 1970, during training camp his rookie season. He jotted it down in the form of a diary and intended it to be nothing more than a Christmas gift for his father. Toomay also sent the 30-page manuscript to a sportswriter pal in Nashville, thinking he would find it interesting. The writer then passed it along to a friend of his at W.W. Norton & Company publishing house in New York, who asked Toomay whether there were any more pages. "No," Toomay told him, "but there could be."

Toomay spent the next few years keeping notes, writing down all he saw and heard -- every private conversation, every team meeting, every otherwise forgotten moment. He wrote of his participation in the Zero Club with teammates Blaine Nye and Larry Cole, two more overeducated men who found themselves playing a violent sport for a God-fearing coach. Theirs was a group "dedicated to ennui," Toomay writes; they spent their free time doing nothing at all in order to prolong their "otherwise truncated life expectancies." Toomay also jotted down every last detail of running back Duane Thomas' odd behavior during training camp, the result of which led to the back being traded to the San Diego Chargers.

He also documented his friendship with teammates Cliff Harris and Charlie Waters, charting their evolution from timid rookies to cocky vets. But his relationship with them was difficult, Toomay recounts, especially when Waters and, more notably, Harris succumbed to the glories of being a Dallas Cowboy, while Toomay sat on the sidelines, only beginning to realize he was but an underpaid pawn in Landry's dehumanizing system. "I have yet to encounter anyone who plays football with the intensity Cliff does," Toomay wrote, "but he is apparently motivated by fear and insecurity; he is afraid he will somehow lose what he has achieved, his position...his badge -- Dallas Cowboy."

All these years later, Toomay's book still reads like the stuff of revelation. It's like being let in on the greatest secret in the world -- and discovering that your boyhood heroes were nothing more than overgrown children who hoped the beer and pills would drown the fear and pain. The Crunch is by turns hilarious and mortifying, no less so than when Landry tells his team, after a losing effort in 100-degree temperatures, "the heat is mental; when you pass out, it becomes physical." In the words of Blaine Nye: "Professional football is funny. It's not whether you win or lose, it's who gets the blame."

Toomay wrote the book for one simple reason: His childhood image of pro football players as larger-than-life gods never meshed with the men he encountered on the field and in the locker room. It created a "cognitive dissonance," he says, and he only hoped to relate how the image never even approached the reality; he had hoped to peel back the beautiful packaging and reveal the gory truth just beneath the surface. He recalls how the pivotal moment came during his second season, when, during a player walkout, general manager and president Tex Schramm addressed the players himself -- something Schramm never did.

According to Toomay, Schramm told the remaining players that the strike would soon pass and that it was important to put the problem behind them. He then concluded his speech with: "I love you guys." Schramm paused, long enough to consider what he had just said. He began again: "Love -- isn't that the right word? Hell, you're my product." That word forever stuck with Toomay. He thought he was a man. Now, he knew what he really was: a product.

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