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

By the time of the book's publication, Toomay was a Buffalo Bill; he had been sent there by Dallas, which didn't want to keep Toomay in the division. He would log only one season in Buffalo before finding himself on one of the worst football teams ever to take the field: the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers of 1976. That team lost all 14 games of its debut season, including five ignoble shutouts.

"It was a nightmare, a nightmare," Toomay recalls. "What happened was, we couldn't quite stop anyone, so when you're on defense, you're out there 80 to 90 plays; on a good team, it's more like 40. It's like playing several seasons in one. You can't get out of bed till Wednesday, and you've just recovered by the time of the next game. It was just exhausting and painful."

But Toomay knew why he was in Tampa Bay, playing in the sweltering nowhere of the NFL: The Crunch. When Pete Gent wrote his book about the Cowboys -- North Dallas Forty, published two years before The Crunch -- at least he had the good sense to fictionalize his experience. But Toomay named names -- and, as such, the book brought upon its author a world of grief. He found out from friends in the league that it had angered officials not just within the Cowboys organization, but higher-ups throughout the NFL. Toomay discovered, too late, that the league was not made up of "distinct entities," but that it was one organism with one personality and one collective conscience.

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

"I didn't realize it was a cartel," he says. "I guess I was naive. I didn't understand the nature of the league. I thought you could write a book. I mean, we have an amendment about free speech. It's amazing -- you can be a convicted felon or a sex offender or a thief and still play in the NFL. But you can't ask questions."

Toomay lasted only one year in Tampa Bay before getting shipped off to "football heaven," the Oakland Raiders, where he played under John Madden. Toomay adored his new coach, if only because Madden believed in nurturing his players, not belittling them. "As a player," Toomay recalls, "I blossomed"; he amassed 18 sacks during one season in Oakland.

But in 1979, before Toomay's third season with the Raiders, the commissioner's office called Raiders owner Al Davis and warned him that Toomay was working on yet another book -- this one about the Raiders and drug use on the team. Part of that was true: Toomay was indeed working on a book. Only it was a novel, and it had nothing to do with drugs in Oakland -- though, Toomay says now, he could have done that book if he wanted to. But he had no desire to write such a tome; he was delighted to be in Oakland, thrilled to be in such a pigskin paradise with fallout from The Crunch long behind him. No way in hell was he about to jeopardize his happiness.

But Davis took the warning seriously and didn't allow Toomay to work out during training camp. The defensive end became so irritated, he threatened to take a lawn chair and book out onto the field with him during practice; Davis was infuriated when the warning made the local papers. Davis then asked Toomay to go on waivers -- meaning, he was asking a player to, essentially, cut himself from the team. "In my 10 years, I had never heard an owner ask a player for his permission to go on waivers," Toomay says. "I said, 'You want to sabotage my career and get my blessing?'"

A deal with the Los Angeles Rams fell through, and Toomay was asked to come back to Oakland briefly when injuries created a spot on the roster. But by then, Toomay's knees had begun to ache, and off-season surgery was necessary. He realized the inevitable was upon him, perhaps too soon: A decade after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the sixth round, Pat Toomay was out of football.

In 1984, he published his first novel, On Any Given Sunday, which dealt with the Big Business of football -- from shoe-endorsement deals to rule changes geared to protect quarterbacks to the reason why some teams use artificial turf instead of real grass (there's no mud obscuring those marketable team jerseys during televised games). But most of all, it was a cynical masterpiece about how simple it is to fix a football game -- told by a man who played the sport for 10 years. It wasn't a stretch for readers to assume this NFL veteran knew of games that had been thrown.

As before, Toomay found himself on the receiving end of the NFL's mighty force. A scheduled appearance on Nightline was canceled at the last minute; Toomay figures it would have been bad business for ABC, home of Monday Night Football, to promote such a scathing attack on pro ball. A pre-taped appearance on Good Morning America also never ran. Toomay found himself promoting the book "on nobody shows out in the hinterlands." The book disappeared; for a while, so did Toomay.

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