Pro football is the strangest game, in many ways unknowable to all except the few who have played or coached it. And even within the strangeness that is pro football, some journeys are stranger ... far stranger ... than others.
Twenty-five years ago, Pat Toomay made such a journey -- from the winless 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the 1977 Oakland Raiders, fresh off an impressive victory in Super Bowl XI. The Bucs, coached by the acerbic and dismissive John McKay, were total losers, depressing and depressed. The Raiders, coached by the ultimate players' coach, John Madden, were characters, but they were also ultimate winners, and always on their own terms.
Actually, for Toomay, his career path was even crazier than that -- almost disorienting, in fact -- because before he played for the hated McKay, he toiled for five years under the unforgiving gaze of legendary Cowboys honcho Tom
Landry, the very essence of the martinet coach. It goes without saying that Landry and Madden were so different in their approaches to the game -- and to people -- that they might as well have been from different planets.
The game has changed in the past 25 years, but one thing that hasn't changed is the difficulty of getting by in the NFL. Join Toomay this season as he takes Page 2 readers along on his strange journey of 25 years ago, introducing us to a fascinating batch of mixed nuts -- Madden, "The Tooz," "The Genius," "The Snake," "The Assassin," "The Mad Stork" -- and revealing what he learned on that weird trip ... about football, about himself, and about an "Animal House" full of the game's wackiest characters.