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We miss ya, Tooz
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Two nights before Super Bowl XV in New Orleans, in the wee small hours of the French Quarter, a couple of sportswriters and I were standing at the bar of the Old Absinthe House. We spied a towering figure standing in the alcove -- and he saw us. With his huge forefinger, he reeled us toward him. Then he enveloped us in his Bunyanesque arms and growled, in a voice that carried just the hint of threat, "You didn't see me here, did you?"

As I looked up into a nostril that could've held one of those mini-footballs, I got up the nerve to reply, "No, sir, Mr. Plunkett."

At that, he laughed and ascended the stairs, looking for action. And we went back to the bar to toast our good fortune in avoiding a sack by John Matuszak.

He played in only two Super Bowls for the Raiders, in 1977 and 1981, but the Tooz's spirit hovers over every one. Each time the topic of curfew comes up during Super Bowl week (the Ravens), each time a player is asked about his notorious past (Ray Lewis, Kerry Collins), each time a gargantuan lineman is cast as a buffoon (Tony Siragusa), the ghost of Matuszak must chortle. Been there, done that -- only more so. This Super Bowl is especially good for channeling Tooz because it's being played a few miles from the University of Tampa, where he played his college ball.

Nobody before or after has been as large as the larger-than-life-its-ownself Matuszak. He drove coaches and the right sides of offensive lines crazy. He was both Satan (troubles with drugs, alcohol, women) and Santa (dressing up as St. Nick for a visit to a children's hospital). He was faster than any man who was 6'9", 280 pounds had a right to be, and he lived faster than any man should. The Tooz died of an accidental drug overdose in June of 1989, at the age of 38.

At his funeral, Al Davis recalled the time he reprimanded Matuszak for showing up at his favorite tavern after practice in his Raiders uniform; the next day he changed into a tuxedo before heading out. Ex-Chiefs teammates still talk about the time he snuck his girlfriend into the locker room for a romp in the whirlpool. The night after we spotted Matuszak in the French Quarter, Raiders coach Tom Flores caught him breaking curfew and fined him $1,000. The coach of the opposing Eagles, Dick Vermeil, was outraged. "If he was an Eagle," said the uptight Vermeil, "he'd be on a flight back to Philadelphia right now!" But because he was a Raider, the Eagles lost, 27-10.

Cruisin' with the Tooz -- the title of his autobiography -- wasn't all fun and games. In 1975, when he was with the Chiefs, Matuszak was found nearly comatose in the locker room, as a result of mxing drugs with alcohol, and head coach Paul Wiggin rushed him to the hospital to save his life. His career was revived when Davis and John Madden gave him one last shot, and the Tooz behaved himself long enough to tap into the potential people saw in him when he was the No. 1 draft pick in 1973.

After the Raiders' 1982 training camp, his chronic back pain told him it was time to go. Matuszak was so good in North Dallas Forty (1979) that he managed to carve out a second career in movies. When he died, he was between One Man Force and a project with Sylvester Stallone.

So if you're already tired of the Goose's act and the Lewis story and all those references to Mons Venus, do yourself a favor: Make it a Blockbuster Night and rent North Dallas Forty. The guy tossing around assistant coaches?

Must be Jim Plunkett.

Steve Wulf is executive editor of ESPN The Magazine. E-mail him at

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