|A Super Monday to forget|
By Pat Toomay
Special to Page 2
Editor's Note: Page 2 contributor Pat Toomay played in two Super Bowls with the Dallas Cowboys, winning a ring in 1972. Thirty years later, he recalls the emotions of the day after the game -- and the tragic events that marred his experience.
Never before did I feel so alive to the world, so attuned to the bounty of its possibilities. Certainly I was stiff and sore from the game, but as I came to consciousness early that Monday morning, the magnitude of our victory in Super Bowl VI smacked me. I burst out laughing as I lay in my bed.
For veterans like Lilly and Cole, the victory was sweet. It atoned for six frustrating years of big-game losses. As a new player I had no need of redemption. But I'd made my own contribution to the win: a crucial block on a game-clinching interception by linebacker Chuck Howley. Would it be in the paper? I grabbed it, pausing to scan a front-page article about Vietnam. Secret peace negotiations were rumored to be under way. Flipping to the sports section, I found myself in the periphery of a shot of Howley's interception. It felt good. But there were other things to be thankful for.
First and foremost, there was the money. By beating the Dolphins 24-3 in Super Bowl VI, each Cowboy assured himself a winner's cut of $15,000-$25,000 total for the playoffs. In January 1972, that was no trivial sum. Nearly double my season's salary, the bonus made anything possible. A dream vacation. A new car or home. Maybe it was time to start thinking about raising a family.
I glanced at my wife, sleeping beside me, and gently patted her hand. College sweethearts, we had married the previous January, flush in the wake of the club's first Super Bowl appearance, a heartbreaking loss to the Baltimore Colts. That game had been played in Miami at the conclusion of my rookie season. Though a loss, the runner-up bonus had emboldened us enough to get married. After a small ceremony at my wife's home in Atlanta, we returned to Nashville, where I completed work on my degree. Now, only a heartbeat later, it seemed, we were ensconced with the victors in the New Orleans Airport Hilton Hotel. Achieving the pinnacle twice in two years was an extraordinary run. Our existence, I felt, was charmed.
Slipping out of the covers, I swung my feet to the floor. In counting my blessings I'd forgotten the ring. On the nightstand beside my bed sat last year's ring, catching light from somewhere beyond the window. It had been an award for winning the 1970 NFC Championship Game, the final step before Super Bowl V. The Cowboy star articulated in diamonds against a sapphire setting. "NFC Champions" emblazoned on one side. My name on the other, flaring above the distinctive Cowboy helmet.
The Super Bowl ring, I knew, would be even more of a grabber. Bigger. Heavier. More gold. More diamonds. In design and execution it would mirror the remarks of Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm as he addressed the throng of reporters assembled in the locker room after the game. "We'll be back," Tex told them. "This was only a start. We're going to be like the Yankees and Celtics -- a dynasty."
A dynasty! That's what he'd said! And my wife and I, in a small way, would be part of it. And not only that, but the new ring would say it all. Tex would make sure of it. For him, as for us, the ring would be an expression of our triumph. Although it would be months before they would be ready, I could hardly wait to slip mine on my finger. My wife stirred, yawning as she stretched.
"Good morning," she said with a big smile. "Hungry?"
"Famished," I replied.
Downstairs, the hotel coffee shop was full of players, spouses, visiting relatives, all abuzz with the excitement of the game. Nodding to defensive back Cliff Harris and his wife, Linda, and to Charlie and Mary Ann Waters, we made our way to a small table set against the far wall of the room.
Settling down there, we looked over menus.
When I looked up at my wife, she seemed distracted, then stricken. She fixed me with a look of deep concern.
"Something came in the mail for you while you were away," she said. "I didn't think it would be a good idea to mention it until after the game."
Now she was rummaging around in her purse. "You got a postcard from Judy Cowan."
Judy Cowan was a high school friend with whom I'd kept in contact since graduating. She was a pixie with chop-cut hair, captain of the cheerleaders, homecoming queen and smart. Although enchanted with Judy, I had never been able to wrangle a date with her. She was older, more mature. We moved in different social circles. Nevertheless, we'd grown close. After high school, when Judy went off to the University of South Dakota, we talked on the phone as often as we could.
Even after Judy met and married Michael McGinty, a big Irishman from California who was Marine ROTC, we stayed in touch. I would hear from Judy as the Marine Corps moved the newlyweds around the country. She was thrilled to hear about my own marriage and was looking forward to meeting my wife. Michael, she reported, was getting proficient in his military specialty, flying choppers.
I remembered the last time I saw her. It was in Charlottesville, Va. A college teammate, while attending business school there, was house-sitting for a local magnate. The house was an antebellum mansion perched high on a hill. He'd invited us to a party. By this time Judy and Michael were stationed at Camp Lejeune, N.C., only a few hours drive away. In Nashville, where I was completing work on my degree, my wife suggested I ask them to come. They did. But they did not come alone.
The two men who accompanied them were also Marines, both just back from Vietnam. They were electric, their wives giddy, as they unpacked duty-free vodka in the basement of the mansion. Home from the war zone for less than a week, they spoke graphically of atrocities committed on both sides.
Michael, it turned out, was about to get orders to ship out.
That strange night was only eight months prior to this splendid morning in which my wife was sliding Judy's postcard across the table. "Judy's taken a teaching job in St. Croix," she said.
It surprised me to hear that Judy was in St. Croix. She had never mentioned it as a special place, nor did I know of any friends she might have had there.
"What about Michael?" I murmured.
"It's awful," she said.
I read the card. Michael had gotten his orders for Vietnam, but when he was about to ship out, his mother had a mild heart attack. He was allowed to go home and help her. When she got well, Michael was reassigned to a base in Japan. "I was thrilled," Judy wrote, "because I thought he'd be safe there." But then the chopper ferrying Michael to his new base developed mechanical problems. Michael was killed in the crash.
I slumped in my chair. Until now, I had been untouched by the war. I had been given a 4-F for bad knees, yet I was playing in the NFL. My father was a career military officer; so was Judy's. My wife's father was also a vet. Michael's, too. And now Michael was dead.
My wife and I flew back to Dallas, then drove to her home in Atlanta. On the plane and in the car, we talked at length about we should do. In Atlanta, I boarded a flight for St. Croix.
At the island airport, Judy was waiting for me. We hugged, chatted, but it was a shock to see her. She'd lost 20 pounds. Her face was ashen. Her spirit had evaporated. Everything had gone down with Michael.
I tried to hide my concern as we toured the island in her rusted-out VW bug. But it was hard. In a sense, Judy lost Michael to the war, but now this beautiful Caribbean island, her haven, was itself a war zone. The native Cruzans were in revolt. The week before I arrived, three American businessmen were executed as they putted out at a secluded hole on the golf course at the local country club, machine-gunned down on the green. At the elementary school where Judy taught, concertina wire ringed the playgrounds and there were daily weapons checks that invariably turned up kids carrying knives and guns.
To change the mood, I suggested we go for a swim. At a secluded beach, we changed into our suits. She finally smiled as we waded into the water.
It was not until I got back to the mainland that I was able to collect my thoughts. My wife and I had decided to spend the offseason skiing in Utah, so we got settled there. Then I wrote Judy a long letter, pouring out our concern, recommending she move out of St. Croix, find a new start, even offering sanctuary with us in Dallas.
I never heard back from her.
On Mother's Day, my parents called with the news. Judy had drowned in a diving accident in St. Croix. I remembered her as I'd last seen her, smiling as she played in the surf. She'd go under and come up. Under and up.
Then she disappeared, taking with her a part of whatever it was that had bound us from the beginning.
I spent the spring gliding through the Utah snow. In June, I returned to Dallas for the presentation of our Super Bowl rings.
I put mine on, took it off.
At home, I put it in a drawer.
For me, the game would never be the same.
Former NFL defensive end Pat Toomay played in the league for 10 years (1970-79) with the Cowboys, Bills, Bucs and Raiders. He is the author of two books, The Crunch and the novel On Any Given Sunday. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.