Sunday afternoon, Saints receiver Nick Toon will play against the New York Jets ... in a stadium whose fascia bears his father’s name
On Nov. 1, 1992, with 4-year-old son Nick perched lovingly on his shoulders, New York Jets wide receiver Al Toon unwittingly walked the sideline for the last time at old Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
That special father-son moment capped a good day for Toon, who caught five passes for 73 yards and one touchdown in the Jets’ 26-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
One week later, playing on the road against Denver, Toon suffered by his count the “eighth or ninth’’ concussion of his stellar eight-year career, prompting his decision to retire with five games remaining in the ’92 season.
By then, his legacy had been well established. Twenty-one years later, life has come full circle for the elder Toon, now a member of the Jets Ring of Honor.
On Sunday, the Jets will host the New Orleans Saints at MetLife Stadium, just across the parking lot where Giants Stadium once stood. Little Nick is now Big Nick, a strapping 6-foot-2, 215-pound wide receiver in his second season with the Saints.
“It’s a little surreal for my dad to watch me go out and play against the team that he played for,’’ Nick said. “It’s definitely surreal for me as well. I’m excited.’’
Al Toon will not be at MetLife Stadium. He will remain at home and watch the game with his family in Middleton, Wis., a suburb of Madison where both he and Nick starred at the University of Wisconsin.
But Al will be there in spirit.
“It’s hard to put into words what this means,’’ Al said. “For him to be able to do what he’s always wanted to do — play in the NFL — and to step out on the field where I played my career is amazing to me.
“So yes, it’s a special game.’’
Asked his rooting interest, Toon replied: “I’ll be rooting for my son. I want him to be happy.’’
Old Giants Stadium was demolished in 2011 and replaced by MetLife Stadium, a $1.6 billion open structure that will serve as the host venue for Super Bowl XLVIII on Feb. 2.
At 6-1 and atop the NFC South by two games, the Saints envision themselves returning to MetLife Stadium in three months. But nine games remain in the regular season, beginning with a potentially dangerous home underdog that often wins one week and loses the next under rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
Based on the first seven games, Toon isn’t likely to play a leading role in Sunday’s game. The fourth-round draft pick in 2012 has played sparingly on offense, catching three passes for 60 yards. But he remains ready if the opportunity knocks, just as it did Sunday for rookie wide receiver Kenny Stills, who caught three passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns in the Saints’ 35-17 win against Buffalo.
“You have to wait your turn,’’ said Toon, who spent last season on injured reserve recovering from foot surgery. “We have so many talented wide receivers and tight ends and the wealth has to be spread around.
“Each week is a different week. When my times comes I’ll be ready, whether I have one catch or 15 catches. The ultimate goal is for us to win the game. I’m happy regardless of my involvement. We’re a team, and however I can help this organization win and have success, I’m happy to do it.’’
Toon said he talks daily with his son, sometimes more than once. They talk about life, family and, of course, football. He preaches patience, reminding Nick of his redshirt freshman season at Wisconsin.
“He’s at the beginning of his career, not at the end of his career,’’ Al Toon said. “That’s what he needs to focus on. The most important thing he needs to understand is that he is in a position to have success. He’s getting on the field. He can, and hopefully will continue to progress as a professional athlete.
“What I try to convey to my son is just enjoy the moment. Whether it’s in New York or whether it’s in New Orleans, enjoy the moment. Have fun, work hard, control the things you can control and whatever else is going to happen is going to happen.’’
No doubt, Nick Toon will take a moment Sunday to locate his father’s name on the fascia in the mezzanine level at MetLife Stadium for the Jets Ring of Honor.
It will read: Al Toon — No. 88 — 1985-92. What it won’t say is Toon caught 517 passes for 6,605 yards and 31 touchdowns and was named AFC Offensive Player of the Year in 1986.
“My dad was a great player, and obviously, I have huge shoes to fill but I’m up to the challenge,’’ said Nick Toon, who turns 25 Monday.
“I still love the brand of being a Jet,’’ Al Toon said. “Just like Nick loves the brand of being a Saint. But I love my son first. I want him to be happy. It’s all about life and balance. I want him to enjoy the moment.’’