BY Sheldon mickles
July 18, 2012
Father’s Day came exactly 50 days early for former New York Jets star wide receiver Al Toon this year.
On April 28, Toon proudly welcomed the oldest of his four children, his only son Nick, into the fraternity known as the NFL when the New Orleans Saints selected him in the fourth round of the draft.
Nick Toon had followed in his famous father’s footsteps, playing the same position as his dad at the same school, the University of Wisconsin, and now was following him into the NFL.
While the round and the team that drafted Nick Toon were different, it hardly mattered to Al Toon, the 10th overall pick of the 1985 draft.
At that particular moment, he was more proud of the fact his son had set his own course in life and didn’t try to just ride his father’s coattails into a college and pro career.
“We actually instill in all of our kids independence, and to be independent thinkers and to make their own decisions,” Al Toon said of the role he and his wife, Jane, played in Nick’s upbringing.
“It was an honor to have him follow in our footsteps, both my wife and I, going to the University of Wisconsin and being a Badger.
“He made the decision on his own, and he was pretty excited about the opportunity.”
Getting the opportunity to play on the same NFL stage as his father, a three-time Pro Bowl pick during a stellar eight-year career that was cut way too short by concussions, is what’s making this day all the more special.
The only problem is Nick Toon, who last week completed the Saints’ offseason program with the rest of his new teammates, won’t be able to get back to their home in Madison, Wis., because he’ll be preparing for the NFL Rookie Symposium next week.
“Every Father’s Day is special,” Nick Toon said last week, “but this (opportunity with the Saints) makes this one a little more memorable. I wish I could go home and spend time with him, but I’ll be back there soon enough.
“I’ll call and send him a card or a little gift in the mail, but we’ll celebrate when I get back.”
Nick Toon’s recollections of his father’s NFL career are vague, mainly because he was only 4 years old when Al Toon was forced to retire.
“I remember a little bit of it,” Nick Toon said. “When I was little, that was my dad’s job, but I didn’t know any different. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized how cool that was.”
The younger Toon didn’t actually follow in his father’s footsteps at first.
Al Toon, whose first love was track and field, encouraged young Nick to try other sports like baseball, basketball, soccer, golf, tennis, swimming and even lacrosse before allowing him to play organized football in junior high.
“I felt I had to be very careful because I didn’t want him to feel like I was pushing him into the game,” said Al Toon. “I didn’t hang my (memorabilia) up because I didn’t want him to get the sublime message that it’s all about football. I wanted him to develop that passion and desire for football.”
When Nick Toon finally got the green light to put the helmet and shoulder pads on, he played running back before switching to Al Toon’s position when he got to high school.
“I love the receiver position,” Nick Toon said with a smile. “That’s my passion. The game of football is really my passion, but I love my position and just about anything about it.”
It’s a passion the Saints have seen in sons of two former NFL players.
Their two first-round picks in 2011 were defensive end Cameron Jordan and running back Mark Ingram — whose dads also made a name for themselves in the league.
“I’ve had a lot of them over the years,” Saints acting head coach Joe Vitt said of legacy players. “I don’t think an NFL locker room is foreign to them. They’ve gone to work with their dads and have come to Saturday practices, and it just seems like it’s not too big for them.
“It’s in the family. It’s in their blood.”
Nick Toon agreed.
“Obviously, I’ve been very fortunate to grow up with my dad and have him as a resource up to this point in my career,” he said. “He’s a great sounding board and he’s been very helpful, and I’ll continue to use him.
“It’s not only him, but my mom, too. Both my parents have been very helpful to me in all aspects of my life, so I’ve been very fortunate.”
So what’s the best thing he was ever taught by his dad?
“He’s taught me a lot in both aspects of life, so it’s hard to put my finger on one thing,” Nick Toon said.
“He did a great job not only raising myself, but my three younger sisters. He’s been a great blueprint (for me) as a football player. He’s just a good person and a good leader.”
And, a good father.