John Matuszak, the Legacy of Raider ICON:  The Tooz

Sports Illustrated's Raider Maven reflects on the legendary legacy of the great Jon Matuszak, otherwise known as:  The Tooz.
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The Raiders have had their share of characters through their 60 years, including the late owner, general manager, and coach Al Davis.

The Raiders also had eccentric guys like Lyle Alzado, Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Otis Sistrunk from the University of Mars, Phil Villapiano, Bill Romanowski, Kenny “The Snake” Stabler, Ted “Kick ‘Em in the Head” Hendricks, Gene “Uppy” Upshaw, Matt Millen and Bo Jackson, who performed in those famous “Bo Knows” TV commercials.

We’re obviously leaving out at least a few others, but it’s time to get to the biggest Raiders character in size and personality, defensive lineman John Matuszak, otherwise known as “The Tooz.”

When teammates were hanging out with the 6-foot-8, 280-pound Matuszak, usually at a nightclub in the Eastbay area, they called it “Cruisin’ with The Tooz.”

That could have happened on any day of the week, but it always happened on “Tooz Day,” possibly because after resting up on Mondays, the Raiders would have five days before the next game.

So on that night, you could find Tooz and several of his teammates at The Brass Rail or Pier 29 in Alameda, Clancy’s in Oakland’s Jack London Square, Uppy’s (owned by Upshaw), or any one of several other nightspots.

Stabler, also known for having a good time, often was there with Matuszak, and in fact Raiders Coach Tom Flores asked Snake to share an apartment with Tooz in Alameda, to try to keep him under some sort of control.

That was like putting together Laurel and Hardy and expecting them not to make people laugh.

Stabler was asked at one stage how things were going with the Tooz, and Snake said with a laugh: “I just hope to make it through the season. The biggest decision we have to make every night is gin or vodka.”

Of course, he did mike it, but interestingly that was Stabler’s final year with the Silver and Black, as Davis traded him to the Houston Oilers after the season.

Matuszak played a big role when the Raiders defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 32-14, in Super Bowl XI at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., and not only because he and Hendricks completely shut down running back Chuck Foreman and the Vikings running game to their side of the field.

Tooz announced at the beginning of the week that he was going to be out on the prowl at bars in Southern California every night before the game, not to be partying, but “to make sure none of my teammates get into any trouble.”

Incredibly, it paid one night when Matuszak found wide receiver Cliff Branch about to be jumped by a group of drunks in a bar. When Tooz showed up, the guys backed off and he got Branch out of there.

“Cliff is a big part of what we do and we needed him,” Matuszak said simply.

Despite his antics, there was another side of Tooz.

“The guy was a good human being,” said Mike Ornstein, who worked in the Raiders front office and also roomed with Matuszak for a while. “He was a very, very good person and he had a great heart for kids.

“There was a kid, I remember, who had cancer. He gave him his jersey, gave him his helmet, gave him everything he had. He went to visit that kid, like 25 days in a row at Children’s Hospital. He did stuff like that.

“But he just couldn’t control himself. He just couldn’t have one drink.”

Said Millen: “Tooz was always larger than life. He relished that role. He always wanted to be the guy who everybody looked to, who everybody tried to emulate. And that’s the way he tried to live his life.

“Tooz was a decent guy. He was loud, but not always obnoxious. If you saw him with his family, he was just like you and me. It was mostly when he was high. When he was flying, boy, he was the worst. Which was a lot.”

Matuszak got into acting during the offseason late in his career, with his first major role naturally being as a football player in the 1979 move “North Dallas Forty.” Tooz also appeared in the movies “Caveman,” “The Ice Pirates,” “One Man Force,” “One Crazy Summer,” and played a giant character known as Sloth in “The Goonies.”

In addition, Matuszak also appeared in TV shows such as “M*A*S*H,” “Perfect Strangers,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Hunter,” “Silver Spoons,” “TheA-Team,” “1st and Ten,” and “Miami Vice.”

Matuszak, who retired from the Raiders after missing the 1982 season because of a back injury that kept him out all season, moved to Hollywood because of his acting career.

On June 17, 1989, Tooz awoke in pain from the back injury that still bothered him, and apparently, because he was half asleep he took too much of the prescription drug Darvocet and didn’t wake up in the morning.

The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office ruled his death was caused by an accidental overdose.

The Tooz was only 38 years old.

A few weeks before he died, this reporter was with my family when we ran into Matuszak at Miceli’s Restaurant in Hollywood. He asked us to join him for dinner, which we did, and as usual, we had a great time recalling the old days with the Silver and Black.

Of course, it was Tooz Day.

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