Sometimes a magnificent season by an individual goes practically unnoticed because his team can't get out of its own way. A good example is New York Jets wide receiver Al Toon, who leads the National Football League's American Conference in pass receptions with 65. He caught 10 for 168 yards, including a 51-yarder that went for a touchdown, as the Jets otherwise flamed out, 38-27, against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday. Frequently, when the 6 ft. 4 in. Toon turns what looks like a routine catch into a big gainer, defensive backs wonder where he was the moment before. They claim they have trouble finding him - that he often materializes with the football out of thin air. It's the kind of exaggeration usually reserved for veterans like Stanley Morgan, Steve Largent, or James Lofton.
Toon, who has heard that song before, is only now completing his third year in the NFL. He has the soft hands so essential to every pass receiver; a 42-inch vertical leap that gets him above his opponents; and those long legs that just seem to keep going on forever.
In high school and college, track was Al's favorite sport. One reason he enrolled at the University of Wisconsin was that he knew he could be excused from spring football to run track. He was good enough to compete in the 1984 Olympic Trials in the high hurdles and the triple jump.
Toon caught 46 passes as a rookie and a team-leading 85 last year. He won't quite approach the latter figure in this strike-interrupted season, but his average gain will be about 14 yards a catch.
``Al has that great balance, that wonderful low center of gravity that helps him keep his feet, plus the knack for getting away from the defense after he's caught the ball and adding still more yardage,'' says TV analyst and former NFL head coach Hank Stram. ``To be safe, the opposition really needs to keep two people around him.''
Those who see Toon regularly say there's a lot of fullback in him - that just getting hold of him doesn't mean he won't drag a defender for extra yardage.
``Al is physical without really looking all that physical,'' said Jets offensive coordinator Rick Ketite. ``He handles double coverage as well as anybody in the league who plays his position. He's also very good at protecting the football.'' Elsewhere in the NFL
It was a wonderful day at the office Sunday for San Francisco wide receiver Jerry Rice, who set two NFL records as the 49ers routed Atlanta, 37-5. Among Jerry's three touchdowns was his 19th of the season, eclipsing the mark of 18 set by Miami's Mark Clayton in 1984. It was also the 12th consecutive game in which Rice had caught a pass, breaking the record of 11 held previously by Elroy (Crazylegs) Hirsch and Buddy Dial.