He bought himself a snub-nosed football shoe in the ninth grade to further his ambitions as a place-kicker, so instantly – and forever – Joe Tofflemire was known as “Toe.”
But soon enough he grew into a complete player – one of the most honored linemen in Pacific-12 Conference history, a second-round NFL draft pick – and, to his family and friends, a complete inspiration.
So their sorrow was as profound as their shock in learning that Tofflemire had died Tuesday at Kootenai Health in Coeur d’Alene after being found unconscious and unresponsive in his Post Falls home.
The former Seattle Seahawks center was 46.
“He was warm, sharing, caring, compassionate,” said Nick Menegas, Tofflemire’s coach at Post Falls High School. “His evolution from boy to man was so rewarding to watch. He was humble and kind – and so grateful for his opportunities.”
Tofflemire’s brother, Paul – who followed him to the University of Arizona and gave the Wildcats a Tofflemire starting at center for seven straight years – said tests had not been completed, but that it was determined that his brother suffered heart failure. The ravages of the NFL had put him through nearly a dozen surgeries on his shoulders and back and left him unable to be physically active.
Having made his home in the Seattle area since joining the Seahawks in 1989, Tofflemire had returned to Post Falls five years ago after the death of his father, John, to help care for his mother, Anna.
“He was big and tough, but he was never a fighter – more of a protector,” said Mike Valente, who took snaps from Tofflemire at quarterback in high school. “Being an offensive lineman fit.”
Tofflemire blossomed as an all-state center his final two seasons at PFHS – earning Idaho Offensive Lineman of the Year honors in 1983 alongside another future NFL player, Rollin Putzier. But his athletic ability wasn’t limited to football. A state placer in both the shot put and discus, he also ran a leg on the Trojans’ 4x100-meter relay team – and probably could have done more.
“We even tried wrestling for one day and quit,” teammate Eric Tibesar said. “We thought would be easy. Well, I thought so. Then I quit and he followed me – that’s how good of a friend he was.”
After a redshirt year at Arizona, Tofflemire was a second-team All-Pac-10 selection at center as a freshman and a three-time first-teamer, winning the Morris Trophy as a senior as the league’s outstanding offensive lineman. More honors have piled up since: selection to the Pac-10’s all-1980s team, the UA Hall of Fame and the school’s all-century team, among others
The Seahawks made him the 44th selection in the 1989 draft. His NFL career lasted until 1995, fraught with injury. His 33 appearances were concentrated mostly in 1990 and 1992.
“That was hard on him, but he never took anything for granted,” said his brother, Paul. “I’ve never seen anybody work harder in the gym, and he was always surprised at the kind of celebrity he was here.
“He was my role model and I’m going to miss him terribly.”
Tofflemire is survived by his mother, sons Michael and John, and eight siblings – brothers John, David and Paul, and sisters Anna Marie, Susan, Caroline, Mary and Christine.
Rosary will be Friday at 7 p.m. at Bell Tower Funeral Home in Post Falls, with gravesite services Monday at noon at Evergreen Cemetery. A reception will follow at Post Falls Senior Center.