Toby Keith: All-American Star Loves Fixin’ Good Food and Talkin’ Football (1994)

“Toby Keith, a former semi-pro defensive lineman, and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman talk star to star.”

Originally published in the Nov. 29, 1994 issue of Country Weekly magazine.

To Toby Keith, everyone’s All‑American, autumn means two things—football and food.

The former semi-pro defensive lineman for the Oklahoma City Drillers still makes plenty of hits—his latest, “Who’s That Man,” made it to first place in the country music standings.

But after snapping a bone in his ankle during a University of Oklahoma alumni football game in April, the strapping 6-foot-4 star plans to stick to the sidelines.

That’s where Country Weekly caught up to Toby, as he toured the Dallas Cowboys practice field and at a high-rise version of a tailgate party, where he cooked a sumptuous meal for two football-loving, songwriting friends.

“It’s just something I do,” Toby told us, describing his cooking abilities. “My mother was a great Southern cook, and so were both my grandmothers. My dad’s a pretty good cook, too. I didn’t know I was a good cook until I started cooking for other people and they told me, ‘Hey, this is really good.’ Anytime we have a party, we’ll fix up a bunch of food.”

Toby borrowed the Nashville condominium of one of his producers, Harold Shedd, for the high‑rise tailgate party and showed cooking skills were in midseason form with a menu of pork chop casserole, Caesar salad, asparagus, rolls and a rich chocolate mousse. 

There was plenty for Toby to celebrate with fellow songwriters Jimmy Stewart and Tony Haselden. Toby’s new album Boomtown had just been released and “Who’s That Man” had rolled to the top of two country charts.

Stewart co‑wrote Toby’s hit “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action,” and Haselden co‑wrote “In Other Words,” from Boomtown.

What did they talk about? Football, of course.

“One of them was a Cowboys fan, one was a Redskins fan,” Toby said. “I served as referee.”

Forgive Toby if he leaned toward the Cowboys’ side of the argument—he has a lot in common with the two‑time world champions.

He visited the Cowboys training camp in Austin, Texas, where he visited with star quarterback Troy Aikman and new head coach Barry Switzer.

Toby’s “Should’ve Been a Cowboy” was the Dallas team’s fight song as it won 1993 and 1994 Super Bowls. This led to his rousing halftime show last December in Texas Stadium.

“I do have some good friends on the Cowboys,” Toby said. “But my schedule and their schedule don’t permit me to spend much time with them. I’m building a new bus and hope to get a satellite dish for it so I can watch the NFL games this season.”

Aikman, the rifle‑armed Dallas signal‑caller who once dated country singer Lorrie Morgan, made a favorable impression on Toby. 

“Troy and I have sat down and visited for 30 or 40 minutes. He’s one of us. He’s a huge country fan—and Switzer is, too.

“In fact, Switzer’s daughter Cathy is one of my biggest fans, and I met him for the first time through her. He brought her backstage to meet me at the Lloyd Noble Center in Norman, Oklahoma. That’s how I first met Barry Switzer.”

The University of Oklahoma is in Norman, where Toby and his Easy Money band often performed in small clubs before finding stardom. Switzer spent many years in Norman coaching the university to gridiron greatness. Aikman played under Switzer there but eventually transferred to UCLA.

Toby was invited to participate in the school’s April alumni/varsity scrimmage coached by Switzer. (The singer’s still hobbling from the ankle fracture sustained on the last play.)

“I think I’m done with football other than maybe pickup games and flag football. I doubt I’ll ever don another pair of shoulder pads,” said Toby, who lives near Oklahoma City with wife Tricia and their two daughters, Shelley, 13, and Krystal, 8.

Toby’s own semi‑pro football career lasted two seasons. His playing weight as defensive end for the Oklahoma City Drillers in 1982 and 1983 was 255 pounds, but he now carries a much lighter 215, watching what he eats.

Toby’s favorites are classic Southern dishes like chicken fried steak and catfish, and he said he’s a “garden kind of guy. If I make spaghetti, I like fresh grown tomatoes, not a lot of meat or anything. I use a lot of garlic and lemon pepper, stuff like that.”

A chance to cook is rare for Toby—Billboard’s Top New Country Artist of 1993 is on tour with Sawyer Brown through the end of the year.

His steady diet of shows has helped make Toby a household name in a short period of time. His self‑titled debut album was nearing platinum (1 million in sales) status as his sophomore effort, Boomtown, was just reaching record stores. Boomtown is the blue‑collar poet’s first Polydor Nashville album since he moved over from sister label Mercury Nashville.

“I’ve got seven songs I wrote or co‑wrote for this album and three carefully chosen songs that other writers in town wrote. They’re talking about going five or six singles deep on this album.

“I think it’s definitely a step up in writing and artist maturity. I think the whole album is definitely a step up. Hopefully it will do as well or better than my first one,” Toby said.

Life on the road includes stops to refuel, but not all of the meals satisfy.

“I hate catered food but it’s all we get on the road. I hate raw green beans, and I hate bad yard stroller,” he said, referring to the ever-present chicken dinner.

“I think these little country towns will get together and decide, ‘What these country boys need is a good home-cooked meal,’ and they all come up with the same thing,” Toby said. “You walk up to the serving line, and say, ‘What’s for dinner?’ and they say, ‘Turkey and dressing,’ and you think, ‘Oh, not again. Is there a McDonald’s around here?”

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