Well, by now you know that football season is in full bloom. Both college and professional football has had its day for all to view. Some surprises, some disappointments and a whole lot of married folks talking about temporary changes in living arrangements.
After watching more than 20 college and professional games over the weekend, here are some observations.
No one is worth $25 million a season, even if he is the best player for the Lions. That is more money than the total operating costs of the AFL when it was made up of the Dallas Texans, Denver Broncos, LA Chargers, Oakland Raiders, New York Titans, Boston patriots, Houston Oilers and the Buffalo Bills. How can any fan relate? Here is an example of money “well spent.” The backup quarterback for the Denver Broncos signs with the Houston Texans for $72 million, give or take a few dollars. Cut by the Houston Texans, still a major part of the contract guaranteed (meaning that no matter what, he gets paid that stated sum) by Houston, signed by Cleveland, who would then have had a hard time winning against themselves in a scrimmage. Cut by one of the worst teams in the AFC, resigned by the Denver Broncos and is being paid more than the number one and number two (first round draft choice) quarterbacks combined. If it were not for television money, the league would be belly up with this type of financial lunacy.
I began my professional football career as a member of the Oakland Raiders. Al Davis was the head coach and Ron Wolf was the player personnel director. For those not in the know, Ron Wolf was the person who built the Raiders, Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings into teams of champions. He was the person who found and later signed the talent of each of those teams and he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame. I am still grateful for the opportunity that Al Davis and Ron Wolf gave me to fulfill a childhood dream. Not only was I coached by such a great man as Max speedy, Ray Malavasy, Lou Saban, Paul Brown, Doak Walker, Whitey Duvall, Stan Jones, but had teammates the likes of Tom Flores, Lionel Taylor, Cookie Gilchrest, Jon Bramlett, Willie Brown, Floyd Little, Charlie Mitchell, to name a few. The list of people that have had an impact on my future in and out of the game goes on for what seems to be without an end.
The roster in 1963 had a limit of 38 players. There was no room for specialty players such as kicker and a punter; they all played some other position. In 1964, my rookie year, the roster was expanded to 40 players plus a “taxi squad” or in today’s terminology “developmental squad.” A total of 320 active players for the entire AFL, some 400 players for the NFL, total players less than 800. Today with the concept of expansion of the number of teams and the rosters somewhere north of 58 players– do the math. Closer to 1800 active players. Listening to the announcers booth shout out more often than deserved “he is a future Hall of Famer.”
Anyone who views the level of play on the field will find it there a few franchises who are exceptional and those who barely get by. The rest fall somewhere in the middle of the mess. Anyone who has the NFL package can see empirical evidence of the overexpansion of the NFL. The talent pool has not caught up to the number of teams.
College football had one rule change that set it above the lure of the high dollar contracts in the NFL. They, the NCAA, limited the amount of scholarships that each college or university can use to attract players and they also renewable every year. Yes, there are some college teams that seem to have year in and year out the best players in their conference or region. That is due to the tradition of winning that they have exhibited over the years.
I remember being told that hustling and getting excited to play the game was “rah rah” stuff when I was a rookie. Yes, it might be, but those were the true feelings of rookies felt and the fans liked it as well. It is not just a job, it is a gift and you are blessed if you get to do what others only dream of doing and getting paid to boot.
Last night I saw some very high players who were IR (injured reserved) and unable to perform. When I played, if you could not dress out, you did not travel with the team. If you were on the home field and could not play and your team spends more than 75% of the game on the defense, you dare not be caught laughing and joking with each other on the sidelines. Not with the coaches I played for.
I paid close attention to the few times the camera panned the stadiums stadium seating. Attendance is down. Maybe due to the high price of tickets. I went to the first championship game between Green Bay and Kansas City. I was with the Denver Broncos of the time and the owner gave me four tickets – – face value of the tickets– $10.
After this weekend, I’m keeping an open mind. There appears to be one team maybe two in the AFC – – Oakland and Kansas City – – who could go to the Super Bowl if Carr and Smith stay healthy. In the NFC, Carolina in Green Bay, maybe Dallas, as long as all stay healthy.
I have been away from the game – – that means actually playing – – but sports have been the mainstay of my entire life. What it taught me about life–the need to sacrifice, the need to be disciplined and focused and to judge people not by the color of the skin but by the character of their conduct. It was a whole lot of “we” when I played and not a lot of “I.” My biggest concern today is that there is more “I” than “we.” And the game suffers as a consequence.
I hope you enjoy this beginning article and I’m grateful for the chance to publish this column each week. If there is a particular topic or question you would like addressed, please use the newspaper’s email address to submit your request.
The writer is a former running back and defensive back with the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders.