MULE': How the time$ have changed

Just think about this: before he ever completes a pass in the NFL – before he even takes a snap in the NFL – JaMarcus Russell could buy and sell much of the talent that LSU has ever sent to pro football before him.

By being the No. 1 pick of the NFL draft last weekend, Russell will command a signing bonus of upwards of $30 million dollars.

 

Imagine.

 

A relative king's fortune for the potential – not the production – of what an untested kid might bring to a given team.

 

At least the Oakland Raiders took Russell, a young man who not only possesses enormous physical skills, and whose skills are still in the development stages, and, happily, has the work ethic to reach that projected potential.

 

But, as an indication of just how much times have changed, compare the current financial rewards for Russell in comparison to that of Tigers – and proven pros – of yesteryear: Billy Cannon, the only other LSU athlete to be the No. 1 selection in the NFL draft (and in the separate American Football League 1960 draft), originally signed during the season with Pete Rozelle – then the general manager of the NFL's Los Angeles Rams. But then Cannon was lured to the Houston Oilers of the new AFL with the first six-figure contract ever in pro football.

 

That is, the first pact with a total worth of over $100,000, which included several service stations, and was spread over three seasons.

 

For that princely sum, this is what the Oilers got in return: In 1960 Cannon was an All-Pro halfback and the MVP in the championship game as the Oilers won the AFL title. A year later he was again All-Pro after leading the AFL in rushing, and in one stunning performance accounted for 331 total yards (115 receiving) and five touchdowns against the New York Titans. He was again the AFL championship game MVP as the Oilers won the title a second straight time.

 

In this third pro season, Cannon was severely injured and never regained his All-Pro running back form, though he moved to flanker, then tight end and played effectively there for, first, the Oakland Raiders and then the Kansas City Chiefs for almost a decade more.

 

Luckily for him, Cannon used his off-seasons to complete his education in orthodontics because, unlike today, he couldn't have retired on his football money.

 

Two picks after Cannon in the 1960 drafts of both the NFL and AFL was LSU teammate Johnny Robinson.

 

"I remember exactly what I was signed for,'' said Robinson, who became a real force in the game in a 12-year career that included play in two of the first four Super Bowls, dispassionately noting it was a relative pittance. "Remember, this was when the football war was on,'' he said, "meaning the competition for the players was forcing the teams to pay way more than ever before.'' Robinson signed a three-year contract with the Dallas Texas (which eventually became the Kansas City Chiefs) for $14,000, $15,000 and $16,000 – plus a $2,500 signing bonus.

 

And for that king's ransom, this is what the Texas/Chiefs got for their money: Starting as a productive halfback, Robinson eventually became an outstanding defensive back, leading the AFL in interceptions twice and (after the 1970 merger) the NFL once, retiring with a total of 57, still a number that ranks in the top 10 in pro history.

 

Robinson was a six-time All-AFL selection and is in the AFL Hall of Fame. When the NFL published its official history, "75 Seasons,'' Robinson is duly noted as football's free safety of the 1960s. His old coach, the late Hank Stram, said of Robinson, "It's really a disgrace he's not in the (Pro) Football Hall of Fame.''

 

For all that, the most Robinson, who now runs a home for troubled youth in Monroe, ever made for a single season was $40,000.

 

Another All-Pro defensive back from LSU, Jerry Stovall, was the second pick of the 1963 draft. He got a $100,000 contract – $25,000 per season for three years, plus a $25,000 signing bonus.

 

"Those were the days when pro football was really a part-time job,'' Stovall recalled. "Nobody then was under the delusion that you were going to be able to retire on your football money. And, really, nobody should've. Twenty-five thousand dollars a year was a whole lot more than my daddy ever made, and we lived pretty decently. I never felt feel like I was cheated out of anything."

 

Interestingly, Stovall remembers vividly the first "big'' contract, Joe Namath's $400,000 pact with the New York Jets. "We (players) wondered how that league (AFL) could ever survive throwing around money like that,'' Stovall said.

 

Few had more reason to compare pay and productivity than Kenny Konz, LSU class of 1951.

 

In a career in which he played for three NFL championship and four divisional-title teams, Konz led or tied for the Cleveland Browns lead in interceptions five of his seven seasons, and retired with a total of 30. He averaged nearly 40 yards per punt the one season he performed that duty, and led the NFL in punt returns with a 14.4 yards per attempt in 1956 – one of the three seasons he was selected to the Pro Bowl.

 

After that season, Konz, who originally signed for $7,500 a year and eventually got to a high of $25,000, went to see Coach Paul Brown about his contract, hoping for a raise. "You know, Coach  Brown,'' Konz said, "I led the NFL in punt returns.''

 

"Paul Brown raised an eyebrow and said sternly to me,'' Konz recalled, "What do you think I pay you for?''

    

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Marty Mule' can be reached at MJM981@Bellsouth.net.


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