One of the NFL’s recent hot topics was a demand made by 22 Hall of Famers seeking a $300,000 annual pension plus full medical insurance or else they would boycott future Hall of Fame events including the annual induction ceremony and activities surrounding the upcoming 100th anniversary of the league’s founding.
Because there was so much left unsaid and so much confusion over who authorized the letter and whether all of the 22 names on it had actually agreed to the terms, Talk of Fame Network decided to explore the issue with Mike Haynes, the Hall of Fame cornerback who was one of the signees.
Long a voice of reason on league and union matters, Haynes made clear that while the letter was asking the league to take better care of some of its greatest players the hope was this would become a template to improve the post-career financial lot of all players but especially the pre-1993 players whose pensions are far smaller than those of players who came after them.
“What Eric (Dickerson, who is chairman of the group and its chief spokesman) wanted to do was highlight Hall of Famers but our quest is to help all players,’’ Haynes said. “The public is surprised to learn we don’t have health insurance…It looks (to some critics) like rich guys asking for money. That’s not the case at all.’’
Haynes said the hope is this will “open the door to a conversation’’ that ultimately will benefit all retired players. There are about 4,000 pre-1993 players eligible for improved pension benefits. In a league making over $14 billion a year, many of them receive pensions of less than $2,500 a month and are not covered by either a league-funded or union funded health plan. For many aging players, their health problems are serious and insurance prices astronomical.
Where this may lead, once the headlines disappear, is anyone’s guess. Historically neither the league nor the players union has been kind to aging retired players who built the NFL into the financial colossus it has become. Whether this effort will lead to long overdue changes in that is a mystery but Haynes remains hopeful.
“I’m optimistic we’re going to be able to work something out,’’ Haynes said. “We didn’t want that letter to become public. Not sure how it happened but it may have been a blessing in disguise. Sometimes you have to make some noise to get something done.’’
One of this week’s guests who is making some noise is best-selling author Jeff Pearlman, whose new book ”Football for a Buck’’ is a hilarious joyride through the league Donald Trump destroyed – the USFL.
Pearlman told Talk of Fame he believes the USFL would likely still be alive and playing spring football as originally planned had the future President of the United States not bought the New Jersey Generals and lured his fellow owners into direct competition with the NFL.
“(Spring football) was a great idea corrupted by greedy interests,’’ Pearlman said.
Among the stories he tells in the book is one about a guy named John Barron, who became known as the USFL’s answer to Watergate’s Deep Throat. Turns out often named John Barron Pearlman found during his research was none other than Trump masquerading as a well-positioned P.R. guy.
“John Barron was really Donald Trump disguising his voice (to reporters),’’ Pearlman said. “The guy screaming fake news invented a fake publicists.’’
Trump was far from the only wild hair running around the USFL. Perhaps the most interesting was a defensive end named Greg Fields, known to some as “Big Paper.’’
When Big Paper was cut by L.A. Express head coach John Hadl, his reaction was to punch Hadl in the head and then issue a string of death threats. Eventually, the Express hired Liberace’s body guard to protect Hadl.
The USFL hadn’t seen the last of Big Paper though. Desperate for defensive linemen, the San Antonio Gunslingers signed him even though the team was running out of money to pay its players. When Fields tired of not getting paid he showed up one day at the home of the owner with evil intentions in his eye. The owner went into his house and came out with $17,000 in cash.
“Are we good?’’ he asked, hands trembling.
“We’re good,’’ Fields said. Then he was gone.
Not long after so was the USFL but not before signing the likes of Steve Young, Herschel Walker, Reggie White, Jim Kelly and Doug Flutie. It also was a league that had as the Gunslingers’ punter a ranch hand who worked for the owner. Wild, wacky and fun. That was the USFL and Jeff Pearlman’s new history of it.
Co-hosts Rick Gosselin and Ron Borges also visit with long-time Hall of Fame voter Ed Bouchette of Pittsburgh to get his opinion of the most deserving Steelers not in the Hall of Fame. L.C. Greenwood? Donnie Shell and his 51 interceptions? Alan Faneca? What about Greg Lloyd or Hines Ward or Andy Russell?
To hear who Pittsburgh’s HOF voter favors, why Mike Haynes feels the NFL should do more for retired players and what the heck was going on in the wacky world of Donald Trump’s USFL tune into the Talk of Fame Network on SB Nation Radio stations Wednesday nights from 8-10 p.m. or download our free podcast at iTunes or on the TuneIn app.
You can also find this show and all our past interviews any time you’d like on our website, talkoffamenetwork.com.