Why a Hall of Famer chose a start-up league over Johnny U.
Ron Mix is one of the most decorated tackles in NFL history.
He was a nine-time all-league choice who went to five championship games, is a member of the all-time All-AFL team and in 1979 became the second AFL player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But when Mix graduated from USC in 1960, he had a chance to join the defending NFL-champion Baltimore Colts and quarterback Johnny Unitas -- with Baltimore making him the 10th pick in that year's draft. Instead, he took a chance on the AFL, choosing a first-year franchise (the Los Angeles Chargers) and a brand-new league over the established NFL.
And there's a good reason why.
"Well," Mix said on the latest Talk of Fame Network broadcast, "the Colts offered me a one-year contract at $7,500 a year, plus a $1,000 signing bonus. In those days we didn't have agents, (and) the Chargers offered a two-year guaranteed contract at $24,000 a year, plus a $5,000 signing bonus.
"I told (then-Colts' owner) Carroll Rosenbloom I'd rather play for the Colts. I said, 'Just give me a one-year contract at $10,000 and a $2,000 signing bonus' ... because I wanted to get a car. And he said, 'Ron, that's Johnny Unitas money.' And you know (what?) He was telling the truth.
"He said, 'That is close to Johnny Unitas money. That would throw off our entire salary structure. Look, that league's going to fold anyway in a year. So we'll see you next year.' "
Of course, the league did not fold, and the Colts never saw Mix. Too bad, too. They went to one league championship game the next eight seasons. The Chargers went to five, with Mix such an accomplished blocker he was called for only two holding penalties his entire career.
"About three years later," Mix said, "I read in a newspaper where he (Rosenbloom) was interviewed. He said, 'At the time I was talking to Mix, I didn't know he was Jewish. If I had known that I'd have signed him because we have a big Jewish population.' "