In 1953 the Detroit Lions won the NFL championship, and guard Dick Stanfel, the club's most valuable player, earned a salary of $10,000. In 1963 the Chicago Bears won the title, and center Mike Pyle, the anchor of the line, made $14,000. In 1973 the Miami Dolphins won their second straight Super Bowl, and starting guard Bob Kuechenberg made $30,000.
Last week the Indianapolis Colts agreed to pay $2 million a year to a center, Kirk Lowdermilk, who has never even made the Pro Bowl. These three standouts of yesteryear listened in near disbelief to the details of the deals awarded offensive linemen in this first month of unfettered free agency.
"There are too many millionaires in football now," says Stanfel. "We didn't read The Wall Street Journal when we played. Hell, we had nothing to invest."
"There's a lot going on in football that makes no sense, and this tops the list," says Pyle. "It's almost a senseless spending pattern, with no long-range plan."
"I'm not a sports fan anymore," says Kuechenberg, "because this isn't a sport. It's a business. This seems to be the last blast of financial lunacy." Kuechenberg played on the same line with Hall of Fame guard Larry Little, who, if he were in his prime today, might be worth $3 million.
Don't get the old-timers wrong. They wanted to make more money when they played, but you won't find them wishing they had been born 30 years later. Says Kuechenberg, "It's psychological suicide to wonder about money you didn't make."
No, the veterans would prefer to think that part of the long-term return on their investment in football is in the memories. And in reunions, like the golf outing that Stanfel and seven or eight of his Lion buddies have faithfully attended every summer in Colorado for years.
Says Stanfel, "We were close. Real close. Every Sunday we'd take our wives out to a restaurant after the game and be together as a big family. Then on Monday morning all the guys, led by [quarterback] Bobby Layne, would meet at a bar near the stadium and stay together until five, six in the afternoon. I'll tell you what: I think there's an awful lot the players of today are missing, money and all."