Many adults think back to when they were in their 20s and see
years they now consider wasted. It can happen to anyone, even the
No. 1 pick in an NFL draft. Coming off back-to-back All-America
seasons at Ohio State, linebacker Tom Cousineau was selected
first in the 1979 draft by the Buffalo Bills and then made a
career decision--bolting to the Canadian Football League--he
would come to regret.
Chosen ahead of future Hall of Famers Dan Hampton, Kellen Winslow
and Joe Montana, Cousineau seemed to be a perfect fit with the
Bills. He wanted to play for old-school coach Chuck Knox, but the
sweet dream turned sour after Cousineau got a bellyful of the
Bills' front office.
Cousineau's agent was ready to fly with him to Buffalo, but they
learned at the airport that the Bills had provided only a ticket
for Cousineau. Then, after Cousineau's introductory press
conference, a key team executive didn't show for a dinner
meeting. Finally, when Buffalo's contract offer came in low, at
$1.2 million over five years, Cousineau accepted a competing
offer--$850,000 for three years from the Montreal Alouettes of
the CFL. "As an economic decision it made sense, but it broke my
heart," Cousineau says. "I wasn't groomed to play in the CFL.
That was not what I dreamed about as a child. In the rearview
mirror, those three years were squandered."
Cousineau eventually made it to the NFL in 1982, landing on SI's
cover after the Cleveland Browns acquired his rights in a trade
with the Bills and made him one of the league's highest-paid
linebackers ($3.5 million over five years). He played four
seasons for the Browns, making the All-AFC team in '84, and then
two more with the San Francisco 49ers before retiring. He lives
in Akron with his wife of 12 years, Lisa, an ob-gyn with a
full-time practice, and their two daughters, Kyle, 8, and Kacey,
Since leaving football Cousineau has had a hand in several
business ventures, including real estate and highway
construction. He's currently funding and marketing a software
product, Archestral, which manages and centralizes patient data,
insurance information and other hospital records. In his free
time he rides in a Harley group and ferries his daughters to
soccer, gymnastics and tennis events.
Despite regrets about starting his career in the CFL, Cousineau,
45, says he made out well in the end. "I had the good fortune of
making a good amount of money," he says. "Very few people, when
given the choice of taking more or less, choose less." --Bill
time with his kids and biking with a Harley club.