FAQ’s ON WFL

FAQ’s ON WFL

Last week, I posted an article published recently recalling the time Paul Warfield, Jim Kiick and I jumped from the National Football League to the new World Football League.  This created a lot of engagement and many inquiries on Facebook from Miami fans who remembered this time in Dolphin and pro football history.  I wrote this blog to address some of those questions.

Over the years, many people have asked me if I got all the money that was widely publicized from the WFL.  At the time, it was the largest pro sports contract in history.  I have always put off the question by simply saying I got what was owed me.  As you’ll see, it’s a lengthy and complicated answer.  I suppose I’ve also had the fear of opening up old wounds.  But it’s been long enough.  Here’s my recollection of what happened.

When Paul Warfield, Jim Kiick and I traveled to Toronto to speak with Johnny Bassett, he seized the moment.  He knew we had come to just talk but he also knew this would be his only chance to land all 3 of us with one deal.  Bassett wanted to know what it would take.  My agent, Ed Keating, was prepared and provided many demands – 3 guaranteed years of salary, signing bonuses, guaranteed product endorsements, luxury apartments, automobiles, travel expenses, etc., etc.   But we had to make our minds up before we left Toronto.  In other words, take it or leave it.  But I wanted to call Coach Shula first.  We spoke and I waited on a call from the Dolphins owner, Joe Robbie, which never came.  So we took the deal!

I had signed a personal services contract with Johnny Bassett personally.  This meant he had to pay me whether the league folded or not.  If the WFL folded, I could opt out and go back to the NFL where another team would pick up my existing contract with Bassett OR I could just relax, not play at all and collect the rest of the money.

When the WFL collapsed October 22, 1975, there was a brief window of opportunity for me to quickly go back to the Dolphins.  I had my agent contact Joe Robbie in Miami ASAP.  In hindsight, I should’ve called Coach Shula.  Keating and Robbie never got along and, unfortunately, picked up right where they left off and the time to negotiate ran out.  The NFL deadline for major player movement was approaching on October 28th so the possibility of returning to Miami for the remaining ’75 season quickly disappeared.  I was now a free agent in the NFL.

Other NFL teams began talking with my agent.  I told him I wanted to go back to Miami if at all possible.  Even if a return meant less money.  He understood.  I was willing to negotiate a deal with Miami but anyone else in the NFL would have to match the remainder of the personal services contract I had with Johnny Bassett in order to obtain my services.  Frankly, I didn’t believe any NFL team would pay.

Robbie and Keating continued their bickering for several months until, finally, Robbie demanded an outline of negotiation be sent to him.  Keating told me he agreed to send this.  However, he didn’t trust Robbie to keep our terms confidential.  If we sent an outline of a lesser deal I was willing to take only from Miami and Robbie leaked this info, it would jeopardize any future negotiations I might need to make with other teams.  To be safe and considering this as a starting point for negotiations, Keating sent Robbie an unsigned copy of the contract Bassett had personally guaranteed to pay me.  Needless to say, Robbie exploded and immediately had my “demands” published in the Miami Herald – calling it ridiculous and absurd to expect such a deal.  However, 72 hours later, New York called Keating and said they would pay the full contract if I would sign with the Giants.  So I moved to New York.

Wellington Mara, owner of the New York Giants, was a man of great integrity.  Though my years as a Giant were difficult at times, I’m happy I had the opportunity to know him and his family.  He was a class act.  After my signing (which they agreed to pay in full), I released the Giants from honoring some points of the contract.  I didn’t need a luxury apartment or fancy cars.

Joe Robbie was offered the opportunity to negotiate with Paul Warfield, Jim Kiick and I before we traveled to Toronto and, ultimately, signed with the WFL.  He turned us down.  In 1976, I had the opportunity to return to Miami.  Instead, Robbie seized the opportunity to belittle Ed Keating and me in the newspaper by revealing our starting negotiation position.

When the Giants took the deal and signed me in New York, it was evident the NFL could, in fact, meet the raise in pay.  Later, when we finally negotiated my return to Miami in 1979, I negotiated with Coach Shula, not Joe Robbie.  That deal was agreed to in just 3 days and in 1979 we made the playoffs.

I do not regret my decision to jump to the WFL.  It was a business decision.  We all had families and the money offered would help secure our futures after football.  None of us wanted to leave Miami but there was too big a gap in salary and Robbie wouldn’t even consider discussing our current contracts.  I am happy Coach Shula and I were able to come to terms in 1979 and I was able to end my career with him and the Miami fans.

ZONK

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Showing 10 comments
  • Jerry Hessen
    Reply

    ‘I sure miss the 1970’s. Football today is watered down. The NFL was perfect with 26 teams, two conferences with 3 divisions. Today it is a watered down, made for television shaggy dog. Today, the athletes must be coddled and treated like fine china. When MEN like Coach Shula were making the NFL great, he’d put the Dolphins through a day workout and no water allowed on the practice fields.

    I so miss the days of: Coach Brown, Coach Ewbanks, Coach Shula, Coach Landry, Coach Noll and Coach Grant. And of course, Coach Lombardi. The time is short I fear for professional football. If you look around, their are no coaches around like the aforementioned.

    Bill Bellicheeat as Coach ‘Shoes’ has called him is more the beneficiary of the times, Not because he is the class of all coaches.

    The Top 3 in my opinion are Lombardi, Shula and Nolls.

    I wish my Dolphins still played with the fire they did under Coach Shula.

    Warmest regards,

    Jerry Hessen

  • Mike Sueiras
    Reply

    Larry I always tell my kids you are to me the greatest football player ever.Your discipline tuff attitude is contagious.You had to support your family.Robbie was a tightwad. I was glad you came back.39 my favorite number. Im originally from Atlanta but I got my Czonka jersey.Still get goosebumps when you talk about the perfect season.God bless you and your family.

  • Scott kain
    Reply

    You were my favorite player of all time hands down. In 1976 I was strickened w cancer and my one wish was to meet you or speak to you. Somehow somebody got intouch w you , told you the story and you called me at home. We talked for 10 min and I was on top of the world . Best suprise of my life . God bless you Mr. Csonka

  • Scott Nicholson
    Reply

    What a great time that was to be a kid and a football fan. It was so much fun and you helped make it happen. Thanks Larry.

  • Terry Waters
    Reply

    Happy that you got to retire dolphin love that team

  • Bruce Eubank
    Reply

    You were my favorite player of all time. I tried to copy your style when I played in high school and college. A highlight of my life was getting to meet you before the Oakland game your last season. I lived in Las Vegas and flew to Oakland. It was my 1st NFL game. Not only did I meet you but Bob Griese took a picture of us. I went on to be a teacher and coach for over 30 years. I’d show my backs clips of you running, reading blocks, blocking, etc. as a teaching tool.(plus I liked watching them) I hope you are healthy and happy in life. Thanks for the great football memories.
    Bruce

  • Tony Wolf
    Reply

    Had Robbie retained you, Kiick and Warfield … I really believe you guys would have been the unargued greatest dynasty in NFL history. While I wish you guys would have stayed together in Miami, I completely understand. I have four kids of my own and I know, if God had blessed me to be in the same position as you, I would’ve done the same thing. Anyway, as a lifelong Dolphins fan, I enjoyed reading your post. I am 49 and I was a little too young to remember the early 70s teams but I remember when you came back to Miami and you guys made the playoffs. When I would play sandlot football with my friends, we would all pretend we were you whenever we got the ball. Take care Larry and God bless.

  • Don Stachowiak
    Reply

    Hi Larry,

    I was looking to get your autograph on a super bowl patch with a Super Bowl VIII inscription. I could send the item to you with a return package. Please let me know if this is something you would do and the amount of donation I could make

    Thanks

    Don

    • ZONK
      Reply

      Thanks Don. Please contact Betsy England at zonkapro@aol.com for autograph information for a donation for St. Judes. – ZONK

  • Jack MacGiffert
    Reply

    You, Mr. Csonka, are a Class Act yourself. Congratulations to you and all of the other ’72 Dolphins-“The Greatest Team Ever”

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