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.