THE GAME BEFORE THE MONEY: Voices of the Men Who Built the NFL by Jackson Michael. University of Nebraska Press (www.nebraskapress.unl.edu), 2014, 371 pp., $29.95. ISBN 978-0-8032-5573-9.
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Jackson Michael, in his afterword, refers to his book as an “anthology” of biographies, anecdotes and opinions by 40 former National Football League greats.
Some of them are league hall-of-famers, many are franchise-famers but all have a story to tell.
Despite their incredible injuries, they would all do it over again. Back in the day, a concussion suffered by a player during a game meant only a few plays spent on the sideline until he was called back in. Tape ‘em up, they can play.
Pay was in line with an average household income for a number of years, and most of these guys had to take off-season jobs, as car salesmen, trucking business workers and other types of labor. It wasn’t until the 1970s that pay began to skyrocket for these professionals.
And the players had to endure greedy, stingy owners, and lived with a player’s association that was anything but. Any hope of union support quickly went out the window.
Gone are the days of endless negotiations and drafts, deals in the backroom with the owners and other shadiness. All added up to certain degrees of player mistreatment.
But football created longlasting, almost familial relationships that endure to this day.
The injuries, however, have taken their toll. The Sept. 18 ESPN Magazine detailed the story of Rickey Dixon, who played with the Cincinnati Bengals as a defensive back, who was diagnosed four years ago, at age 47, with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He played from 1988 to 1993. Whether his demise is football-related is anybody’s guess. But for the families that have to take care of these guys – that could be another book, indeed.