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AUGUST 30, 1982
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, 5.
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."