One morning last week a cab carrying USC Tailback Ricky Bell and his agent, Mike Trope, was stalled in traffic on New York's East 46th Street. A shabby figure lurched up to the taxi, stuck his head in a rear window and begged, "Could you guys spare a quarter for a little wine?" Trope produced a wad of bills, peeled off a 20 and handed it over. The wino stared at the bill in disbelief. Then, raising it in the air and waving it for all to see, he ran down the street shouting, "I can't believe it! A $20 bill! I can't believe it! I can't believe it!"
Back in the cab, Trope laughed uproariously. He could afford to be expansive, for earlier that morning he had increased his earning potential by more than a quarter of a million dollars.
Trope's windfall began at 10 a.m. Tuesday, when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made Bell the first selection in the 1977 NFL draft. And while Bell was busy posing for photographers, displaying a Tampa Bay jersey with his No. 42 and giving interviews at draft central in New York's Roosevelt Hotel, three more of Trope's clients were quickly snapped up.
Tony Dorsett, the Heisman Trophy winner from Pittsburgh, was chosen next. Shopping for a game-breaking running back, the Dallas Cowboys began the day by trading their first-round pick and three second-round choices to Seattle for the Seahawks' No. 2 drafting position in round one—and picked Dorsett.
Cincinnati, selecting third, had had its fill of Trope during last year's Archie Griffin negotiations, so the Bengals passed on Trope's remaining clients, taking Defensive Tackle Eddie Edwards of the University of Miami. But Trope was back in action on the fourth selection as the New York Jets picked another member of the agent's USC stable, Offensive Tackle Marvin Powell. Then, after the Giants picked Defensive Tackle Gary Jeter of USC, Atlanta plunged for another of Trope's players. Offensive Tackle Warren Bryant of Kentucky.
Scribbling numbers on a piece of paper, Trope estimated that his four star clients would sign contracts totaling between $3 million and $4 million. Even if Trope charged them less than the standard commission of 10%, he figured to collect enough to fund New York's entire population of winos for a month.
Trope wasted no time getting Bell's name on a Tampa Bay contract. The agent and his client left for Florida before the completion of the first round of the draft and, shortly after landing in Tampa, Bell signed a five-year contract for a reported $1.2 million. It was far and away the richest contract ever signed by an NFL rookie. At the same time, Trope served notice on the Cowboys that he intends to put Dorsett in Bell's tax bracket.
For Powell and Bryant, Trope expects the Jets and Falcons to agree to multi-year contracts in the $750,000 range. Told that such a figure seems excessive for players performing in the so-called "non-glamour positions," Trope said, "I don't care if they have frog's legs. If teams chose them fourth and sixth, they have to expect to pay for them."
Bell's contract aside, Trope's real coup was helping persuade Seattle not to retain its No. 2 draft position and select Dorsett. On April 18 Trope and Dorsett had lunch at the Allegheny Club in Pittsburgh's Three Rivers Stadium with Nelson Goldberg, Dorsett's marketing manager, and Harvey Eger, Dorsett's tax attorney. Goldberg made a list of those NFL cities that he thought would be good for what Trope calls "Dorsett's ancillary earning potential." Not surprisingly, Seattle, which appeared set to draft Dorsett, was not on the list.
So Dorsett's advisers decided to discourage Seattle from choosing him. That afternoon Eger sent a letter to the Sea-hawks, which read in part: "I have been authorized to advise you on behalf of Mr. Dorsett, Mr. Trope and Mr. Goldberg that Mr. Dorsett is not desirous of playing professional football in Seattle, and request that your team does not draft Mr. Dorsett in the upcoming professional football draft."