What has Slusher done to incur such wrath? Well, there are a lot of bitter feelings left over from 1977 when All-Pro Offensive Linemen John Hannah and Leon Gray walked out of the New England camp; Dutton stayed at home for a month while playing out his option; Baltimore Wide Receiver Roger Carr stayed out of camp; Punter Tom Skladany sat out all season at Cleveland; and Quarterback Dan Fouts missed 10 games at San Diego. All are clients of Slusher.
Pittsburgh President Dan Rooney, who likes Slusher just fine, tells a story of meeting him one day in Los Angeles' Century Plaza Hotel. Howard was accompanied by his 10-year-old son, John, a sure-handed goalie for the Rolling Hills Swordfish soccer team.
"Do you want your daddy to represent you when you grow up?" Rooney asked the boy.
"No," said John Slusher. "I want to play."
Hannah, for one, suggests that there is an anti-Slusher conspiracy in the NFL. "I've talked to college kids who were specifically told that if they went with Slusher it would hurt their drafting position," he says. "If the kid was kind of naive, they'd even tell him he wouldn't get drafted at all. Who tells them? NFL scouts who visit the campus, assistant coaches who've been briefed by scouts. It even goes on at Alabama, my school."
"Look, I don't care what anybody says about me, or writes about me," Slusher says, "but I don't like what's going on now with Dutton. The only club the Colts made a legitimate deal with for Dutton was Cleveland, and the numbers were wrong. The decent money was in the last two years of the five-year contract, but only the first two were guaranteed, and the figures for those two were $105,000 and $130,000, which is embarrassing.
"The Colts go around telling people John has a bad knee and hasn't played well for the last two years. Then when they talk trade they ask for something ridiculous.
"I sincerely believe [Colt Owner Robert] Irsay wants to use this to gain a victory over me, so he can go to the owners' meetings and tell people how he beat Howard Slusher. Do you think the real football people, the Rooneys and the Tom Landrys, the Al Davises—the consistent winners in this league—play games like that? No way. They sign their players and win with them."
At least two people, Dutton and his wife Ginny, share Slusher's bitterness toward Irsay and Colt Coach Ted Marchibroda. Three weeks ago Ginny Dutton wrote a two-page letter to Marchibroda that began: "John has given the Baltimore Colts five great years. You're, however, not man enough to stand up to Mr. Irsay to get a trade accomplished so John can pursue his career where he's appreciated as a fine ballplayer and a fine person." It ended with a reaffirmation of faith. "If not playing for Baltimore means ending John's career, then that's the way it will be. John, myself and our baby are the better for it. You are the loser!