Sprinting one cold, rainy afternoon I felt hamstring fibers going. Meat in my right leg was pulling apart. I limped home. This was an odd sensation—new in that I'd never ripped a muscle before, old in that the pain revived memories of past injuries. Football, after all, has to do with a player's accommodation of pain, observing it, validating it somehow. It's different from the pain you get in an accident. Accommodate enough of it and you've accomplished something. Two days later the back of my injured leg turned purple from mid-thigh to upper calf in a bright show of confirmation.
As I healed, people told me how crazy I was. Well, O.K. But something about their attitude bothered me. They all loved to watch pro football, but they didn't respect pro football players. In fact, they thought pro football players were fools. Had the game degenerated to that level, to freak-show status?
I signed, anyway. It was a one-year deal for $25,000, to be paid if I made the team. Mike signed me up. When I walked into his office he was holding a paper cup near his chest and spitting into it. "I have a disgusting habit," he said right away. "I chew."
I liked Mike. He was in his late 20s, and looked very harassed. "A madhouse," he said. "Why am I signing players? That's what a general manager does."
For Chicago the general manager is 26-year-old Bruce Allen, the coach's son. He also chews, and dips snuff. Ed Buckley, the Blitz' director of pro scouting, smokes immense cigars. Tobacco in its various forms seems to fuel the Blitz' front office—at least when George Allen, an abstainer, and the club president. Dr. Ted Diethrich, a heart specialist, are not around. The reason so much paperwork fell into McCarthy's lap was that Bruce Allen was often out, pursuing players for his father.
I asked McCarthy for a signing bonus. "We aren't giving them," he said.
I'd negotiated my salary up $5,000 from the original "about $20,000" he'd offered. Now I asked for more.
"We don't have the money," he said, almost sadly. "We can't pay like the NFL does."
I thought of my NFL contract negotiations with Stram years ago, an occasion that may have set a standard for player timidity. Stram was surrounded by championship trophies, and I was a terrified eighth-round draft pick. Still, I left his office that day deeply distressed that the paltry figures we were discussing—$14,000 for the first year—could mean so much to his organization.
McCarthy reached into his desk and pulled out a chart that showed how much the Blitz was paying by position, and $25,000 for defensive backs was, indeed, top of the line. Some positions, like quarterback, were getting a little more. Of course, there was big dough for star rookies like Trumaine Johnson and Tim Wrightman, and for Stan White, an NFL veteran, but the average USFL player wouldn't get any of that.